Facing the Future with God
January 4th, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
FACING THE FUTURE WITH GOD
Dr. W.A. Criswell
1-4-70 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message of the first Sunday of the new year, which is a message dedicated to an outline of a program that immediately awaits us. The title of the sermon is Facing the Future With God. And as a background text, but only as a background, the sermon in nowise is an exposition of this passage, but just as a background text I read from the eleventh chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses the man of God is describing to his people this land of promise that immediately lies before them. And he says:
For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot—
by a treadmill, by a pump, they lifted the water out of the Nile and irrigated the barren desert land—
But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven:
It is a land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.
The eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year, today, even unto the end of the year that shall see a consummation of most of the things we hope to do in this project God has laid upon us. The eyes of God upon us, the Lord is above us. Heaven arches over us, and the eyes of God look upon us. In the centuries that followed, David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, said it like this. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with Mine eye” [Psalm 32:8]. The Lord above us, and looking down upon us, from the beginning of the year, even to the end of the year, and under His surveillance, His wisdom and guidance, we are proposing to do a great thing for Him.
I am to speak this morning of our building program. The time has come for us to fling dirt, and dig holes, and pour concrete, and lay brick. That time is now. When Israel came to occupy and to possess the Promised Land, at Kadesh-barnea, they wavered and lost their trust in God [Numbers 13:26-14:35]. For forty years they wandered aimlessly in a barren wilderness [Numbers 14:30-35, 32:11-13]. Then when that generation had died and another generation had arisen, by faith and trust in God, they crossed the Jordan [Joshua 3:14-17], they surrounded Jericho [Joshua 6], they entered in to possess the land [Joshua 1:11]. And the time has come for us to cross our Jordan and to surround our Jericho.
There is never a perfect time to do anything. There is always something of a cloud on the horizon. There are always facets and shadows of discouragement and difficulties around us. There is never a perfect time. We’re at war, or we’re in strikes, or the market is depressed, or money rates are high, or there’s a recession, or there are discouragements. There are so many things that always cloud any day, anytime, in any hour, never a perfect time. But we are not to take counsel of our fears or of our discouragements. The Lord has written in His Holy Scriptures, “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap” [Ecclesiastes 11:4]. The time to do anything is when the time comes to do it, however the winds that blow, ill or good, and however the clouds that gather, do it!
T. J. Jackson, Stonewall Jackson of whom Robert E. Lee said, “Had I had Stonewall Jackson, I would have not lost the battle of Gettysburg,” a great Christian leader and gentleman, and general of the army, T. J. Jackson said, “At dawn we attack. We storm the ramparts.”
And one of his aides said, “But, General, it is raining.”
And T. J. Jackson replied, “It’s raining on the enemy also.”
We’re not looking at the weather, or at the times, nor are we taking counsel of fears and discouragements. The day has come. It is now.
We can talk ourselves into almost anything one way or another. There was an Italian immigrant, and in America he was selling hot dogs. And they were good hot dogs. He put a big sign by the side of his hot dog stand describing how good they were. He stood on the side of the curb where the people went by and said, “Mister, want a hot dog? It’s-a so good!” And he sold lots of hot dogs. He doubled his bread order, he doubled his meat order, and he put in an order for a new stove.
Business was good, hot dog business. He was affluent selling hot dogs, and sent his son to college. Now, the old man was an immigrant, and he hardly understood the language. He was mostly deaf, so he didn’t listen to the radio. He had trouble with his eyes, so he didn’t read the newspapers. His son came home from college, and he saw his father doubling the order for bread, doubling the order for meat, and putting in an order for a new stove. And the boy said to his father, “Father, you don’t understand. You don’t listen to the radio, and you no read-a-the newspapers. You don’t understand. It’s a terrible time. We’re in a recession. The international situation is tragic, and the domestic situation is worse.”
So the father halved the order for bread, and he halved the order for meat, and he cancelled the order for the new stove. And he tore down his sign, and he didn’t stand on the curb any longer telling people what good hot dogs he sold, and his business fell off precipitously, and the old man said, “This-a my boy is smart. We’re in a deep depression.”
As long as there are mouths to feed, the grocer man has an open door. As long as there are babies born, who ever that guy is that manufactures safety pins and didies and bottles has a marvelous opportunity. And as long as there are people in the city of Dallas, and as long as souls are lost, and as long as we need to be taught and trained in the Word of God, the First Baptist Church has an incomparable open door. There are thousands of people to be won.
Now, lying flat on my back the last two weeks, I had opportunity and time to think and think and think. I got so tired of thinking and looking at that ceiling. But sometimes out of our enforced rest and quiet some good things come. And I thought of an acrostic. And I would like to place the future pattern of the growth and progress of our congregation in that acrostic. It is four letters, G-O-A-L, goal, four letters. G stands for goal. O stands for objective. A stands for our available resources, and L stands for our locating and looking at our strengths and our weaknesses.
First, goal; a goal is a vision. It’s a dream. It’s the commitment. It’s what we hope to achieve for God, and for us our goal is the mandate from heaven. Go ye therefore and this whole earth, our Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, make disciples [Acts 1:8]. Make Christians, baptizing them in the name of the triune God and teaching them the mind of God that was in Christ Jesus [Matthew 28:19-20]. This is our goal. Our heavenly mandate, we’re to win people. We’re to baptize them, and we are to teach them the Word and will and way of God. This is our vision and our dream, to the last man, no soul left out, overlooked or forgotten; that’s our goal.
Our objective; an objective is a measurable piece of the goal. The difference between a goal and the objective is that. The goal is the dream, the vision, the great mandate and commission. The objective is a measurable piece of that goal. It is a department. It is a ministry. It is a mission. It is a class. It is a choir. It is a building. It is a program. It is a measurable piece of that great goal. This much of it and it is circumscribed. And it can be judged, and saved, and looked at, a measurable piece of that great goal; that is the objective. And the objective that I speak of now is the enlargement of the facilities that we use in reaching that goal. What arms are to a soldier who marches; and what the plow, and the hammer, and the lathe, and the level are to a brick mason; these facilities are to us. They’re instruments we use to win people for God. And the time has come for us to build.
Across San Jacinto, an eight story educational building, there. Across Patterson and on the other side of our present parking building, another parking building, and on top of that our great teenage ministry. This building is $3,000,000. The parking building is about $1,000,000, and the teenage ministry is another $1,000,000. Our parking building can be built with a subsidy from the church of about $12,000 a year. We spend more than that on our present parking building. With the new structure we can go up in one and down in the other. It is self parking, and it is self-liquidating. It pays for itself outside of about twelve thousand dollars a year. Why haven’t we already done that? Why isn’t that building already built? Because of lethargy and confusion and bogging down in endless committee discussions. Now the time is come to quit that talking, and to quit that discussing, and to quit that committeeing and [start] flinging dirt, and digging holes, and pouring concrete, and laying brick. The day has come. These buildings are the great facilities in our hands under God to reach people for Christ; our measurable objectives.
“G,” our goals; “O,” our objectives; “A,” our available resources. They will surprise you. It will surprise anyone what plain, ordinary, common people can do. In the disciples of our Lord, look at them. No priest, no theologian, no man of influence or fame or wealth, no man of the rabbinical schools, they were plain ordinary peasant people. Do you ever think of those cathedrals in Europe? Haven’t many of you been there and looked at them? Even in small towns sometimes, there will be the most massive and impressive house of God that genius could erect. Did you ever think to ask who built those cathedrals? Where did they come from? Not in any history book and not in any annual or chronicle or record, nobody knows, nobody. Those great cathedrals in Europe were built by unknowns. They were built by plain, ordinary, common, peasant working people. But oh, as signs and emblems of their dedication, they’re the most marvelous structures the world has ever seen.
Now, if they could build such a structure just for a worship service, think of the marvelous open door God has given us with the new conception of the church that we have, that we read in this blessed Book. The worship service to us is just one out of a thousand faceted ministry. We’re here this hour, we’ll be back another hour at seven-thirty in the evening, but when Monday comes, we’re at it again. And Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday and all Sunday afternoon; not here, but we’re in all of these places like beehives. We’re praising God learning to sing, or to work with our hands, or to listen with our ears and hearts, or reading God’s Book, or teaching its message, or implementing it through a great mission program. There’s nothing in the earth as God has given us in this latter day; the church today is like the church of the New Testament. It involves and consumes the entire circle of the life of our dedicated people. And this building is that too, and that facility. Our measurable resources, what plain, ordinary people like us are able to do, the thousands of us.
G-O-A-L; our goal; our objective, a measurable piece of that goal; our available resources, we; “L,” locating and looking at our strengths and our weaknesses. Now, if we had forty hours, we would follow it through somewhat. I take one, a strength; upon a day the Median Adult Division in our Sunday school said, “We need to reach more people, and we can.” So they went to the Cotton Exchange building. There’s no room here for anything else. They went to the Cotton Exchange building, and they rented a place over there, several thousand square feet they rented over there. And they organized a new department. And when the day came about two months ago, I went over there and looked at that department. It was jammed and filled. I went upstairs in the Truett Building and looked at that new department, and they had a goal of something like fifty. They far exceeded it. There’s another unit that is praying, and teaching, and visiting, and winning people for Christ. That’s the way to do it. That’s your strength. Look at it. Look at it. I don’t see any point going around blind like a bat or like your head in the sand, look at it! Open your eyes and look, that’s they way to do it! That’s strength. G-O-A-L; “L,” looking at it, looking at it.
Now, we have our weaknesses too and we want to avoid them. I’m going to point out one to you. As I go around, why, I pick up by the grapevine, it’s a rare thing anybody will ever come to me and sit down and say, “Pastor, thus and so,” and tell me something they don’t like or something they want to criticize. Why, I don’t know. I would not bite your head if you did that. I would not even bite your hand if you did it. I do not mind. In the discussion of our projects, there’s wisdom. Anyway, I pick up through the grapevine, and it comes to me like this. “You know I hear they’re proposing to build a big and an impressive dining hall. Now, I think that would be a mistake to build a big impressive dining hall.” Let’s look at it. G-O-A-L; locating our strengths and our weaknesses, let’s look at it. What about building a great dining hall? I have five reasons for it.
Over here in this building across the street on San Jacinto, the first three floors are to be a great dining hall. Five reasons for it, reason number one: whenever we build that dining facility here in our church, which will be the very center of the activities program of the church, whenever we build that, it ought to have many little dining halls with it, many of them, many of them. Sometimes there’ll be more than six or seven meetings going on at the same time down here at the church. Now, instead of building those six, or seven, or eight, or ten little dining halls all around, why don’t we put them all together and make it possible for them to open out into one great dining hall. Then when you need the six, or seven, or eight, or nine, or ten individually, why, you have them around. Then when you need a great convocation, open it up, and there you have the big dining hall. That’s reason number one.
Reason number two, looking at this thing in the wisdom of God, looking at it, why a great dining hall, reason number two: in order to have a beautiful hall, the ceiling has to be high. If the ceiling is low when you walk into a great hall, you’ll feel as though you’re in a gun barrel, and the thing is going to fall on your head. The ceiling has to be high for it to look nice. Why waste all of that cubic feet of air up there? Why don’t you put a mezzanine around? Put a mezzanine all the way around, then the people can be seated on the floor, and they can be seated up there on that mezzanine, and you can increase the capacity of your hall by a third at least.
Look at this auditorium. The way they build the new church houses, they leave the balcony out or have a little one way up there stuck at the back, and all of that empty space. I see these churches without number built like that, and I think what a colossal waste. Look at our auditorium. This balcony is swung all the way around, and there are more than one thousand individual chairs in that balcony. Wasn’t that smart? Wasn’t that wise? Because we’re using that space, that air, and, in the height of the ceiling, there is room for the balcony round, so it is in this auditorium. When we build that big dining hall and the ceiling is high, let’s put a mezzanine around it, and we can use it and downstairs. That’s the second reason for making it big.
A third reason for making it big: why build it at all if you’re not going to make it big? Just use that little postage stamp that we have. Just go ahead with it. The same kitchen we used when this church had seventy-five people down here attending a dinner meeting on Wednesday night is the same kitchen we’re using today. And the same dining hall that was used then we’re using today. Don’t bother to build it at all unless you’re going to make it spacious.
Then I have ecclesiastical reasons for making that dining hall big, expansive, and impressive. Reason number one: as I study the Word of God, it is easy, especially against the background of secular history, as I study the Word of God, it is easy to recreate the congregations of the Lord back there in those first Christian centuries. They call them koinonia, translated communions, translated fellowships. And in that New Testament, you will find a word, and I begin to see it once awhile in the English now, agape. An agape, the word in the New Testament, was the word of the early church for the love feast. When the church came together in that ancient day after Christ, they broke bread together. The pastor and the people shared in a common meal [Acts 2:42].
I don’t think we will ever improve upon the wisdom of Almighty God. A church is a koinonia, it’s a communion, it’s a fellowship. It’s a gathering together in love, and gladness, and joy, and anticipation. It’s bringing your friends and your loved ones and your neighbors and all the folks, it’s gathering together. I’d just like to see us gather together in this church in any kind of a meal that approximated our congregation. Why, you’d have to go to the Market Hall to do it. What I’d love to have is a church like this New Testament church, and once a week, at least once a week, and that once a week in my mind is on Wednesday night, once a week I’d like to sit down with our people, and all of you come. Bring your children. Bring your families. Bring your friends. Bring your prospects. Come and let’s break bread together with the pastor, and let’s have our Wednesday midweek service around those tables.
Then we can break up into a thousand different ministries, officers and teachers meetings, choirs, RAGA programs, but let’s all meet together once a week and break bread together with the pastor. Maybe like that old song, maybe down on our knees, “Let us break bread together on our knees, on our knees.” Is there anything wrong with that? Look at it. You see anything wrong with that? Looking at it, my brother, there’s nothing wrong with that. That is the New Testament church, and you’ll find it infinitely, wonderfully, blessed of God. Somehow when we eat together, we lose our inhibitions, and our extraneous conservatism and that shawl of indifference. When we eat together, somehow we get close together. It’s a marvelous thing. It’s in the Book. It’s in the Book [Acts 2:42].
All right, a fifth reason and the second of my theological reasons: someday, sometime, you’re going to have to build a new auditorium here. The floor on which you are seated is a wooden floor. All of the great ceiling, and roof, and those beams up there are wooden beams. Had we not gone in and reinforced where these windows, all the windows are set in wooden sills, had we not gone in there two or three years ago, the windows would be falling out now on the streets. Someday you’re going to have to build a new church house. This one was built in 1890, and it was made out of wood. It is not made to last forever. You’re going to have to build a new church someday, sometime. When that day comes, what are you going to do? Ooh, Rufus Brastus Johnson Brown, what are you going to do when the roof comes tumbling down? What are you going to say? What are you doing to pay? What are you going to do on the judgment day? What are you going to do when that day comes?
“Well,” you say, “we go to the Palace Theater, or we go somewhere else and have church while this is being repaired and rebuilt.” You are talking about two years, and in two years I don’t know what could happen to this church in two years. You lose your momentum. You lose thousands of people. I don’t know what would happen in two solid years when the church couldn’t meet together. Why, my brother, if you build that dining hall over there as I am describing, you won’t miss a beat or a step. When the time comes to build this building here, hold your services over there. It’ll seat more people like this seated together than can be seated in this present auditorium. Just go over there and keep a-going, keep a-preaching, keep a-hammering away for Jesus. Just keep right on.
Then, what I’d like over there is over there I’d like to have a stage, a full stage and all of our dramatic productions and all of our tremendous choral productions, our musicals, everything, I’d like to have them over there. Then let’s leave this auditorium ecclesiastical and worshipful. Let’s don’t bother it. Let’s build it beautiful and leave it there and don’t touch it. And when we have our special programs, let’s go over there. Those are the five reasons why the building of a tremendous dining hall; the koinōnia, the communion, the fellowship of the church of Jesus Christ.
Now, you have to finance a program like that. How? How? I go back to our available resources. Ah, ah, what we can do. What we are able to do. I would like to take our finance committee that is already appointed, and I’d like to organize it into two working sub-committees; one, a committee to place before us a giving program, and second, a committee to place before us the opportunity to invest in first mortgage notes.
First, the committee for the giving program; ultimately of course, it has to be paid for, even the notes that are sold have to be met. This coming March and this coming April, March and April, this coming March and this coming April, let us give to our people an opportunity to give in a three year pledge what we’re able to give for the erection of these buildings. Then each springtime let’s review it. In the course of a year, we’ll have a thousand new people who join this church, let’s give them an opportunity. Then we can reevaluate what we’ve done. Some of us may not be able to give as much as we thought for, we can change it. Some of us may be able to give more than we thought for, and we can add to it, but a three year pledge made in March and April, and then review it each year thereafter. That is our giving.
The architect said to me, “Pastor, don’t forget there are innumerable memorials that can be in buildings like that, dining halls, assembly rooms, classes, windows, kitchens.” Give our people an opportunity. Here’s the card, what you’d have to give is what you pledge in a year to the church. That’ll do it. And we’re able to do it in a three year pledge.
All right, second: the selling of first mortgage notes. Yesterday, I received from the savings association here in Dallas—where I am saving up money to give to this building program—in my passbook, I had a slip of paper; they were also telling me how much I owed the government. You’ve got that government with us always. So it said on the slip, “If you’ll put money in our savings account, we’ll compound the interest every day, and it will yield 4.86% interest a year.” Then I got another note, “If you will give us your money for a little while, we’ll give you a certificate for it, and by compounded interest, it will pay 5.38% interest a year.” That’s good. If I had a million dollars, it’d be real good, wouldn’t it? Just sit down and collect money; don’t work, don’t do anything, just collect it.
Let’s do a little better. Let us sell our first mortgage notes for 5.50% interest a year, first mortgage notes on this church paying 5.50% interest a year. You can get more money than that out in the speculative market, I know. But we’re not doing this as a business or as a speculation, this is something we’re doing for Jesus. And we can do those two things, one: “I’ll give to the utmost of my ability. I’ll make a gift.” Second: “I’ll take what savings that I have, and I will invest them in the church.” Then when I need the money, we’ll try to be able to give it to you because Sunday by Sunday we’ll be giving to the church, and it’s that giving that retires those notes. And we’ll pay for this thing, and we’ll do it triumphantly, victoriously, and in a way that honors God.
Now, as I lay this whole program before the Lord and I tell God about it, you, and our children, and our teenagers, and our young marrieds, and our city, and beyond us, the mandate God has given us for the whole world, I lay it all before the Lord. And I raise my head to heaven, and I say, “Dear Lord who looks down upon His children when they pray, dear Lord, we’re trying to carry out this great commandment [Acts 1:8]. We’re trying to be true to this Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20]. We’re trying to reach these people and to baptize them and to teach them.”
Lord, with what wisdom God has given us, Master, we’re trying to do it. Now, Lord, we claim the promise of Him who said if you will go, and if you will win, if you will baptize those you win, and if you teach them [Matthew 28:19]—we claim the promise, “I will be with you to the end of the age [Matthew 28:20]. Not just when the weather blows fair, not just when things fall easily, but I will be with you to the end of the age.” And Lord, we’re claiming that promise. We’re going to do this for Thee. And Master, we have a right to believe that God would not lie.
A man may lie, but not God; God’s word is like God Himself. They’re one and the same. Man and his word may be two different things, but not God and His word [Psalm 119:89; Hebrews 13:8]. God has promised, and the Lord who would not deceive His people, Lord, we’re believing that You will see us through. And I feel like Caleb, and I feel like Joshua who stood up in the presence of his brethren and said, ‘Let us arise and go in and possess the land, for we are well able to do it’” [Numbers 14:6-9].
And God shall be the judge whether or not this is of Him or of the flesh. I am convinced it is of God. The time has come, the hour has struck, the day is here. Let us rise up and enter in. There are ten thousand details in the implementing of a program like this. They shall fall in their order, they are already begun. And let’s join hands, and lock steps, and give ourselves to intercession and prayer.
Prayer binds us together with golden chains to the throne of the Lord. Prayer is that transmission line to the house of power. Prayers are the open hands for God to fill. Prayer is that genius by which God seals us together in a tremendous commitment. God hear us, the Lord look down upon us, and may God see us through.
Now we’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. A family you to come, a couple you to come, a one somebody you to come while we sing this song and make this appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. If you’re in this balcony, there’s a stairway at the front and at the back on either side. There’s time and to spare if you’re on that topmost balcony, come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, today I make that decision for God.”
At this early service the finest young man came down that aisle to me and said, “Preacher, I want to be saved. I want to be saved.” We knelt right down there with God’s open Book, and he found the Lord down on his knees. Are you saved? Are you a Christian? If you were to die today, would you go to heaven? Would you see God’s face without fear? Are you saved? Is it right between you and God? If you want to be saved, come. “Preacher, I don’t know how. I don’t know what to do. But I don’t want to die lost.” Come, we’ll find God today. You can go out that door singing the praises of heaven in your soul.
However God shall lay the appeal, shall press it to your heart, come. Come on the first note of the first stanza, make the decision now. And in a moment when we stand, stand up coming, and God bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
Facing the Future With God Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The Time Is Now
1. No time is perfect
2. Not taking counsel of fears, difficulties
II. Basic Pattern of Advance
3. Available Resources
4. Strengths and Weaknesses
Look to God
Depend on Him