Elliff underscores intimacy with Christ

SAN ANTONIO (BP)--"Intimacy with Christ is a major issue in the life of every believer," said Tom Elliff, senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations at the International Mission Board.

Elliff addressed about 400 people at his "Equipped for Divine Intimacy" breakout session during the Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference June 11.

"No man of God is in so perilous a position as the man who has lost his place of intimacy with Christ," Elliff said. "At the very least, he will become as Bunyan said, a 'painted flower that has not fragrance, a painted tree that has no fruit, a painted fire that has no warmth.' And at the worst, he will set aside his convictions ... his spiritual conscience, and ultimately, maybe even his calling."

Such was the case of one of Elliff's mentors who, about 30 years ago at the height of the man's pastoral ministry, "made a huge, horrible moral choice that cost him everything. He left his wife and family, married his secretary. Everything changed."

Elliff said he asked the man what precipitated the moral failure, and the man "confessed he had lost his position of intimacy with Christ. 'I forgot that it was daily bread,'" Elliff said, recounting that the mentor had ceased a regular study of the Bible and a close walk with God.

Elliff reflected on a time in the Southern Baptist Convention's recent history when "the big focus was on discipleship," noting that "we almost began to fall more in love with principles than with the person of Christ."

"If being precedes doing, then isn't it true that being with Jesus should precede doing for Jesus?

"The essence of lordship," Elliff said, "is intimacy with Him."

Reading from Luke 10, Elliff said the familiar story of Mary and Martha "vividly speaks to the issue of intimacy with Christ." From the passage, Elliff drew three principles of intimacy with Christ: posture, proximity and preference.

How Mary was seated -- before Jesus -- reflected her reverence for Him, Elliff said, referencing her posture.

"I have bowed my head in prayer sometimes, knowing that this bowed head was hooked to a stiff neck," said Elliff, emphasizing that a reverent physical posture must be predicated on a reverent spiritual posture.

Mary was "as close to Jesus as a woman of discretion could be to a man ... seated at His feet," Elliff continued, referencing her proximity to Him.

Elliff recalled the time when he was working with his grandfather in his grandfather's woodshop. His grandfather asked Elliff to pass him a tool -– a tool unfamiliar to Elliff. When Elliff was unable to locate the tool quickly enough, his grandfather told him to never mind and used a screwdriver instead.

"I didn't use this screwdriver because it was the best tool for the job. I used the screwdriver because it was close to my hand," Elliff quoted his grandfather as saying, adding, "Tommy, there are a lot of men out there who are perfectly equipped to do incredible things for God, but God will never use them because it's the handy tool that gets used the most."

Mary's preference, meanwhile, was to listen to the Word of God, Elliff said, rather than work in the kitchen.

Whereas intimacy with Christ is defined by Mary, Elliff said it is differentiated by Martha, who is "a picture of everything that being with Christ is not."

Elliff warned that "doing" church-related activity is not necessarily "being with Christ."

Reflecting on a recent trip to Russia where Elliff hosted some pastors on a retreat south of Moscow, he said he asked the pastors to list some of their spiritual concerns.

One pastor said Russia has been flooded in the last few years with church growth experts leading conferences and seminars on how to grow churches. The pastor told Elliff that such teachings "are giving our next generation of pastors the idea that there's something better than knowing God."

"A person who does not walk intimately with Christ," Elliff said, "cannot expect God's blessing ... leadership or protection.

"How arrogant it is for us to believe that we can be and do anything empowered by the Spirit, unless we develop intimacy with Jesus."


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