Our Lives are a Living Example
About the Guest
On today's broadcast, Jim Elliff, founder of Christian Communicators Worldwide in Kansas City, MO, talks about the various ways God has of bringing His children into the faith. Hear why a parent's model is one of God's best tools.
Jim ElliffJim Elliff is founder and president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. For nearly twenty years prior to the beginning of CCW, 1966–1985, he worked as teaching pastor or in pastoral staff positions in a variety of churches in Florida, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma, as well as itinerating.
On today’s broadcast, Jim Elliff, founder of Christian Communicators Worldwide in Kansas City, MO, talks about the various ways God has of bringing His children into the faith.
Our Lives are a Living Example
Jim: We really live out before our children the implications of the Gospel. For instance, sometimes I come in at the end of a hard day, and I'm short with the kids and short with my wife, and I'm gruff. Well, I have to ask myself – am I a repenting person? Please forgive me for that.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 6th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Have your children seen you living out what it really means for someone to repent and believe the Gospel?
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. You know, as parents, we can get a lot wrong as we're raising our children, but we want to make sure that one thing we don't get wrong is the Gospel, both in how we articulate it and in how we live it.
Dennis: You know, Bob, I think one of the real challenges of the Christian community today is to not assume that our Christian faith is going to be passed down from one generation to another. And with us in the studio is a man who is not merely going to help us pass down our faith to our children, but as a man who has received the faith now from four generations, is that right, Jim?
Jim: We're into our fourth generation of believers, and, in fact, worse than that, preachers.
Dennis: Oh, my goodness.
Jim: All the men are preachers, and the women married preachers.
Dennis: You wonder what his sons are thinking.
Bob: That's right.
Jim: That's right.
Dennis: Am I predestined to being a preacher? The answer is, "Probably, son, probably." Well, that's the voice of Jim Elliff, who joins us for a second day. He has been a pastor and has worked with pastors, really, throughout the United States, speaking nationally and internationally, and, along with his brother, has hosted – well, it's really an international convocation on revival calling people to prayer and repentance.
Well, I want to get into this fourth-generation story. You actually have – is it a great-grandpa, then, who came to Christ?
Jim: Yes, my great-grandfather, right outside of Little Rock here, on a train. He had gone to Indian Territory from Tennessee with his young wife and bought some property with the $16 or $18 that he had. It was the chance of his lifetime. But she got sick, and she wanted to go back to Tennessee from Indian Territory, which was Oklahoma, by the way.
And so he promised that he would take her back, and they got back on the train. She thought she would die in Tennessee, but she died, actually, before she got off the train, and she died right outside of Little Rock.
Dennis: Now, how old were they?
Jim: He was a very – she was very young. They were just a young couple, I would say, in their 20s. And he got down on his knees outside of Little Rock, and when he got up, he was a new man in Jesus Christ.
His son was my grandfather. He grew up then in a godly influence, he was a vibrant Christian and, among the other children, was my grandfather, A.P. Elliff, who was converted then because of the influence of the family. And then my father, and my father has had four children, I am one of those – three boys. All of us are preachers, as well. My father was a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, and, as a young child, I gave my life to Christ.
Following a series of meetings, I was hearing a man preach the Gospel; went home quite burdened. I had been burdened for some period of time and asking all kinds of questions about God, but there, beside the bed, in my parents' bedroom with my mother – my father was gone that evening, but with my mother, I trusted my life to Jesus Christ, and I felt that this was a genuine conversion experience.
Dennis: Well, as you were talking, I couldn't help but think back to my own childhood conversion and really trusting Christ with my mom in a church class in the bottom of a basement, and it was really – well, I'd have to say it was the teaching of my parents along with their lives that God used to draw me, really, to His Son, Jesus Christ. And you really believe those are the two channels that God uses to bring people to Christ – our life and our message, the Gospel.
Jim: That's right, yes, and the Bible says it. And that's why I believe it, I guess. Let me read 2 Timothy, chapter 3, verses 14 and following – "But you must continue in the things, which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus."
And so we see in this passage that there are two conveyors of the Gospel. One, the lives of the people who are around us who are the believers. In the case of Timothy, of course, Eunice and Lois, who had, by the way, a sincere faith. That was their notable characteristic. And then, of course, the Apostle Paul, when Timothy was a young man, was quite an influence on him as well.
Dennis: And, you know, as we're talking about leading kids to Christ, we have a number of listeners who are single-parent moms who listen to the broadcast, and I think this passage ought to be a tremendous encouragement and give them hope that even though the family they're in may not have a man, first of all, God will use their lives and their teaching along with bringing powerful male mentors and male models just as God brought Paul into Timothy's life.
Jim: Yes, and Paul was brought into Timothy's life at a strategic time. Timothy was one of those who, like so many in the history of the church, was possibly converted as a child. We don't have an actual story of this, but we do find that, as a young man, he made public testimony of that, probably at his baptism. I think that's what we understand the passage to mean.
And so even though he was very likely converted as a young child, he publicly expressed that when the Apostle Paul came along and excited that and demonstrated the life of faith for him, I think, later on.
Dennis: Jim, illustrate from your life what it means to you to live the Gospel out in front of your kids. You're just not talking about taking them to church and doing good works in front of them. It's much more than that, isn't it?
Jim: It is much more than that. I like to say sometimes that we really live out before our children the implications of the Gospel. For instance, if we say our response to the Gospel should be one of repentance. Well I have to ask myself, "Am I a repenting person? What sins have I repented of?"
Dennis: And maybe in front of your children.
Jim: In front of the children, that's exactly right.
Dennis: Give me an illustration from your life.
Jim: Well, I can illustrate this many times. I've often – I don't know if you're like me, Bob and Dennis, but sometimes I come in at the end of a hard day, and I'm short with the kids and short with my wife, and I'm gruff.
But I ask their forgiveness for things like that. I stop and say, "Wait a minute, I was wrong in the way I handled your question or the way I cut you off, and what you have to say is more important than that, and please forgive me for that.
Dennis: So you're modeling that repentance verbally and visually, heart-to-heart with your children?
Jim: Yes, I hope so, and I'm certainly wanting to do that. I am conscious of that idea. We also say that the Gospel requires faith; that we come by trusting our lives to Jesus Christ. I have to ask myself the question, "Where am I demonstrating trust in Jesus Christ? What am I trusting God for? What do they see me praying for and expecting God to do?"
And we have many wonderful experiences in this area. Our life is a life of trusting the Lord for all of our finances, so we have a great privilege, a kind of an easy way, in a sense, to demonstrate before our children that the Lord has to come through, or we're out on the streets.
So we're watching Him do that on a weekly basis, sometimes just on a daily basis, we see these things come through.
Something else that's been on my heart in this issue is the fact that we model the character and the perspective of God to our children as well. For instance, we model out before them His view of sin. Here's a way that happens – we're all sitting around, let's say, watching some television program and, all of a sudden, this awful commercial comes on like they're prone to do.
And if you'll ever notice what happens is, depending on how you've been working with your children, is that all the children's eyes turn and look to Daddy or the mother, and they want to see, "What's my Daddy think about that, that I just saw?"
Dennis: It happens at our house. They want to see what am I going to do?
Jim: Yeah, and you're a representative of God to them, and they're learning about what God's perspective is on sin. That's a very important thing when you think of the Gospel. They're also learning of his judgment of sin. How do they do that? One of the ways, I think, is by our consistent discipline. If we're not careful in our discipline of our children, we're going to teach them sloppy ideas about judgment. They need to have a crisp, clear idea about God's judgment. Nobody ever gets away with sin, do they?
Dennis: No. And there's another point you make about this that is so important, Jim. You really believe that sometimes we, as parents, rush in to protect our children from the despair of sin and from the despair of feeling like they're headed for hell, and we rush in too quickly.
Jim: Yes, we do, and I think there was a lot of wisdom in many of our forebears. They believed it was important to let the conviction of the Holy Spirit soak for a while in the person. It was like digging the soil up for the seed of the Gospel.
But conviction is vital to the receptivity of the Gospel. So we want them to see sin in their lives.
Dennis: And the temptation in this feel-good culture is if our children are feeling bad about their sin, we want to rescue them or get them out of that feel-bad condition.
Jim: That's right, yeah.
Dennis: And rush them to the cross, perhaps prematurely, at a point.
Jim: Absolutely, it must be so. We're doing it prematurely many times, and I think it pervades a lot of the church life that we have in our day as well. I think sometimes we fail to realize that our objective, as far as the person is without Christ, is not so much to make them feel good but what does the Bible say? When they came in among the believers, they fell on their face before God and said – they were convicted of their sin – and they said, "Surely God is in this place."
That's a different objective entirely, and our churches don't often reflect that. But we, as parents, have to model before them God's view of sin and God's view of the judgment of sin.
Or here's another thing we model – His faithfulness to keep his promises. Well, they're learning through us by our keeping our promises to them.
Dennis: And that's part of the Gospel, isn't it?
Jim: It is, absolutely, a part of the Gospel. The Gospel is a promise to us, and if they cannot learn to have confidence in an authority, they will have a more difficult time to have confidence in God as their authority.
Bob: Jim, you have set a mantle on parents here to be God in front of their kids. That's a hard – it sounds like a hard yoke you have placed on us.
Jim: Well, maybe I could qualify it a little in this way – one is, we're never God, but we act as representatives of the Lord, no question about that. But we are imperfect representatives. It's amazing what God does to sinful people, isn't it?
And I think one of the redeeming points among all the failures that we, as parents, make is that we have the ability to stop in our tracks and say, "I'm wrong. I've been doing it wrong." And we can say that to our kids.
And by doing that, we're not perfect, they know we are not God, but they see this ongoing repentance, which is characteristic of the Christian's lifestyle, and that's an important factor, I think, in living out the implications of the Gospel for our children.
Dennis: You know, Bob, as you were saying to Jim, you were kind of loading us down some responsibility, I was thinking what he's doing is he's really embodying the truth of Deuteronomy, chapter 6, which really places a weight upon the shoulders of a parent to teach these things to their children. And there's a sense in which, as parents, we really do need to carry on our shoulders the sober, solemn responsibility that, as God's ambassadors and as, really, the first expression of God to our children, that we bear His imprint in our lives; that we are the living Gospel in front of them so they are learning pieces of the Gospel; how to place faith in God's promise; how to repent; how to sacrifice; God's judgment of sin – all of those are a part of our lives as we attempt to follow Christ as well.
Bob: I want to ask both of you a question, and, Jim, I'd ask you to respond to this first. What is the implication of a mother or father who is doing a good job of explaining and teaching the Gospel to her children or to his children but failing in this area of modeling the Gospel? In other words, they are getting the message through, but they're not living it out consistently. What's going to happen to those kids?
Jim: Well, they're actually doing a very negative thing. The momentum is moving in the wrong direction, for to speak the truths of the Gospel and not to live them is to really damage the child. The child will then become hardened and will see the hypocrisy, learn to live with it, be comfortable with it, will start modeling it, will think that's what the Christian life is all about. It's just speech and no life. The truth is in the reverse, isn't it? It is a life, and part of that life is the speech, which flows. Dennis?
Dennis: You know, Bob, as Jim was talking, I was reflecting back on something I wrote in a call to a family reformation in just challenging parents to think about their lives and what they're passing on to their kids, and my great fear today is that parents are really not assuming their responsibility to live a holy life before their children.
Listen to what I wrote here – "As a parent, you cannot tolerate your depravity without acting depraved. You cannot lie and still represent the truth. You cannot cheat and then discipline a cheater. You cannot think you can hide your compromise from an omniscient God who promises to pass down your sin to four generations. If you want your garden to be fruitful, you can't section off a portion of it for weeds."
I went on to write, "General Omar Bradley reinforces the need for character when he says, 'We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.'"
And I conclude my section by saying this – "Today, more than ever, children need parents who are ethical giants – homegrown heroes with character." And that's what Jim has challenged us with here – a biblical concept of living messengers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What greater privilege if God uses me for no other reason as a parent but to impact my son or my daughter or all my children. What great privilege could a parent possibly have but to seeing them introduced to the living, sovereign God of the universe through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Bob: Let me read something that Ray Comfort wrote in his book, "How to Bring Your Children to Christ." He says, "Your own personal example of how to live out the Christian life will perhaps have the greatest influence on the spiritually of your children."
And I've said to parents – not just about this subject – but I've said to them on a variety of subjects over the years, "Your children will hear what you say, and they may do what you tell them to do, but they will ultimately become who you are."
And so how we model the Gospel as parents is maybe the most essential part of our Gospel witness, maybe more important than what we articulate with our lips. Although I'd want to be real quick to say, we've got to be doing both, as parents. We've got to be speaking about what's important in our lives, we've got to be opening the Scriptures and reading the Scriptures with our children, and we've got to be living out what we say we believe in our own lives.
I want to encourage our listeners, if they don't have a copy of the book that I just read from, Ray Comfort's book, "How to Bring Your Children to Christ and Keep Them There, Avoiding the Tragedy of False Conversion," I think this will be a helpful book as parents think through what we can do to influence our children with the message of the Gospel. Ultimately, it's up to God to change their hearts, but, as parents, we can play a role in introducing them to the person of Jesus Christ, and I think this book helps us understand how to do that, as parents.
And then there's a book you and Barbara wrote, Dennis, called "Growing a Spiritually Strong Family," that I think provides a framework for what our family can and ought to look like if we wanted to be spiritually healthy.
We've got both of these books in our FamilyLife Resource Center. Any of our listeners who would like copies can go to our website, FamilyLife.com. You'll see a red "Go" button in the middle of the home page, and if you click that button, it will take you right to a portion of the site where you can get more information about both of these books, and if you're interested in copies of both of these books, we can send along at no additional cost the CDs that include our conversation on this subject with Jim Elliff so that you can review those yourself or pass them along to someone who may benefit from listening to this series.
Again, the website is FamilyLife.com, and you'll want to click the red "Go" button in the middle of the screen, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, mention that you were listening to the radio, and you were curious about the resources we were mentioning, and someone on our team can let you know more specifics about these books and other resources and let you know how you can get them sent to you.
And speaking of articulating the message of the Gospel so that children can understand it, a number of years ago, our team came up with a tool, a resource that's been used by a lot of parents over the last decade or more, to help share the Easter story with children. It's a tool with which many of you are familiar. It's called Resurrection Eggs. This year we would like to see a set of these Resurrection Eggs get into the hands of people who might not otherwise hear the Gospel, and we'd like your help at making that happen.
In fact, we'd like to enlist you to be a part of our distribution network for these Resurrection Eggs. Some of you, in the past, have been a part of The World's Largest Neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt by hosting an Easter egg hunt in your neighborhood and using these Resurrection Eggs. This year, what we'd like to ask you to do is to get a set of these eggs from us and pass them along to someone you know – a neighbor, a relative, someone at work.
In fact, when you make a donation to FamilyLife during the month of March of any amount, we want to send you a set of these eggs that you can pass along to someone else and, at the same time, we're going to work with Here's Life Inner City, which is a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, and through their network, we're going to make sure that a set of these Resurrection Eggs gets in the hands of a child in the inner city.
So, again, when you make a donation of any amount, you'll be making sure that a child in the inner city gets a set of these Resurrection Eggs, and we'll send you a set either to use with your family or to pass along to someone you know, and we're hoping you might pick someone who doesn't know Christ at Eastertime to give them a set of these Resurrection Eggs would be a non-threatening way to share the Gospel with them.
When you make a donation this month to FamilyLife Today, and you're filling out the donation form online, you will come to a keycode box. Just type the word "eggs" into that box, and we'll know that you'd like to join us in this endeavor this year. Or make a donation over the phone. Call 1-800-FLTODAY to make your donation and mention that you'd like to receive a set of Resurrection Eggs to pass along to someone, and you'd like to make sure a set gets to a child in the inner city as well, and we'll take your donation and make sure that that happens this year.
And let me say thanks in advance for joining with us in this endeavor and helping get the Gospel out at Eastertime to as many children and their parents as possible. Dennis?
Dennis: Well, we've been challenged to the core to really consider our lives and how our lives are communicating the Gospel to our children. Jim, you've got one final, sobering challenge to parents as they think about how their life, their model, will communicate the Gospel to their children.
Jim: There was another family of several generations of preachers in early New England named the Mathers – Cotton Mather, Increase, and Richard Mather. Richard preached a sermon one time where he imagined the children on their way to hell on the Judgment Day addressing their parents. We don't know all that happens on the Judgment Day, but what an awesome thought.
But, at any rate, he paints this picture, and here is what the children say – "All this that we hear suffer is through you. You should have taught us the things of God and did not. You should have restrained us from sin and corrected us, and you did not. You were the means of our original corruption and guiltiness, and yet you never showed any competent care that we might be delivered from it. Woe unto us that we had such carnal and careless parents and woe unto you that had no more compassion and pity to prevent the everlasting misery of your own children."
Dennis: You know, Bob, as he was reading that, I was thinking we need prayer as parents. And that's how I'd like to conclude the broadcast today.
Heavenly Father, these are sobering words. These, indeed – well, they cause us to look to You and say, "O Lord help us with the next generation. Grant us favor and success in raising these that would follow long and hard after you."
Heavenly Father, I pray for each of us as parents, whether a single parent, whether a mom and dad together, whether grandparents, or whether a single person who is an aunt or an uncle to a youngster, heavenly Father, help us to take our responsibility that You have given us with a sober heart and yet with diligence that will honor You.
To the Glory of Christ we pray, amen.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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