THE GOOD HAND OF GOD UPON US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-19-76 8:15 a.m.
The message that is brought today concerns an assignment that the Lord hath laid upon our church; it concerns an appeal to which all of us will be more than happy and glad to respond. As a background for the message – because it is something that God has done that brings us to this hour of worship today – as a background for the message, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, in verse 21, is a little word placed in there by the inspired physician who wrote the story concerning the marvel of what God did in Antioch. The first time that out of paganism, out of heathenism, out of Greek idolatry, that people came directly into the faith of Christ was in Antioch. And the little word that Doctor Luke wrote was this: "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." And from that passage came the title of the message the pastor presents: The Good Hand of God Upon Us.
For years there was laid upon me almost daily the appeal from different areas in our church life for help in making possible their expanded ministries in our Lord’s name. One came from the nursery. They said to me, "We have nurseries that are made to hold maybe ten babies; but we will have fifteen, and there is no room for another bed, no way except that we hold them in our laps. We desperately need expanded nurseries." Then they said, "But they must be close to the auditorium. To build them some other place will not bless us, for when a mother brings her child to church, she loves to feel in her heart that the child is just right there. If there is any need, any necessity, she could go immediately to the baby. It must be close to the auditorium." Then the leadership in the Beginner division, just the age above the nursery, constantly came to me, saying, "We must have more room. And our space also must be close to the nurseries because the age of these children is not always numerically attending, just in a constant; there will be in our birthrate times when there will be more babies born who reach two and a half years, than, say, reach three years. It is a variant. Therefore the Beginner division must be contiguous to our nurseries, so that the age groups, as they gather together, can be adjusted. For example, you take some out of the Beginner and give it to the nursery if there were no more nursery babies; or if the birthrate turned around, we could take some of the rooms assigned to the nurseries and give them to the Beginners. But a matter of propinquity is vital to us; they ought to be close together"
Then the music ministry came to me constantly, saying, "We literally run over each other in robing. Our choir has grown far beyond the little area assigned to us here, and when we come into the auditorium, we come in frustration; for we are so mixed up back there, and have hardly an opportunity to be quiet in our hearts and in our arrangements, that to worship God when we come before the people" – and they said the same thing: "But it must be close to the auditorium. If we place it over here or over yonder, it will do us no good. We must be close to the sanctuary in order that we might robe and file into the choir loft."
Then there came an impossible impasse and confrontation in our recreational facilities; for our church families, and our church divisions, and our missions, and our First Baptist Academy all wanted to use the facilities at the same time. Our church divisions said, "We have just been pushed out of our recreational program. It is used by others." Our missions said to me, "We cannot carry on an extensive mission program without the recreational part, because these kids out where we are, they come not from Christian families; they don’t care anything about Jesus, and they’re not coming to Sunday school because they love the Lord. There has to be some area in which we can encourage the child to respond. And when we can say, ‘You come, and we’ll go to the skating rink, and we’ll go to the basketball court, and we’ll have a good time,’ why, they will respond. Then we can win them to the Lord. But without that recreational program, our mission work," they told me, "would almost be decimated."
And our First Baptist Academy said to me, "We have to have our recreational center. We cannot be accredited without a certain P.E. program, physical education program, and we must use that recreational facility for our basketball games; for all of the other things that we do in the school. We can’t be accredited without it." And thank the Lord, about a week ago; Dr. Carter announced that we had been accredited.
All three of those wanted those facilities at the same time. And yet if we expanded the gymnasium, almost certainly it ought to be contiguous so that it could be supervised by the personnel; to have it here and another one way over there would almost be ruinous to us in our program. There was nothing that I faced here but despair. The reason is very obvious: it was impossible to expand that work, no matter how much money we had. It is bounded on three sides by three city streets and on the fourth side by this sanctuary. Our nurseries and our Beginner division and our Primary division is bounded on this side by San Jacinto, on that side by St. Paul, and on this side by Patterson Street. And the choir was located in the Nursery division. And if we expanded our gymnasium, it had to be in some way either to take the lot beyond or put it across a street. I came to the conclusion that this was the end of any kind of an expanded ministry for me. There was no way to turn; there was nothing to do. And I was trying to accommodate my heart to a stale plateau, flattened out level in the church for the rest of my life, for to change it, to take the situation here and place it where it could be expanded, to change and set it over some other place, to start over again, would be costing something like fifteen million dollars. So I just lived in despair.
Then the hand of God began to move, and in ways that I never dreamed of or thought for. I have a dear friend in Jimmy Aston, who is head of the Republic National Bank, located within a block of us. He called for me, and he said, "You ought to buy the rest of that block on Ross, facing Ross Avenue." We own half of it where our chapel building and our CI building and our McAllister mission building are located. "You need the rest of that block," he said. He said, "That’s the most beautiful situation in the city of Dallas. It’s this side of the Southwestern Life Insurance, beautiful building. It’s cater-cornered from the plush Fairmont Hotel. It is a beautiful place, and the city is growing in that direction. It ought to be yours. It ought to belong to the First Baptist Church." He said, "As you know, I’m not a Baptist, but I love the congregation and you, and I want you to do it." And so he said, "I will lend you the money without any down payment, in order that you might buy that property." So our men discussed it, and we borrowed from the bank $1,716,000 and bought the rest of that block facing Ross Avenue between Ervay and St. Paul.
No sooner had we done that, no sooner had we bought that property, than the city of Dallas came to us, saying, "It is our plan and our purpose to reroute San Jacinto Street. And we’re going to place it beyond your chapel building. We’ll need eighty feet through there to carry through the new San Jacinto. And for that rerouting, we will give to you Patterson Street on this side and San Jacinto Street on that side, and $305,000 beyond." For one street, they give us two streets and $305,000; and the two streets that are given us is that street there next to us and this street here next to us. There was never anything like that heard of since the Lord made the first man and placed him in the garden of Eden. They said, "You can have Patterson Street now; we’ll give it to you this moment." And they deeded to us San Jacinto Street; we already own it. They made a proviso in the deed that the city must use it until the new street is constructed; but it is ours, already deeded to us.
Now, there is always a confirming hand of God when a decision is ever made. I wish I could speak on that for an hour; that’s true in your life. If you make a decision, if it is right, God will confirm it by an outward sign. Look at Genesis 31:3, "And the Lord God said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers. You get out of Haran and go back to Bethel, go back to Canaan." Now you look at the next verse: "Then Jacob saw that the countenance of Laban," his father-in-law with whom he lived and worked, "Jacob saw that the countenance of Laban was not toward him as before." It was time to get up and go. Or look again, in Judges 6:37, in the life of Gideon: "The dew was on the fleece only; it was dry upon all the earth beside." Then the next verse: "Then it was dry only upon the fleece; but upon all the ground there was dew," a confirming sign. Same thing in Mark 14:13, the Lord said, "Go into the city, and there shall you meet a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him." When the Lord’s life was being hunted and hounded, and He wished a few more hours to spend with His disciples, in which He instituted the Lord’s Supper, they were to go to a place secretly arranged, and the sign was, "You shall meet a man bearing a pitcher of water." Men don’t carry water, didn’t carry water in those days; it was a woman’s job, it was a woman’s assignment, she carried the pitcher of water. "But you shall meet a man," it is a confirming sign. So God confirmed what we were to do by a confirming sign.
I received a letter from Mrs. Mary Crowley in which she said, "In behalf of the great building program of the church, I will pledge to give to you fifty thousand dollars a year for five years." When I received that letter, I took it to Don Carter, her son, and the president of Home Interiors and Gifts, their company, and I asked them if in a period of years they could give us $750,000 for the erection of a new building across Patterson Street, an extension of our work. And after careful consideration, they returned to me the answer: "We shall." Then I went to Rip and Bernice Nichols, and I asked them if they would give me a generous gift. And they said they would. And by the way, at the end of the eight-fifteen o’clock service this morning, Rip Nichols came by and said, "Pastor, put me down for a hundred thousand dollars more." Then I went to Helen Wicker and her family and asked them for a generous gift, with which we could build an extension to our gymnasium. And the Wicker family said, "We shall, in memory of Dave Wicker."
Therefore I went to our deacons, and I reported to them that I had practically all of the money for the Mary C Building, and I told them that the structure must be erected across Patterson Street in order that it could be used by our church felicitously and beautifully, close by. We just have our choir right there; and then the nurseries right there, and the children’s work right there; and it would be an extension of the present gymnasium. It’d all look like just one building, from San Jacinto clear across through Patterson. And the deacons said since I already had the money, they said, "That’s great. That’s fine. That’s beautiful."
Now, as we face the coming of the architectural arrangements and the letting of a contract for the Mary C Building, the city came to us and said, "If you touch the Truett Building, you must renovate it and remodel it, and bring it up to the latest safety and fire codes set by the city." Now this building, though it was constructed like a fort, it was built in 1924, long time before there were city codes. So I asked the architect, "How much are you talking about? When the city says if we even touch it, if we even build a building to it, if we touch the Truett Building, we must remake it from top to bottom, how much are you talking about?" And they entered into it with construction figures, and came back and said, "It will cost $900,000." Beside the dream I had for the Mary C Building, there was an added cost of $900,000 for the reconstruction of this Truett Building.
You never heard such complaining and growling and grumpiness in your life as I went around this church. This blasted city, and all of their codes, and all of their fire rules, and everything, demanding of us nine hundred thousand additional dollars. I was just moaning and griping and complaining. And one of the fine deacons came up to me – and I love a man who will tell me how I can do a thing better, or how I ought to be better; I don’t hate him for talking to me, I love him for it – one of our fine deacons came to me, and he said, "Pastor, you ought not to be that way; finding fault, and complaining, and bemoaning what the city asks of you in remaking that Truett Building." He said, "That’s for our children, and you have our children in there by the hundreds and the hundreds." He said, "It is best for our children. And the building ought to be brought up to the finest building codes and finest safety rules. You ought not to be that way." Well, I said, "That’s right. I ought not to be that way. If this is for the blessing of our little children, that they might come here to church in safety, and for the best use of our facilities, I ought not to be that way." So I just turned around. I said, "Lord, forgive me. Thank God, nine hundred thousand dollars." I have no idea where it’s coming from, but thank God, nine hundred thousand dollars more.
Well, then the appeal was made that our church ought to have a wonderfully useful and God-blessed recreational facility. Not just for the academy, and not just for our missions, but we need a family recreational center, where our people can come, all of these divisions in the church, and share a happy life together in the Lord. So, we asked about that. That meant that the Mary C Building would be pulled over, clear across the Truett Building, clear across to San Jacinto S treet. And I asked how much that is, and that costs over six hundred thousand dollars. And the men discussed that very prayerfully and at length. And they said, "It ought to be done. We ought to do it." So they added $600,000, beside the $900,000; they added a total of $1,500,000 to the original Mary C Building, all of it one tremendous complex. And by the way, that plaza out there, and the Mary C Building is so beautiful, that at 12:30 o’clock, tomorrow at noon, I have been asked to come to the city council, that they might place in our hands a citation of gratitude for what we are doing in the rebuilding of the downtown city of Dallas.
Well, as I looked at the program and saw it come to pass, I also became increasingly aware of the heavy, heavy debt upon our church. We owe just about $6,200,000 on our properties, all of it together. On the new Christian Education building, facing Ervay, and you enter it in the great corridor there, we owe $1,750,000. On this Ross Avenue property, we owe another $1,700,000. For the Mary C Building complex that was so greatly enlarged, we owe $1,500,000; beside these other buildings, such as the Easterwood and the Spurgeon-Harris. We pay in interest over $450,000 a year to the bankers. All of that money, $450,000 a year in interest, is taken out of our church program; and we so desperately need it for the work here in God’s kingdom. We must do something about this tremendous debt; we must. So, a second time I went to Mary Crowley, and I asked her about helping with this great burden of debt that remains. And I asked her about the possibility of dedicating the Mary C Building complex debt free. That would be $1,500,000. And I asked her if she assumed the responsibility for one half of it, that would be $750,000, that I felt God would help me raise a matching $750,000 from our church and from us. And I asked her if she felt that she and Don and the company could be responsible over a period of time for that $750,000; and then see if our people would not match it in a loving, prayerful gift. And Mary replied, after she had had opportunity to speak it over and discuss it with her people, she said, "We will do it. Not because," she says to me, "that I am a rich lady, and not because we are abounding in wealth." She said, "We slave for what we have, we work for what we do; but out of the fruit of our toil and our labor, we will be responsible for half of that $1,500,000 if the church will be responsible for it, the other half, so that when we enter that complex, when we dedicate it, the sixteenth day of January, we can enter it debt-free; all of it is cared for." By no means did Mary have any obligation to do this at all. She had already done an amazing thing; she and her people have given over $800,000 for the Mary C Building. She owed us nothing. She has done more than enough for the building of the Mary C Building. It has been this $900,000 for the Truett remodeling and the $600,000 for the family recreational center for which she hath no obligation at all. But when I brought it to her and earnestly hoped that it would be possible for us to dedicate this complex, all of it, the Truett Building, the family recreational center, and the Mary C Building, that we dedicate all of the Mary C complex free of debt, she said, "With God’s help, we will."
Now, she has already begun. She has faith in us, that we can do it, and that we will do it. Last Friday night, she had a birthday dinner for me at her house, and because this is my sixty-eighth year into which I now enter; my birthday today, I was born on Sunday while the kids were at Sunday school. Didn’t have any hospitals; I never heard of anybody being born in a hospital; everybody was born at home, where they ought to be born, and I was born while the kids were at Sunday school. And I’m now in my sixty-eighth year. And out of kindness, why, she said, "I have a birthday present for you." And in this envelope was a check for $6,800 for our Criswell Bible Institute; a hundred dollars for each year that I am living. So, Paige, here is a gift for you; and you stay here with me. God blesses all of those who have a lot of faith. And then I looked in the same envelope, and Mary had given a $5,000 gift to our Bible Institute from her company, Home Interiors and Gifts.
[From audience: "May God grant you a thousand, pastor."]
Well, I’d be very happy for it, if Mary could stay with us too. Then Mary had another envelope to give me for my birthday. And in that envelope, I looked, and I’ve never had a gift like this in my hands: this is a check from her company, Home Interiors and Gifts, for $200,000 on that $750,000; and then in that envelope was a personal gift from Mary for $25,000, from her personally, toward that $750,000. And then in the envelope was a check from one of her girls who works for Home Interiors, for our Mary C Building, for $500,000,wait a minute,for $500. I am so happy, I am confused.
A man walked up to another fellow and saw a great big button on him, "b-a-i-k" that was it, "b-a-i-k." And he said, "What does that stand for?" And he said, "That stands for ‘boy am I konfused’." And he said, "You don’t spell confused with a ‘k’." And he said, "That just shows you how confused I am."
All of this is beyond anything that I could ever have dreamed of or thought for. It is a sign of the great, strong, mighty hand of God upon us. Now, it remains for us to answer from our hearts and from the labor of our lives to match this gracious gift from Mary Crowley and her family and her people. And it would be unthinkable for us not to do it. This is the labor and dedication of one woman; and there are thousands of women in this church, and there are thousands of men. For us not to rise to meet that challenge would be unthinkable. So I have prepared here a card that will be placed in each of your hands; I only have one copy of it now, but it will come in its time. On the back of the card is a letter from the pastor, and it reads like this:
To the friends of Christ and of our beloved First Baptist Church.
One: God has been so wonderfully good to us. Two: Mary Crowley says that for every dollar we give toward the debt of more than $1,500,000 on the Mary C Building complex, the Wicker Gymnasium, the family centers, the children’s departments, the Lee Roy Till Music Center, the Sarah Horn Rehearsal Rooms, and the remodeling and reconstruction of the Truett Building, she will add another dollar, up to $750,000. This is in addition to the vast sum she and her family have already given. Number three: if we give $750,000, she will give $750,000. Four: come, dear people, let us raise our part to the glory of God, let us pledge our part of $750,000 on January 16, 1977; and let us dedicate the new Mary C Building complex debt-free.
Then on this side is the front of the card. The caption: "To dedicate the Mary C Building complex debt-free," then in parentheses:
(including the restoration and remodeling of the Truett Building, and the construction of the family centers, all of which cost more than one million dollars.) One: on our new Mary C. Building complex, we owe over $1,500,000. Two: it is our prayer that together we could underwrite that complete debt on the day we dedicate the beautiful structure. Three: this is the only building fund appeal that will be made during 1977. Include in this one pledge all previous unpaid pledges. Four: with the help of God, on this day of dedication, January 16, 1977, I will be responsible for the following amount to be paid during the three years of 1977 and 1978 and 1979.
Then in the center is a place for us to write in the figure; then the bottom, "My name is,my address is,my telephone is," and that will be one of the highest, most God-blessed opportunities that we have ever been given in our lives. Every dollar that I’ll be responsible for in the three years of ’77 and ’78 and ’79, Mary Crowley will match it with another dollar, up to $750,000 for us and for her and her people.
This is something God has done; the hand of the Lord in it all.
Now let me conclude. Is it possible that in the building of buildings, that we magnify the Lord? It is something that pleases God. Let me tell you something that I read in the story of our Baptist people of a century ago. And after the eight-fifteen service, Dr. Freeman said, "Did you know, I have copied that story in my book of Texas Baptists that’s to be published soon?" Well, I can understand why. I never read anything that made a greater impression upon my heart. It was like this, talking about the time when Texas was a wild frontier:
They had a saying: ‘Some men go from bad to worse and others from worse to Texas.’ It was a haven of thieves, and murderers, and robbers who were escaping the law and crossed the Sabine River. If they made it here, they were beyond the clutches of the laws of the United States. It was a wild and rough and unconverted country. In those days of the last century, there was a secretary of our Baptist Home Mission Board, by the name of I. T. Tischner; and he had on his heart the evangelization of Texas, a wild frontier. So he began to take up collections in the East for the preaching of the gospel in the wild Southwest, in Texas. And in one of those towns in Georgia, where he was taking up a collection for the evangelization of the frontier mission field called Texas, there was a man who turned to his wife, and said, ‘Dear, you know the money that we have saved up for our boy’s education? Let us give that to the preacher for the preaching of the gospel in Texas; for our boy has left home. He is a prodigal boy, obstreperous and wild. And we have no idea where he is or if we’ll ever see him again. Let’s take the money we’ve saved up all our lives for his education, and let’s give it to the missionary.’ So they gave that money to Dr. Tischner, the Home Mission secretary, who came to Texas, and with it built a little church in a wild frontier town in Texas and placed there a preacher to preach the gospel.
On a dark, dark night, there stumbled out of a saloon in the little town a wayward and prodigal boy. As he meandered down and staggered through the street, he heard singing. It hushed his heart. He saw a light. He walked toward the building, and there heard once again the songs that he had listened to as a boy in a Christian home in Georgia. He went inside, he sat down, he listened to the preacher, and that night he gave his heart to Jesus; converted in that little mission church on a frontier in Texas. God blessed the gift for a building of that Christian father and mother, who loved that prodigal boy, but had no way of knowing where he’d gone or what he was doing.
Can God use these facilities for the glory of His name? Just look around you: men and women before I was born built this building – they did it in 1890 – but to this day, we are blessed by what they did. And every one of these buildings in this great First Baptist complex is used for the blessing of our souls, the teaching and training of our children, and for the advancement of our Lord’s kingdom in the hearts of men. I love to walk around and think, "You know, that brick there, I bought. Or that window over there, I paid for. Or that ceiling, I had a part in raising it. Or that beam that stands, I had a part in placing it there." It’s of God. It’s something the Lord works with us in magnifying and glorifying His name and in reaching the people for Christ. So when the time comes and the card is placed in your hands and we reach toward the dedication of that new Mary C Building complex, may it be that we all stand in infinite thanksgiving and gratitude to God that we were thus by His hand able to do it, had a part in it. And the Lord bless it to the use of our people.
Now in a moment we’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you to put your life with us in this dear church, a couple you, or just one somebody you, "Today, I give my heart to God," or "Today, I’m placing my life in the circle of this precious congregation." In the balcony round, and there’s time and to spare, come. Walk down one of these stairways, on this lower floor, walking down one of these aisles, "Today, pastor, we are coming." Make the decision in your heart now, and when you stand up to sing, stand up walking down that aisle, coming down that stairway. And may angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.