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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Now That’s My Kind Of Party

By on October 16, 2010

A couple of week ago, my father celebrated his 93rd birthday. That in itself is quite an accomplishment, but pretty typical for his family. His own father preached his last sermon at ninety-two, just four days before his funeral! What really impressed me about Dad’s birthday, however, was the party he and his wife threw for their neighbors.

My dad is my hero. He’s not perfect, of course, but he is determined to finish well, sharing life’s lessons out of his heart right up to the end. Many of you who read this blog know my dad, either from personal acquaintance, or by reading about him in my book, The Red Feather. You know that my father’s story points to the absolute necessity of grace and forgiveness in order to recover intimacy with Christ. Two things have characterized my dad’s life since that time, a spirit of genuine repentance and a remarkable tenderness. I want my life to be characterized by those same graces.

Now about that party! Dad and his wife, Wanda, invited their neighbors over to celebrate his birthday and to enjoy the new extension to their outdoor patio. (Now, there’s a lesson about living with expectations for the future!) Sixteen neighbors from up and down the street came by for burgers cooked on a new grill, and an evening of fun. At the close of the evening, my father stood up, got everyone’s attention, and shared three statements and an offer that his neighbors are not likely to forget.

“I’m turning ninety-three this coming Sunday.” My father’s good health, in spite of his comments otherwise, belies the fact that he is fast headed toward the century mark. He is alert, active, and still possesses his sense of humor and interest in life. Dad loves people! It’s just that simple. He is at home in a crowd or one on one, whether in a waiting room, shopping mall, restaurant, or church. I am always amazed by how many people he has befriended, and how much he knows about them. He has a genuine interest in others, a rare trait in our mile-a-minute world. The folks at his party were there because he knows them, talks to them, and shares a genuine concern for their welfare.

“I am going to die.” That kind of blunt statement had its desired effect. Now that he had their undivided attention, my father proceeded to explain that he didn’t know when he was going to die. He was simply being realistic. He explained that it was most likely that he would die before any of his guests, but that he couldn’t be certain of that. And neither could they! But death is any appointment that we must all keep, barring the soon-coming of Christ, and we must face that reality.

“When I die, I am going to heaven.” My father the shared the personal testimony of his conversion to Christ, making it clear that, in subsequent years, he had serious opportunity to ask questions about eternity and eternal life. “God,” he explained, “assured me that I can experience both His love and grace. Because of what Christ accomplished on the cross and His subsequent resurrection, I have repented of my sin and placed my faith in Him. I now know for certain I will go to heaven when I die.”

“It grieves me to think that any of you would not be in heaven,” my dad concluded, ” so I want to share with you the good news of Jesus, and offer to talk personally with any of you who might have questions about what I’m telling you.” My father then shared the Gospel and brought the party to a close by offering to help his neighbors in their journey to God. Each of his neighbors, by the way, was grateful for his concern, and some even expressed an interest in visiting with him.

Now, that’s my kind of party!

I think I might throw a party like that for my neighbors, even though I’m not yet nighty-three years old.

Maybe you should think about doing the same.

Rejoice evermore!

Tom Elliff

2 Tim 1:12