GOAL OF THE NEW YEAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-7-73 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Goal for the New Year. Through these many years our people have come to expect some kind of a message on the ministry of our people the first Sunday of the new year. I heard a little group speaking this last week, and they said there are two times in the year when you go to church you can expect a message from the pastor about our work. One is on his anniversary, which is the first Sunday in October, and the other on the first Sunday of the new year, which is today.
And the background passage for the sermon is the one that we read just now from the third chapter of Philippians. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfected,” teleios; [Philippians 3:12], I have arrived at the place that God has assigned purpose for me.
That is one of the problems we have in reading the Bible. When we read the word perfect in the Bible, to us it means moral perfection, sinless purity. And the word has no connotation like that at all. Teleios, translated “perfect,” means nothing but achieving the goal for which God intended it, like the oak would be the perfection of the acorn, the man would be the perfection of the child; it has attained its goal. So Paul uses it here. Not as though I had already attained. And then he says it in other words, either are already perfect, but I had achieved. “That I am after it. I am after it if I may katalambanō, if I may get hold of, if I may get hold of that for which also I was got hold of Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:12].
Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hands upon it yet, to have got hold of it yet: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I diōkō, I stretch, strain, I press—
and you can easily see he is using the image of an Olympic game; a runner, a racer in the Olympic game—
I diōkō, I stretch, I strain, I stretch toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
And it is a review of that effort that comprises the message this morning.
If I could think of it in terms of a general who rides up and down the line of battle surveying the forces, or a corporation president who is sitting with the members of the board and the stockholders and he outlines for them their achievements and their future goals. Or, like the president of a democracy and he delivers his state of the union message, so the pastor surveying the whole work of the church and delivering a state of the church message speaking of our Christian commonwealth.
First then, let me speak of one of the happy and most felicitous of all the moments that shall come to us this new year. Sometime toward the end of the year we shall have our new Christian education building. It is going up now. The framework has been up some time; across Patterson Street toward Federal Street, facing Ervay Street. That’s one of the most desperately needed units in the many activities and teaching programs of our church.
I only have one sadness about it, and that is it is far too small, far too small. The moment that we dedicate it and enter it, it will be filled to capacity, and already I hear these divisional directors pleading for space and areas far beyond what we are able to contain in our new Christian education building. But it will be a glorious step forward, and it will be ours, beautifully done, beautifully completed by the end of this year. It cost three million dollars. And it is to be paid for.
Well, how? I have something in my heart that I’d like to do. I’d like to try. If there are eighteen thousand members of our church and there are, I would like to divide up that building into eighteen thousand parts and sell every part of the building to our people.
Now some of us are not able to take a very big part. That’s fine. Let’s divide it up into screws, and into nuts, and into bolts, and into joints, and into hinges and into doorknobs, and into feet of steel beams, into cubic yards of concrete that were poured into the foundation, into rooms, and hallways, and walls, and windows. Let’s even sell the cracks in the building. Let’s do the whole thing. Divide it up into eighteen thousand parts and sell every part of the building to every member of our church.
If we have eighteen thousand members, and we do, let’s have eighteen thousand responses and eighteen thousand pledge cards, eighteen thousand people who are taking a little part of that great structure.
I think it would be one of the most interesting things in the earth to see how we succeeded in it. And then with it make the announcement that anyone who buys as much as five hundred dollars of it will be privileged to place a plaque there, a bronze plaque. They can do it just out of gratitude to God for His abounding, immeasurable blessings or they can dedicate it to somebody. But the whole building is bought and paid for by the members of our congregation even before the thing is complete and dedicated. I believe we can do it. It’s an achievement that is within our grasp. And it will be a glorious consummation if when the time came to consecrate that edifice to the glory of God we could say all of it is taken care of by all of our people.
Second: may I speak now of a dream that has come true. I have been bombarded with questions. Ah, how many times, from one side of the country to the other. Did you begin this elementary school, this day school, your Christian school, your First Baptist Church school, did you begin that on account of integration or bussing? The answer is an unqualified and emphatic, “No!” Had I my way about it and had I been able to achieve it, we would have had a school in the First Baptist Church in Dallas twenty-eight years ago.
Do you remember Lynn Landrum, one of the most gifted editors of the Dallas News? Lynn Landrum used to write editorials about the dream that I had and the efforts that I put forth to build a school down here in this church. He wanted to see me do it, and so many times he would say, though he was a Methodist, he would say, “If you get it started, count on me for financial support.” And he would write that in his editorial column that appeared every day on the editorial page of the Dallas News.
That school is a dream. It is a dream come true. We have just begun. This is our first year. We have about a hundred thirty pupils. But it’s a seed and it shall grow. It will grow. And it has.
One of the dearest ministries that mind could think for, I was invited to hold the first chapel service. We held it in Embree Hall, our larger chapel, our largest chapel. And as I sat there and looked at those children, about one hundred thirty of them, I could not but find my heart so moved that I brushed the tears from my eyes. It was one of the most meaningful moments in my life. It was a chapel service. That meant something. We read the Bible. That meant something. The pastor brought a message. That meant something. We were in a beautiful sanctuary. That meant something. Every teacher is a consecrated, devout servant of Christ. That meant something. The atmosphere that surrounds the children is Christian and godly. That meant something. All of it together was a glory to God. It was an answer to a dream and a prayer of a quarter of a century.
Now this coming year we shall add a grade. If God is good to us we might add still another and still another. But we will add those grades. This year it runs through grade number seven. Next year through at least grade number eight or beyond until finally we have all twelve grades.
It is a magnificent open door that God hath set before us. I went to their first Christmas program that also was held in Embree Hall. And the hall was jammed. The chapel was jammed. Upstairs and downstairs and people standing around the walls.
I don’t think in my life I have ever seen a more moving Christmas story than was put on by those dear children. At the end, at the climax, they came two by two while the choirs were singing, the children’s choirs, one in the choir loft and the other there on the front pews; this one, this one, and Gary Moore leading them in between. And those youngsters, those children dressed in robes of the east, dressed like shepherds, dressed like wise men, dressed like the children of God who belong to the people of Israel, came up two by two and their before the manger scene knelt in worship and left a gift.
Ah, all of it is Christian. That is the great dedication to which we have given ourselves in the church. “This is life eternal to know Thee, the only true and living God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” [John 17:3]. And to mediate, to be an instrument of teaching that to our children is the finest education in its most superlative and glorious form. That is a dream that has come to pass and one that harbingers and portends a greater dream in the future.
Third: our Bible Institute. This is the second year of that teaching ministry. And the blessing and favor of the dear Lord has been upon that Bible Institute beyond anything I ever thought for. A man called me on the telephone this last week from another state. They have begun a new seminary. I asked him, while we were talking, I asked him how many students he had in the seminary. “Ah,” he said, “we are succeeding gloriously. We have twenty-six. We have twenty-six students in the seminary.”
When we began our Bible Institute we had an enrollment of over five hundred. It has been in the surveillance and in the purpose and plan and goodness of God from the beginning, one of the most blessed of all of the instruments for good that the Lord could ever use down here in our earth and in this church. How thankful we are to heaven for it.
Now we are beginning a day ministry, not only the classes Tuesday evening and Sunday night but we are beginning a day ministry that called for two full-time professors and they are already here. This magnificent opportunity for depth in the study of the mind and revelation of God is ours now for the having.
One of the things that is being planned and soon to be presented, we are making a way whereby all of our Sunday school teachers can enroll in the institute on a Sunday night, on a Wednesday night, and following a definitely outlined program reach toward a certificate of excellence in teaching.
Why am I insisting on that and shall insist on it? I want to use the word pressure and demand. But the educational directors say I am afraid that some of my teachers will quit if you bring too much pressure to bear upon them to study and to learn God’s Word. So, they say, why is it that you have that spirit of demanding that they study if they are going to teach? Well, my answer is a very plain and a very simple one.
Here is a man that has something wrong with his gizzard. So he takes himself to the hospital and he takes himself to the surgeon. And he says, “I have something wrong with my innards. I’ve got something wrong with my gizzard. And I have to be operated on.”
And the fellow in the same breath will says, “But I want a man, if he is going to cut me open and operate on my gizzard or my innards, I want a man who is trained. And I want a man who has been to the schools, and I want a man who has a degree, and I want a man who has passed the state medical board examination. If he is going to open my abdomen and cut on my insides, I want the finest trained surgeon available because to me my gizzard is very important. It is an anatomical adjunct that I must be very careful for.” Now that will be his attitude about cutting on him.
Yet that same man would say to me, “Whether they teach my child or whether I am taught the truth of Almighty God that has to do with my eternal soul and my eternal salvation is all together optional and indifferent and insignificant.” Whether he is taught or not makes no difference. Whether he knows what he is talking about makes no difference. Whether he is teaching the truth or not, and that in power and in Spirit and in the revelation of God, is no matter at all.
I don’t see that. To me, we ought to do what we can to keep these physical frames alive and well. But I know the end of it from the beginning. Down the line, by and by, in the passing of the years, the physical frame will go back to dust. It will corrupt and decay and be food for the worms. It will return to the ground. I know that. You know that. But the soul, the mind, the spirit lives forever.
And to say that it is inconsequential what we do with the mind and soul and spirit of the child and of the young adult and of the adult, but what is taught is inconsequential and whether the teacher is able or not has no weight or any balance of choice. I don’t see that, nor do you.
I believe that as astutely as we pray and hope that the surgeon is taught that it will be no less effectively taught the truth of God to that teacher who stands up before our people and mediates the mind and revelation of God in Christ Jesus. I think there ought to be the finest teaching in the earth in the atmosphere, in the area, in the realm of the mind of God, the Bible, the Holy Scriptures.
I don’t see how in the earth that we can say it is magnificent for the teacher to be trained in reading, writing, arithmetic and they must be prepared to teach in a public school room, but we can stand up in the Sunday school and teach without preparation, and without training, and without knowledge, and without background, and without understanding.
Wouldn’t it be great, is it not a thing to reach toward, “I strain, I press, I strive toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:14]. Is it not something that we would pray for and reach out for, that the Bible teaching in our church is the finest that could be had in the earth? That is possible.
Our people are not dumb. They are not stupid. They are gifted people. They can learn. We can learn. And the use of the Bible Institute here in our midst is an open invitation for us to take advantage of it and to train our teachers in a magnificent pedagogical way, biblical content way. There is no limit to what our people can do if they will respond to the invitation to prepare for a glorious ministry of mediating the truth of God. This in our institute.
All right, fifth: our retirement center. That’s another dream that I believe by the end of this year you will see largely come to pass. There is a turn to this retirement center that I would love to see our people do, that is unique.
Here is the retirement center that usually you will find when you see older people taken to the institution or to the place. In so many instances, in so majority instances, they go there and they live a certain period of time. Then when the day comes and they are in need of medical help, what is done with them? They are dumped out and they fend for themselves the best they can for themselves. And if they can find some convalescent center or some convalescent home to take them, why, that’s the end of the life for them, nothing to look forward to but want and need and agony and pain and loneliness and senility and age and death.
What we would like to do is an all together different thing. What we would like to do is to build a tremendous complex. That’s the reason I refer to it as a forty story building at least. At least a forty story building. A tremendous complex. And when the retirement day comes and the people live in it, the contract is made that they are cared for to the end of their lives. That is the contract and it will be a great giant condominium. And these units are sold. You buy your own home. You buy your own unit. And you live in it in strength and in health as long as the years of God would favor, would smile upon you.
Then when the inevitable time comes and the age arises where you are not ambulatory, you are not peripatetic, you don’t walk around, you are ill, in that same complex there is a fine medical center. And you stay at home. You just move from there maybe to there. And you are cared for by competent doctors and nurses until the glorious consummation and coronation and translation. And the people live in quiet and assurance and rest and peace all the days of their lives.
In that complex I would like to have a fine grocery store. I’d like to have a fine beauty parlor. I’d like to have a magnificent pharmacy. I’d like to have everything in it like a little town. And the people live there and as I say, so close to the church that if the people fall out the window they would fall into the church.
That is a dream that is not impossible, that is not wild. That is reachable. That is something in the grasp of our people and of our church and it can be done. “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:14].
Sixth: a word about the financing of the enterprises and activities and programs of our church. We cannot read all the books. There are more than fifty million pages of scientific analysis and discovery and advancement published every year. There is no scientist that can read fifty million pages of scientific discussion a year. He just cannot.
The area of knowledge is so vast that no physicist now, no chemist now, can even begin to understand and to read all of the knowledge in his own field. He has to specialize in a section of physics or a section of chemistry.
It is that way in our financial support. There are literally thousands of appeals made to our people. They are everywhere. They come through the mails. They come through the city. They come to the nation. They come on television. They come on radio. They come from every avenue that is humanly possible to bring invitation and pressure to the individual you.
Now how do you respond? What do you do? This is my humble judgment and I speak as one having I pray, the Spirit of the Lord. I cannot do everything. I cannot. I have to choose. I have to choose what books I shall read. I shall choose what pages that I scan. I have to choose among a thousand activities, this shall I do. I think also we have to choose what we are going to support.
Now I have a choice. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. In my humble judgment there is no ministry, there is no effort that has in it the possibility of infinite blessing as we find in the church. I don’t think anybody can run an orphan’s home like a church. I don’t think anybody can run a hospital like a church. I don’t think anybody can run a school like a church. I think the reason we have these state and civic institutions is because the people did not support the church.
I think to support the Buckner Benevolence program is a magnificent thing; it’s the church. I think for our people to support Baylor Hospital is a magnificent thing; it’s the church. I think for our people to support our great worldwide mission program is a magnificent thing; it’s the church. I think for our people to support our schools is glorious; it’s the church. I have to choose; and having to choose, in my humble judgment, in my prayerful opinion, if we will support the church, God will doubly bless, triply bless, quadruply bless the gift that we dedicate to Him. Remember His church and support it.
Now briefly and last: the great heart and soul, the very heartbeat and life strain of the church lies in its prayerful care and concern for our mandate from heaven. We are to be proclaimers and witnesses and soulwinners. And this is our assignment in the heart of this great city.
And I am going to speak now for just a moment of prayer and visitation. People crowd into the city. Our nation is increasingly urbanized. There is not any young man that I would know of or any young woman in a little town who has as a great goal and vision and dream staying in the little town. Practically all of them look forward to moving to the city. They are building careers and they are building castles in the air and they are dreaming dreams. And practically all of those dreams are centered in the city.
Our people are increasingly urbanized. They are city people. What happens to them when they come to the city? Let me give you an illustration.
In an eastern city, I was in a taxicab. And the cab driver was somewhat different from what I usually had seen in that great city. He talked like a country boy and mostly a country boy from the South. And I noticed it. So I spoke to him and I asked him where he was from and I was correct. He was from the South. Well, I said, “Do you go to church?”
He said, “Mister, I am like a lost sheep in this city. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what to do when I get there, and I don’t have anybody to help me.” He said, “In the little town down there where I came from, I went to church and I went to Sunday school. And I knew what to do and I knew what to say. But in this city,” then he repeated it, “I am like a lost sheep.”
There are uncounted numbers just like that. A gesture of kindness, a word of friendship, an invitation, a knock at the door, a calling by name would make the difference between lostness and savedness.
Haven’t you heard me speak of the beautiful, beautiful windows in Embree Hall? They are not actual windows, as you know. They are for decoration. They are against solid walls. There is no light from the outside to come in. they were not built for that purpose. But Dr. Embree, who gave me the money for that beautiful chapel, wanted six beautiful windows. And we tried to find the most gifted artist in America who worked in stained glass to make those windows. And I said, “I have just one request. The three on this side that you have chosen for the Old Testament and the three on this side for the New Testament”—and you go look at them—there are none more beautiful in America than those six windows made by a great artist by the name of Jacobs.
And as I worked with that artist, I said, “That’s just beautiful, that’s just fine. That’s just glorious. Oh, I like that.” And he worked with me through all five of them. But I said, “When it comes to the sixth one, would you do it as I would like?”
“Well,” he said, “I will try. What would you like?”
I said, “This is what I would like. I would like for you to make a window and in the center of it is a picture of a church with a spire, a steeple pointing up to God. That’s the center medallion. Then on this side I would like for you to make a medallion with clasped hands and underneath write the word ‘Prayer.’ And on this side I would like for you to make a medallion with a hand knocking at the door and underneath write ‘Visitation.’ And the reason,” I said to him, “is I’d like for our people always to remember that it is in prayer and visitation that the church and the household of faith is built.”
He said, “That is just wonderful. I will do it.”
And when you go to Embree Hall, the window next to the front on the right, in the New Testament series, is that. The church pointing up to God, and on one side hands clasped in intercession and on the other side a hand knocking at the door. The church is built; the foundation is laid in prayer and intercession.
In our staff meeting this week Lance Burkes, our British intern, Lance Burkes said to us, he said “I don’t want you to think that I am anywise critical.” He said, “I am overwhelmed by the church and by the people and by it’s program. But,” he said, “there is one thing that I think that the church lacks. The church lacks” he said, “a ministry of prayer.” He said “I have the feeling that our church, as a church, hardly prays. It just doesn’t. Nor do I sense in the church that the soul-searching intercession that ought to characterize the people of God, we don’t pray. We are very busy.” he said. Then he apologized again. He said, “I am a Britisher and I’m an outsider. I am just saying this out of something in my heart.”
Well, the repercussion of that was immediately felt, deeply so, by every member of the staff. We are very busy. And the church is thronged and pressed with activities, programs. But there is not much of intercession and of prayer on the part of our people as a church, as a household of faith.
Maybe one of the goals toward which our hands and hearts can reach for in the new year, there shall be more of the asking from God and the blessings from heaven. And there shall be more of an awareness and of a concern of those who need us than we have quite known in the year that is passed. May the Lord grant it and with it His infinite favor and blessing.
We’ve gone far beyond our time. In a moment when we stand to sing our appeal, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, giving your heart to Christ [Romans 10:8-13]; giving your life to the Lord, coming into the fellowship of the church, in the balcony round on this lower floor, in a moment when we stand to sing our appeal, make the decision now in your soul. And when you stand up, stand up walking down that aisle, into this sanctuary altar, “Pastor, here is my hand. I have given my heart and life to God.” Or, “We are putting our lives in the circumference and fellowship of this precious congregation.” As the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now; and God bless you as you respond, while we stand and while we sing.