Tom Elliff
Oklahoma City, OK

After pastoring for forty-two years, Tom Elliff served the International Mission Board, first as Senior Vice President for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations from 2005-2009, then as President from 2011-2014. Tom served pastorates in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma and as an IMB missionary in Zimbabwe. Tom also served as president of the SBC Pastor's Conference and two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Happy Birthday USA…And Jeannie!

By on July 3, 2016

I love this season of the year! For one thing, I possess a shamelessly patriotic spirit. Early in life I was saturated with a good dose of American history. We are not a perfect nation by a long shot, but we were founded on some bedrock principles that, if practiced, will stand the test of time.

There’s another reason I love July 4, however, and that’s because it marks the spiritual birthday of the sweet lady whom I was privileged to call my wife for almost forty-nine years. She always thought it neat that the nation celebrated her new birth with fireworks and parades. Now, in heaven, don’t you know she is loving the celebration of God’s grace?

Here’s Jeannie’s story as I tell it in the soon to be released book, The Unwanted Gift  (CLC Publications, all rights reserved).

There was one issue that Jeannie would bring up from time to time that did not seem to resolve itself as we talked with one another and with God. Jeannie had actually broached the subject a time or two when we were courting. We would come to a resolution of sorts, but ultimately the issue would surface again.

You see, Jeannie could not seem to gain a rock-solid certainty that she was genuinely a child of God, forgiven, indwelt by Christ and headed to heaven. At the age of seven she had “walked the aisle,” saying to herself as she saw a friend go to the altar, “Well, if he can do that so can I.”

Earnestly desiring to “do everything right,” Jeannie “prayed the prayer,” was baptized that very evening and began practicing the devotion and Christian disciplines that would always characterize her life. Church became her second home. She was involved in choirs, youth groups, mission trips, even “surrendering her life to missions,” and later becoming a leader in a mission’s organization for young girls. Jeannie loved being a pastor’s wife and considered the role a wonderful gift from God. But, deep inside her heart, Jeannie lacked assurance.

As we would talk freely about her lack of assurance, I would carefully explain the gospel, pray with her, and assure Jeannie that Christ always keeps His word. Sometimes we would even go through a type of “mental gymnastics,” asking if she had repented and believed in the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work on the cross and the reality and power of the resurrection, surrendering to Him in absolute faith. There was no part of the “formula” that she denied. Still, there was no assurance, and the Lord in His mercy continued to bring conviction to her heart.

Looking back, I’m confident that on occasion Jeannie would even pray what I have often called the “nothing prayer.” That’s the prayer that begs, “Lord, if I’m not saved, save me.” That kind of praying really accomplishes nothing since it is not born out of the genuine conviction that one is lost, nor does it bring the certainty of salvation. Otherwise it would not have to be repeated again and again, merely adding false hope to an already weak faith.

On Sunday, July 4, 1971, after five years as a pastor’s wife, the births of our first two children and, being without question, the most gracious and godly lady you could imagine, Jeannie was born into God’s family. Jeannie came into the bathroom where I was shaving, and said, “Tom, I am convinced that I am not saved and that I have never truly repented of my sin, and believed in Christ alone for my salvation.”

Kneeling together at the end of our bed, Jeannie poured out her heart in confession and repentance of sin. At last, Jeannie had placed her faith in Christ alone and was born into God’s family. From that moment, my wife, the most spiritual person I knew, was finally and fully convinced of her salvation.  

I was utterly unprepared for the quantum change that would take place in Jeannie’s life.  When she was baptized at church that very Sunday evening, I noted that my wife had now become my sister in Christ, I knew the angels in heaven were rejoicing with us, but Jeannie’s joy was also without measure! Her new birth spawned a voracious appetite for God’s Word and a remarkable zeal for sharing the gospel with others.

So…this weekend I want to shout, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the USA…but especially to Jeannie!

Love you, Shug!

Rejoice evermore!
Tom Elliff
1 Tim 1:12

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  • John Rownak

    Tom, I love Jeannie’s a wonderful story every time I hear it. It is much like mine, as you know. I walked the aisle and was dunked at age 11 and again at age 20 as my rite of passage into a Baptist church. I was actually saved on a couples retreat you led in April 1974 in Siloam Springs and found assurance of that salvation at two months later Faith Week after one of Manley’s sermons. For all who have doubts and are too embarrassed to admit it, I encourage the kind of soul searching, with God’s help, that Jeannie did until she was sure. Thanks for sharing.