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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Heaven & Hell at 18 Degrees

By on January 6, 2015

It was 18 degrees cold as I headed to church last Sunday. My thoughts ran to the old times before milking machines when, on days like this, the squirts of milk would freeze before they hit the pail. You could bundle them up and keep them on the porch and break up a few when the recipe called for it. But I digress.

I saw him off in the distance on the other side of the interstate highway. He was only lightly clad and walking furiously against the wind, gas can in hand. His car was parked to the side of the road only a few years behind. When I drove past him, headed east, I could  see a determined look in his eyes. He wanted to get to the filling station before he froze to death right there on the roadside. Trusting  Oklahoma hospitality, I kept watching my rearview mirror confident one of the many passing motorists on his side of the road would stop to give him aid.

“Oh somebody will stop alright!” I recognized that “Voice” I’ve heard so many times before. Knowing there was no use arguing, I pulled off at the next exit, made a U-turn over the bridge and headed back west on the interstate to fetch the stranded motorist. All the time I was thinking about how I could share the gospel with this unfortunate traveler.

“This could be his day,” I thought to myself. And when he jumped in the car I noticed that he was obviously a chain-smoker. In fact, he already smelled like one of the places I was going to talk about! I was poised and ready to turn whatever he said toward a gospel presentation.

“What a miserable way to begin a day,” he groused, sighing heavily. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I replied. I thought I was doing you a favor but if you’d like to get out I’ll stop here. (Note my clever use of sarcasm to warm up the conversation). He waved me off apologetically and pointed down the road to a station at the next exit.

It dawned on me that, with only a few moments left, I’d really have to pour on the coal (No pun intended). So I did just that, arriving at the gas station almost out of breath from sharing. My passenger was grabbing the door handle before I rolled to a stop. Strangely, when I offered to wait for him and to  return him to his car, he declined, waving me off with the assurance that “he’d get another ride back.”

As I headed back to the church I did a mental de-brief of my attempt to witness at 18 degrees. Compassion? Check! Full presentation of the gospel? I really didn’t remember all I’d said in that brief encounter. Did I leave him with eternity in view? Check! Follow up? Mmmmm…lets see.

I suppose I could have raced back to church, found another, more aggressive soul-winner, and sent him to the gas station to offer the man a lift back to his car. Once on the highway, he could have said something like, “Put your seat belt on. I drive like a maniac, so I sure hope you know Jesus!” But I didn’t do that…for which I am truly sorry.

However, I did keep one resolution a mentor of mine encouraged me to make many years ago…the commitment to always leave others with eternity in view.

Now, that’s not a bad resolution!

Rejoice evermore!

Tom Elliff

2 Tim 1:12