GOAL OF THE NEW YEAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-7-73 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Goal for the New Year. Once a year the pastor speaks of the work of our church. It could be like a general who walks up and down the front line and surveys the field of battle. It could be likened to a chairman of the board who makes a yearly report to his directors and the stockholders of the advancements and achievements of the corporation. It could be likened to a president of a great democratic nation who delivers his state of the union message. So the pastor for the Christian commonwealth and the Christian warfare and the Christian enterprise and commitment speaks of the work of the church, its goals, as well as its achievements.
And if I could use a background text, it is the passage that we read together in Philippians chapter 3, verse 14, “I diōkō, I stretch, I strive, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:14], looking at the outreach and the goals of the new year.
First, would I speak of our new Christian education building that is now going up across Patterson Street and facing Ervay Street. It is a three million dollar structure, and by the end of this year it will be completed, and we will dedicate it to the Lord. It is my prayer that when Donald Bowles and our men lead our church in its appeal this spring that when we dedicate the building at the end of this year, we shall have it pay for, though right now we owe all three million dollars. And I don’t mean, Donald, that two million nine hundred thousand comes from you, though that would be all right if the Lord so moves.
What I would like for us to do, and I spoke of it with Donald, who is a PK, a preacher’s kid. He knows all about the responsibility of the work of our Lord. I spoke to him about something that I would like to do. And he wrote back and said, “I think that would be magnificent.” Here is what I would like for us to do this spring. There are, they tell me, eighteen thousand members of our church. I would like to divide that building up into eighteen thousand parts and we each one take some of those parts.
Now many of our people are not able to take very much. That doesn’t matter. Let’s sell the screws. Let’s sell the hinges. Let’s sell the doorknobs. Let’s sell the doors. Let’s sell the steel beams; they cost so much a foot. Let’s sell the cubic yards of concrete that go down into the foundation. Let’s sell the rooms. Let’s sell the hallways. Let’s sell the windows. Let’s sell the bricks. Let’s sell every part of it. Let’s divide it up into eighteen thousand parts.
And if there are eighteen thousand members in the church, we have eighteen thousand cards signed saying I’ll take so much of this building and I will pay for that part. I’ll take ten bricks, or I’ll take two hinges, or I’ll take five screws, or I’ll take one half of a nail. But we all are going to have a part. All of us. And I just believe that would be one of the happiest and most felicitous of all the ways that our people could respond to that building fund appeal.
I only have one sorrow about the building. It is this: the moment we go into it, it will be full to capacity. In our staff meeting this week, the different divisional directors, some of them were so disappointed that they could not find space in the new building. Well, that’s good. Our problems are marvelous. When we get through with this building and when we pay for it, why, Donald, there is nothing to keep us from starting again.
The Lord is blessing in infinite favor and heavenly remembrance our teaching ministries of the Word of God. And this year we’ll see given to us completed, and I pray paid for, that beautiful Christian education building.
Second: in this church year we have seen come to reality one of the dreams of the pastor. We now have an elementary school, a Christian day school, the First Baptist Church school.
Somebody, and many somebody’s actually, from one side of this country to the other, they have asked me, “Did you start that school because of integration? Did you start it because of bussing? Did you start it for some other political or economic or racial or social reason?”
And the answer is a decided and emphatic “No!” One of the dreams that I have had for over twenty-eight years has been the establishment of a school, a day school, a week day school here in our church. I remember when Lynn Landrum was the fellow editor in the Dallas Morning News. Several times he would write editorials, and you have read them, about the dream of the pastor to build a high school and an elementary school in the First Baptist Church. That dream was frustrated in these days past. I was never able to achieve it. But in God’s grace and goodness this year our elementary school began.
We have a little group to start off with. We have about one hundred thirty pupils. But it is a seed and it will grow. I hold in my hands the first directory of our first First Baptist Church day school. And they asked me, when it opened this last September, they asked me to lead the first chapel service. And as I sat there in the pulpit in Embree Hall, our largest chapel, and looked at those children, it so moved my heart that I brushed the tears from my eyes. A dream come true. Ah, what that is, what it means. We read the Bible. We prayed. The pastor brought a message to the children from God’s work. All of the teachers are devout Christians. It was held in a Christian sanctuary. The atmosphere is Christian. The name of the Lord is honored, and the children literally breathe in the presence and the Spirit of God.
There is no finer work to which we could commit ourselves than the building of that Christian school. This last month before the nativity, the day of the birthday of our Lord, I saw our First Baptist Church school present a Christmas program in the chapel. It was as beautiful and as effectively done as I have ever seen. The chapel was filled with people standing around the wall. There was a choir of the children in the choir loft. There was a choir of the children on the first rows down at the front. There was an acting out, a dramatization, of the story of the birth of our Lord by the children themselves.
And it ended in a marvelous and worshipful way. While the two choirs sang, those who took part in the dramatization dressed in robes of shepherds, or wise men, or princes of Israel, they came two by two, knelt down in worship before the manger scene, and left there a gift in the name of the Lord.
All of it is fine. It is wholesome. It is Christian. It is God-honoring. It not only builds into the mind of the child the scientific, literary, political and cultural facts of the world, but it also builds into the heart of the child a reverence for Almighty God and a love for our Savior, Christ Jesus. How I thank God for the realization of the dream of our elementary school.
Third: I speak now of another dream that has come true. The Lord’s favor from the beginning has richly blessed and endowed our Bible Institute, an in-depth study of the Word of the Lord.
This last week I received a telephone call from a gifted, able minister and they have begun in his state a new seminary. As I talked to him I asked him how many pupils did he have in his seminary, and he said, “God has been good to us. We have twenty-six.” I rejoiced with him. The Lord has been good to him and twenty-six young ministers to teach is a holy and heavenly responsibility. But when we began, but when we began our institute we had an enrollment of over five hundred. The Lord has blessed that work. We now have a day program, beginning this coming Tuesday. We have two new full-time professors to help us in the work. And the classes will begin at 8:00 o’clock Tuesday morning this coming January 9. The sessions are Tuesday night, they are Sunday evening, and now all through the day, ah, it is a consummation that God has brought to us and placed in gratitude from us in our hands.
There is an insistence that I shall bring to bear, the best I know how, upon all of the teachers of our Sunday school and all who have part in the mediation of the Word of God in our church. I am going to do everything that I can to encourage and to impress upon our teachers the necessity for an in depth study of the Word of God.
And when I have been asked about it, that such pressure might bring the resignation of some of our teachers, my reply is this. If I am ill and I am taken to the hospital and I am introduced to a surgeon, I would like to know that that surgeon is trained in medicine, that he has a degree from a medical school. I would like to know that he was able to pass the state board’s medical examination. I don’t know whether I would like to have a man to cut me open and look on the inside of my innards and gouge around all down there and cut off this and whack on that and look at the other if I felt that he had not been to school, that he was not trained and that he had not been able to pass the state examiner’s medical board questions. I think it is important that the fellow who looks at my gizzard be somewhat of a man who is trained.
Now shall I expect that I must have for my anatomical parts the services of a trained mind and a trained expert but when it comes to teaching our people what is of their everlasting souls, that it is immaterial and inconsequential? It would seem to me that I have my values and my judgments turned around.
How ever I may be able to keep this anatomical frame alive and in health and in strength, I know that by and by comes that inexorable and inevitable day when it decays, when it is food for the worm, when it turns back to the dust of the ground. But my soul is a forever, it is an immortal thing. Therefore shall I persuade myself that it is immaterial what goes into my mind and into my heart and into my soul, into my forever, but it is all-important what goes into my physical anatomy?
I am just emphasizing that if it is important for the doctor to know medicine or surgery, it is no less important that the teacher who mediates the mind of God, revealed in the Holy Scriptures, also be someone of training and of background and of spiritual knowledge.
In my humble persuasion it is reasonable and it is right that the pastor says there ought to be in the church the finest Bible teaching in the earth. It is all-consequential. It is all-significant. It is all-important. And to use our Bible Institute as an instrument for that teaching ministry is something God has placed in our grasp and in our reach. Let us use it, and then pray that as our people learn the Scriptures, as they grow in spiritual understanding, that when we come down here for our classes on Sunday morning, on Sunday night, in the days of the week, that we will honor God with a trained mind and a trained heart.
That is the goal for our new year. “I press toward the prize of the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:14].
Again [fourth], a dream that I pray will find fruition in the new year: I speak of our retirement home. Oh, how I would love to see right next to our church a great complex rise to the glory of God and the blessing of our people in retirement, a great structure at least forty stories high. Someone would say to me, “Why do you envision so large a complex?” The answer is obvious because of the size of the church and because of the expense of the ground. To justify the buying of the lot, on the ground must be a great superstructure. That is not impossible or visionary for us. It is reachable, pressing toward the mark of the prize of what God would be pleased that we do.
In most of our retirement centers, in most of them, the people go to live, then when they become ill they are turned out. And they have to find some place to go, wherever they can find it usually in some kind of a convalescent home there to waste and to be forgot and to rot and to die. Nobody looks, nobody cares, nobody present, nobody to see. That so often characterizes the tragic end of the life of our people.
This that we are thinking of is an altogether separate, different kind of a world. It is a unique thing that we are saying. What we want to do is to build a great series of condominiums. A condominium, and the people buy them. It is their home. And we contract with them that we will take care of them until they die. They are never put out. They are never sent away. They are right there at home. And when they are unable to take care of their own condominium, their own little apartment, their own little house, their own place, then in the same complex there is a part where the doctor and the nurse ministers and they just leave this room for this place, this room here. And they are cared for forever!
In that wonderful complex I’d love to see us have a grocery store. I’d love to see us have a beauty parlor. Not anything in the world that will lift up a woman like going to a beauty parlor. I commend it to you, if you haven’t been, go. It helps me up here as I look at you. I’d love to have a beauty salon there. I’d love to have a pharmacy. I’d just love to have everything that a little city would entail. And it would be here at the church. As I have said, if you fell out the window you would fall into the church. It’s that easy to attend.
This is not a dream that is unreachable, ungraspable. It is something that can come to pass. And we are praying that God will bring it to a reality beginning this year.
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:14].
Now again [fifth], the financing of so great a program as we include in the circumference of the life of this dear church, how do you do that? In the little moment that I am taking for this part of the message, may I point out just one thing? There are literally thousands of appeals that are made to our people. They come to us on the radio. They come to us by television. They come to us by mail. They come to us in the city, in the state, in the nation. They are everywhere, appeals made to us for financial support.
Now I would think that with a rare exception, everyone of those appeals is worthy. But our world is like the world of book publication. There are so many books that are published that no man can even begin to think about reading them all. He has to read selectively. He has to choose this book and not that one. There are more than fifty million pages of scientific discussion that are published each year, over fifty million pages. There is no man now who could even encompass the field in which he works. There is no man who that could know all of the fields of chemistry. They divide it up now. There is no man who could know all the fields of physics. They divide it up. So it is in the whole intellectual academic world. It is impossible for one man to read all the books; he has to choose.
It is that way about the financial world. There is no one of us that can respond to all of the financial appeals. We have to make choice. In making that choice, where is it that I can best support God’s work and the humanitarian work in the earth? Where? I have a very decided persuasion. It is not only because I am a pastor. It is also because of the experience that I have come to know in life.
There is no institution in the earth like the church for any kind of work that ministers to humankind. There is no state, there is no government, there is no civic enterprise that can run an orphan’s home like a church. They can’t run a hospital like a church. They can’t run a school like a church. And in my humble opinion the reason so much of this is in the hands of the state is because the church has found itself unable financially to support the needs of the human family.
But there is no dedication and there is no consecration and there is no gift that can mean so much as in the hands of Christ and His church. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. In the many ministries of the church, our mission ministries taking care of the poor and the sub-marginal, not only trying to lift a man out of the gutter by feeding him and clothing him, but lifting him up by putting a new soul and a new heart in his physical frame. This is the ministry of the church.
And all of the other many, many things, our educational program, our spiritual program, our outreach program, our teaching program, to support it has the highest priority in the life of a man who is sensitive toward the Lord. And we invite you, when you give, to give to the church, to support it and make possible the fruition of these golden dreams.
Now I have one other thing I’d like to say of the new year. “I press; I strive toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:14]. [Sixth]. may I speak briefly now of the spiritual foundation upon which all of its many ministries rest, without which our work finally, eventually, inevitably turns to dust and to ashes. I speak briefly of prayer and visitation.
Our nation is becoming increasingly urbanized. Our people press toward the cities. It would be unusual for a young man or a young woman today to go to school and he does not have in his mind dreams of achievement and success in the cities. Practically all of our people increasingly are living in the cities. And when they come, what happens to them? What becomes of them? Let me show you.
In a great eastern city I was in a taxicab. And the taxicab driver was not quite as you usually find in that city. He seemed to be from the South. So I asked about him and he said yes he had come from the South. And as I talked to him I asked him about his church and about attending the worship of the Lord. And this was his reply.
He said, “Mister, I am like a lost sheep. I don’t know where to go, and I don’t know what to do when I get there. And I don’t have anybody to help me.” Then he repeated again, “I am like a lost sheep.” He said, “Back home in the little church and in the Sunday school I knew where to go, and I knew what to say and how to do. But in the city, I don’t know and there is nobody to help me.”
I wonder if that is not repeated and duplicated a thousand times a thousand times. They come here, they pour into the city and what becomes of them? Who cares? To whom is it a burden? To whom would it matter whether they were lost or not? Is not this the great foundational background for everything that we purpose and propose to do for God, that the Lord might use us in a meaningful way to win, to woo, to invite, to encourage in the faith and work and way and life of our Lord?
We had our staff meeting this last week, and while we were in session, Lance Burkes, our British intern, said to us, “I do not wish, and it is not in my heart to criticize the church, it is a great church and it is overwhelming to me, there is nothing like it in the British Isles. But there is one thing that I think is lacking in the church.” He said, “It is the spirit of prayer and intercession. We are very busy and the church is filled with activities and programs. But I don’t have the sense that the church gives itself to intercession and to prayer.”
When he said it, all of us immediately felt the truth of the burden of the observation that he had made. Our church as a household of faith does not give itself to prayer as we should. And yet we cannot build strongly and greatly and gloriously and upwardly for God without God’s beseeched, adjured, presence, and help. There is no ultimate achievement for us if we do not pray; those two things, prayer and visitation.
When we built the building across the street and, when the money was given to me for Embree Hall by Dr. Embree, who was a Methodist, an elder and steward in the Methodist church, one of the dearest friends I ever had, Dr. Embree said, “I would like to place in the hall six beautiful windows.” Now they are decorations. There is no outside light that comes in because they are inside solid walls. But he said, “I’d like to have those six beautiful windows.”
So we called for an artist who was a genius in stained glass. And he came down here, and I sat down with him, and we went through all six of those windows. Three of them he wanted to have on the left, the Old Testament, and three of them on the right on the New Testament.
So I said to Mr. Jacobs, that artist who is now in heaven, and he created what I think is six of the most beautiful windows in America. When he got through with me the first, the second and the third I thought oh, they’re so beautiful. Then the fourth, the fifth and the sixth all so beautiful. But when he came to the sixth one, I said, “Mr. Jacobs, would you make this one according to a dream that I have in my heart?”
Well, he said, “What is it?”
I said, “I’d like for that sixth one, the last one, the one to the right here in the chapel, I’d like for it to be a window in the center of which the big medallion is a church with a spire, a steeple pointing up to God. And on that left side, a medallion with hands clasped and underneath the word ‘Prayer.’ And the right medallion a picture with a hand knocking at a door and underneath ‘Visitation’.” And I said, “Mr. Jacobs, what I have in my heart is I would love for our people ever to remember that the building of the church that points toward God is always dependent upon prayer and visitation, asking, beseeching God, and knocking at the door.”
He said, “I think that can be done beautifully.” And he did it. Ah, that the dream that we saw come to pass in beautiful glass and picture and color can also be a dream that would come to pass in the spiritual life of our people. We pray; we are a praying people. We look to God. We lean on the strong arm of the Lord. And we implement it in concern and care, in invitation, in visitation, in knocking at the door, in witnessing and talking and speaking to those to whom we could encourage in the Lord. O God, grant it for our new and glorious year.
In a moment now we shall stand and sing our appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], to put your life in the fellowship of the church, to answer God’s call; upon the first note of the first stanza, come. The stairway on either side at the front and back, come. Into the aisle on the lower floor, come, as God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.