Poverty and Liberality
September 26th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
POVERTY AND LIBERALITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 8
9-26-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Poverty and Liberality. The only thing is I am not going to talk about it. In preparing the message, I had to break it half in two because I do not have enough time to preach it all. So when I come to the title of the sermon and the text, I did not have any opportunity to finish it, so we will do that some other time. And the message today is the first part of the sermon. But I read the background text in 2 Corinthians, chapter 8,
Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit, we tell you, of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;
How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
And that was the subject, Poverty and Liberality.
For to their power, I bear them record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;
Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take it upon ourselves to share it, to bring it to the needy saints.
And this they did, not as we hoped, not as we thought, not as we planned, but they first gave their own selves to the Lord, then they gave unto us by the will of God.
There is a truism, there is an axiom, in which all of would immediately concur. You ought not to do your washing in the front yard. You ought to not hang out your laundry at the front gate. Do all of that at the back. I realize that, but I think the time has come, and some of my brethren acquiesce in that judgment, that our people ought to know our situation, and it ought to be plainly spread before us.
Now ordinarily I would not be bringing a message like this at this time and hour, but we are late in presenting the budget, and next Sunday I shall be gone for that one Sunday, preaching in a crusade in Kentucky, the only engagement I have for the Fall. So it must be presented now. And when I do it, I feel like a doctor or physician, a surgeon who has heart surgery brought to him, and he has in his hands the very life of the patient, and he watches the blood stream flow through. I feel that way about what I’m doing today.
Now, I recognize, and all of us here do, that the blessings of God upon our church have been literally of Heaven. They have been magnificent. If there is a church in the earth that is more aboundingly remembered of God than this congregation I do not know of it. Sunday a week ago, for example, we had five thousand nine hundred ninety-four in Sunday School, registered here in Bible study. This last Sunday, as you saw on our reminder bulletin today, last Sunday we had six thousand three hundred eighteen registered in Sunday School. Today it will doubtless be about seven thousand. This is but a facet of the life of the church. It is sound and whole, and healthy, and growing in every part.
Again, our giving to the church is nothing short of phenomenal and astonishing. We have a pace now, every year we can do it, of about three million four hundred thousand dollars given to the work of the Lord in this church. I do not know of a congregation in the earth that gives one half of that amount; yet we do it year after year, three million four hundred thousand dollars. It is astonishing. It is almost unbelievable that one congregation could do so gigantic a work.
And yet, in the development of the program there has appeared a colossal weakness. With all that we have and with all which we give there is not enough that is given to the work of the church itself. Last year we ran a deficit in the church itself of several hundred thousand dollars. And this year, the same deficit is beginning to appear. The reason for it, of course, lies in the vast sum that we designate to special causes. And this brings a traumatic reaction and response in my own heart.
For, it has always been a fundamental spiritual conclusion in my mind that the people who give ought to have the right to designate. They can give to anything that they please, designate it for any purpose of their choice. And I myself share in that appeal. Time and over again do I make appeal to people to support a special project, a special interest. I do it all the time. Nor do I propose to desist from it. It is a part, it seems to me, of the building up of God’s work in the earth. And yet, it has brought to us one of the saddest experiences that I’ve ever faced in the long years, twenty-seven, that I’ve been pastor of the church.
When the men meet, for example, and we’re discussing an expansion program, an outreach, it is like a palm of gloom over their hearts as they say, "Any expansion and any outreach." And for myself, as I walk them in, meeting in committee, and they’re discussing what we think our people will do for God. So this year as I watched them. They cut out here, and cut down there, and leave this off, and leave that off, and turn to me and say, "Pastor, we recognize that we know how much this means to your heart, but there is nothing else to do, we have no other choice."
And as I sit in those committee meetings and watch those men as they work with the budget and cut it out and cut it down and cut it off and leave it out, I feel like the father and mother who, having not enough to go around, forced to decide what child they would give away. There wasn’t enough to feed them all. So in the evening when they were put to bed, and at night when the children had gone to sleep, they looked at their children to decide which one they’d give away.
There was the eldest, and they said, "We cannot give away the eldest; he’s our firstborn." They came to the second child, a boy, and the mother said, "We can’t give him away, he looks exactly like his father." They came to the third child, a girl, and the father said, "We cannot give her away, she looks exactly like her mother." They came to the next child, a crippled boy, and they said, "We cannot give this crippled boy away, he needs us." They went all through the children, and finally to the baby, and said, "We cannot give the baby away, he’s just a little baby." I felt that way. Give this one away? Cut this out? Let this go? Oh!
Things such as our intern, our young British preacher from Spurgeon’s College, leave it off. What a dream I have and had of a full time professor for our Bible Institute. Our staff, busy with other things, can do just so much. We desperately need a professor to guide that work, classes in the day, every night in the week. Our School of the Prophets, there has never been, that I have ever seen, such an open door as God has given us in inviting these pastors and their staffs from the ends of the earth here in this church. Five hundred forty of them came last spring, and there’ll be a thousand of them this coming March; leave it out of the budget. The cooperative program, our great mission line to the ends of the earth, cut it down. Well, Pastor, why are those such grievous experiences to your heart, to see those things left out? I haven’t time to discuss, except maybe one or two. Let’s take one, the British intern.
For two years you’ve been coming to church here and seeing on the platform a young man with a British accent. He’s sent to us to stay a year from Spurgeon’s College in London, our seminary in England. But when you look at the young man, you just see a young preacher. But back of him, oh there is so much meaning. For years, for decades, our Baptist work has been dying in England. The churches are dying, the denomination is dying.
In 1950, when I was in India, I went around with the head of the English Baptist Mission in India. And he and his compatriots, at that time, were closing down on the Ganges River the mission station that had been founded by William Carey in 1792. As I thought of it, as I preached in England, as I visited the churches, it came to my heart, what they need there is how to build a church, a method of approach.
Their theology is fine. Their preaching is typical. They are dedicated people; but they have no outreach. There’s no victory in their work. There’s no triumph in their appeal. So it came to my heart, I believe what we could do would be to bring a young ministerial student from Spurgeon’s College and let him stay here a year, then send him back. And let’s get another one, and let him stay here a year.
So, Rodney Sawtell came; what a benediction he was to us. And Morris Marckum came, and we fell in love with him all over again. And to be effective in it, it couldn’t be just one or two, it has to be several, so that when they meet in their conventions, and unions, and convocations there’ll be several of those young men who can stand up and banded together say, "We’ve been doing this thing for three hundred, four hundred years, but it doesn’t work. We have a new approach. We have a new departure. We’ve learned it. Let’s try it."
It’s a dream all fallen apart, gone, dis-maned, leave it out, leave it out. I have felt that we could literally change the course of our Baptist life in the entire English speaking world, in England, Scotland, Wales, in Canada, New Zealand, in Australia, in a thousand other places where they speak English, in Africa. We could change the course of the whole Baptist English speaking world in that British intern. Leave it off. Cut it out.
To cut our cooperative program is unthinkable. I realize there are things in the denominational budget that are highly distasteful to us. But to destroy that program, that mission program, would be literally like burning down the barn to get rid of the rats. It’s our outreach to the whole world. What shall we do then?
This is the purpose of the message today.
Let us call back this budget committee and mandate to Ralph Pulley and those men who work with him, and our board of deacons, that they bring to us another budget the first Sunday in December, the fifth day of December. And that budget will represent what our people are willing to do for God. And let the mandate be, "Deacon Pulley, put these things back in, put them all back in. And these things that we’ve cut down and out restore it." Let it be a restoration budget.
You know I have no idea how these people know things, but they do. When I hardly knew it myself, that the committees were in meeting struggling with this budget, why, I received a card from the leader of one of our adult Sunday School classes, a woman’s class, and they’d found out all about cutting down the budget. So the card reads,
Pastor, please, let’s not drop our budget figure from what it was for this year of 1971. It will show the world our precious church is also dropping down, and not as strong as we are or should be in the faith. We discussed it in the Angelis Sunday School class this morning, and we women all have faith enough we can make it if we pray, be strong, really and truly, love the Lord. We love you, and our prayers are for you and yours, Dr. Criswell, with Christian love and God’s blessings on you for always and always
and signed by the leadership of that Angelis Sunday School class. When I read it I thought of that little doggerel,
This is no time to be full of fright
This is the time to stand up for the right.
This is no time to sit and cry
This is the time to do or die.
[Author not found]
Then I could add a little doggerel, "This is no time to fuss and feud; this is the time to get up and do."
This fall, let’s so oversubscribe that budget that it becomes a mandate to our committee to bring another one back. And this time, committee men, restore all of these things, every one of them, every one of them; we’ll leave nothing out that God has placed upon our hearts to do.
What does that budget represent to our ministry? What does this budget represent? It is we. It represents us. When God adds us up, this is how much we weight to the pound, and how many inches we are to the yard. When I take a day of my life and trade it for a stipend or a reward for money, and I take that money and give it to God, I am giving a part of myself. I have turned myself into coin, and I brought it to God. That’s what we are.
Summed up, as God adds us up, this represents everything we do for God in the earth. It’s our ministry to little children. It’s our ministry to teenagers and young people. It’s our ministry to our young marrieds and the families in the church. It is our outreach in the mission program around this globe. It is everything. It is the church house and property itself.
For years we have spent nothing for the maintenance of our buildings, and they’re beginning to show it. You know, a sign of that to me is that whole up there in the ceiling, right there by that light. Can you see that? A fellow was up there, and he stuck his foot through our ceiling. And that hole’s been there. And every Sunday, both services in the morning and every service in the evening, I always look up at that hole. It portrays a symbol of our poverty, that hole right there. No church should be in a condition where its properties run down, its doors are unpainted. Its ceiling is unrepaired. Its outsides look dilapidated. This is God’s house. This is where we call upon the name of the Lord. This is where we worship Jesus.
Out of all of the things in the budget, let me pick out two. One, our radio and TV program; it’s listed here under Technical Services because it’s involving all of this electronic equipment that you see in this building. Somebody came up to me and said, and not very long ago, and asked me,
Pastor, do you have any tangible results from the radio and the TV ministry? It is very costly. Do you have any tangible results from it? Does anybody find the Lord? Does anybody give his life to Christ because of this television and radio ministry?
Well, for one thing, the size of its listening audience is astonishing. By the ratings, and it’s going up all the time, every Sunday there are more than one quarter million people who look at this service on television. By cable it goes to five different states. Think of two hundred fifty thousand people who are watching this service every Sunday on television.
Is anybody saved listening? A man here in the church went to a prayer breakfast, business man here in the city, and he said to me, "There was a man who prayed at that breakfast, just something about him just moved my heart. So after the service was over," he said, "I went up to him and I asked him, ‘What’s your name, and what’s your business?’ When he replied, I said, What caused you to find the Lord? There’s something about you that moves my heart. Where did you find Christ?"
And the man said, "I was a drunkard, and I was in the gutter. I had a wife and a large family of children; and we lived in a slum home in the city of Dallas. I was mean, and I mistreated my wife, and I beat my children." And he said, "Upon a day, my wife said, ‘I can stand it no longer.’ And she put the older children, who could go, and she left. I was there in that slum house with the little children, by myself." He said, "The baby in the crib began to cry. I didn’t care anything about the crying of the child, but it disturbed me listening to it. So," he said, "I went to the television, and I went to the television and I turned it on and I turned it up loud in order to drown the crying of that child." Well, he said, "I got what I wanted. There was somebody talking to the top of his voice, just as loud as he could holler." And he said, "That pleased me. I couldn’t hear the baby cry for that fellow crying, and talking, screaming, and yelling, and hollering on the television set."
But he said, "He was preaching Jesus. And while we was preaching Jesus, and I was seated there listening to it in order to drown out the crying of the child," he said, "great conviction came into my heart, and I got on my face, there in the living room of that shanty of a house. And I gave my life to Christ, and I was saved. Now," he says, "the family is back again. I have a good job, and we’re living in a better home, in a better place. That’s how," he said "I was converted." Was that worth it? Was that worth it? Look at it.
At one of our pastoral conventions in Texas, I met a young pastor in the southern part of the state. He drew me aside and he said, "I think I ought to tell you this." He said, "I was a young business man, running away from the will of God. And driving down the highway close to Dallas, I turned on the radio, and you were preaching." And he said, "The Spirit of the Lord got a hold of my soul, and I stopped the car on the side of the road. And while you were preaching I bowed my face in my hands, and with many tears I gave my life to the will and call of God." He said, "Now I’m a pastor in a county seat town in south Texas." Was it worth it? Was it worth it?
I received a letter from an Air Force pilot in the United States Air Force, in the defense of our nation. And in the letter he said to me, "On Sunday morning I was driving my plane, flying my plane across the vast expanse of Texas." He said, "I picked up your service in east Texas, and I followed it clear to the border of New Mexico." And he wrote me and said, "Up there in the sky, listening to you preach, I gave my heart to Christ. I found the Lord. And I just wanted to write you about it." Was it worth it?
Why you have opportunity to illustrate it, to emphasize it a thousand times a thousand times. Think of the people who are looking at the service now, who are listening to this hour now, and think of the hearts that are blessed and moved God-ward, Christ-ward, heavenward, by our radio and television ministry. That’s one of the items in our budget.
I choose another because it has been so meticulously discussed, our music program. In our music program there’s a budget locally, and there is a budget mission wise. The entire music program of our church represents three and two-tenths percent of our total budget. The outlay for our music is of the total budget three and two-tenths percent. In our music program, we have one thousand six hundred seventy-five people enrolled.
And in the group, of course, you see our glorious, marvelous, sanctuary choir. You’re looking upon them this morning. And at eight-fifteen, had you come you would have seen a little larger choir of teenagers. The investment in those young people has brought to us a reward beyond anything I have ever looked upon in my life. This last summer, they made their mission trip to the giant provinces of Western Canada. And a man wrote the president of an insurance company here in Dallas, and he xeroxed the letter and sent it to me.
The man writes – – who is a stranger to us, of course – –
I am enclosing a little article I clipped out of the Calgary, Canada newspaper while Patsy, the three little girls, and I were there making a fifteen day tour. We ran into your beautiful chapel choir in Victoria, and again at Lake Louise, and followed them through Calgary. I just want to let you know, they do a wonderful job, not only in their singing, but in their representation of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and you might say the entire United States. These are certainly clean cut American kids. I noticed a number of tourists stopping them on the streets, where they were asking them questions. Wearing the same type of clothing, it was very evident of course that they were a group. They were pleasant and courteous. I’m sure the members of the chapel choir received a great deal of benefit out of the trip. But they also did a beautiful job of showing Canadians and vacationing Americans what a nice group of youngsters live in Dallas. This was a welcome relief from the normal group of traveling hippies we saw on our travels this year through western Canada. My hat is off to you and the others who have been so active in the First Baptist Church; you have done a glorious job with this group of students.
Then I have a xerox copy of a letter in their previous mission tour there from Lester Pierson, who is the Prime Minister of the government of the dominion of Canada. But the best thing and the most glorious thing is not that. The best thing and the most glorious thing is that we have them. They’re here. They’re here by the acres. Think of this day when seemingly the whole world wrings its hands in lamentation over the disinterest and the decadence and the decay of the life among our young people. Yet they’re here in this church by the hundreds and almost by the thousands. And aren’t you glad they’re here, they’re ours, and we have them? And it costs something, I know. But I’m glad, even for that.
A man went to a friend and asked him to support the church. And the man replied, "No, the church, taking, always asking. No. It costs too much! No." And the man replied, he said, "You know, we had a little boy born into our home, a little baby boy. And it was costly. There were doctor’s bills, hospital bills. Then as he grew up there were toys, and clothes. Then he came to be a teenager, and it was more expensive. Then finally he went away to college, and it doubled the expense.
But he said, but he said, "When our boy came to graduation day he took ill of a grievous disease, and he died. He does not cost a cent now. There are no bills. He doesn’t cost us anything. But we don’t have our boy."
Just the fact that we have them, these young people, is an incomparable, indescribable, immeasurable blessing. It costs a little; thirteen cents a day for the whole music program. Who would hesitate before it, or stagger or stumble at it?
And may I speak of our music program of me, of my heart? When I go to church, I’m not just a paid professional; I have a heart, and I go to church too. Nor could I say in language how much our music program means to me in the worship of God. I am like Elisha the prophet, in the third chapter of Second Kings he said, "Bring me a minstrel; and while the minstrel played the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha, and he prophesied." I’m like that. The music of the church is to me a worship and a praise of God. And my heart responds; like the chords in that piano under the hands of a player, my heart responds when they sing.
You don’t have revival without it. Any time there is a quickening of the people of God you will find it in song, expressed in hymns, and music, and singing. I want to take time to read the great revival under Hezekiah, who took the temple, the house of God that had become disheveled and in ruin, he repaired it, he embellished it, he cleaned it out, he set the services again. There was a great revival in Israel, in Judah, in the days of good king Hezekiah. And this is the way God wrote it down.
And the king, Hezekiah, set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets.
And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.
And Hezekiah commanded the offering of the burnt offering. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David, king of Israel.
And all the congregation worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded:…
And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshiped God.
And King Hezekiah, and the princes, commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord, with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.
[2 Chronicles 29:25-30]
There is no such thing in the experience of God’s people through time and ages where there has been real revival unaccompanied by song and praise. Why one of the most moving things I ever read in my life was the revival meeting at the turn of the century under Evan Roberts in Wales. And the description of the people was, as those colliers, those miners poured out of the pit, they went home and through the streets of the town, arm in arm, singing the praises of God.
That’s what we ought to do when we come to church. We read the Word, and God blesses it. And we preach the Word, and God blesses it. But there’s something in our souls, if you have real revival, to sing it; to worship God in music. Is it not in the Book? In the Old Testament the Levites and the priests, worshiping God; in the New Testament, Colossians 3:16, "Let the Word of Christ dwell richly in you in all wisdom, admonishing one another, teaching one another in psalms, and in songs, and in spiritual hymns, praising the Lord." And I haven’t time to speak of the Revelation.
Why, my impression reading the Apocalypse is that the saints in glory are given, day and night, they sing a new song; one time, "And they sang a new song, Worthy is the Lamb to receive honor, and glory, and dominion forever and ever" [Revelation 5:9]. And again, "And they sang the song of Moses and the Lamb" [Revelation 15:2-3], and then the song is written in the Apocalypse. Who would want to cut it out? Every penny of that thirteen cents a day dedicated to the music ministry of our church is a precious dedication to me.
I have to close. One of the divisional directors wrote me last week, and she said, she’s an adult leader, she said, "Our division is growing, it’s expanding. We’re reaching people." She said, "Please, pastor, don’t cut out our budget. We need not only what we’ve asked for, but over and beyond. We need it."
When the minimum requests were added up it was three million one hundred thousand dollars. And the committee cut it down to two million six hundred thousand. They cut out of that need one half million dollars. That’s how much it is cut. My fellow members, my compatriot in the faith, my fellow Christian in the household of God, when this budget is presented to individually, let’s so give and out give, let’s so subscribe it and oversubscribe it until it becomes a mandate to Ralph Pulley and his committee,
Ralph, on the first Sunday in December, on the fifth day of that month, we’re asking you to come back into this sacred pulpit, and you are to bring us another budget. We’re going so to give and so to pray and so to believe God that we want you to stand up there, and every item is restored, every one. And everything that’s been cut has been added back, including our cooperative program and our mission outreach around this earth.
Could such a thing be done? Why, under God, if we would do this, "And this they did, not as we expected, but first they gave their own selves to the Lord, they gave themselves to God, then they gave unto us by the will of the Lord." We give ourselves, everything we have and are. We give ourselves to God. Then, laying it before the Lord we will reply and respond according to God’s will for us. We’re on the way. The Lord as a word for us, and we’re listening.
Now let’s sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, in the balcony, on the lower floor, a couple or just you as God shall say the word and the Spirit shall lead in the way, as our Lord shall open the door, make the decision now. And in a moment when we stand up, stand up coming. Down one of these stairwells, to the left or to the right, in this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, "Here I come, pastor, I make it now." That decision in your heart, where you are seated, hear the voice and the invitation, the call of God, and then come. When you stand up, stand up coming. "Here I am, pastor, my wife, our children, all of us are coming." Or just you, do it now. Make it now while we stand and while we sing.
not to hang out your laundry in the front yard – but we are already late
presenting and adopting our budget
feel like a surgeon doing a heart operation
II. The situation
church has done well
7,000 in Sunday school
at a rate of 3.4 million a year
weakness that has developed
to work of the church itself running deficit
Traumatic experience for me
The effect upon the men
The sorrowful task of the budget committee
Cut out, cut down, reduce
Feel like family who didn’t have enough food, trying to decide which child to
What it means
School of the Prophets
restoration budget – put it back
1. Card from Angelis
Sunday school class
2. Doggerel, "This is
no time to be full of frightâ€¦"
What the budget represents
Us – God add us up
ministries to children, families, missions
Maintenance of our buildings
Our radio and TV program
a. Tangible results
a. Percentage of budget
is 3.2 – thirteen cents a day
b. The return
c. What it means to me(2 Kings 3:15, 2 Chronicles 29:25-30)
worship of God in music (Colossians 3:16,
Revelation 5:9, 14:2-3, 15:2-3)