Strong in the Lord
October 13th, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
STRONG IN THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-13-68 10:50 a.m.
This morning, I am going to preach from a text, as a background, in the first chapter of Joshua. And I shall read the first nine verses, the Book of Joshua:
Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying,
Moses My servant is dead; now you arise, go over this Jordan, thou, with all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.
Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.
From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your borders. There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.
Only you, be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses My servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand nor to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.
This Book of the Law, this Bible, shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then shalt thou have good success.
Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.
And my background text, "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee" [Joshua 1:9]. First – and there are two parts to the sermon – first, what discourages us and fills us with dismay? "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed." There is so much to make us dismayed, disheartened, discouraged in despair. There is so much.
Our Christian people are aware of these things, and with increasing emphasis, all of the churches in God’s kingdom are striving valiantly, magnificently I think, trying to mediate the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, and in that mediation and that ministry, our denomination is prayerfully, zealously trying to share.
I went to an international meeting to share in a fraternal meeting of our Baptist national denominational groups. And in the course of the meeting, they reviewed the minutes. And as I read the minutes, in the report was a little paragraph of our effort on the part of our Southern Baptist Convention and mostly its Sunday School Board.
They had said to a national denomination of our Baptist people that it’s dying; for years and years, it has been dying. It is dying now. The numerical report, every report, increasingly disintegrates as every year passes. It is a dying witness. So, that little paragraph said that there had been invited to some of those churches these men who lead us in trying to involve our people in the work of Christ.
So oft times is the impression made that you pay the minister to pray, and you pay the minister to visit, and you pay the minister to preach, and you pay the minister to represent Christ, and that is the extent of the witness of the church, and wherever that is true – and it is true all over this earth – wherever that is true, the witness of the church is enfeeble and increasingly weakened. O Lord, we’re all in this. The minister is a God-called pastor and shepherd of the flock I know, but all of us are accountable to God. All of us have souls to be saved, and all of us have a Lord to serve. And the involvement of people, the sharing of this work, some of us teaching, some of us directing, some of leading, some of us helping, this is what God will bless.
So when I read that paragraph, I commended it to him, and I said, "This is something that maybe we can share." God has blessed our people in the involvement of all of us: in the choir, in missions, in teaching, in visiting, the building up of the household of faith, through the dedication of the people. And I was trying to be as encouraging and as gracious as I knew how, just commenting. And the executive leader of that denomination tore me apart. And the next day, in the dining hall, where everybody could hear him, came to me and castigated me – he’s a minister – but viciously.
When I was in South America, I heard of great Pentecostal churches in Santiago and in Sao Paulo, two of them in Sao Paulo and one of them in Santiago. Out of all the things I wanted to do, most of all I wanted to see those churches. In a land of revolution and ferment, here are people who are reaching Brazilians and Chileans by the thousands.
One of those Pentecostal churches in Sao Paulo is building a church house to seat twenty-five thousand people. I wanted to see it. I’ve always felt I could learn from the most ignorant person that walks on this earth. But what is the matter? This would make angels weep! The churches are staid, and formal, and dead than rather admit that there might be some other way, or some other method, or some other approach. "Rather, we’d rather die!" they say, and the witness is dying. That was a part of what I was talking about in our own church last Sunday. It is possible for us to get stiff. The only difference in a grave and a rut is that a rut’s got both ends knocked out of it. The loss of the Spirit of freedom, the Holy Spirit’s work, why bind down God’s Spirit with rituals and formalities that have lost their meaning and appeal. And the denomination in so much of its organized life is dead and dying.
Coming back, I was seated there on the American Airline plane reading a Washington newspaper yesterday, and a stewardess came, and sat down by my side. She belongs to this dear church, an American Airline stewardess. I wish she was here this morning. She’s getting married. She’s getting married in El Paso, and she went out there this morning. So, she was talking to me, I mentioned nothing at all, just talking. She’s talking to me, she said, "Oh, how I miss the church when I’m away!"
Then she spoke of the places she had been stationed in those big northeastern cities. She said, "In every one of them, I try to find a church to attend, but the churches are cold, and they are formal, and they have no young people, no young people." Nor will they have any young people, nor will they change from those cold formalities. Things that dismay and discourage – – I would think of a thousand times more sensitive to it because it is just now that I’m being introduced to so much of it – – things that discourage and dismay.
As I was reading the Washington Post yesterday on the plane coming back, a large section was devoted to religion, being a Saturday newspaper. And there in big black headlines with a story meticulously following after, two of our tremendous churches in a southern state in the east – two of them – two great tremendous churches have decided that baptism is no longer a requirement, not in the Bible, not for church membership. So you just join the church.
And as I read the article, there were two things that came to my mind. First, if you’ve been here very long, you’ve heard me preach of the Anabaptists, the Anabaptists. And again, they were burned at the stake. They were drowned by the thousands and the thousands, because preaching the gospel of the Son of God [Matthew 28:19], they baptized their converts. "See, here is water: what doth hinder me to be baptized?" [Acts 8:36]. "If thou believest with all thine heart; thou mayest." And he said, "I believe" [Acts 8:37]. And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him [Acts 8:38]. And it’s in the heart of the Great Commission, "Make disciples, baptizing them," buried with the Lord, and raised with the Lord [Matthew 28:19].
There is no hierarchy in our Baptist life and work. There is no authoritarian government over our people. The First Baptist Church in Dallas is independent and free. Every other Baptist church is just like they were in the New Testament. There are churches in the [Old] Testament. There is no church in the New Testament. What has held us together? There’s no hierarchy. There’s no ultimate authority above us, except God. What has held us together? There has been nothing that has held us together but a common belief in God’s Book. That is all. That is all. That’s it all; nothing to be added, nothing to be taken away, just that, just that. What shall happen to us when our churches depart from that common scriptural denominator? Nothing binds us but God and our devotion to that Book. When we turn aside from it, what lies ahead?
The second thing that came to my heart as I read the article: the night before, the night before, the president of that convention had come to my hotel room and had said to me, "We’re facing troublous times, dark times, and I’m the president of the convention. Pray for me. Pray for me." The Lord knows, there is much to dismay and to discourage, but, according to God’s Holy Book, we are not to be dismayed. We are not to be discouraged. We are not to be downhearted, we are not to fall into despair or disunion. "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee" [Joshua 1:9].
What is there to encourage, to inspire, to bless, to hearten? What is there? Oh, so much, so much, so much! As I sat at our Foreign Mission Board appointment service in the First Baptist Church of Richmond where it is always held, there were about thirty-five new missionaries who were set aside for this witness beyond our national borders. And as you know – some of you have attended those consecration hours, those appointment services – the young people who are appointed are invited to come and to give their testimony, to tell us how they felt God’s call and had surrendered to that heavenly mandate.
There was a young couple – he had been a fine young pastor – and this is what he says. He said that Christmastime came, and he was promoting the Lottie Moon Christmas offering for foreign missions. So, they had a service, and they brought the offering for foreign missions. And he said, as he presided over the service, as he saw the people give, and finally as he and his wife who was standing by his side, laid their offering for foreign missions in the plate, he said, "It came to my heart that God requires more than money."
And that phrase like a barbed arrow stayed in my soul, "more than money." And as he followed through in his testimony, he and his wife prayed, felt that God wanted them – not what they had or what they could give – but wanted them. So they had given their lives for foreign mission service. They had prepared for it, and now they were appointed and were going out. Well, as I looked at them – a fine young pastor and his wife – "more than money," that’s what God asks.
I would suppose that the easiest way to serve God would be to write out a check and forget it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the kingdom of God were defined, delineated, described in terms of dollars and cents? All we had to do was to raise a certain amount and the kingdom would come, and Jesus would be Lord of the earth. But the Lord God is very express in saying His service is not defined in those terms.
The Lord God said, "If I were hungry, I would not tell thee [Psalm 50:12]. The gold and the silver is Mine [Haggai 2:8], and the cattle on a thousand hills" [Psalm 50:10]. All money is – as I read God’s Book – is just a token. It is an outward demonstration that God has us. What is needed is not what we have, what we possess, but you, ourselves, we. And to offer unto God money; but myself, my heart, my visions, my dreams, the love of my soul, "No, God, no, I have other visions. I have other dreams. I have other aspirations and other ambitions. I’d give You this, but for me, my heart, my soul, my life, keep it for myself." No, no, a thousand times, no!
I think of this glorious verse in the second Corinthian letter, chapter 8, when Paul is writing to the churches of Corinth of the example of the churches of Macedonia. He says, "This is what they did. They first gave their own selves to the Lord, and then they gave unto us by the will of God" [2 Corinthians 8:5]. They gave themselves. You; not what you have, you. Lord, my hands, my feet, my mind, my heart, my affection, my life, Lord, all of it God’s, the Lord’s. Then, what I have: a house, a home, a family, a child, a business; Lord, take it, but first me, me [2 Corinthians 8:5]. "More than money"; And in that consecration, we have our heavenly answer.
O the bitter shame and sorrow
that a time could ever be,
when I let the Savior’s pity
plead in vain, and proudly answered:
All of self, and none of Thee!
Yet He found me: I beheld Him
bleeding on the cursed tree,
heard Him pray: Father, forgive them;
and my wistful heart said faintly:
Some of self and some of Thee!
Day by day His tender mercy,
healing, helping, full, and free:
sweet and strong, and ah! so patient,
brought me lower, while I whispered:
Less of self and more of Thee!
Higher than the highest mountain,
deeper than the deepest sea;
Lord, Thy love at last has conquered;
grant me now my supplication:
None of self, none of self, and all of Thee!
["O the Bitter Shame and Sorrow," Theodore Monod]
This is our day of consecration, and dedication, and commitment. God has set us in this hour, for this task, given us this assignment. Oh, my fellow workmen in this dear church arise, shine for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee! [Isaiah 60:1].
We sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, give your heart to Jesus, put your life in the fellowship of the church, as God’s Spirit shall press the appeal, come now. Do it now. Make the decision now. And in a moment when we stand to sing, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Into the aisle and down to the front, "Here I am." The throng in this balcony round, there’s a stairway at the back, at the front, and on either side, there’s time and to spare, come. Do it now. Make the decision now. Do you have a family? Bring them with you. Or the two of you, both of you, come. Make it now, do it now, decide now. "Here I am, pastor, and here I come," while we stand and while we sing.