Our Golden Tomorrow (37th Anniversary)
October 4th, 1981 @ 8:15 AM
OUR GOLDEN TOMORROW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-4-81 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with the First Baptist Church on radio. This is the pastor bringing the morning message, beginning our thirty-eighth year as undershepherd of this congregation, and the message is entitled Our Golden Tomorrow. As a background text, in Philippians 3:12-14, Philippians 3:12-14:
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfected, have already reached the goal: but I follow after, if that I may get hold of that for which also Christ Jesus got hold of me.
Brethren, I count not myself to have got hold of it, to have reached it yet: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Our Golden Tomorrow.
This time last year was as low an era, an epoch, in my life, as any I could ever have known or ever have imagined. Heavy laden and burdened beyond any way that I knew to describe it, the future of what I had dreamed for us was as dark as midnight, and every rainbow had been smashed to the ground because of the unbelievable soaring rates of interest reaching for us twenty-two and a half percent a year. We were paying out in interest on our debt one million four hundred thousand dollars annually. The money that was taken up by our people, given to the Lord, out of that, every year one million four hundred thousand dollars was sent to the bank for interest. Not on the debt, just trying to keep up with our interest payments. It looked as dark and as hopeless as any future projection could describe or imagine. But this moment, this day, we stand in a miraculous aura: God has brought to pass a turn of fortune that is beautiful and precious, God-glorifying. In a matter of weeks we’re going to be able to take our tithes and our offerings and use them for the work of the ministering in Christ. Oh, I cannot imagine such a turn of fortune as has come to us in the gracious hands of our Lord.
It may be that now there shall come to pass a word that Dr. T. L. Holcomb wrote to me in 1944 when I was called as pastor of the church. He was then secretary of our Sunday School Board, with his office in Nashville, Tennessee. And Dr. Holcomb wrote me a letter, and I quote from this part of it, “Never yet has there been a downtown church that really has done the job.” He was, before going to Nashville, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, and he knows the downtown church, yet he says here, “Never yet has there been a downtown church that really has done the job, reached the people commensurate with the great business houses, skyscrapers, movements of the masses. We are watching your church, your program, your staff, your organization. Maybe you will do it.” Written thirty-seven years ago, “Maybe you will do it.”
And apparently God has opened that golden door for us. I don’t see any limits to the heights that we can reach in His blessed name. So I speak of some of them that I pray will characterize our dedicated efforts in reaching toward that marvelous prize of serving Christ in a more glorifying way than any downtown church has ever done it in the history of creation.
I speak first of its ministry of soulsaving, soulwinning; the effort, the dedication to build here in the heart of this metroplex a lighthouse by the side of a stormy sea, a lifesaving station in the drowning masses of humanity. I turned over in my mind a long time whether I would read this or tell it, and I thought I’d better read it because if I spoke it, it might sound as though I was presenting a vendetta against other churches and other people. So, I’ll just read it:
It was a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur. In that place was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat; but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea. And with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station, and give of their time, money, and effort for the support of its sole lifesaving work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.
Some members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members; and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work—the lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.
About this time, a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had different colored skins and spoke strange languages. The beautiful new club was in chaos, so the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club, where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside. At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership: most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities since they seemed unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that, if they wanted to save lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast; and this they did. As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself; and if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters; but most of the people drown.
[“Parable of a Lifesaving Station,” Thomas Brackett]
That is the most poignant indictment of the modern church I ever read. We have turned it into a social club, and to join it is optional. If you are of a certain class or a certain status or of a certain affluence, we’d love to have you, like any other club. But it has lost its soul-saving passion. It has lost its conviction that men without Christ face an eternal judgment of Almighty God. And whether one is a Christian or not is a matter of personal like or dislike. It’s a question of affinity. But as for it being a matter of life and death and judgment and heaven and hell, we’ve lost that conviction; and we’ve turned our church into a social club. Maybe in the days that lie ahead we can go back to our lifesaving ministries and rescue these that face the judgment of death, the awesome penalty that sin inevitably brings [Romans 6:23], and without God’s grace and saving mercy we are lost forever and ever [John 3:16, 36].
So we’re beginning on this anniversary with a revival. Our evangelist will be preaching in this sacred place tonight. And in order to encourage our people in loving friendship with the whole creation, every night at 5:30 out there in one of those big tents, we’re inviting everybody to an agape feast, a love feast, to break bread with us. It is free. Anybody, everybody could come. We’ll have beautiful tables with tablecloths, and beautiful flowers on each table. And we’ll be there with a beautiful heart and a gracious spirit, and we’ll shake hands and welcome those who come and break bread with us. Then we’ll have a feast inside at seven o’clock and pray that God will move in the hearts of the lost, that they might be saved; building here a lighthouse by the side of a stormy sea, a lifesaving station for those who face the judgment of God.
Second, a golden tomorrow: I would like for our church to give itself in a new and a more sensitive way to a ministry of caring. I think of the people who have been here for all of the years and the years past, what becomes of them? When they become too old to attend the services, or they become sick and infirm, what becomes of them? They’re not seen here anymore; they can’t attend. They’re not in the work anymore; they’re too enfeebled to help. What becomes of them? I know what becomes of them: we forget them, pass them by. I would love for our church to become a caring congregation. We don’t forget them; we greatly honor them, praise God for the years and the years that they built up the house of the Lord and gave to us this beautiful and precious place. I would like for our church to be sensitive to the heartaches, and the loneliness, and the problems, and the troubles that overwhelm so many of our people. Homes and families and children and personal confrontations, they are multitudinous; it is the rare family that escapes those troubles and heartaches. I would like for our church to be thought of as a place filled with people who care. We’re interested, we’d like to help. I’d like for the church to be a place where it remembers the little ones, people who are poor and can’t help themselves. Our Lord said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . . you have done it unto Me” [Matthew 25:40]. He never said, “Unto one of the greatest of these,” but, “unto one of the least of these.”
“Well pastor, how do you envisage in such a vast congregation making its ministries personal? That we seek out, find out, each one who belongs to the congregation, the body of Christ, and become a ministering help, a prayer partner? How could you do that?” That’s why I have said a thousand times; I think it was God who gave us the Sunday school. It came from the heart and the wisdom of the Almighty. For in our Sunday school we have opportunity to break down our vast congregation into small groups. And then each group intimately acquainted with each member, we can minister and help in time of need: our Sunday school not only a teaching ministry, a visitation ministry, an outreach ministry, a soul-saving ministry, but also a caring ministry. And I am praying that as we break down this vast throng of people in to separate groups, into smaller groups, that we can have someone over each group, a director who will help us in its ministering, merciful remembrances.
For example, already we’re working on that, and the last Sunday of this month we’ll have a pastor—an undershepherd, Edmond Poole—to come here to be our minister to adults and to help us in all of the wonderful ways by which we believe God will work with us in remembering our older people. I would praise God if when people thought of us, they thought of us in terms of someone who loves and cares, who prays, and who remembers. Our golden tomorrow: our ministry of education. I am asked world without end, “Why are you so given, so persuaded concerning the schools, the two schools that we have here, why are you so deeply committed to the building up of those two schools, our First Baptist Academy and our Center of Biblical Studies? Why?” For thirty years I struggled to start that work; failed every year until these last several years. “Well, why the struggle and the commitment, the persuasion this is what we ought to do?”
I can’t speak for hours, but I’ll give you a little illustration of why. Several times I have been in Russia and the East European satellite countries. And when I spend time over there talking to those people, watching them, listening to them, I can hardly believe how they have been able to warp the soul and the mind of their people. I say I’d like for an hour to speak of that. As I listen, as I ask them questions that they answer, I can hardly believe what my ears are hearing what they say. So looking, probing, how is it that that vast concourse of millions and millions of people, how is it that a government is able to warp and shape their minds as they have? How do they do it? Then as I walk around those cities, look at those people, this is what I observe: they take the child when it is a little child, they take the child and they organize the child into what they call Octobrists, and they wear a red star, Octobrists. Then as the child becomes older, they take the child and make the youngster a member of the Young Pioneers, and they have a red neckerchief around their necks. Then by that time, he’s a teenager, and he belongs to the Komsomols. Then after that he’s grown, she’s grown, and they become card-carrying communists. All over those cities, you will find those little bitty kids, the Octobrists, hanging on to one another’s shirttail as they march them across the streets or through the park; little bitty guys wearing a red star. The government has taken their children, and they educate them in atheism, and in materialism, in Karl Marx, Lenin’s materialistic, economic determinism; no God, no spiritual truth, whatever is material, shapes and determines all of the destiny and factors of life.
And then I started thinking about us: you cannot conceive, you cannot imagine, the marvelous open door we have in America. We can take the child—we can, the church can—we can take the child and guide that child all through the malleable, formative years of its growing up; we can do it. The government allows us to do it. You couldn’t do that in Russia; they wouldn’t have a communist nation if it were allowed in Russia. But in the freedom of America, we can take the child and all through the years and the years we can rear that youngster in the knowledge of the Lord. Look at it: on a Sunday, on any Sunday, we’ll have the child for thirty minutes in actual Bible teaching or training. But in America we have the freedom of taking the child and having the youngster every day of the week, all day long. You can’t, it’s beyond anything in the world that we have that opportunity in America.
I went to the first chapel of our first day of our academy: at that time we had one hundred twenty pupils; we now have seven hundred twenty-six. If we had a place for them, we could have one thousand of those youngsters just like that, and if we really gave ourselves to it, we could have two thousand in that school. I went to the first academy chapel, and I sat there at the front. They sang these songs of Zion that we sing here in the church; then they all stood up and quoted my favorite verse in unison, Isaiah 40:8. And then they had me speak a message from God’s Word—that in a school! Small reason that as I sat there and looked at it, I brushed away the tears; no opportunity so wide open as God has given us. May God bless us in it.
I must hasten to the last. Ministry of assurance: we cannot fail. Someday Jesus is coming, and we are watching, and waiting, and praying, and working. We will not fail. That comes to my heart from the conclusion of this third chapter of Philippians out of which I began the message:
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. For—
and this concludes it—
For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our [vile] bodies, like unto His own glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself.
[Philippians 3:14, 20-21]
We cannot fail; Jesus is coming soon [Philippians 4:5].
One time in Jerusalem, I was walking around on Mt. Zion; the traditional tomb of David is there, the upper room is there [Acts 1:13-14], where the disciples were praying when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them [Acts 2:1-4]. As I was walking around, I didn’t know this also was there: there was a large, extensive display of the European Holocaust—room after room after room of the most heartbreaking displays—of what had happened to the Jewish people in Germany, in Poland, in other areas of Eastern Europe, taken over by Adolf Hitler. For example, here would be a display of garments soaked in blood; they were worn by the rabbi who was slain while he was conducting a service for his people. And room after room after room of those displays were there on view. But the last one, the last one overwhelmed me! There were displays there of soap made out of the Jewish slain; their bodies made into soap. There were lampshades there with tattooed marks on them, numbers on them—made out of the skins of those tortured people. But the last display was beyond any way to describe it. The last one was a plaque about like that, and on it was the song that those Jewish sufferers sang as they went to the gas chambers, or went to the gallows, or went to the firing squad. And going through those countries, I had seen those gas chambers long time ago, right after the war, had seen those trees on which they were hanged, had seen the kennels where the dogs were kept that tore them apart, had seen the walls against which they had been executed. And on that plaque, the last display, was this song that they sang, written in Hebrew. When it’s translated into English, it doesn’t have the beautiful flow that it has in Hebrew, but this is a literal translation of that song that they sang:
Of all truth, this is the truth that we believe:
The Messiah is coming soon.
Despite the fact that He is not come today,
Despite any other fact of life,
This is the truth that we believe:
Messiah is coming soon
We are like that: we share that conviction and that persuasion; we are not going to lose. We cannot fail. The early Christians bid one another goodbye as they were being fed to the lions with, “Maranatha, the Lord comes!” [1 Corinthians 16:22], or, “Achri hou elthe, the Lord is coming!” [1 Corinthians 11:26]. And we hereby and herewith and in this moment, in this hour and in this service, we re-consecrate ourselves to the work and ministry of our Lord, waiting, watching, working until He comes [Matthew 24:46].
Out of the shame of my coward heart,
Out of the night of defeat,
Lift me, O God, to do battle again,
Cover my bitter retreat!
Beaten, but still undefeated, I pray,
Thou of unconquerable hand.
Reach me, my poor, broken saber again,
I pledge Thee to die or to stand!
By the wonder of heaven’s forgiveness,
By the lovely lure of Thy light,
By Thy Spirit of victory eternal,
God, fling me again into the fight!
[“Undefeated,” Ralph S. Cushman]
And this is our commitment: building a life station, preaching here by the stormy sea, working diligently, indefatigably, triumphantly for Jesus until our Messiah comes [Matthew 24:46]. May we stand?
Our Lord, we are humbled that God hath assigned to us this lifesaving, soul-saving task. And it is a joy beyond what song could sing or poem could say, the triumph we see in Thee. We cannot fail, we cannot lose; Jesus reigns, someday in earth [Matthew 25:31], as today in heaven [Luke 22:69]. And we offer Thee our hearts and hands and the love and energy of our lives. In the time that remains for each one of us, may God find us faithful, diligent, committed [1 Corinthians 4:2].
And in this moment that our people pray and stand and wait, you, “This day I give my life to Christ, and here I come.” A family you to put your life with us, your home with us in the fellowship of this dear church, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life.
And our Lord, we bless Thy name for the harvest You give us, amen.
While our people pray, while we wait for this moment, in the balcony round, down a stairway, in the throng on this lower floor, down an aisle, “I am coming, pastor,” or “This is my family, we’re all coming today.” A couple or just one somebody you, make it now, while we sing, while we sing.