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10/9/97 Faith, family insights voiced in Elliffs’ New Orleans talks

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“Read God’s Word every day. It has become a magnificent obsession of mine,” Jeannie Elliff told student wives at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary during the annual Leavell Lectures, Oct. 3-4.
Elliff, wife of Tom Elliff, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was the featured speaker for the 1997 student wives conference and annual lecture series endowed by the family of Landrum P. Leavell II, president emeritus of New Orleans Seminary, in honor of his mother, Annie Elias Leavell, a pastor’s wife.
Addressing the theme “Building a Spiritual Legacy,” Elliff spoke from her experience as the wife of a pastor the past 31 years, as the mother of four children and as the grandmother to eight. The Elliffs currently live in Del City, Okla., where Tom is pastor of First Southern Baptist Church.
Elliff, whose father in 1951 left the movie industry of Burbank, Calif., for a peaceful lifestyle with his family, grew up in Little Rock, Ark., from age 5. She lived six blocks from Immanuel Baptist Church.
Although involved in everything at church, she realized at age 7 she needed to be saved “when a mean kid in the church got saved,” she said. That day she talked to the pastor and was baptized that night.
When she was 15, a new family came to town — the Elliff family. The father, her future father-in-law, preached at her church one Wednesday night. Doubting her salvation, Jeannie surrendered to do mission work. Later she and Tom went to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., where they dated, fell in love and later married.
Elliff was excited about being a pastor’s wife, she said. She could be in church often. However, although she loved “doing” church work, she said, she did not like discussing deep spiritual issues with her husband. From time to time she felt convicted, wondering if she were really saved, and talked with her husband about it. Elliff, then the mother of two daughters, came more and more under conviction about her salvation. Pride was one of the main issues in her life, she said.
Needing to be alone on a hot Fourth of July Sunday afternoon, she drove around the city. After putting her baby, Amy, down for a nap, she said the Lord spoke to her, saying, “You cannot be a good mother to these precious girls if you don’t know me.”
She told Tom she was sure she was lost. He offered to pray with her, but having led people to the Lord, she knew what to pray. So at age 25, having lived with the sin of pride for 10 years and trying to please God with what she did, she prayed, “Lord, I know I’m a sinner. I’m so sinful. Forgive me for waiting all these years.”
Now when she sees fireworks on the Fourth of July every year, she considers them to be in celebration of her salvation, she said.
Elliff gave three priorities for establishing spiritual legacies in a family: God first, family second and other people third.
“God has to be first in our lives,” she said. In putting God first, “We need to read His Word every day,” she said, as well as pray diligently daily and study God’s Word.
Prayer is critical, Elliff said, sharing details from her daily prayer notebook as an example of how to pray. Daily she prays for her family, emphasizing a different aspect every day:
— Sunday: personal family ministry
— Monday: family and church-related ministries
— Tuesday: missions and family, health and protection
— Wednesday: extended family and neighbors
— Thursday: family’s purity, grandchildren, lost people, far-off friends and legacies in the family
— Friday: family’s humility, husband’s specific needs, marriage and people with health problems
— Saturday: family’s future and direction
“Learn to be a plodder,” she said, and “start what you finish. Get out of yourself to pray for others.”
Family is the second priority, she said, with attention first to the husband, then the children, then extended family members. A special concern, she said, is that “children need to see husbands and wives praising each other and showing love to each other in their families.”
Tom Elliff, her husband of 31 years, spoke to the entire seminary family in a chapel service concerning God’s personal call to believers about the need for total purity in their lives.
“You don’t come to God on your terms. You come on his terms or you don’t come at all,” Elliff said.
“Is there in your life any issue about which God is speaking?” he asked. “He’s asking you to make an adjustment and you have yet to make a decision, a commitment.”
Making three observations on Psalm 95, Elliff said first there is a profound significance to the call because it is God’s voice, “a clarion voice, a trumpet-like sound,” from “a sovereign, holy God, the creator and sustainer who has occupied himself with your best interests.”
Second, the Christian hardens his heart, “no one else does it to you,” Elliff said. “You cannot control the circumstances of your life, but you can control your response.”
Third, today is the critical moment. “This is the obvious time,” he said. “And this is the only time because you cannot do it yesterday and you do not know if you will live to do it tomorrow.”

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