Jim Elliff

The New Year Starts: Making Plans?

Should we plan? Yes. Should we aspire to something better? Yes, again. Is there godly ambition? Sure. But if we act as though this or that can happen outside of God’s will, we will be out of step with the Master planner. He has a strategy and a use for your life that all of our plans will not avert.

You may have reason to fear the year now upon us. What is on the other side of the door? Every person has their allotment of trouble, even among believers. Will there be loss, illness, death, aggravation, perplexity? Will those you love come to distrust you? Will you sin badly, ruining your reputation? Will there be economic trials and anxiety over money? Will you lose your job, or worse, your mind? Will you be hurt deeply? Will you be in constant pain? The circumstances can’t always be in your favor. Perhaps you are overdo for trouble.
We cannot know what is ahead. “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow,” said James, the brother of Christ (James 4:13-17). You simply do not know—cannot know—if this will be your best year ever, or the worst, or somewhere inbetween with a bias to one side or the other. And, we cannot tell if what seems bad will do a world of good. We know so little as we put one foot ahead of the other.Read More

When Pastors Aren’t Able to Pastor

If only a few church members live out some or all of these suggestions—perhaps if even one does it—significant improvement will be made in the church you love.
The church is medium-sized in attendance, yet, on paper the membership roll is even larger. Its solo pastor is a frustrated man. There are some good days, and certainly some fine people who encourage him, but he’s frustrated because the job God called him to do just cannot be done. He has many people to tend to, numbers of which are missing, and even those who are present are more than any average man could possibly care for—that is, really care for.
So, this good-hearted, spiritually-minded pastor lapses into frustration over his inability to do much more than put out fires. And there are plenty of those.
He tries to project the view that he is a true shepherd of all the people. He speaks in warm terms to those attending on Sundays, and to all of the people through the church’s regular publications. The website shows him as if he were the best friend and confidant of all the members, constantly attending to their spiritual growth, mentoring, guiding, and comforting. But the blurb under his photo is only a wish and not a reality. He actually is only able to pastor an inner core on that level—perhaps twenty to thirty, at most. He sometimes thinks that his loving words are no different than those of the TV preacher who looks into the camera and acts as if he is directly speaking to the listener as his dearest friend. He has become a pastor who is not able to pastor.
Across town is the fastest growing church. They are driven by entertainment, appealing music, and a large staff. Sometimes his members visit there, just out of curiosity or perhaps out of the need to have a little relief from the sedate experience they are used to. When a special event comes to the mega-church, perhaps several of his members attend, including his own children. It often adds to his frustration, though he would not say much about it.
The pastor of the mega-church expresses his love for the people also. In fact, he may be better at saying it than the pastor of the smaller church. His website portrays him in several photos and videos as a caring, magnanimous friend of the people, who all smile and love him.
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Fiscal Hilarity

The size of our giving is not to be a matter of revelation, but of devotion. In other words, each of us should “do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Now think about that carefully. God likes giving to be as far removed from drudgery and duty (though it is our duty), as possible. It is to be pure joy.

It would be difficult to imagine any giver doing so often or generously without joy in doing it.
I began to be curious about giving early on. In fact, I can still picture the book on giving that my mother read to me, one of only two children’s books I remember. My first book on George Muller, the man who fed and clothed over 10,000 orphans, made the deepest impression. I was drawn into a lifestyle that was so attractive that I could not resist it. I immediately began to live out what I had learned in a radical way. That pursuit still enchants me.
On the one hand, I’m enamored with the promises related to giving. How is it that we can give and give and give and still have enough to give more? Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Lk. 6:38). He was describing what has happened in my experience so often, so dramatically, so regularly, and so faithfully, that its validity as a promise is unquestionable. He has the right to change that for higher purposes without my complaint (He is sovereign after all), yet I can say that God has graciously allowed an increase for giving steadily through the years.
The size of our giving is not to be a matter of revelation, but of devotion. In other words, each of us should “do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Now think about that carefully. God likes giving to be as far removed from drudgery and duty (though it is our duty), as possible. It is to be pure joy. The word “cheerful” is hilaron— from which we get the word “hilarious.” But the meaning in that day would be more like “ready because of a heart full of joy.” Remember the Macedonians who “begged us with much entreaty for the favor of participating in the support of the saints” (2 Cor. 8:4)?
And secondly, giving is a sign of something. You give according to your own desire, not begrudgingly and mournfully as if you are parting with your vital organs. It is the expression of your love. God likes to keep it on this basis. Attitude is every bit as important as amount—no, much more so. You should want to give.
Have you ever dreamed of giving more? I mean, have you dreamed of giving a lot. By “a lot” I mean “a lot compared with what you have, not what somebody else has.” What about 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, 60% or more? You wouldn’t do that without love and God wouldn’t want you to do it without cheerfulness. But it can happen.
Years ago I decided that I would try to give more every year. I’ve not done this perfectly nearly every year since that little whimper of a desire was voiced to God. It wasn’t a vow and I’m under no obligation, but I am free to do it. Jesus never puts down radical givers.
I have to keep in mind two other matters: First, “Am I taking care of my family in a reasonable way as the Lord has instructed me?”
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The Change of Mind

To repent means to “change the mind.” But this change of mind is not merely a new way of thinking about Christ and salvation. It is much more profound, affecting the deepest attitudes and actions. When a person repents, he comes to God hating what he once loved and loving what he once thought so little of. Such an intense change in thinking about sin and Christ results in believers and doing “works befitting repentance.” Acts 26:20 As a person thinks, so he or she acts.

The young man was dying—without Christ.
“I have a habit,” he said, as he looked up from the bed that had been moved into the living room for his last few weeks on earth. “I know that it is sin and that God does not permit it. I want to continue my habit, however, and I honestly don’t intend to stop it. On the other hand, I desperately want to go to heaven. May I become a Christian?”
How would you answer this question?
I responded by saying that it was impossible for him to be converted to Christ while at the same time loving his sin. It is true that anybody who comes to Christ will come with sin. In fact, he or she will come precisely because of that sin—that is, to be rid of it and its awful result. But to come to Christ while loving and cherishing sin is totally impossible. It is like an airplane trying to fly in two directions!
Was I being cruel? No, in fact, I was as loving as I possibly could be. I wanted the man to know the truth about repentance because Jesus had said, “I tell you . . . unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:3
When the apostle Paul walked up Mars Hill in Athens to contend with the philosophers of his day, he was perfectly frank about their need to repent. He courageously declared that God “commands all people everywhere to repent.” Acts 17:30 If God demands repentance from all people everywhere then you and I are also included.
What is repentance?
To repent means to “change the mind.” But this change of mind is not merely a new way of thinking about Christ and salvation. It is much more profound, affecting the deepest attitudes and actions.
When a person repents, he comes to God hating what he once loved and loving what he once thought so little of. Such an intense change in thinking about sin and Christ results in believers and doing “works befitting repentance.”
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Returning To Your First Love

Do not let sin reign in your body. You do not have to continue this sin, though all Christians fail out of inbred weakness. When you sin, repent immediately of your disobedience and continue in your affection for God. Don’t let sin have one hour of your time. Destroy it by the weapons of repentance and faith. 

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” Revelation‬ ‭2:4-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬
Are you and those who are with you dangerously close to experiencing this judgment? Is the Light of God’s presence dim, almost imperceptible? Do you have form without power and activity without fruit? If so, Christ says you must . . .
Using a few key words and phrases, indicate what it was like in the time of your purest and most sincere affection for Christ. Think about habits, feelings, attitudes, liberties and effectiveness.
Write out the habitual sins of your life and those acts against others that have not been dealt with in humility and honesty. Carefully consider the sins listed below and ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to all areas of disobedience. Pray for the grace to sincerely and deeply change both heart and actions. Do not stop short in your evaluation. And do not be deceived. Anyone can name his sins, but those God uses most determine to stop their sinful activity, right every wrong, and walk in obedience. This God-given determination and true hatred of each sin is biblical repentance.
Read over the list below carefully. Mark items which need further reflection as you are writing out your sins. (If in a group, a leader may read this section out loud slowly while the group contemplates and makes a list.)
Are there sins of pride, preoccupation with appearance or status, always having your own way, drawing of attention to yourself in conversation, self-pity, forgetfulness and inconsideration of others due to self-absorption? Do you act as if you know everything? Is there rebellion, willfulness, stubbornness, haughtiness, pouting, and over-sensitivity, or a despising of the authorities God has placed in your life? Has bitterness, anger, rudeness, or a sharpness of speech toward others entered in? Is there lack of love? Have you left relationships unmended? Have you been unforgiving?
Are there sins of speech, such as coarse jesting, filthy language, crudeness, slang unbecoming a child of God, undue pessimism in light of God’s goodness, judging of others? Are you materialistic, always concerned with your money and possessions, lusting for more and more, insistent upon having the latest and the best, discontent with what God has given, ungrateful? Are you dishonest, telling half-truths in order to appear better than you are?
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The Rationale for Wrath

But all is not lost if you will trust Christ for your salvation. Turning from the control of your life, you may depend or rest entirely on Him and what He has done on the cross to save sinful people like you. The first part of the verse we began with is as true as the second part. At this moment, God’s wrath abides or rests on you. But you may place your trust in Christ now for “everlasting life.” 

A cartoon depicted Noah’s ark surrounded by desperate people drowning in the water, begging for help. The rains were coming down hard while Noah and his family were safe inside. On the outside of the ark was a “smiley face” with the words, “Smile, God Loves You.”
Are you sure God loves everybody? John the Baptist didn’t think so. He said, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (Jn. 3:36). Why is God justified in having wrath toward you if you have not come to Christ on His terms?
Because you are a sinner by nature.
The Bible affirms that all people are “by nature children of wrath even as the rest” (Eph. 2:3). “There is none righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). Like David, you were “brought forth in iniquity, and in sin [your] mother conceived [you]” (Ps. 51:5).
Because you have amassed a huge volume of sins.
If you were only to commit 1 sin every day for 10 years, your total sins would be 36,500. But if you sinned at that rate for 60 years, the number would be 219,000. Yet you commit far more than 10 sins each day. And remember how many sins Adam committed before God judged him worthy of death.
Because you have committed the greatest crime possible, against the highest existing authority.
The first and greatest command in the entire universe is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30). The qualifier “all” speaks loudly in this command. Only perfection will satisfy these terms. And the authority behind this law is not earthly; it is God Himself—the highest authority in the universe.
Because of your persistence in sinning against God.
If a man steals once, he might be forgiven. But if he steals repeatedly and habitually over his lifetime, his crime attains a magnitude of offensiveness that demands far more punishment. You have been repeatedly and habitually committing a sin much worse than stealing, for your whole life!
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My Darkest Night; Hopefully Not Yours

It would be a mercy of God to take a man’s mind away in hell, but that surely is the agony of hell. Mercy was for another time, now so long ago. A man must live with himself, without the dignities of feigned kindness and pretended beauty. His mind is the most tortured part of him, regardless of what pains he is afflicted within the body.

At 3:30 a.m., I awoke to a black room, so dark that my eyes could not see even one inch away, much less to the other side. The simple room in a Romanian home in Brasov had one of those metal external shades that are lowered over the window, capable of completely deleting light. I was in the darkest place I had been in perhaps for years. And, since it was night and I was alone in the house, I thought.
“Outer darkness.” I’ve been troubled by those words before—not blindness in this world where others may help, but “outer,” away from all others, forever. I do not understand why hell is described as both “outer darkness” and a place of fire, for where there is fire there is light. Perhaps these are only feeble descriptors meant to approximate the reality, the best that words can do. Perhaps the darkness of “outer darkness” and the fire of “the lake of fire” cannot perfectly convey the emptiness and pain of that future place, but are only signposts to something worse. The signpost isn’t the city itself. What if the worst we can think about hell would one day seem pleasant by comparison to the one experiencing it? What if the true hell can only be experienced, and not described?
What does a man think about in outer darkness? Could he think of, say, a day at the beach with his family? Impossible. For if he were to think of a day at the beach with his family he would immediately moan in agony for he will never see his family nor a day at the beach again, ever. If a man has no hope, nor any prospect of arriving at a place where the slightest wisp of hope could blow like a gentle breeze over him, how could he ever be happy again? Every joy is an eternal pain—a reminder of what will never be.
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The Heart of Family Reformation

When culture rushes down on your family and the professing church is trying to imitate the world itself, how will your family keep from being swept away in its path? Only through the Word of God! Family worship, on a daily basis, is your hope that they will stand like steel piers against the prevailing tide.

When our children were younger we began the day with the hymn we are currently memorizing. When Laura was five, she sang for all of us the second verse of “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord” by the Yale president of the late 1700s, Timothy Dwight. With a determined look, she sang out,

I love Thy church, O God.Her walls before Thee stand.Dear as the apple of Thine eye,And gravy on Thy hand.
My boys collapsed on the floor with laughter. The word is “graven!”
I value family worship, not only because it is sometimes humorous, but because it is glue that holds families together, stimulus for some of the family’s best discussions, and provides real strength for family member’s lives — it can become the heart, in fact, of family reformation.
The Puritans, long misunderstood, had an exceptional view of the family. We can learn from them even though we might not accept all they had to say. They often talked of the home as the “little church,” and the father as the pastor of his little flock. Lewis Bayly said, “What the preacher is in the pulpit, the same the Christian householder is in his house.” Family worship is the natural outcome of such a view. In homes without a believing father, the mother may fulfill this oversight role for children.
The practice of family worship (with or without children at home) is as forgotten to the church today as the dust in our attic, but this simple and effective method of restoring family spirituality is the most potent tool we have available to us—and every one of us can do it!
Why is Family Worship Critical?
First, family worship is critical because the placing of the Word of God in the hearts of our family members is indispensable to their conversion.
Paul reminded Timothy that, “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3: 15).
Peter said that we are “born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible through the Word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Pet. 1:23). This incorruptible seed of saving life (corresponding to the natural biological seed) is inseminated in the dead soul via the Word of God alone.
The Puritans believed this with a passion. This was the rationale for their long sermons, the catechizing of children, the morning messages in those cold church buildings prior to the work day, the daily meditating on the Word in private, and especially the practice of family worship. For the Puritan, family worship took place two times a day, as the “morning and evening sacrifice.” It was through this means that his children and wife, and any other guests or helpers in the home, might receive life!
Richard Baxter, one of the most famous of the Puritans, saw his village of Kidderminster, England transformed through this method. He stated:
I do verily believe that if parents did their duty as they ought, the Word publicly preached would not be the ordinary means of regeneration in the church, but only without the church, among practical heathens and infidels.
Second, it is critical because the Word alone enables your family to withstand the prevailing currents of an evil culture.
In the 2 Timothy 3 passage we find a torrent of base culture descending on young Timothy. “. . . In the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers… disobedient to parents…without self-control. . . headstrong . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (vss.1-4).
How will you be able to rescue your family from the effects of such a culture? Only through the Word of God, according to Paul. The Word makes Timothy as the “man of God,” “thoroughly equipped for every good work” necessary to strengthen the church. His toolbox is complete and “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (vs. 16) so that the people under his charge can withstand the flood of culture described in the previous verses.
In the same way, the shepherding father of the home (or the mother in homes without a father, which was Timothy’s situation) is made adequate to help his or her family. Paul tells Timothy, therefore, to “preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season” (4:2).
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth… (4: 3-4).
When culture rushes down on your family and the professing church is trying to imitate the world itself, how will your family keep from being swept away in its path? Only through the Word of God! Family worship, on a daily basis, is your hope that they will stand like steel piers against the prevailing tide.
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