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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By on December 14, 2010

Given the incredible amount of tumult in the world, even some Christians are wondering if it is really possible for an individual to experience genuine peace. They readily admit that, through regeneration, they have found peace with God. But somehow this peace has not been translated into the world that surrounds them. I see the distress in their faces, and hear it in their voices. What they long for is a peace that is experiential, not merely a doctrinal.

As a pastor, I always found it worthy of note that the highest demand for counseling seemed to always follow the season in which “peace” was the major emphasis. By January, these people would give almost anything to “sleep in heavenly peace.” But it escapes them. Their extended hours, poor diet, over-extended credit card and disappointed desire is robbing them of peace.

I want to encourage you to consider taking a pro-active approach, doing something before Christmas that will enable this holiday, and the days that follow it to be navigated with genuine peace in your heart. It will begin with a trip to the stable in Bethlehem.

Jeannie has a growing collection of manger scenes, each with a special meaning because of the person who gave it to her, or the place and circumstances of its purchase. At Christmas time, it seems that every shelf, table or tree has its array of creches, each one different from the other. Of course, there is also a similarity between most all of them. True to Luke 2;16, in each setting you will find “Mary, Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.”

Here’s how reflecting on the manger scene can actually change your approach to life, and ultimately bring peace to your heart.

When you look at Mary, reflect on the fact that you can be strong, and yet submissive. I’m constantly amazed at the strength Mary exhibited at this crucial juncture of life. What young woman at full term in pregnancy would relish a walk (or donkey ride) of almost eighty miles, setting up housekeeping in a strange city for two years, a midnight departure on a lengthy trip to Egypt, and a later return to her home town where she would “have some explaining to do.” Yet, as mentioned in the previous blog, Mary’s heart attitude was one of submission. When a person’s heart is settled into the will of God, there is little in the world that can unsettle it.

When you look at Joseph, consider the fact that your sense of justice should always be tempered with gentleness. At lot of fretting around Christmas comes from the idea that “just being right” is all that counts. Well, “being right” counts, but so does being compassionate, approachable and considerate. Joseph was a just man. That said, he was still tender, compassionate and considerate of Mary. Just being right somehow loses its appeal if a person is cold an unapproachable. So in Joseph we see a kind of strong tenderness that is winsome and captivating. A peaceful heart is one that is concerned more about others than itself.

When you look at Jesus, remember that you can have all the “rights” in the universe, yet you should still focus on your “responsibilities.” Paul tells us something about that little baby in the manger. “Jesus didn’t consider His place of heavenly privilege worth maintaining at the cost of losing mankind,” Paul intimates in Philippians 2:5-8 that Jesus “took upon Himself a responsibility that required absolute, painful humiliation. He humbled Himself…and died.” Most of what keeps us unsettled is having goals that are blocked. The man who is keenly aware of his rights has a life filled with ingratitude (You don’t thank people for what they owe you!) and anger (You do get mad if they don’t give it to you!). Most of the depression in your world can be resolved by taking on concerns outside yourself. Just throw yourself into helping someone else!

Before this day is over, find a manger scene somewhere and spend a little time in meditation. As you look at “Mary, Joseph, and the Babe in a manger,” reflect on the lesson each of those people are attempting to teach you.

It will bring a change to your behavior.

And peace to your heart.

Rejoice evermore!

Tom Elliff

2Tim 1:12