Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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The Life of Jeannie Elliff, Part 2

Leslie Basham: Here's Tom Elliff reflecting on the life of his wife, Jeannie.

Tom Elliff: She was such a humble person. She never wanted to be at the front of the line. She never wanted to be first. She wanted to serve. She always put others before herself. The Bible says that God gives grace to the humble, doesn't He? And He certainly gave her great grace.

Leslie: This is the Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, October 2, 2015.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Yesterday, we listened to portions of a memorial service for my sweet friend, Jeannie Elliff. Her four children spoke about the investment that their mom made in their lives. Today we'll hear from Jeannie's husband, Tom. Tom and Jeannie served together in local church ministry for decades and even for a couple of years as missionaries in Zimbabwe.

Yesterday, I mentioned the verse in Hebrews that tells us to remember our leaders, those who have spoken to us the Word of God, and to consider the outcome of their way of life and to imitate their faith (see 13:7–8).

Now, we can try to imitate the lives of godly mature believers all we want on our own. And you know what? In our own strength we'll always come up short. In order to truly imitate the lives of our leaders in the faith, we need the same power that they had.

Today, we're going to hear how Jeannie had the strength to live her life for God's glory. Her husband, Tom, tells us about the foundation on which her life was built.

Tom Elliff: I told someone this morning that I need to go back and start being a pastor again not because that's just a yearning of mine. No. But I never knew what I was talking about. I have never experienced such extensive shocking grief mixed with incredible exuberant joy to the extent that I have in the past few days. And it's not a mixture, actually, it's more of a compound. You can't tell where one leaves and the other begins.

Today, before I came out here, I drove out to the cemetery. Jeannie's not there. That's her body. That's her tent. But I love that, too. I'll just be honest with you. And you should. But she's not there. I looked out the window of the car as I pulled up beside where her earthly remains are interred, and I wept. I wept so loudly that I finally had to roll up the window and hide my face. I was afraid somebody else would see me.

I'm not saying this because I want to wallow in grief. I'm just saying that it occurred to me in the middle of that, that the next time I saw Jeannie would be when we were either both coming out of that grave, or I was whisking from someplace to meet her there because Christ had come. And I was really happy about that. I began praising the Lord louder than I had cried over the loss.

When the grave marker is placed down there, on it will be a quote that was Jeannie's favorite. She was taken with this. She came to me one day and said, "In my Bible study I have just been captured by what James says about himself or what he doesn't say about himself. He says, 'Of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, a servant.'"

Now, I know when you read your Bible it says, "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1:1). But actually, in the Greek those are juxtaposed. It begins with God. If you wanted to be humble, I suppose, you did exactly what James did. Frankly, if I was the half-brother of Jesus, I would drop the name occasionally. "You know, I grew up with Him."

But once he gets His name out of the way, "Of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, a slave." Jeannie was so taken with that.

We met with our family. You know, when you get a little notice of this-and by the way, you ought to do this because we're all on notice. As a friend of mine says, "Dirt wins." And so, we gathered our family together, all of them, over the last few weeks. One of the things Jeannie wanted to do was to go over all of the plans. I mean the funeral plans. This order of worship is the order of worship that Jeannie and I had hammered out and planned. And mine's tucked away, as well. And she said, "This is what I want, and I want mine to be about the Lord Jesus."

As we talked about this, I was able to tell the children, "This is what Mother has put on her grave marker. 'Of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, a slave.'"

Jeannie loved that passage of Scripture because it spoke of a certain kind of assurance-a certainty-that characterized her life. Many of you do not know this perhaps, but when I first met Jeannie, I thought she was the most spiritual, finest Christian person in the entire world. And I thought that our entire marriage and still think that.

She came walking across the campus, I used to tell our folks at the international learning center, wearing a madras blouse, a blue jean skirt, two little pony tails tied up, and penny loafers with pennies in them and bobby socks. And she was wearing this perfume called "Get Your Man." I think the actual name of it was "Ambush" which is the same thing. It did.

My first date with her was at a GA coronation. She was a leader. She said, "Well, I could, but you'll have to wait until . . ." And so I went and sat through a GA coronation that she was leading so that I could have the privilege of taking her out to eat afterwards.

Six weeks later I proposed to her. That's not in the marriage books. That's why they call those "happy days." Nine months later we were married. Perfect. Maybe not perfect in your eyes but perfect for me.

For five years she would come to me and say on occasion, "You know, I've always struggled with whether I was a Christian." And she would tell how she walked down the aisle of the largest church in Arkansas. She said, "I don't remember what I said. I was promptly baptized." She said, "I actually went forward because a friend of mine. And I said to myself, 'Well, if he can go forward, I can go forward.'" And she said, "I just do not have the certainty that I'm a child of God."-a pastor's wife.

I convinced her again and again. "You prayed, you know?" You know how you do that little mental gymnastics. "You said, 'Come into my heart.' He's standing at the door. He would come in, and He keeps His promise. Where is He? He's inside. Therefore, you're saved."

She'd say, "Then why can't I get certain about that?" Because God loved her and because His Holy Spirit tracked her down and convinced her that as beautiful and as sweet and gracious as she was, she was a desperate sinner, and that apart from the grace of Christ she would never be saved.

And I remember, vividly, it was July 4, 1971. It was a Sunday. I was shaving, and she came in and said, "Tom, I have never repented of my sins." And at the bedside that day, she received Christ by faith as her Savior. She repented and believed in Him and His finished work on the cross at Calvary. That night she was baptized my sister as well as my wife.

I could not believe the change. I always thought she was perfect. I couldn't believe the quantum change that took place in her life. It wasn't that she was bad and became good. It was, I could not believe it. God gave her a voracious appetite for the Word of God that you've heard about, a deep desire to lead people to the Lord Jesus Christ, a grace and a beauty and a humility, preferring others.

But she was certain. And you know when you are certain, you have an indomitable spirit, indomitable faith. Over the years when I think of all of the things, the churches and the overseas experiences and where we had the privilege of serving and all that we went through, like a rock she served the Lord Jesus. She never questioned that once again.

She became an avid leader of people to Christ. I cannot tell you in the last several weeks how many people have come by our home to say, "Jeannie, I want to thank you for leading me to Christ ." It's been amazing to me. Some people I didn't even know about. "Thank you for telling me about the Lord Jesus Christ." Some of you are here this morning.

So, certainty. Her life was characterized by certainty of God. And I would hope that you could say, "I am of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have come to Him by faith."

Humility. I never met a more humble person. Jeannie didn't want anybody in her family putting on airs. She would say, "What's this big to-do all about?" Or as I sat on the platform getting ready to chair my first experience as President of the Southern Baptist Convention, to have your wife lean over to you and say, "Remember, you are a goober. Just be yourself."

She's such a humble person. She never wanted to be at the front of the line, never wanted to be first. She just wanted to serve. She was always putting others before herself. And the Bible says that God gives grace to the humble, doesn't He? And He certainly gave her great grace.

She knew what it was to die to self—that snarling, greedy spirit within you that would destroy you and others. She knew what it was to die to self, and she did on a daily basis.

Certainty. Humility. Simplicity. A slave. You know, in some ways over the forty-nine years of our marriage, our life, at times, was pretty complicated. Some of you all know some of those complications that come to you serving with certain roles. Life had a tendency to be complicated, but never with Jeannie.

It was all reduced to an equation that ended at the word bond slave. "I'm just a slave. I'm just His. I'm a slave."

It's what I said a long time ago. In England, a man paid an exorbitant price for a slave on an auction block. And in the wagon on the way home, the slave laughed at the man and said, "You know, in less than two weeks England will abolish slavery, and you have paid all this money."

He said, "I bought you so that I could set you free."

And the man fell on the floor of the wagon and said, "I will serve you then for the rest of my life."

Jesus bought us to set us free. Jeannie never thought of herself as anything other than a slave of Jesus Christ. That just made it very simple. As a slave you just simply come to your master. It doesn't make any difference what the complicated part is. You just come to Him, "Lord, as your bond slave." Bond slaves are marked, and she certainly was.

That simplicity along with the beauty of Christ within her life made me always want to be with Jeannie. There's a bunch of friends out here, especially you guys who served with IMB . . . They kid me because they knew that no matter where we were in the world, if Jeannie wasn't along, I was figuring out how to get home early. I was figuring out how to get back home to Jeannie. I just always wanted to be at home with her.

Because with her everything was simple. There was a center to it. Slave. Bond slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. There was a warmth. There was a graciousness. And by the way, she had a way of saying good-bye that made you want to come back home. To be honest, like so many times in my life, in our life, it's me now who's away. She's at home in Christ. She's in Christ; Christ is in me. If I want to know her better, I need to know Christ better.

And I'm just being honest with you. I don't think I was fit to be a pastor all those years. I didn't know anything about what I am experiencing right now. I'm so sorry. Some of you all, I stood in your living room and said, "Well, this is what you need to do . . ." I knew nothing about that and about a lot of other stuff. She's right. I'm a goober.

But she is at home. My home is not Oklahoma City. My home is not that house over there in The Fountains. That's not where my home is. My home is in heaven. I don't know why I haven't been thinking about that more. But it has become my home because she is there. The Lord has said that all along. But she is there.

I don't want to love Jeannie more than I love the Lord. But having someone you love like I loved Jeannie makes me realize that is where I want to be.

Back when I was a Royal Ambassador, the WMU was sponsoring the Royal Ambassador then as it was now. And the theme song was a song only girls could sing with their voice range. It was not something for little boys. It was called "King's Business." I think it had three octaves in the thing. And here like little sparrows we would sing, "Realms beyond the sea," screeching this thing out.

But that was so embedded in me. This morning as I sat at my table where I have my quiet time and I looked across at that chair where I always envisioned Jesus as being seated and now Jeannie in the chair to the right. I wanted to say, "I am a stranger here within a foreign land. My home is far away upon a golden strand, ambassador to be to realms beyond the sea. I'm here on business for the King."

And with Jeannie I can say, "This is the message that we bring. A message angels cannot sing. This message. 'Oh, be reconciled,' thus says the Lord again. 'Oh, be reconciled to God.'"

I don't know how much longer that I have any more than you know. I mean, God has to give your heart permission to take its next beat. But I want to do the work while at the same time saying to you and saying before the Lord, "The moment that work is finished, I want to go home."

If you don't know Jesus, heaven is not your home. Oh, I want to ask you to bow your head for a moment.

Father, open our hearts to Your Word and to Your grace. Lord, may our lives and may our lips so point people to You that anyone without You this morning would embrace Jesus as Savior and as Lord.

Could I just ask this? And believe me, Jeannie and I talked about this. We talked about this with our kids. Could I just ask, would you remain with your head bowed in prayer for a few moments?

It just occurs to me that there may be any number of people here who have never trusted Christ. Your testimony may be like Jeannie's at least in part. You may say, "I went to church, and I've been baptized. But being religious did not mean the same thing as being genuinely born again. More than anything else in all the world, that's what I want. I want to repent and trust in Christ and know that I have eternal life—that blessed assurance that we sing about."

Well, Christ is the only way. You must fall on Him, admitting guilt, trusting Him and Him alone. So, like Jeannie, if you don't have that certainty, after all the church going and all the other good things that you've done, you say, "I do not." The answer for you is Jesus.

And I would urge you right now. You say, "What do I say?" I say, "Tell Him. Just tell Him. Tell Him you're a sinner that you want to trust in Him because He alone has paid the price for sin. Cry out to Him as your Savior."

Before I conclude this prayer, while heads are bowed, even Jesus said, "If a man confesses Me before men, him I will confess before My Father that is in heaven. But if a man denies Me before men, him I will deny before My Father who is in heaven." I'm not going to ask you to stand up and confess although the Lord might at some point.

But if this morning, just so I'll know to pray for you, your heart's desire is to cry out to Jesus that you might trust Him as your Savior and then take Him as the Lord of your life, would you just slip your hand up? Just put it back down really quickly. Thank you.

Father, I thank You that even in death the testimony is so clear that people can trust You. I praise You. I thank You for that. And Lord, I want to thank You for this wonderful grace that You afforded this ignorant goober, this sinful, wretched human being. That You would provide to me the opportunity to be a steward of marriage for forty-nine years, this coming August 20.

Oh, God, I know I'll render up an account to You. How I praise You that in these last days Jeannie and I didn't have to hurry around and try to get a lot of last minute stuff done or said or reconciled or fences mended. We just lived that way. We were already telling each other all the things we knew to tell each other about our love, and we never lived with unreconciled differences. We worked.

Lord, I thank You that we were able to relax in the midst of the pain and the suffering and the knowledge that soon she would be gone, we didn't have to worry about all those things. We could focus upon gathering up the skirts and running through the tape at the end.

How I praise You Lord for my precious, precious wife and for these wonderful people. Lord, I'm so humbled that they would take time to come and bring consolation to our hearts and celebration to the fact that Jeannie is with You and we, too, can be there. Oh, Lord, bless them for that.

And these who in their hearts have indicated today, "I need to trust Jesus. I need to settle that." Oh, Father, by the convicting power of Your Holy Spirit, bring that to their heart. Make it alive to them. Give them a living faith, Father. Make it real to them. May this be not just a sobering occasion but a moment of celebration for they are born again as they trust in You. And I pray it in Jesus' name, amen.

Nancy: That's Tom Elliff remembering his wife, Jeannie, who went home to be with the Lord this past July. In the midst of all the tributes paid to this precious woman, the one thing that came through most clearly was Jeannie's personal relationship with Jesus. That's what she was able to invest in the lives of others. And that's how she was able to suffer with joy because Christ was living in her.

But as we've heard, even though Jeannie had grown up in a Christian home; she had been around the things of God; she'd been churched all her life; she even married a pastor and was serving as a pastor's wife; the fact is, five years into their marriage Jeannie discovered that she really did not know Jesus. She knew about Him. She had religion, but she didn't have a relationship with Jesus.

And what a beautiful thing it was to hear of how Jeannie humbled herself and said, "I need Christ." And she put her faith in Christ. She repented of her sin. She became a new creation. And the evidence of that was seen for the rest of her life as she loved Christ, she loved her husband, she loved her children, she loved God's Word, and she served the body of Christ so beautifully and so effectively.

Now at the close of his message Pastor Elliff invited those listening to know for sure that they are right with God. Perhaps as he was speaking you felt that God was speaking directly to your heart. If the Spirit has convicted you of your need for Jesus, perhaps you just prayed with Pastor Elliff to put your faith in Christ to be forgiven of your sin, we'd like to send you some free material to help you in your walk with the Lord. It will help you better understand what it means to be made new in Christ and to walk with Him day by day.

Please give us a call and ask for our free material about growing in your new faith. The number to call is 1–800–569–5959.

And oh Lord, how I thank You for this beautiful, sweet, radiant example of this lovely woman now in the presence of Christ. I pray that through the impact of her life that You'll cause many of us to build our lives on a foundation of knowing Christ, the foundation of living life daily in His Word. I pray that even those listening today who may be religious but have never come into a personal relationship with Christ will take that first step today.

And Lord, may each of us be growing in our faith, serving others, knowing You, and reflecting the beauty of who Christ is in our homes, in our churches, in our relationships. May Christ be magnified through our lives in life and in death. I pray it in Jesus' name, amen.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. Well, a greedy, self-seeking prophet is mentioned in eight different books of the Bible. Can you guess who he is? Here's a hint. He had a conversation with a donkey. Nancy will take you through this prophet's strange story. It will encourage you to bless others and not to curse them. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

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

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.