Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Developing a Godly Character

Leslie: Here’s Tom Elliff with an important definition.

Tom Elliff: Your character is what you are in the dark, someone has said. Your character is what you are on the other side of the world, when no one you know is there. Your character is the real you. Your character is what you are on your knees before God. That’s really who you are.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, March 24.

Nancy has been teaching through the life of Joshua, and it’s been encouraging women to accept God’s calling on their lives with courage and humility. We’re taking a break from that series for a related message that Nancy will introduce.

Nancy: I think the thing that first got me interested in teaching through the life of Joshua was seeing the way that this man really finished well, how he faithfully served the Lord over many, many years and was faithful in the race all the way to the finish line.

As we’ve seen, Joshua had a partner in ministry. His name was Caleb. Caleb was also a man who finished well. He ran the race faithfully. I’m inspired in a fresh way in my own walk with the Lord every time I read the account of these two biblical characters.

A few years ago I heard a message by a friend, Dr. Tom Elliff. Tom was a pastor for many years, and he currently serves with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists. Tom preached a message at a small gathering where I was privileged to be participating. His message was titled simply Finishing Well. It’s a message on the life of Caleb.

As I was developing this particular series on the life of Joshua—and Caleb’s life is included in this series as well—I thought back to that message and how my own heart was so impacted the first time I heard it.

So over the next couple of days we’re going to take just a brief break in our study on the life of Joshua so that you can hear this series by Dr. Tom Elliff on the life of Caleb, Finishing Well.

Dr. Tom Elliff: This morning what I want to do is to take you to a narrative as we think about the theme of legacy, and I’d like you to think with me about what it means to finish well. What does it mean to finish well?

Now, recently I picked up a book. Many of you perhaps have read the book. It’s by Bob Buford, and some of you may know Bob personally. He’s a great guy.

The book is not ostensibly a Christian book because not all the people interviewed in the book are Christians. Many of them are. There are Christian principles there. We can get some things by reading the book. But these are interviews with men and women in the latter years of life whose lives depict what it means, as far as Bob Buford was concerned, to finish well.

Now, you always pick up something out of every book. As I read their stories, some things occurred to me. One was, sixty-five is not the finished line. The finished line is when God calls you home.

The second thing that I would like to share with you that God just reminded me of as I read this book is that our utility for God increases until the day we die. Some people believe that there are these halcyon years, these wonderful years that we have at a certain age or stage of life and from then on it’s sort of down hill, your utility diminishes.

A lady said to me recently, “Well, I’m so old and infirm, Brother Tom, all I can do is pray.” Well, actually, she was entering into her greatest years of ministry. She just didn’t realize it. So our utility for God increases until the moment we take our last breath. That’s important for us to understand.

Something else I just picked up as I read the book was that you do not finish well by accident. In other words, you don’t just wake up one morning, fall out of bed, and finish well. There are a lot of people who believe they’re going to finish well, but they’re not doing the things they need to be doing now in order for that to be a reality in their life.

It involves choices. And sometimes the most innocuous seemingly simple choice is a choice upon which eternity hangs. So it’s important to know how to make good choices. Well, after I read this book of these sixty-two people, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to go through the Bible and in some way interview men and women who finished well?”

Now, the Bible has a lot of stories of men and women who finished well, but even more of people who finished poorly. All you have to do is just sort of take a sashay through the Kings, and you’ll find that most of them finished poorly, didn’t they? You think about poor, old Saul. Boy, he had such great promise, and he finished by saying, “I have erred exceedingly and played the fool.” And boy, did he ever.

Or Solomon—think about Solomon. My gracious! Solomon started so well. God just answered his prayer, gave him what he wanted, the wisdom he wanted, and gave him the riches as well. But what a terrible finish. What a horrible legacy.

I love to study the life of Asa. Asa is one of my favorite people, but the declining years of his life, he finished poorly. It was to him the prophet said, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout this whole earth looking for a man whose heart is perfect toward him. Don’t compromise, Asa.” But Asa didn’t listen, of course—men who finish poorly.

But what about people who finish well? Well, there are plenty of them there. I’d like to introduce you to just one of them this morning, and this is a man by the name of Caleb. Now, I love Caleb. I’m going to ask you to turn with me to Joshua chapter 14. By the way, Caleb’s name is so different from the names of all of the other spies with whom he went into the land of Canaan to spy out the land. Caleb means dog. How fitting for this guy.

Some years ago my wife said, “I want a Beagle.” So I called our daughter who lives in Oklahoma City, our oldest daughter Beth.

And I said, “Beth, your mom wants a Beagle. Can you find her a Beagle?” Well, it took her a while to find one expensive enough, but she finally found a really expensive Beagle. When I think Beagle, I think hound; right? When my wife thinks Beagle, she thinks Poodle. So we probably have one of the few indoor Beagles in captivity.

This beautiful, soft-hearted, kind Beagle—except when you take her walking; she turns into a hound. Trucks will go by, and she will lunge at those trucks. I’m tempted sometimes just to let go and see what she’ll do when you hang into that tire. But she has absolutely no fear whatsoever. Neither did Caleb.

“Bring on those giants. It’s not the size of the giant; it’s the size of our God”. What a perfectly descriptive name for the man who was to be Joshua’s sidekick. And of course, we find that personality coming into play here as we look at this passage of Scripture.

Every Scripture has, as I said, a position. I believe this passage is here to teach us what it means to finish well. So you have your Bible open to Joshua 14. Let me begin reading, but first let me just simply set the stage for you. It was at the age of 40 that the Lord said to Moses, “You send twelve men—one man from each of the tribes of Israel. You send these men into the land of Canaan to see what I,” notice the tense here, “am giving you” (Numbers 13:2). 

“It’s yours. I just want you to go see what you got. Bring back evidence.” And you recall the men came back. There was a divided report. Ten of the men said, “It’s truly a land that flows with milk and honey—no question about it—but there are giants in the land” (see Numbers 13:27-28).

“Caleb and Joshua,” the Bible says—and listen carefully. This is important—“that there was a different spirit in them” (see Numbers 14:24). Interesting. Caleb and Joshua said, “It is not the size of the giants. If God is pleased with us, we’re easily capable of overtaking them. They’ll be bread for us. We won’t be bread for them” (see Numbers 14:9).

And of course, you remember the people began to argue. The Lord showed up and he said, “All right. You’ve made your choice here. You obviously, as I’ve heard you grumble and complain, you want to go back to Egypt. You don’t like your leaders; you don’t like My plan. And so what’s going to happen is that you’re going to wander in this wilderness for forty years, one year for every day the spies were in Israel. And everyone of this generation is going to die. Then the next generation is going to go in” (see Numbers 14:26-35). 

So the next generation did, under Joshua. Moses did not get to go into the Promised Land, as you know. He forfeited that privilege with his impatience and faithlessness. So now Joshua has led the Children of Israel across the Jordan. Now they’re back in the land of promise.

They have been for five years fighting over the territory that belongs to them. This is what happened over the next five years. They began to fight. And here’s Caleb who’s just sort of laying back in the weeds like an alligator, all five years—participating in the battle, not saying anything—because in the midst of putting a curse on the Children of Israel and saying, “You’re going to die in this wilderness, this generation is.” He had said, “except for Joshua and Caleb.”

As a matter of fact, He said, “Caleb is going to have the privilege of occupying every place where the sole of his foot touched” (see Joshua 14:9).

So Caleb has been fighting—80…81…82…83 years of age…84. Now at the age of 85 he comes to Joshua. So let’s look at it. Verse 6 of Joshua chapter 14, “And then the sons of Judah drew near to Joshua in Gilgal,” that was their first campground, as you recall, when they came across the Jordan. That means to roll away the reproach. And you recall what happened there.

They drew near Joshua in Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, "You know the word which the Lord spoke to Moses, the man of God, concerning you and me in Kadesh-barnea. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart. Nevertheless my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt with fear; but I followed the Lord my God fully” (verses 6-9).

You’ll see that phrase several times here.

So Moses swore on that day saying, "Surely the land on which your foot has trodden will be an inheritance to you and to your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God fully. Now behold, the Lord has let me live, just as He spoke these forty-five years, from that time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, when Israel walked in the wilderness; and now behold, I am eighty-five years old today. [I want my birthday present.]

I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and for coming in. Now then, give me this hill country, [literally some of you have there give me this mountain] about which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day the Anakim were there [These were the giants. Goliath, by the way, was a descendant of the Anakim] with great and fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me and I will drive them out as the Lord has spoken” (verses 9-12).

Here’s a man who among other men in the Scripture is finishing well. Jean and I have four kids. We have twenty-two grandkids. And we have the big picture in our house. I walked by that picture the other day and I looked at that, and thanks to Jeannie, they’re all pretty good-looking kids. But see, that’s not where the legacy is, not with your looks, not the fact you can get them all to stand in line straight for at least a few seconds. See, some of them could be there in wheelchairs.

You know as families grow larger, instead of different colored t-shirts, we could have different colored bodies, different features on the faces. See, the legacy is not in the color and the feature. The legacy is in the heart.

So what’s the formula for finishing well? Let me mention three elements. Every formula has elements in it. So what are the three elements in this formula for finishing well? Let me just mention them to you.

First of all, there is the element of character. God is not looking for characters. He’s looking for men and women of character. So the first element is the element of character. If anything is a heart issue, it’s character. Your character is what you are in the dark, someone has said. Your character is what you are on the other side of the world when no one you know is there.

Your character is the real you. Your character is what you are on your knees before God. That’s really who you are. This is your character. So let’s think for just a few moments about what kind of person you are in your heart, about your character. In this passage of Scripture we see three things about character which I hope you’ll take home with you.

The first is this. Your character is actually forged by your conversion. Well, Caleb is a person about whom it is said in Numbers chapter 14 verse 24, “In him there was the different spirit.” And when a person is genuinely born again—and I hope we don’t miss this message, because I have a great concern that we underplay the value and the impact of what it really means to be saved.

I know people who have come from the dregs of society who have sterling character, and they would tell you it’s because they got saved. The Bible says, “Old things passed away, all things become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I struggle sometimes when I hear people say, “Well, yeah, I got saved. But you don’t know how I grew up.” Or “Yeah, I got saved, but I have these malingering curses that I live with.”

Wait a minute. When you get saved, you get set free. But your character is forged with your conversion. And that’s an important thing for you and me to understand.

Many, many years ago when Oklahoma was still Indian territory and the road only came so far as Fort Smith, Arkansas, there was a man by the name of Thomas Brittain Elliff who brought his pregnant wife to the end of the railroad and then sallied forth into Indian territory and bought a farm for nineteen dollars.

It wasn’t very long before his wife came down with what they call swamp fever. It was probably cholera. And she turned to her husband, Thomas Brittain Elliff, she said, “I don’t want to die in this here wild Indian territory.” I mean, I have this written in his own handwriting. My granddad read it on a tape which I’ve listened to. “I don’t want to die in this here wild Indian territory.”

So he sold the farm for another nineteen dollars, bought a wagon, went back to Fort Smith, put his very sick and pregnant wife on the train, got on the train with her. And they began to try to get back to Tennessee.

They hadn’t been on the train for very long when she went into hard labor. The conductor went up to the front, moved a couple of cowboys out of some benches, and then came back to Thomas Brittain Elliff and said, “Bring your wife up here.”

She lay there. And he became aware that she was going to die giving birth to this child. She asked him to kneel down beside her, and she said, “Promise me two things. Promise me you’ll give this baby’s life to God, and promise me you’ll give your life to God.”

He was not a Christian at the time. He made her that promise. And the next week in a little church not far from Fort Smith in the middle of a service, the door was opened. Silhouetted in the door was this tall, angular man holding a baby up. He said, “Brethren, I’ve come here to give my life to God, and I've come here to give this baby to God.”

Now, to my knowledge, from that man and down to this man here, there are what? Seventeen preachers in that family. But it began with one man’s conversion some place. You know people. I’ll be speaking and they’ll say, “I just didn’t have a family like yours where there are these preachers, [thank God] where all these people are in the ministry and they love on you.”

Hey, here’s the point. Then why not be first in line? Why not do what Thomas Brittain did? Why not say, “Okay. That was it. I’m going to be different by the grace of God. I’m giving my heart to Christ, and I’m going to start a new generation, a new heritage, a new legacy of people who know Jesus Christ and who love Him and who serve Him.” That’s what salvation is all about. It’s forged by conversion.

Secondly, I just want to say this. It’s formed by your companions. What do we know about Caleb? Well, he ran with Joshua. And what do we know about Joshua and Caleb? They ran with Moses. As a matter of fact he says, “You know the thing that Moses the man of God said to you and to me,” they were buddies.

My mother used to say—and you’re going to hear lots of references to my mom and my dad and my grandparents, because we’re talking about legacy here. My mother used to say, “Tommy, chose your friends carefully because in great measure you’ll become what your friends make you.”

I’ve often said to my children that every person is a product of the books they read and the friends they keep, and I add to that and the Lord they serve and the music to which they listen. Those four things, I think, are very formative in a person’s life.

Music has an incredible way of getting into corners of your heart. It is sort of like dust. You say, “How did that dust get there?” Well, it just sort of filtered in there. That’s the way music does. It gets in the little corners of your heart that nothing else will.

A product of the friends you keep, the books you read. Our kids got their allowance growing up by reading biographies. I have them literally—I still do—by the hundreds. “I’ll give you a dollar a book. You can be rich. You can be poor.” That’s how they got their allowance—a dollar a biography, because I wanted books to be their friends. But I wanted them to be impacted by the lives of others.

That’s why when kids go to school, it’s not so important what they learn but who they learn under. It’s the impact of that life resting upon the heart of that child. It’s important for you, and it’s important for me—isn’t it?—to pick good companions.

I think sometimes we forget how important it is to have good friends. I meet people sometimes who say to me, “I don’t have many good friends” or “any good friends.” Or, “There’s no one that I’m very close to.” Well, I feel very sad about that. I do. I have some good friends. It takes an investment in the life of another person to be a good friend.

Now, you don’t want too many friends, good friends. There’s a verse we often misquote—“A man who has friends must show himself friendly.” In reality, if you read that literally it’s “A man of too many friends is constantly having to be their friend” (see Proverbs 18:24, NASB), and I can vouch for that as well.

So it takes an investment. Pick your friends carefully, and be loyal to your friends. Now, it’s important for you and for me to understand that our character in large measure, besides being forged by our conversion, is formed by our companions.

One of the ways that we know that a young man and a young lady are suited to be married is by this test: Are they bringing out the best in each other? Is he a better man, more pure, more holy?

Sometimes I ask these couples, “Well, how is it going with you?”

“We need to hurry up and get married, Preacher.”

“Well, why?”

“Well, you know . . .”

“Are you guys sleeping around?”

“Well, we—you know—a few times, you know . . .”

“Hey, wait a minute. God’s person for you is going to make you more holy, not less holy—more pure, not less pure.”

You become what your friends make you. We’re a product—we’re formed by our companions.

Nancy: We’ve been listening to the first part of a message by Dr. Tom Elliff on Finishing Well. I know that you’ll want to hear part 2 of that message tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Dr. Elliff has reminded us that developing godly character is a key ingredient to being able to run the race faithfully all the way to the finish line. That’s what we’re trying to help people do through the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, through our two daily nationally syndicated broadcasts, through our Internet ministry, through our publications and our resources and our conference ministry.

We’re trying to help women—moms, daughters, grandmoms, sisters, wives—to have the kind of character that’s needed to run well in the race of this Christian life. So when you support this ministry with your financial gift, you’re enabling us to have that kind of discipling ministry in the lives of women all across this country and around the world.

I’m so grateful for friends like you who have been impacted through this ministry and have partnered with us financially to underwrite this faith-supported ministry. If the Lord prompts you to help us out with a financial contribution this week, we would be so grateful.

We’d like to send you, if you’ll ask for it, a CD of the message that we’re listening to today and tomorrow by Dr. Elliff, the message Finishing Well. We’ll also send you a CD of a testimony that I gave right after Dr. Elliff finished this message. It’s a testimony about my dad, Art DeMoss, and how he finished well and the impact he made on my life as his daughter.

We’ll send you both those CD’s as well as a set of bookmarks that we’ve been offering during this series on Joshua. It’s called Leaving a Godly Legacy. You’ll get five of those in a pack. It’s got Psalm 127 on it and seven key reminders about how to leave a godly legacy, so not only can you finish well, but you can be instrumental in the lives of those who are coming behind you so they can also finish well.

Leslie: We’ll send these thank you gifts Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been describing when you donate any amount at ReviveOurHeartsRadio.com. Or call us at 1-800-569-5959.

In case you’re curious, Tom Elliff is the brother-in-law of Holly Elliff, a friend who often speaks on Revive Our Hearts. Tom will be back tomorrow to describe the difficult situations that often produce character. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministry.

All Scripture is taken from the New American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.