Love, Liberality and Liberation
October 5th, 1980 @ 8:15 AM
2 Corinthians 8:1-5
LOVE, LIBERALITY, AND LIBERATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 8:1-2
10-5-1980 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the thousands of you who are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Love, Liberality, and Liberation. Like the watchword of the French Revolution, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,” Love, Liberality, and Liberation.
In the passage of Scripture that we read together, Paul writes—and this will be the background of the message—”Brethren, we make known to you the grace of God given to the churches of Macedonia; How that their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” [2 Corinthians 8:1-2]. What a beautiful thing to be able to say about a people. “Their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” [2 Corinthians 8:2]. The poorer they were, the more they gave; the less they had, the more they shared; a marvelous tribute to those churches in Macedonia.
On this thirty-sixth anniversary of the pastoral leadership of your servant, we haven’t time to look back. There is so much God hath called us to do. We have no other moment except to look forward.
He is sounding out the trumpet that shall never sound retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat:
Oh, my soul be swift to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
[“Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe]
There are some goals that we have set before us for this year. Number one is to baptize, to win and to baptize one thousand people to our blessed Savior. We’ve started; we have begun; we’re praying God to bring it to a victorious conclusion. This past church year that ended the last day in September, we baptized about six hundred thirty-five. Each year we’ve been baptizing from five hundred to six hundred; and this year we’re asking God to give us one thousand souls for baptism.
We have a second goal of having at least seven thousand registered in Sunday school each Sunday. Once in a while we spill over that attendance record now; we are asking God to help us to do it regularly. That means we can’t do business as usual; we have to do something more, extra, beside, over and above. But if just a little effort on our part is dedicated to God, we shall be able to achieve that goal, more than seven thousand in Sunday school each Lord’s Day.
Our third goal is to have a tremendous service here on Wednesday night. In these years past we have broken up our Wednesday evening service, and all over this great complex you will see groups meeting in mission study or in music ministries, and only the adults would be here in this sanctuary. But beginning this coming Sunday, this coming Wednesday night, at 7:30 o’clock, everybody is to come together and to be here in a great midweek hour. There will be three stated services, public worship, preaching hours, worship hours in the church: Sunday morning at 8:15 and 10:50, Sunday morning; Sunday evening at 7:00 o’clock; and the third one will be Wednesday evening at 7:30 o’clock, and all of us are to be together for a tremendous midweek hour on Wednesday. And the following Wednesday we’re having an all-day prayer meeting, on October 15, beginning at 8:00 in the morning continuing through the prayer meeting hour at 8:15, we’re going to have an all-day prayer meeting asking God to help us in the message that the substance that the pastor is presenting this hour.
Our fourth goal concerns our stewardship program. Our people have been giving more than they ever have. Our offerings, our tithes to the Lord, average something like $90,000 a week, but the expenses of the church have risen to about $120,000 a week. That means that every week we fall behind about $30,000. It has plunged us into an abysmal debt. To give you an example of what is happening, the pressure spiraling upward of inflation, the higher cost of everything, these lights, these utilities in our church are approaching $700,000 a year. You would never have thought of such a thing in days past. Our televised service, we’ve been paying about $400 a week for that television ministry; they’ve come to us and said they’re going to raise it to $1,750 a week, from $400 a week. The spiraling costs of everything have plunged our church into a financial deficit. And we’re praying God will give us a tremendous victory as our people respond to our stewardship appeal.
Then, next, and last, we have a goal set before us to save our properties. The debt on our church was something like $3,000,000. Then we entered into the project of building this beautiful, spacious parking building that we will consecrate to God at 12:30 o’clock today; and that building costs $7,500,000, and all of the money we had to borrow. We owe therefore something like $10,500,000. The $7,500,000 and a little over is tied to a prime rate with one point above. That means the interest that we pay on the debt rises astronomically with these inflationary higher interest charges. The consequence has been that out of the offering that we make to God, each year there has to be taken over $1,000,000 just for interest; not paying the principal, not paying the debt at all, just paying the interest, over $1,000,000 a year.
So our men, meeting over a long period of time, finally came to a conclusion, and they called me to come to the Dallas Country Club and to eat breakfast with them. And there they outlined our financial burden and apparent inability to pay our debts, even our current expenses, and they said, “It seems to us that the best option available for us is to sell our Spurgeon-Harris Building.” That is the building cater-cornered from the main entrance there on Ervay Street. It’s the building just on the other side of Patterson from the YMCA. It’s the building directly in front of our Christian Education Building. The first eight floors are parking, and there’s a four-story building above it. It seemed that the only way out was for us to sell our Spurgeon-Harris Building. The prospect of that plunged me into indescribable grief. To me it is like the story in the 2 Kings, chapter 4: the widow was left with a heavy debt, and the creditors came to sell her two boys into slavery. And do you remember how she appealed to Elisha? And the cruse of oil kept pouring, and he told her to sell it and pay her debt, and keep her boys [2 Kings 4:1-7]. My response to that option was like that poor widow: I have the same feeling exactly as if I were forced to sell one of our children.
I read in the Dallas News this week, the headline, “Poor Thai Parents Sell Children into Slavery,” and then the article:
Almost every morning at 4:15, dozens of children get off a train at the darkened railroad station in Bangkok, clutching the hands of their parents who have brought them to the city to sell them into slavery. The parents, frightened like their children, come from poor farming areas in northeastern Thailand, where the hundred dollars they will receive for the child is a fortune.
Thousands of Thai children are sold each year to the professionally operated market that supplies factories, brothels, massage parlors in Thailand with slave children. Five hundred children are sold each week in Bangkok’s railroad station, between November and April, the dry season when the children are not needed on the farms.
I am exactly like one of those parents selling a child into slavery at the prospect of selling one of our buildings.
“Well, why do you feel so deeply about selling one of the properties? Why don’t you sell it and be rid of the burden? Then you won’t have to bear it any longer. Just sell it, and that solves our financial problem.” One reason why not: we’ll never get it back, never. The reason it would be bought is to build a seventy-story building on it. And if that didn’t materialize by the time the church was able to retrieve it, it would be ten times more costly than what we received from it. If we sell it, we will never, ever get it back.
It came to us in a gift and in a providence of God. The Lord gave it to us, made it possible for us to have it, and for us to sell it seems a betrayal of that trust when God gave us the property. “Why don’t you sell it?” Because we need it and are using it now. Not only does it house so much of our teaching ministries, but that building houses our Singles Sunday school division; it houses our Meridian Adult division. Just this week the announcement was made that the Cotton Exchange is asking us to take our units out of the Cotton Exchange, and they have to be housed in that Spurgeon-Harris Building there, or put them on the street. We’re using the building now.
Again, we shall need that building beyond what we can understand now or see now. We shall need that building in the future. You never know what you may need from God’s programming for us in the days that lie ahead.
When I came here, that property right there between the Chapel Building and the KCBI building had a beautiful white Victorian house on it. That property was offered to us for $3,500, and the church refused it because, they said, “We don’t need it.” After I came to be pastor of the church, there were two houses on that corner property where the Chapel Building is now built. There were two large two-story houses on it. Each one of those houses and the property was offered to the church for $9,000, and the church refused it. They said, “We don’t need it.” I begged and pled and wept and cried, but they were adamant: “We don’t need it.” The reason for the reply was, their idea of a church was a square box with maybe stained-glass windows, and possibly a steeple or a cupola on top, and that was all. They had no idea of the vast, tremendous activities to be involved in a church that reaches for the whole family. And I have a deep and abiding persuasion and conviction that the church that exists in the future is the church that ministers to the whole heart and the whole family, the whole person.
Humanism like a flood is coming into the cultural, and political, and economic, and domestic, and educational life of our people. Humanism, I say, is just a nice, beautiful, academic term for atheism. And the church that exists in the future is the church that ministers to the whole family: the heart, the head, the school, the amusement, the social life; to pull them out of the den, and the dive, and the joint, and the disco, and to build a community within a community where young people can meet other Christian young people. I think the church that exists in the future is the church that ministers to the whole family, and if it doesn’t, I think the church will die. We don’t know what we may need in the future, and to sell the properties that are contiguous to us, that God has given us, is of all things sad and sorrowful. The contemplation of it hurts.
“Well, why don’t you sell it, and why don’t you be rid of the problem? Why bear the burden of it?” Because of that future family, and that future youth, and that future child, and that future boy, and that future girl.
An old man, travelling a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, deep and wide…
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
For the sullen stream held no fears for him,
But he turned when he reached the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” cried a pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day,
And you never again will pass this way.
You’ve crossed the chasm deep and wide.
Why do you build a bridge at eventide?”
The builder raised his old, gray head.
“Good friend, on the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This stream, which has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired boy may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim—
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”
[adapted from “Building the Bridge,” W. A. Dromgoole]
“Why don’t you sell the building and be free of its burden?” Because we’re building a great witness for God in the future. Our eyes are lifted up to heaven, and what heaven has in store for these who follow after us.
It will take an intervention from God to save us. No one is more conscious of that than am I. Our own personal, our own church expense, indebtedness, is over $1,000,000; we’re that much behind. There’s no moral turpitude involved; no one has absconded with any money; no thief has been in the office to steal it away from us. It’s just that, Sunday by Sunday, we fall behind in paying our current expenses. And of course this $10,500,000, and the interest on it of more than $1,000,000 a year, the men seem to be correct when they say, “There is no other way out,” and as I listen to them, I can see the truth of what they avow. Only God can help us and save us.
In the 1500s, when Coronado, one of the Spanish conquistadores, was roaming, exploring the great Southwest, there was a band of them here on these hot, burned parts, dry plains of Texas, what later came to be known as our state of Texas. And in the heat and torrid parching days of the hot summer, they ran out of water, and they were perishing on the burning plains of Texas. They had heard that there was a river to the west of them, and they were striving to stay alive to reach the river. But the day passed, and the days passed, and they found no river. Finally, in desperation, one of them cried, saying, “Only the arms of God can save us.” In a last desperate effort, they dragged themselves to the rise of a hill, and when they came to the brow of the hill, there beyond them they saw a running river. And one of the men stood up and cried, saying, “Los brazos de Dios!”—“the arms of God!” And it came to be known as the Rio los Brazos de Dios, “the river of the arms of God,” the Brazos River. I feel like one of those perishing Spanish conquistadores: only the arms of God can save us.
So for days and parts of the nights, for weeks now I have been asking God and seeking the mind and heart of the Lord, and this came to me. We owe $7,500,000 on that building. This is the one that buries us with its high exorbitant interest rate. We owe $7,500,000 on that property. It has 1,100 parking spaces in it, so, I thought, we will divide ourselves up into sevens. All of our Sunday school, all of our church members, we shall divide ourselves up into sevens, little committees, little groups of seven, and each seven will strive to liberate one of those parking spaces. That would be seven thousand dollars. Seven is a biblical number. There were seven seals, and seven trumpets, and seven vials; it’s a complete number in the Bible. We shall divide all of us up into sevens. And each group of seven will strive to liberate a parking space. Then it belongs to us forever. When women of WMU come down here in the weekday, there’ll be a place for them. When anyone of you comes in the weekday, there’ll be a place for you. We will liberate a parking space, and we will pay the debt.
So, having prayed and asked God and that came to my heart, I believe—as you’ve heard me preach so many times—in a confirming sign from heaven. If what you do is in the will of God, the Lord will confirm it with outward signs, such as Gideon: “Lord, if I am to do this, would you make the fleece wet with dew and the earth be dry?” and God did it. Then Gideon said, “Be not impatient or weary, but let the fleece be dry and the earth wet” [Judges 6:36-40], and God did it; a confirming sign from heaven. So I began. I called a man that I’ve never seen, that I’ve never met, whom I do not know. I called him, and I told him about our need, and I asked him to take a parking space that would be $7,000. He replied, “I will not only do that; I will be glad to do more than that,” and last Friday he brought to me a check for $25,000—los brazos de Dios, the arms of God.
Then I called another man who doesn’t belong to our church, and he said, “I’d be glad to take a parking space. I’ll send you $7,000.” And I called a third man who does not belong to our church, and he said, “I will be happy to take a parking space. I shall send you $7,000”—the confirming sign from heaven.
And then I told you of the little maiden lady who came forward and consecrated all of her life to the Lord, and I asked our minister of missions, Lanny, to meet with her, and he asked her to help, Lanny Elmore asked her to help in the Good Shepherd division, and she’s now playing the piano and teaching a Sunday school class. And then she brought to me a check for $10,000. A relative said to her, “This is all that you have, and you must take care of yourself.” She replied, “I will trust God to take care of me,” and she brought the check for $10,000, everything that she has. She wrote in a little note that accompanied the check when she placed it in my hand; she said, “Maybe there might be nine men in the church who would do that also.” I replied to her, “Nine?” When the chairman of our deacons heard of it, he said, “I’ll be one.” When one of the men in the church heard it, he said, “I’ll be one.” I myself shall be one. One of the other men in the church heard it and said, “I shall be one.” It will be a privilege, a privilege to be one of a thousand that’ll do that.
One of the men in the church, when he heard of our need, he said, “I will take seven of them.” That’s $49,000; los brazos de Dios, the arms of God. And then week before last, one of the men in the church gave me a check for $100,000, and then this last Friday, I received word: already another check has been prepared for $100,000. These are the confirming signs from heaven; these are the arms of God.
One last thing: when I spoke of dividing our church into little groups of seven, and each one of the seven strives toward the liberation of one of those parking places, I was asked, “Well, you say the whole Sunday school is to be divided up. What about our children, and what about our teenagers, and what about our young people? They don’t have anything.” So I replied, “Well, I suppose we won’t divide them up into sevens.” One of our directors, Millie Kohn, heard that I had made that remark, and she came to me and said, “Is this true that I hear that you’re not going to divide our children up into sevens, that they might strive and pray toward the liberation of one of those parking spaces?” I said, “Yes, I just suppose they’re too young and too poor and not able to help.” She said, “We want to help also. We want to be a part of that appeal also, and we may not have much, but we all have a little something, and we want to help.” What I did: I went home and I took this Bible and I read once again of those who appeared before the Lord with an offering. And not one time, but three different times in that Mosaic legislation will you read this: “When you come before the Lord with an offering, bring a bullock, bring a ram, bring a lamb” [Leviticus 5:6, 12:6, 14:10], and all three times it also says, “And when the poor come before the Lord, and they have no way to bring a ram or a bullock or a lamb, then let the poor bring a turtledove or a young pigeon” [Leviticus 5:7, 12:8, 14:21-22]. And I remembered in the coming of Mary and Joseph before the Lord for the consecration of their little Boy Jesus, that they offered to God two turtledoves and a young pigeon [Leviticus 12:;6-8; Luke 2:24]. How poor, how poor, but God gave all a part. Not just the able, or the mighty, or the strong, or the rich, or the affluent, but the feeble, and the old, the poverty-stricken, the young; everybody.
Then I began to think how God is with us. He includes us all in His grace and in His mercy. The arms of God reach down to us all; los brazos de Dios. And not only do the angels have a part in the great kingdom of God, and not only the prophets of the Old Covenant, and the apostles of the New, and the saints of the days gone by, but in the spacious kingdom of our Lord, there is also room for poor sinners like me. All of us have a part, and in that dedication to God of maybe nothing but a turtledove or a young pigeon, the Lord receives us and accepts us in His loving grace and His merciful, merciful forgiveness and acceptance. It’s a wonderful faith that we have. It’s a marvelous religion we share. It’s a glorious gospel we preach. It’s a wonderful church the Lord hath given us. There is room and to spare for us all.
Now may we stand together?
Our dear Lord, what more wonderful announcement could be made than that God included me in His loving grace and infinite purposes? In His elective choice all of us are included. The “whosoever wills” are invited to come [Revelation 22:17], and in that grace and loving mercy, no one is left out; every family, every child, every home, every heart, every life, God invites us, welcomes us all. And to have a part in that infinite kingdom and work of our wonderful Savior is our highest gladness and our deepest joy. And our Lord, we pray in this moment of appeal that there be some this morning who, moved by the Spirit of Jesus, will say, “Today I take Him as my Savior [Romans 10:9-10]. Today, may God write my name in the book of the redeemed family of God” [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27; Luke 10:20], and may there be some who will place heart and hand and life with us in this dear church, to pilgrimage from earth to heaven with us.
And in this moment that all of us stay here in quiet, in prayer just for you, while all of us remain here just for this moment, when we sing our hymn of appeal, in the balcony round, you, in the press of people on this lower floor, somebody you, into an aisle, down one of these stairways, here to the front: “Pastor, we have decided for God and for this dear church, and we’re on the way. Here we are.” Coming to confess Jesus as Savior [Ephesians 2:8], coming to be baptized [Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3-5], or coming into the fellowship of our dear church, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing, take that first step, and God’s angels will attend you in the way. So Lord, as we pray, as we wait, may God give us that sweet harvest again. In our Savior’s saving name, amen. Now, while we wait before the Lord, and while the Spirit speaks to our souls, “Pastor, today, here I am.” Down a stairway, down an aisle, our deacons, our ministers gladly, prayerfully, joyfully welcome you. Come, come, while we sing our hymn of appeal.
LIBERALITY AND LIBERATION
I. The goals that lie ahead
baptisms; last year we baptized 635
Sunday school each Lord’s Day
Pay our church debt
11 million dollars for our building program
The men suggested selling Spurgeon-Harris Building
a. Deep hurt, sadness
at the prospect (2 Kings 4:2)
b. Thailand parents
sell children into slavery
reasons we should not sell it
We will never be able to recover it
We desperately need it now; presently use it
We do not know what we will need in the future
Easy way out – forsaking of the debt we owe to families that follow
Poem, “The Bridge Builder”
The appeal to God – He alone can deliver us
Coronado – the Brazos River, the “Arms of God” River
of seven, praying to liberate a parking space
a. Confirming sign from