Building the House of God
May 23rd, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
BUILDING THE HOUSE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-23-76 10:50 a.m.
With an incomparable gladness do I accept from Lawson Ridgeway and the men who work with him in our building fund appeal the assignment of this hour, to bring a message concerning the house of our Lord. In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to chapter 56. And in the heart of the chapter, verses 7 and 8, is a passage about God’s house. Isaiah 56:7-8:
Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon Mine altar; for Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
The Lord God which gathereth the outcasts, the Diaspora, of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others also, beside those that are gathered unto him.
As we read in the context, the Lord first speaks of the proselytes. They shall be welcome to God’s house. Then He speaks of the Jewish nation scattered abroad. They shall be gathered together in God’s house. Then He adds an unusual prophecy. And beside them the heathen Gentile nations of the world shall be gathered together in God’s house [Isaiah 56:8].
In the second chapter of Ephesians, verses 14 to 16, the apostle Paul speaks of that. All the middle walls of partition are broken down. And in God’s house, in the congregation of the Lord, there will be the proselytes, there will be the Jew, and there will be the heathen nations of the world; one body in Christ, as Paul avows it [Ephesians 2:14-16].
Then in the text is another famous prophecy. And the Lord quoted it in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew. Cleansing the temple, He said, “You have made God’s house a house of merchandising, but God says My house shall be called an house of prayer for all people” [Matthew 21:12-13]. Then He speaks in that same verse of sacrifices and offerings [Isaiah 56:7]. God’s house is not to be supported by bazaars and by trafficking in things sold and bought, but God’s house is to be built and is to be supported by the offerings and by the sacrifices of God’s people.
Thus we have seen this great church rise before the Lord, and the hand of God has been upon it. It has grown and grown and continues to grow. In 1890, seven years before the coming of Dr. Truett, the congregation built this sanctuary in which we worship. In 1924, the great pastor Dr. Truett built the educational building immediately adjacent. Then the work continued to grow, and we built the chapel building across San Jacinto. And we bought the Riley Building at St. Paul and San Jacinto. Then we built the Veal parking and recreational building. We bought the Burt building. We bought the lot at Federal and St. Paul. Then we built the Christian education building. Then we bought the Spurgeon Harris parking building. Then we bought the Easterwood building beyond the Y, and finally the great piece of property facing Ross Avenue.
But there was so much yet. God’s people were coming to the house of the Lord. And in increasing numbers they were sharing in its many activities. So representatives from our ministry of music came to me and said, “Our quarters are straitened. We cannot even get in. We must have more room for our choir to robe and to practice. And we must have quarters that are enlarged for our many, many necessities. And the only place for us to enlarge is to take the nursery.” At the same time, the people from the nursery came to me and said, “It is hardly possible for us to continue in the straitened quarters in which we are housed. We desperately need more room, and the only place for us to expand is to take the area allocated to our music ministry.”
Both coming to me, wanting the same area and then both of them saying them same thing; we cannot build nurseries across the street because the mother that brings the child needs to know the child is in the same building with her and close by. And the ministry of music said, “We cannot go across the street because we robe and then we must come into the auditorium. And to be across the street would be impossible.”
I never faced a frustrating alternative like that. Where do you turn and what do you do? For on this side of us is a street, Patterson. And on that side of us is a street, St. Paul. And on this side of us is a street, San Jacinto. And on that side of us is a street, Ervay. And both of them need to be near to the auditorium. There was no possible way. It looked like abject and abysmal failure for any future growth of these ministries of music and of the care of our little children.
Then, out of nowhere, beyond imagination something no one in this earth ever thought about. One of our men came to me, Sheffie Kadane and said, “Pastor, the city of Dallas wants to give us Patterson Street and they want to give us San Jacinto Street. And they want to add to it three hundred forty thousand dollars to help on the debt if we will give them the privilege to take eighty feet and reroute San Jacinto on the other side of our chapel building.”
Would you believe a thing like that could ever have come to pass? Scores of times have I walked down the streets of the city of Dallas and men stopped me and say, “How is it that you get the city of Dallas to give you a street?” It just isn’t done. Yet God did it; the hand of the Lord upon us.
Then the missions came to me. And men representing the families of our church came to me and the academy with Mel Carter came to me and said, “We must have the gymnasium.” And all three wanted it, needed it, these recreational facilities on top of the Veal parking building. Then the thing came on top of this new addition. Why not build a glorious recreational facility, adding to these that we already have, so that all may share in it. Then as though God had not done enough, Mrs. Mary Crowley came and said, “I will offer to the church a generous gift both from me personally and from our company, Home Interiors and Gifts.” Then Mrs. Helen Wicker said, “I will give you a gracious gift in memory of my husband, David Wicker, for the new recreational center.” And then others said, “In behalf of our children we will give you a gift for the building of a new building there across Patterson Street.” So in the good hand of our God, the building began to rise and is rising today. What an incomparable remembrance from heaven.
But we have upon our facilities a vast and burdensome debt. On the lot at Federal and St. Paul we owe $87,000. On our Christian education building we owe $1,800,000. On our Spurgeon Harris property, the old IRS building, in that parking building there we owe $828,000. On the new Easterwood building we owe $819,000. For the property facing St. Paul we owe $1,817,000. And for our new Mary C building that is now going up, we pledged last year $2,000,000 toward it. The building by contract costs $3,100,000. So for the Mary C building, we lack $1,100,000.
Where do we turn and what do we do? This is one of the things that I learned. For years and years and years, not three or four but for about fifteen years, I tried in the budget, in the stewardship appeal in the fall, I tried to gather the money for these great expanding units. I failed completely. And I learned something in those many years. We can carry on a program with a stewardship appeal in the fall. But we cannot build buildings through that budget. It will not work.
We are exactly like a hospital. A hospital can carry on its work from the income of those who are taken to its rooms. But a hospital cannot build a building out of the income of the patients. The building has to be built, then the hospital can carry on. Such as Baylor University Medical Center right now. They are in an appeal for four million dollars. They already have it. They are going over it triumphantly. But it had to be in a special appeal to the city of Dallas. And Dallas has responded so graciously.
But the hospital cannot do it in its regular budget and income. They have to have a special appeal in order to build that building. I have found that true in the church. We cannot do it through the budget. It has to be by a special and designated appeal. Therefore, our appeal is made in the spring, this time in the month of May. We are all invited to share in that program.
Last year we began it. Under the wisdom and under the guidance of Lawson Ridgeway, it was decided to make the appeal by the year, one year at a time. There are reasons for that. One is this. In a down year our church will have a thousand additions. In a good year, in an up year, we will have a thousand six hundred additions. If you make a pledge for three years, in three years there are three thousand people who have been added to the church in a down year. If they are up years, there are four thousand eight hundred and a letter will not do it. It has to be by special appeal. It is therefore much wiser for us to make the appeal each spring.
Our pledging last year was from June to June. And we must pay that pledge we made last year. Then now we will pledge from June to June through the remainder of 1976 to June of 1977.
And in the response of all of our people, we have a wonderful and promised victory. If we succeed it will be because we succeed together. And if we fail it will be because we fail together. It is something in which all of us must share. God will not bless us if we do not.
When I came to church this morning, placed in my hand from a feeble old man, poor; filled out one of those pledge cards that he got somewhere and had two wrinkled, much used two dollar bills and asked that I turn it in to Dr. Shanks. That was the beginning of his pledge to the building fund. Then when I came to the service just now, I was handed from another one of our dear and faithful members this check for fifteen thousand dollars. It takes both of us to do it.
That old man, poor and feeble, with his two wrinkled and much used and much thumbed two dollar bills, and this check for fifteen thousand dollars. That’s what makes this church great. It’s a mighty church because there are in it these that are very poor but they love God and they love us. And there are some of us who are more able and more capable, but whether it is in our poverty or whether it is in the abundance of God’s spiritual and financial blessings, we all share in the work alike. Now John, as I gave you the two one dollar bills, I want you to come and take this fifteen thousand dollar check.
I have one other word. And I speak now of the heart to try, the spirit to respond. With more than what word could ever bear in meaning do I thank God for placing me in the ministry. I’d rather be a preacher than anything else in the world. And I have felt that every since I can remember.
When I was a small, small boy I looked forward to preparing to be a pastor. And I thank God for placing me in the heart of a great city. Our city churches are dying. And that pleases Satan. When Satan sees the great cities of America left to the ghetto and to the gang and to the terrorists and to these who are violent and the city becomes a cesspool of crime and violence and terror. it pleases Satan to see the city left to darkness.
And if he could destroy this church, he would. It would be the prime target of his atomic weaponry. But God lives, and whereas in so many places Satan has won, and the city is left without a witness for Christ, in Dallas, in the heart of this vast metroplex there is a house of prayer, a house of God where the Bible is loved and preached and where the people assemble in praise and in prayer. O God! Keep it that way forever until Jesus comes again.
It’s hard downtown I know. How easier it would be to go to the green pastures, to the salubrious suburbs where the people come because of convenience. I have been asked to go to churches like that since I was a young man. Not one of them did I ever consider or ever would. I love being here. The challenge of the ministry in the heart of this great city bows me to my knees, and I thank God that He matched our souls and our lives against it. To accept a challenge does something to a man who has given his life to God.
For the last two years there has come to our School of the Prophets, a fine, tall, good looking young man from Nevada, a pastor there. He has a beautiful and dedicated wife. They were pastor and wife of a fine church and were called to begin a work in a town in Nevada of about ten thousand people where there was no Baptist witness. There were three families there who were Baptist in that town. And they accepted the call to go and to begin the work. By the time they got there, two of those families had moved away and there was one left.
So he began with one family. Having no other means of support he worked with his hands. He’s a gifted young fellow. And preached, and visited, and prayed, and witnessed, and testified. And at the end of three years he had only thirty in Sunday school.
Oh, how hard and how discouraging! In those three year because he is a gifted young man, he was called to other churches but refused. “God has placed me here,” and he stayed. And finally the windows of heaven were opened to him. Accepting his invitation to speak a few weeks ago to the Baptist fellowship in Nevada, the State Convention, he presided over it as its president. And he said to the people, he said, “We are now looking forward to three hundred in Sunday school. We’ve built our building. We are blessed of God, and the people of the little city know we are here, and we have every prospect of a glorious tomorrow.”
Oh, it blessed my heart just to listen to him. And he had with him, among other laymen; he had a layman that he had won himself to the Lord Jesus. The fellow makes a little over fifty thousand dollars a year. Also a capable man. But he was lost, this layman, this man was lost and serving the devil. Though he had a marvelous income of over fifty thousand dollars a year, he was in debt. He was facing bankruptcy. He was miserable. And he faced the wrecking of his home.
And in those days of despair that young pastor searched him out and won him to Jesus and baptized him into the little Baptist church there in that little city in Nevada. And now that layman gives twelve thousand dollars every year to the church. So a man was talking to him and said, “Why is it that you give so much to the church, twelve thousand dollars a year?”
And the man replied, he said, “Sir, when I was serving the devil, I was broke and in debt. While I was serving the devil, I was facing bankruptcy. While I was serving the devil, my home faced wreckage and ruin. And when I was serving the devil, I was miserable unto despair. Then this young man introduced me to the Lord, and I gave my heart to Christ and was baptized into the fellowship of that little Baptist church.” And he said, “Sir, the best thing I do and the best investment I make is giving twelve thousand dollars a year to my little Baptist church.”
Isn’t that a wonderful way to be? Not out of coercion, not out of grudging necessity, but out of infinite gratitude to God. It’s the best investment that I make. O Lord, that I could be happy in doing it.
A bird sings not out of necessity or out of duty but a bird sings because it has music in its heart. So it is with us before God. Not because we are coerced or compelled, but out of gratitude for what God has done for us. Lord, thank You for the open door. Thank You for the freedom of speech to preach. Thank You for the freedom of assembly to worship. Thank You, Lord, for the blessings that enrich and sustain our lives. Thank You, Lord, for Jesus who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]. Thank You, Lord, for the remembrance of us in our hour of need and triumph. Thank You, Lord, for standing by me in old age and in the hour of my death. And thank You, Lord, for being my Mediator [1 Timothy 2:5], and great Intercessor [Hebrews 7:25], when I stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God [Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1]. And thank You, Lord, for writing my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15] that someday I may walk streets made out of solid gold, live in a city whose walls are of jasper [Revelation 21:10-21], to walk and to mingle with God’s redeemed [1 Peter 1:18-19]. O Lord, how could I ever thank Thee enough, and to do this in reply and in response is a high and holy privilege.
So blessed, wonderful Savior, to these young men and women, to our children, our little ones, to the praise of God, to the gathering together of our families, use us Lord as we have length of days and strength of hand. God bless and use us. This is a happy and a triumphant way to be and to live.
We are going to sing our hymn of appeal now. And while we sing it, a family, a couple or just you, to give yourself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], to come into the fellowship of the church, to answer the pressing appeal that the Holy Spirit makes to your heart, make the decision now and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up walking down one of these stairways, walking down one of these aisles. “Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way. This is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming.” Or just two of you, or just one. Angels attend you in the way while you come, as we stand and as we sing.