OUR HEAVENLY ASSIGNMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-14-68 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing in the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled, Our Heavenly Assignment. It is a sort of state of the union message. It is an outline of the year ahead, and what God has mandated to us.
Every year, the first Sunday in the new year, I preach a sermon on our downtown church, and in that message, most of the times, I will outline what God would have us do in the new and coming year. We had our Bible Conference last Sunday through last Wednesday. So the message was not delivered last Sunday. It is prepared and delivered today.
The text is in the twenty-sixth chapter of Acts and verse . In the twenty-sixth chapter of Acts, the apostle Paul recounts to King Agrippa the story of his conversion [Acts 26:12-20]. On the road to Damascus—he says—he met the Lord above the brightness of the noonday Syrian sun, and falling at His feet [Acts 26:13-14], the Lord spoke to him and gave him an assignment. He quoted the Lord as saying:
I have called thee and appeared unto thee and
I send thee to the peoples, to the Gentiles,
To open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith—
Then Paul adds the word of the text—
Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.
And that text and commitment on the part of the apostle Paul, “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” [Acts 26:19], gave rise to the sermon subject, Our Heavenly Assignment. And I shall speak now of God’s mandate for us, the Lord’s assignment for us in this new and immediate year.
I speak first of our budget; our stewardship program, however we may designate to mission causes or to appeals that find a repercussion in our hearts, and all of us respond and especially to certain appeals. I do. In the course of the year, I will give designatedly, especially to this cause or to this appeal. I make two offerings each Sunday, one at the eight fifteen service, one at this service. The offering that I made at the early service was a designated offering. All of us have that privilege and ought to have it, and there are things, and times, and institutions, and programs, and mission appeals that move our hearts especially, and we give to them especially. But with all of our designations, we must ever remember, I must, you must, all of us must remember that the life’s dream of our church is found in our budget. If we fail there, we shall ultimately fail everyplace else.
If an organization is in this world, if it is mundane, if it is terrestrial, it has a fiscal financial problem. It is inescapable. A bank has a financial problem, and if the bank is not able to solve it, it goes bankrupt. A merchandiser has a financial problem; if he does not solve it, he goes to the wall. A home is an earthly institution, and if you do not solve the financial problem in your home, you are headed for disaster. I don’t care how much you love each other. I don’t know how it is that God made it that way, but love doesn’t pay any bills. It doesn’t buy any diapers. It doesn’t pay the doctor. And if you don’t solve the financial problem in your home, I don’t care how much you love one another, you are headed for the rocks.
There is no institution that is down here in this world that does not have a financial problem. Our government, who under these past administrations has persuaded itself that there is no limit to the abounding, illimitable resources of rich America, but the hard way, the government of the United States is beginning to learn that, if it does not solve its financial problem, our nation is turning toward an ultimate and irretrievable disaster.
Now the church is down here in this world. Our heads may be in heaven, but our feet are on the ground. We may someday be the church triumphant, but now we’re the church militant, and we have a financial problem. How do you solve it? Well, we’ll get committees together and let them commit on it. We’ll get our deacons together and let them deac on it. We’ll get our fellow elders, our preachers together, and we’ll let them preach on it. But with all of our praying and with all of our committee-ing, and with all of our deacing, and with all of our pastoral preaching, we will never, ever be able to improve upon the wisdom of Almighty God.
The Lord told us and ordered us how to take care of the financial fiscal responsibilities of His church. And we are to do it. That’s all. That settles it, nothing more is to be said. There’s no committee to meet. There’s no deacon session to be held. There’s no sermon to be added. This is it. I read by God’s order, “Now concerning the collection . . . as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so do ye” [1 Corinthians 16:1]. You. Upon the first day of the week, Sunday, the Lord’s Day. “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” [1 Corinthians 16:2], that there be no ding-dongings for money when the pastor stands up to preach.
You don’t improve on that. That’s God. Nor are we to do anything else. Upon the first day of the week, on Sunday, we shall lay aside for God as the Lord has made us able. Every one of you: the baby is one, the little boy is one, the little girl is one, daddy is one, mother is one, each one of us. And when we come to God’s house on the first day of the week, all of us shall have an offering in our hand. And that’s it. There’s nothing more to be said. There’s nothing more to be done. That’s God and God’s will for us. We shall do it every Lord’s Day.
I speak now of our building program, our building fund. On the twenty eighth day of July this year when we celebrate our one hundredth anniversary, this is our centennial year; on the twenty eighty day of July this year, we shall burn the notes and the mortgages against our church. We have built here since I have been pastor more than four million dollars worth of buildings. Beyond that, we have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars remodeling the building when I came and making it enmesh, fit, into the program of the church. I remember one time we allocated one half million dollars just to air-condition our present facilities.
Now after these almost twenty-four years, we shall have paid everything. Every building is paid for. Everything is free of debt, and the twenty-eighth day of July, everything shall have been paid, and we shall burn those notes and those mortgages. Oh, how I have looked forward to such a day! All of my life—I have been a pastor forty years—all of my pastoral ministry, I have borne a debt. In the first little church that I was given of God, the congregation met in a schoolhouse, and I prayed and struggled and built a little country church. And in every ministry since almost, I have struggled in building program and with a great debt. There have been times in the days past, when money was not as worthless as it is now, when our church owed over two million dollars, and I’ve looked forward to the day when we’d be free of that encumbrance. There’s so many things that I want to do. So many things that because of the responsibility of meeting that obligation, we couldn’t do and put off and put off. I had looked forward to the last years of my ministry without debt, where we could just do what we wanted to do.
Then, as the new year approached and we began to think, and to pray, and to search the mind of God what we ought to do and what the future would hold and what God’s will is for us, there came to my soul an increasing and heavy persuasion that God is not pleased with my wanting to quit, or with the spirit of the church that felt that its assignment was done when there was so much left to do. After these years and years, this church still is growing. Its Sunday school is growing. Its Training Union is growing. Its membership is growing. Its attendance is growing. Its budget is growing. The church continues to grow. And for us to stop, to say to God, “It is enough; I have borne the burden long enough.” For us to say to God, “we’re getting ready to quit,” it doesn’t please the Lord.
So, as I prayed and sought the mind of the Lord, last fall I had a vivid dream. My mother who is in heaven, my mother appeared to me as vividly, as plainly as one of you men who is seated here before me this morning. And my mother talked to me about how I was beginning to feel. She said to me, “Son, this task, this work is not finished. Nor can you quit.” Then she reviewed briefly what we had done here in the past and spoke of the responsibility and burden that I had felt carrying this debt. Then she said, “But son, the church must go forward.”
Then she used an illustration that amazed me, for my mother was never that I knew of particularly interested in athletics. And she closed her talking to me with this sentence, “Son, even a football team strives to go forward.” And the dream faded away. I awoke as vividly awake in the middle of the night as I am awake now. “Even a football team strives to go forward.” And I thought of the many times I have watched those teams. They may be far behind, they may be beat, but every time the ball is snapped, all eleven men will strive to go forward.
So last fall, I made a personal commitment of my life in this pastoral work and in the church. We shall keep on keeping on. We have built in the past. We shall build in the future. We have borne the heavy responsibility of a debt in the past. We shall bear the responsibility of a debt in the future. We are going on. And in keeping with that commitment, I’ve said nothing about it, I have not mentioned it, but already we have bought this property on the other side of our parking building, that quarter of a block at St. Paul and Federal Street. We have already bought it. We are paying on it now. And as the days pass, we shall build in this area, possibly there, a very large self-parking building. We shall build our downtown mission, our Good Shepherd Chapel. We shall build a chapel for our silent friends, our deaf mutes. And there are many, many other things that we shall prepare to do.
And the twenty-eighth day of July, on our centennial birthday, I am asking our church to break ground. We may not be able to have every plan completed so that they can pour concrete the next day, but on the twenty-eighth day of July, the last Sunday of this July coming, let’s break ground. Let’s start. Let’s begin, and we’re on the way. And God see us through. This is the Lord’s will for us.
I have spoken of our budget. I have spoken of our building program. I now speak of our Chapel Choir. To you who are guests with us today, there are three services every Sunday in this sanctuary. At 8:15 is a service. It has grown to be our largest. At 10:50 is a service, the one you now share. At 7:30 o’clock in the evening is a third service. God blesses us filling this house at all three of them. At the 8:15 o’clock service, our teenagers, our older teenagers, our Chapel Choir sings. It is our largest choir. This morning at the 8:15 service they filled the choir loft, and there were fifty-seven of them in that section of the balcony.
Sometime ago our minister of music, Lee Roy Till, received a letter from the Baptist World Youth congress saying that they are convening this year in Bern, Switzerland in July, and they’d heard about our Chapel Choir, our teenage choir, and they invited our teenage choir to come to the World Youth Conference in Bern, Switzerland and to sing. That precipitated quite an unknowingness in my own heart. For our choir of a hundred sixty or seventy to make trip like that is financially astronomical. For twenty to go is a large sum of money. For a hundred sixty to go, ah, it overwhelmed me.
Then I received a letter from the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention saying that they had received word of this invitation and asked us to respond. It was their hope that our Chapel Choir could be used by our Foreign Mission Board, and then concerts in Italy, and in France, and in Switzerland, and in Germany, and in England, that they might bring to the attention of the people over there in Europe that Baptist people were somebody, that they had a message and especially the impression could be made by Christian dedicated teenagers. And the Foreign Mission Board wrote a very long letter urging us and asking us to respond to that invitation.
At one of our state conventions, I had lunch with one of the leaders of the Foreign Mission Board, and I said, “I want you to tell me for my ears to hear what this is you want our Chapel Choir to do.” Then the executive secretary of the Foreign Mission Board was here, and I broke bread with him, and I said, “I want you to tell me for my ears to hear what this is you want us to do.”
Then the professor of missions at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth wrote us a long and detailed letter urging us and pleading with us to respond to that invitation. Then when we had our meeting here, he came and brought with him a gifted young missionary from Italy who made appeal for our young people to go. To them, they said, it would be the finest missionary contribution that our church could make and would make the most indelible impression upon the people in Europe to whom we’re trying to bring the gospel of the Son of God.
It was such a difficult decision, and when our deacons wrestled with it, they divided over it; such a vast, large sum of money and could it be used better in some other place. And after several months and praying and discussing, it was finally voted for us to send that Chapel Choir. In that, I rejoice. I shall help them to go. We all shall help them to go. I shall send one of them myself. That will be something like eight hundred dollars. And if that boy or girl who couldn’t make the trip can pay half of his way, I shall send two then. Or if they can pay a fourth, I shall send four. And we all will do it, all of us.
“Yeah, but you don’t understand, preacher, I think our teenagers have all gone to the devil.” “You don’t understand preacher, I think they’re all beatniks. I think they’re all dope peddlers. I think they all give themselves to off-colored parties and situations. You don’t understand, preacher, you don’t understand.” Well, because of what I read in the paper and because of what I hear people say, maybe I was a little somewhat persuaded that our teenagers had gone to the devil, that they were all hell bent, that they all were falling into an evil and iniquitous abyss. I guess I sort of was persuaded like that.
Then last November, I brought the two closing addresses at the state convention in Mississippi, in the afternoon at the convention itself, and then that night, they closed the convention with an enormous rally of all of the teenagers of our Baptist people in the state. It was held in a new coliseum in Jackson, Mississippi, an enormous area built for horse shows, and rodeos, and whatever. When I was taken to the meeting that night, I thought, “Well, what unruly people, they don’t even go inside.” When I walked inside, I understood why they were milling on the outside. The thing was filled with thousands, and thousands, and thousands of teenagers and young people. When I preached, I gave a twofold appeal. “Will you take Jesus as your Savior? Come. Will you give your life to a full time Christian ministry? Come.”
Now how many responded, I could not tell. As the young people responded, they took them to the right and the left and outside with counselors, and I never got to see them together. The invitation lasted something about twenty to thirty minute, and there were many, many who came. Then I turned to the president of the convention, and I said, “Sir, before you close the convention and we have the benedictory prayer, could I make one other appeal?”
“I want to ask all of the teenagers and all of the young people who have given their lives to God in a full time vocation; you’re going to be a preacher, or you’re going to be a minister of music, or you’re going to be a missionary, or you’re going to be a staff member, or you’re going to be a Christian nurse in one of our Baptist hospitals, or a Christian professor in one of our Baptist schools, I want you to come before we have this benediction and the convention is closed. I want to have a prayer of dedication with you.”
Then I turned to the singer, and I said, “Dr. Ray, sing ‘Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go.’ Now let’s stand. And you who’ve given your lives, come, I want to have a prayer with you.” I looked for a hundred to come. I looked for a hundred fifty to come. I looked for possibly two hundred at the most. When I stood there in the pulpit and watched, the president of the convention turned to me and said, “Sir, there are at least three thousand young people down here at that altar.” They filled every available space in that arena, and they filled those aisles clear to the top, and that ceiling looked to me to be three hundred feet high. I turned from side to side. I could not believe my eyes.
My brother, you got it down wrong, when in the TV, and the radio, and the newspaper, you’ve got the idea that the young people are all mostly in hell. No sir. Ah, ah, look! And the reason I like what we’re doing is this: instead of standing on the curb and saying, “There goes one of them,” instead of us having a conversation over here and saying, “That’s typical of them,” and instead of berating and demeaning and finding fault, let’s do something, and make it great, and make it good!
An investment of one of those youngsters is worth a thousand times what he put in it. So we’re on the way. This too is the will of God, and we’re going to do it. I’m going to share in it. You’re going to share in it. All of us are going to have a part. Brother, we’re on the upside of this thing. We’re on the God side of this thing. We’re on the going side, the heaven side of this thing.
Now, our deacons have worked out the format of it. We’re going to present to our Lord a centennial gift in gratitude for the wonderful blessings of a hundred years, and a part of that centennial gift we shall dedicate to our Chapel Choir. And we’re all going to give to it, all of us, all of us.
I have spoken of our budget. I have spoken of our building program. I have spoken of our Chapel Choir. I speak last of the spiritual outreach of our dear church. In May of this year, between the first Sunday in May and the second Sunday in May, the pastor will lead our annual spring revival meeting. I did so twenty-four years ago. I have never led a revival in our church since. I shall do so this year.
In April we shall share the forty-ninth consecutive year of our downtown Palace pre-Easter noonday theater services. And then a few days later in May, we shall share this tremendous appeal for souls. We’re getting ready for it now. We’re praying for it now. We’re preparing for it now. We’re looking to God now. But it is not our thought or plan or prayer that we have just one high Sunday, or one glorious week, as though God would shut up heaven against us and open those windows just the first week in May. No! That is not the will of heaven, nor is it the will of God for us.
Every Sunday shall be a Pentecostal Sunday. Every week shall be filled with the glory and the presence of God. And every day shall see us pressing the claims of Christ. Is not this God’s will for us? Do you remember how the second chapter of Acts, the Pentecostal chapter, do you remember how it closes? Listen to it. “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” [Acts 2:47]. Every day is a glorious day! Every day is a soul-winning day! Every day is another Pentecost! This is the will of God for us.
In keeping with the spiritual outreach of our church, I asked our staff to set before them goals for us to reach this present year. Our Cradle Roll divisional superintendent said, “We shall add to the nursery 8 transfers every month.” The Nursery said, “We shall have an enrollment gain net of 25.” The Beginner divisional director, 29; the Primary, 100. The Junior, 45; the Junior High, 44; the Senior High, 34. The College and Career, 30; the Business and Professional, 34. The Young Adult, 100; the Median Adult, 100; our Adult, 100: bringing our enrollment to 8,344, and our average attendance here in the downtown main school 4,658 every Sunday. These are the commitments of our staff, reaching people for God and teaching them the Word of the Lord.
Friday of this week, two days ago, a United Press International correspondent called me on the telephone. He said, “I have heard about the First Baptist Church in Dallas downtown. And now,” he says, “that I’ve come to Dallas to see it, I am amazed at what I have heard.” He said, “As you know, every downtown church is either dead, or dying, or barely able to live. It fights for its life. But the First Baptist Church in Dallas grows and continues to grow. Now,” he said, “I want you to tell me why.”
So I said, “Well, it is for this reason, and this reason, and this reason, and this reason,” and I gave him several reasons why this church continues to grow.
Then when I got through, he said, “Now you listen, preacher.” He said, “Every one of those reasons you’ve given me, I can tell you downtown churches that do that also. You say you preach the Bible. I know other preachers who preach the Bible. You say you have an activities program seven days a week. I know other churches that do that, but they’re dying. Now, I want you to tell me why your church grows.”
“Well,” I said, “those are the reasons.”
He said, “You know what I think? I think it grows because of you.”
I said, “No sir. No sir. No. I have a part. I have a part. But I’m not the reason why the First Baptist Church downtown grows.”
“Well,” he said, “I still believe that’s the reason.”
And he said, “I want you to give me the names of some of your deacons. I’m going to talk to them because I can’t find out from you.”
So I gave him the name of some of these deacons. But I tell you truly, and I tell before God truly, I am not falsely modest or cheaply humble. I have a part, I have a part. I have an assignment. But this church is blessed, and this church grows because it is a team effort. I have a part, yes. Lee Roy has a part. Mel has a part. And who is it that will build these divisions? I will not do it. These staff members will pour their very lives into it. It is a team effort. And beyond the pastor and his staff, these godly and dedicated deacons and thousands of members who love God and who are listening to me today and who are doing it with a prayerful response; that is God’s will for us, that’s why God blesses us.
I had a conclusion to this message, but our time is gone. May the Lord sanctify and hallow these words as we gird up our loins, as we roll up our sleeves, as we take off our hats, as we unfasten our coats, as we take a two- fisted grip of what God has assigned us to do. And may the Lord be pleased with the dedicated effort that we offer unto Him.
Now, we’re going to sing our song of appeal, and somebody you to give himself to Jesus; a family you to come into the fellowship of the church; a couple you, or one somebody you, as God shall say the word, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come. Come, make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, “Here I am, preacher, and here I come.” In the balcony round, on the lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, come now. Do it now. Make up your mind and heart now. “I’m going to give my life to Christ now. Beginning now, I’m going to walk with the Lord.” And in a moment when we stand up to sing, you stand up coming. “Here I am, pastor. Here I come.” Do it. And may the angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
I. Our budget and stewardship program
A. We must remember the
life’s dream of our church is in our budget
B. Financial problems
C. The Lord gave
instruction on how to take care of our fiscal responsibilities
the first day of the week, we lay aside for God(1
II. Our building program
A. On our 100th
anniversary we will be debt free
B. The church continues
1. My dream – my
mother, “The church must go forward”
C. We have built in the
past; we will build in the future
III. Our Chapel Choir
A. Invited to sing at
Baptist World Youth Conference
Mission Board urging us to send them
2. Professor of
missions at SBTS urging us to send them
B. We will send them
C. Mississippi State
Convention youth rally
1. Three thousand
came forward dedicated to full-time vocation
IV. Our spiritual outreach
A. Spring revival
B. Pre-Easter noonday
C. Every Sunday will be
a Pentecostal Sunday(Acts 2:47)
D. Staff goals
1. Our church grows
because it is a team effort