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Elliff: Economic crisis stimulates faith

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Obedience to God’s call does not depend on the state of the economy, Tom Elliff, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said after announcing that he was stepping aside from his role at the International Mission Board.

After serving the past three years as senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations, Elliff said he and his wife Jeannie are answering the call to devote the balance of their lives to urging people toward living by faith and in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

“It has been nothing short of a delicious experience,” Elliff said of his time at the IMB. “I can tell you that every minute that we have had with the International Mission Board has been wonderful. Now we are just taking one more step toward the arms of God.”

The Elliffs will continue teaching at IMB field personnel orientation sessions to support the work of taking the Gospel to the nations.

“The IMB is a focused, passionate, Kingdom-driven organization,” Elliff told Baptist Press. “Its future, and the future of all our Southern Baptist entities, will be radically impacted by whether Southern Baptists experience genuine revival.

“If we can recapture what it means to live by faith and in the fullness of God’s Spirit, the IMB will have no lack of personnel or resources,” he said. “Southern Baptists must see that revival has Great Commission consequences. For many years, Jeannie and I have sensed that this message would be our focus at this season of our lives.”

Elliff expressed a desire to see Southern Baptists renew their intimacy with Jesus, especially during this time of economic hardship when they may be tempted merely to survive rather than to advance the Gospel. He was emphatic in saying believers must learn to trust in God to supply their needs through union with Christ.

“The life of faith is a life that enables us to live on God’s economy, not man’s,” Elliff said. “If I live solely on the human economy, I’m going to become very dismayed, fearful in fact.

“Fear is the opposite of faith. Fear is the choice to believe a lie while faith is the choice to believe the truth,” Elliff said. “Our joy and enthusiasm should come from the reality that we are, first and foremost, citizens of God’s Kingdom and that He will provide for us as we choose to operate in faithful obedience to His plan for our lives.”

It is at times like this that the world can see the difference Christ makes in a believer’s life, he said.

“The Scripture tells us that we are to cast ourselves upon God for every need. When we do that, He will give us both discernment and the grace to obey,” said Elliff, who was pastor of the Oklahoma City-area First Southern Baptist Church in Del City for 20 years. “All of life is a stewardship, and we need to be good stewards of this economic opportunity by letting God direct our earning, saving, spending and giving.”

At its worst, the economic situation for the average American is much better than that of most everyone with whom Southern Baptist missionaries work, Elliff noted.

“So what do we tell those people is the answer for their need? Christ. Surrender to Him,” Elliff said. “The economy doesn’t change the message. It’s the same Jesus, the same Lord of all. God’s principles do not change, no matter the circumstances.

“His principles are immutable, and it is imperative for us to learn to look to Him. God is not surprised by any of this. He’s not shocked. He’s not racing around heaven trying to figure out what to do in order to provide for His people. He’s not frustrated by this, but I can tell you He is grieved by our unbelief,” Elliff said.

Through the years, Elliff and his family have walked through some challenges that most would consider quite serious. Earlier in their marriage, while serving as Southern Baptist missionaries in Zimbabwe, Jeannie and the children were in an automobile accident. One of their daughters suffered an injury that caused them to cut short their overseas service and return to the United States.

Other trials include the loss of their possessions twice — once to a house fire and again to a tornado. Most recently Jeannie underwent surgery for breast cancer.

“As we look back on each of those events and what God taught us about walking with Him and living by faith, it was certainly worth the experience. We wouldn’t take anything for what we learned,” Elliff said. “He has taught us that He is trustworthy, absolutely trustworthy.”

Now as they step out with excitement toward the next phase in life, Elliff said he is eager to share what he and Jeannie have learned about the importance of intimacy with Christ.

“At the heart of discipleship is intimacy with Christ,” he said. “That’s the arena in which you learn to take God at His word. We are to be living illustrations of the faithfulness of God to everyone who will take Him at His word.”

Elliff is concerned with the overly pragmatic approach he sees in many Southern Baptist churches.

“We sometimes opt for the marketing approach at the expense of the mystical, the unfathomable ways of our sovereign God,” he said. “If we’re not careful, we’ll become more interested in filling pews than filling the heart of the man in the pew.

“We need to live our lives at such a level of faith that if God doesn’t come through, we’re in a heap of trouble,” he said.

Any trial in life, including economic uncertainty, is an opportunity to see God prove Himself trustworthy, Elliff told BP, and the current economic situation actually is God’s stimulus plan for believers’ faith.

“If ever there was a time for a person to examine the way he stewards the resources entrusted to him, it would be a time like this,” Elliff said. “If a person’s fear of the economy is greater than his fear of the Lord, he’s going to come up short when giving an account of his stewardship.

“But if his fear of the Lord, his understanding of the trustworthiness of God, supersedes any fear he has of the economy, he can walk through these days with his head up and with joy in his heart, confident that God will supply every need he has.”

Dependence on God doesn’t mean Christians should abandon the stewardship of their earthly responsibility by failing to call their public officials into account or by exercising proper financial principles in their own lives, Elliff said.

“At the end of the day, the fact that worldly systems let us down should come as no surprise to us,” he said. “It’s part of living in a world where sin abounds, and that’s why the only hope that any of us have is in the ‘much more’ grace of God. We must see Him as our provider.

“We have to decide why we are in this world. If we’re in this for our comfort, then we’re going to be very unhappy,” Elliff said. “If we’re in this for God’s glory, then it is in the darkest of days that His glory seems to be most evident. I don’t know of much worth passing along that wasn’t learned through some time of testing, some time of trial.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. For ministry and contact information related to Tom Elliff, visit www.livingintheword.org or www.tomelliff.com.

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  • Erin Roach