Love, Liberality and Liberation
October 5th, 1980 @ 10:50 AM
LOVE, LIBERALITY, AND LIBERATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 8:1-5
10-5-80 10:50 a.m.
It is a gladness unspeakable for us here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas to share this morning hour with you, the thousands of you who are listening on radio and are watching on television. In these present days the pastor is following two tremendous sermon series; in the morning hour, the great doctrines of the Bible. It is divided into fifteen sections. It will continue over three years. And we are now in the section on Bibliology. And the next sermon, next Sunday morning, will be entitled The Form of Sound Words. The evening hour, at 7:00 o’clock, carries the theme of “The Problems of Human Life,” and next Sunday night at 7:00 o’clock the message is entitled Eli: Trouble in the Home. The series in the evening will continue through the fall, until the Christmas season.
This is the one Sunday that the pastor turns aside to deliver a message in keeping with the stewardship appeal of our church and in keeping with the thirty-sixth anniversary of your undershepherd. It is entitled, the message is entitled Love, Liberality, and Liberation; as the French Revolution had a watchword—“Liberty, equality, and fraternity,” this message, Love, Liberality, and Liberation.
It is a message, the background of which is found in the passage of Scripture that you just read, describing in 2 Corinthians chapter 8 [2 Corinthians 8] the churches of Macedonia; and appealing to the churches of Achaia and the Peloponnesus, he writes that they, in their deep poverty, “abounded unto the riches of their liberality” [2 Corinthians 8:1-2]. The poorer they were, the more did they dedicate to the Lord. Just the opposite of what we think: the richer we are, the more we can give; Paul says of the churches of Macedonia, the poorer they were, the more did they aboundingly give to God [2 Corinthians 8:1-2].
In this message on the thirty-sixth anniversary of the pastor, we don’t have time to look back, so we’ll not mention it. We’re so involved in the future, what God has laid upon us, that all of our energy, and time, and talent, and treasure, and thought, and prayer, and work is dedicated to the days that lie ahead.
He is sounding out the trumpet that could never sound retreat;
He is sifting out the souls of men before His judgment seat;
O my soul, be swift to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
[from “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe, 1862]
There are several goals that we have set before us for this coming year. One: we are asking God that we have the privilege and the joy of baptizing 1,000 souls this present church year. The last church year, that ended the last day in September—the last church year we baptized about 635. Every year, we have been baptizing between 500 and 650 people. But, this year, we’re asking God to give us 1,000 souls. And with a consecration that we believe God will place in our hearts, we believe it will come to pass: 1,000 people, won to Jesus and baptized this present church year.
Our second goal is that each Lord’s day we have over 7,000 in Sunday school, registered. We spill over that 7,000 mark frequently, and we lack just a little doing it every Sunday. With somewhat of a dedicated effort, over and beyond what we have been doing heretofore, every Sunday we can register more than 7,000 people in Bible study. And that’s our second goal.
Our third goal is to have three tremendous public stated worship services on two different days. A long time ago, many years ago, we broke up our midweek prayer service. Only the adults meet in the sanctuary. There are many other meetings at the same time on Wednesday night all over this great complex: mission meetings, music ministries, many other things.
But beginning this coming Wednesday night, October 8, this coming Wednesday night, whatever else we do, by 7:30 o’clock all of us are to gather in this sanctuary for an hour of power, for a midweek prayer service, a stated and public worship. All of us are to attend. Every member of the church is to be here. And at seven-thirty o’clock every Wednesday night we are planning a tremendous public worship service of prayer, and praise, and intercession, and preaching the gospel of the Son of God.
The following Wednesday, October 15, we are going to have an all-day prayer service here, beginning at 8:00 o’clock in the morning and extending through the 8:15 hour of the benediction of our 7:30 evening midweek prayer service. It will be an intercession that God will bless us in this deeply needed stewardship response.
And that leads me to our fourth tremendous goal. Our fourth great goal this year is that we do over and above what we have ever done before in oversubscribing our stewardship giving program, our budget. These days that have affected you have no less affected us; the spiraling pressures of inflation, the rising astronomical costs of everything, have plunged us into debt.
For example, these utilities are approaching $700,000 a year. This televised service that heretofore has cost the church about $400 a Sunday is now to cost the church $1,750 a Sunday. And the pressure of the rising, spiraling costs of everything has plunged our church into financial indebtedness, just paying current expenses. The stewardship program of our congregation is the life stream of our congregation. If we fail there, the church will cease to exist. We must pay our bills.
This last week, I buried one of the sweetest, dearest members of our congregation. Falling, she broke her arm and her leg, and blood clots from that wound were lodged in her lungs and she couldn’t breathe. And despite the doctor’s frantic efforts, she died. Our church is like that. The bloodstream that feeds our heart and our very life; if it is occluded, we will die. We have no other choice but to oversubscribe and out-give that subscription in our stewardship program.
The fifth of the tremendous goals we have set before us this year is to pay our church debt. The indebtedness of our church is like a heavy millstone around our necks. It’s like a great eagle attempting to fly with a heavy trap on its foot. We owed three million dollars when we began the construction of our new, beautiful, spacious parking building that we will consecrate to God at the end of this service. That costs us seven and a half million dollars. Here, again, the awesomeness of inflation has almost destroyed us. The prime rate has reached upward and upward and upward. Did you ever dream that you’d ever see the time when the prime rate would be twenty percent? The prime rate has fallen somewhat, but now it is coming back up again and has reached fourteen percent.
Our debt in that building is tied to the prime rate plus one point. The indebtedness of our church, the million dollars that we owe on current expenses, and the indebtedness that we owe for our building program, is now reaching toward eleven million dollars. The tremendous expense of bearing, of carrying, of paying the interest on that vast debt takes more than a million dollars a year out of the collection plates into which we place our tithes and offerings. It is an awesome and cataclysmic prospect that faces us.
So our men who love God, who love you, who love us, who pray for and work for the welfare and well-being of this house of God, have been meeting a long time, and a few weeks ago called me to a breakfast at the Dallas Country Club. And there, laying the entire program of our financial condition before the pastor, said it seemed to them that the option that remained was, in the face of our awesome indebtedness, to sell our Spurgeon Harris Building.
That is the building cater-cornered from our Ervay Street entrance. It’s right across Patterson Street from the YMCA. It’s directly in front of our Christian Education building. It’s the building right there. The first eight floors are parking, and there are four floors above that. It’s the building in which is housed the Baptist Bookstore. That is the Spurgeon Harris building. And the men said it seemed to them that the only way out was for us to sell the Spurgeon Harris Building. The prospect of selling that property, to me, is like selling one of our children.
In 2 Kings, and the fourth chapter [2 Kings 4], is the story of a widow who was left with two boys and debts she couldn’t pay. And according to the culture of that time, the creditors came to take her two boys and to sell them into slavery. And the poor widow cried to Elisha, the man of God, to save her. And you remember the beautiful story: the cruse of oil never failed until she had oil to sell to pay the debt [2 Kings 4:1-7]. The terrible sadness and the indescribable sorrow of that widow at the prospect of selling her boys is exactly the way I feel at the prospect of selling our Spurgeon Harris Building. It is like selling one of our children.
In this week’s Dallas Morning News, there was a headline: “Poor Thailand Parents Sell Children in Slavery.” And the article read:
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 $100 they will receive for the child is a fortune. Thousands of the 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.
Could you imagine anything more pitiful than that? That is exactly the way I feel at the prospect of selling that Spurgeon Harris Building. It is like selling one of our children. “Well, why do you feel so saddened at that prospective necessity?” One reason: we will never, ever get it back; never. If we sell it, it is gone forever. That building is a gift of God to us. And for us to sell it, to me, is a betrayal of God’s confidence and trust in our congregation. If that building is sold, it will be sold for the purpose of building a seventy-story building on it. And if that does not materialize as planned, by the time the church is able to retrieve it, the cost of it would be ten times as much as it is now. If we sell that property we will never, ever be able to recover it. It is gone forever.
“Why, pastor, do you feel saddened at the prospect of selling that property?” Because we desperately need it now. That property houses so much of the life and activities of our church. Our Singles division in Sunday school meets there. Our Meridian Adult division in the Sunday school meets there. So much of the other instructive, academic work of our church is furthered in the use of that building. The Cotton Exchange Building, where some of our Sunday units are now housed, has announced to us we have to get out. What do you do? Place them on the street? No. We have the Spurgeon Harris Building to which they can repair. If we lose it, we have no opportunity that it would be ours for the days and the years that lie ahead, to be used for the glory of God. And that leads me to this last avowal.
“Why, pastor, do you hesitate to sell it? Why don’t you gain the price from it, several millions of dollars, pay the debt, then you have no burden? It will be easy for you. Just sell it. Just say yes. Sell it, and all of your problems are gone. Why don’t you do it?” The reason lies in this: we don’t know what the church might ultimately need in the future that lies ahead. We may desperately need a tremendous campus here if the church is to exist in the future.
I have a deep, deep persuasion, as I look at life in academia, in government, in economics, in culture, in morality—I have a deep and abiding conviction that the church that lives in the future is the church that ministers to the whole family: its intellectual life, the schooling, its cultural life, its music, its spiritual life, its preaching of the gospel, its social life, pulling our young people out of the den, and the dive, and the disco, and the joint, and creating a community; in a community of Christian comradeship, friendship, courtship, marriage, fellowship, raising our children.
To me, humanism—and as I say, that is a nice academic word for atheism—humanism, like a floodtide, is coming in to destroy our homes, destroy our young people, destroy our school system, destroy our government. Humanism leaves God out of everything. And the church that is to survive is the church that is able to minister to the whole family. And we don’t know what we may need in these properties to build a congregation and a church like that. I say, “Why does it grieve you at the prospect of selling the building?” It’s because, to me, it is a forsaking of the debt we owe to the children and the generation and the youth and the families that follow after us.
An old man, traveling 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 fear 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’re wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
And you never again will pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm deep and wide.
Why do you build a bridge to span the tide?”
And the builder raised his old, gray head.
“Good friend, on the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This stream, which has been as 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.”
[“The Bridge Builder,” Will Allen Dromgoole]
“Why do you hurt at the thought of selling that great property? Why don’t you, and forget the burden of this debt?” Because of our debt to the future generations that are yet to be born, and our hope that this church, living, shall minister to that whole family in which that child is a part.
Now, I am not so blind as not to understand our tragic financial situation. We owe a million dollars, I say, in paying the current expenses of our church. We owe ten and a half million dollars on these properties, and I am aware that only God can help us and save us and deliver us. I know that. It is beyond what we are able to do; which means that, if we are able to achieve this marvelous victory, it will be to the glory of God. He alone is able to save us and to deliver us.
In the 1500s, Coronado, one of the Spanish conquistadors, was exploring these vast plains in the southwestern part of what we know as the United States. And a party of those Spaniards under Coronado was in what we now know as our state of Texas. And under the hot, dry, burning sun, and in the parched and dry summer land, they were without water and faced certain death by thirst. But they had heard that to the west was a river. If they could just find the river, they would be saved. The days and the days passed, and with one last struggling burst of energy they dragged themselves to the brow of a hill. Their leader had said, “It is hopeless. Only the arms of God can save us.” And when they came to the brow of the hill, there, flowing in front of them, was a river; water of life. And the leader of the party raised his hands to heaven and exclaimed, “ỊLos brazos de Dios!”—the arms of God. And they named it the Rio los brazos de Dios: the “Arms of God River,” the Brazos River.
I feel like that. Only the arms of God can save us. So in prayer, in the day and in the hours of the night, asking God to lead us and to help us, there formed in my heart a simple appeal. The building that weighs so heavily upon us is this new, beautiful, spacious parking building that we desperately need. It costs seven and a half million dollars. It has 1,100 parking spaces in it. That means that each parking space costs about seven thousand dollars.
So I thought we would divide all of us into little groups of seven—all of our Sunday school, all of our church membership, into little groups of seven. And each seven is to pray for and strive for the liberation of one of those parking spaces, the pavement for one of those parking spaces. I call it a liberation. It is now preempted—has to be, in order to find commercial people to help us pay the debt. But if it is liberated, we can come down in the daytime, any day of the week, and have a parking space. Our women in WMU can come down, and there’s a parking space for them. And all of us in the multiplied activities of the church will have a parking space. It will liberate a parking space, and it will pay the debt. It will pay the debt, dividing us into sevens, the whole Sunday school and the church membership into little groups of seven. That’s a biblical number, meaning “complete” and “whole.” There were seven trumpets and seven seals and seven vials. Seven is the biblical number of wholeness, of completeness. We shall divide ourselves up into little groups of seven, and each seven will strive toward the liberation of one of those parking spaces.
Now when that was impressed upon me, praying before God—you’ve heard me preach here, I believe in confirming signs from heaven. If what we’re doing is in the will of God, God will confirm it with an outward sign, always. When He called Gideon, God said to Gideon: “The fleece will be wet with dew and the earth dry, that you may know I am with you” [Judges 6:37]. And then the next night, He said to Gideon: “The fleece will be dry and the earth wet, that you may know that I am with you” [Judges 6:39]—the confirming sign from heaven.
If we are doing right and in the will of God, God will always confirm it with an outward sign. So as I felt this to be what God would be pleased with in our effort to save our properties and to pay our debt, I first called a man. I have never seen him. I don’t know him. I’ve never met him. I called him on the phone, and I told him how I felt in my heart. And I asked him if he would take one of those parking spaces.
He said, “I will not only pay for a parking space, but I will do more beside.” And last Friday, he came to my office with a check for $25,000; los brazos de Dios, the arms of God.
I called another man, who doesn’t belong to our church, and I asked him if he would help us. He said, “I will be glad to. I’ll send you a check for $7,000.” I called a third man, who does not belong to this church, and he said, “I will be delighted to help. I shall send you a check for $7,000.”
Down the aisle, you remember, came one of our little maiden ladies, and she gave her whole life to the Lord. And I called Lanny Elmore, our minister of missions and outreach. And they visited together, and she now plays the piano and teaches a Sunday school class in our Good Shepherd Chapel. But she brought me a letter and placed it in my hands, and in the letter she said, “When I gave myself to the Lord, it included everything that I have. And I’ve taken everything that I have, and I’m giving it to you for this purpose.” And she had in a check for $10,000 everything that she had. And her other relative said to her, “What are you going do to take care of yourself?”
She said, “God will take of me. I will trust Him for it.” And in her note to me that accompanied the check, she said maybe there would be nine other men in the church who would do likewise and make a gift of $10,000. When the chairman of our deacons, Bill Grubbs, heard it, he said, “I’ll give $10,000.” Your pastor will give $10,000. Herschel Forester said, “I’ll give $10,000.” And other people have said, “Man, there ought to be a hundred of us to do that; a hundred of us to do that: ‘I, too, will give $10,000’”—the confirming sign from heaven.
One of the men, when he heard what I had in my heart, he said, “Put me down for seven of those spaces. I will send you a check now, or whenever, for $49,000.” I have said, “Let’s do it at the end of the year.” We have this tremendous stewardship program to oversubscribe now, and at the end of the year, when we come to the end of the year, what is not vital for our existence, why, let’s give it to God. Let’s offer it to the Lord. And we can put it in the tax year of 1980 or the tax year of 1981, or we can split it in both years, just doing it at the end of the year. And then, the confirming sign from heaven: one of the men in the church sent me a check for $100,000 week before last. And then, last week, one of the men on this platform said, “Pastor, I have for you a check for $100,000”; los brazos de Dios, the arms of God, the confirming sign from heaven.
When I was asked, “You’re going to divide the Sunday school into sevens? Do you mean the children? They don’t have anything. And these teenagers, they have very, very, very little.” I said, “Well, I guess not. We will not do that with our children who have so little.” And one of our directors, Millie Kohn, heard that I had said that. And she came to me and said, “Pastor, we, all of us, we want to be a part of that, too—all of our children. We may not be able to do much, but we will do something. And we all will share in it.”
You know, I went home after Millie told me that; I went home and I reread here in the Bible, I reread of the people who came to worship God in the days of the tabernacle and the temple, in the Mosaic legislation. And they were to come with a bullock, or with a ram, or with a lamb [Leviticus 3:1, 6-7, 12, 4:3, 5:6, 12:6, 14:10]. Then in all three places in the Bible where the offering of the people is described, as they come before the Lord, in all three places it says: “But there may be some who are poor who cannot offer a ram, or a lamb, or a bullock. Let the poor offer a turtledove or a young pigeon” [Leviticus 1:14, 5:7, 12:8, 14:21-22].
And then I remembered that when Joseph and Mary came into the house of God, there to consecrate that little Boy Jesus, the Book says they offered two turtledoves and a young pigeon [Luke 2:24]. I gained a lesson from that. God includes us all in His mercy, and in His grace, and in His love. And the kingdom’s work is shared in by all, not just given to the angels, or to the apostles, or to the prophets, or to the saints, but even a sinner like me can have a part in it; all of us, not just the wealthy or the rich or the affluent or the able, but the poorest and the humblest among us, with a turtledove or a young pigeon.
That’s the gospel message of our gracious and loving Lord: los brazos de Dios, His arms reaching down for us all, for all of us, the humblest among us, the poorest among us, the vilest among us, the Lord’s gracious mercy, reaching down for us all. And I am so glad He included me. I am so glad the whosoever wills are invited to come [Revelation 22:17]. All of us can share in the love and grace and kingdom of our Lord. And we praise His name for the welcome and the wide open door. Now, may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, God has been so good to us in His grace and mercy. Who would have ever thought, in that tiny town where I was born, and that little village where I grew up, that God’s grace extended even to us so far away, so small a community of God’s saints. But the Lord was there, and His grace [Ephesians 2:8] and mercy [Titus 3:5] touched my heart as a little boy. I praise Thee and thank Thee that God’s love [John 3:16] and grace reached me.
And our Lord, we have a great city here, and we’re in the very heart of its throbbing life. Lord, may we mediate to these families, and children, and young marrieds, and these singles, may we mediate to them that same loving grace that saved us [Ephesians 2:8]. Lord, may it be a wonderful day here as we pray and strive, as we offer to Thee the consecrated gift of our hearts and lives and what we have. And now, dear Lord, sanctify and hallow this message this morning with a sweet harvest of souls. May families come forward. May the lost be saved. May God wonderfully add to His church.
And while our people wait for just this moment before God, and in a minute, as we sing our hymn of appeal, make that decision now in your heart. And in the balcony round, somebody you; on this lower floor, into the aisle, down to the front where the minister and the deacon will welcome you with open arms, make that decision and come now. And our Lord, for every soul You give us we’ll love Thee and praise Thee, in Thy wonderful and saving name, amen. Now while we pray and wait, and while we sing this song, out of the balcony, down a stairway, into the aisle, here to the front, “Here we come, pastor; here I am.” God bless you, angels attend you, while you come and while we sing.