The Responsive Heart
December 1st, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
THE RESPONSIVE HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-1-85 8:15 a.m.
The title of the sermon this morning is The Responsive Heart, and the reading of the background text is in the ninth chapter of the Book of Matthew, beginning in verse 35 and reading to the end of the chapter. Matthew 9:35-38:
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people.
But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.
Then saith He unto His disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few;
Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.
Jesus speaks of the great need, then of the few who respond, and out of that came the subject: The Responsive Heart, those who do respond.
On the first Sunday in January—this coming 1986, it will be dated January 5—the pastor always delivers a message on The State of the Church. This Sunday is the first Sunday in December, and, responding to the need of the church, I have prepared a special address entitled The Responsive Heart. We shall review first some of these days that are past. And out of all of the things that have happened in my purview in these last several years, the greatest and most miraculous of all was our liberation appeal.
A few years ago, our church owed $10,500,000. We had bought the Spurgeon Harris Building, we had built the Ross Avenue parking building, and there were some other things attendant to the expansion of the facilities of our great congregation. And instead of pegging that interest, we allowed it to float with the prime, paying to the bank one point above prime. Prime reached upward to 22.5%, and that meant that we were paying 23.5% interest on a $10,500,000 loan. It was devastating and confiscatory in the life of our church.
Upon a morning, the executive committee of the fellowship of deacons, a committee comprised of the chairman of the fellowship and all of the previous vice chairmen, they called me to eat breakfast with them at the Dallas Country Club. And at that meeting, they announced to me that we had to sell one of our buildings, and the building the men had chosen was the Spurgeon Harris Building. That building, as you know, houses our lower parking building, it houses our Meridian Adult division, it houses our Singles division, it houses our First Baptist Academy secondary school. I never faced an agony of prayer like I did in those days, and it was then that I announced that we would have a liberation appeal here in our church. And we raised in that liberation appeal $2,200,000.00, which staved off the foreclosure on our property.
In those days, the Criswell Foundation bought the block immediately in front of our church: the YMCA, the street, the Baptist Building, and from the church the night school of SMU. And on that property, Lincoln Properties built that beautiful, impressive, gorgeous forty-five story office building immediately in front of our church, and in the arrangement, in the deal we made with the Lincoln Properties, they paid our debt. And the deal was made in an astonishing way: we kept our two parking buildings, the Spurgeon Harris Building and the Ross Avenue building. We not only kept the buildings, but we receive all of the revenue from those buildings. All of it was paid, the debt was paid, on account of the necessity of Lincoln Properties using, having to have our two parking buildings. It was a miracle. I still cannot believe that such a thing could come to pass: that we paid the debt, ten and a half million dollars; that we own the buildings, and that we receive the revenue from them.
Now I speak of the days that are present. The rentals from those two parking buildings are at present about $1,200,000 a year; and it goes up each year. That money, under no conditions, ever—I think—ought to be used for the support of the ministry. Our people ought to support the ministry of the church. And if the day ever comes when we refuse to support the ministry of the church, I think the church ought to be closed down. I think we ought to right “Ichabod” over it; we ought to admit to the Lord that we are unworthy to be called after the name of Christ, and let’s let somebody else bear His name and do His work. Under no conditions ever are the incomes that are brought into this church to be used for the paying of the pastor’s salary, for the staff, and for the outreach ministries of our dear people.
That $1,200,000 a year that comes to the church ought to be used for these physical facilities—not to buy light bulbs, or to sweep it out, or to clean, but for repair and for upkeep, that our five blocks of property here might be an example of excellence. When you come into the church, it doesn’t look like a dirty, neglected congregation; but when you come into the church, it is up-kept, it is beautifully kept, it is marvelously kept, it is excellently kept, and you sense that when you walk into any one of the five buildings.
There is always a great outlay to keep up any kind of a physical property, and how much more so when they cover five city blocks. For example, just recently the boiler went out in this Truett Building, and we are now constructing a new boiler. It has to be paid for. For example, recently the big compressor went out in the Chapel Building; we have to buy a new compressor. If we use the Burt Building, we must raise $500,000 for new elevators. We must also install window sills in that Burt Building. And recently we had to put a new roof on the Burt Building. Recently we had to put a new roof on the Veal Building. There is no such thing as having anything without an upkeep assignment. That’s true with your house where you live: if you don’t keep it up, it will finally be destroyed by the weather, the wind and the rain. It’s true with your car: you have to keep it up if you drive it. It’s true with your human anatomical body: you have to take care of it. That $1,200,000.00 a year income that we have ought to be used for the facilities, the upkeep, the excellence of our properties.
Then it came to pass that the Salvation Army offered us their building for sale—we own that entire block except that corner—and they asked $4,600,000.00 for that building. We did not own all the land underneath the Spurgeon Harris Building; part of it was on a lease. And in order to buy that lease, we had to spend $1,900,000.00 to own the land underneath that Spurgeon Harris Building. That comprised a total of $6,500,000 that we used to buy the Salvation Army building and the land underneath the Spurgeon Harris Building. And the choice was made that we would pay that $6,500,000 out of the income that we receive from our rental properties, besides some money left over from Lincoln Properties when they bought the block in front of us. Out of the rentals, the decision was made to pay for the Salvation Army building and to pay for the land underneath the Spurgeon building. We did not make any appeal at all. We did not bring to the people any burden of prayer. We asked no sacrifice in giving. We just took an easy vote, and the vote was that we pay for the Salvation Army building and the land under the Spurgeon Harris Building out of the rentals that we receive from our properties.
The repercussion of such an easy decision as that is found in the life of our congregation. You cannot take $1,200,000 out of a sustaining program and not feel it. You have to have a fund for facility repair, for the operation and upkeep of so great an assignment. And when we took that $1,200,000 out of our programming here in the church, we created a deficit. I don’t care who you are, if you would take $1,200,000 out of your programming and your work, you would feel it. That’s what we did, and we created in this year a current deficit, and the men said that by the end of the year, we would owe one million dollars. We would be in debt $1,000,000. That’s why I made that appeal the first Sunday in October, on the sixth day of October of this year. And in that appeal, our people brought to the house of the Lord, in cash, $1,850,000. One million and fifty thousand dollars of that was designated; $800,000 dollars of it was for our debt. But our finance committee says that despite the large offering we brought the first Sunday in October, that we are coming to the end of the year with a deficit of from $250,000.00 to $400,000.00.
Now I speak of days future. In the twenty-fourth chapter, in the last chapter of 2 Samuel, there is told the dramatic story of the Lord’s judgment upon David [2 Samuel 24:1]. The Bible doesn’t say why: was it he failed to trust in the Lord? Was it pride? However, David numbered the people, his army, took a census of the nation against the will of God [2 Samuel 24:1-9]. And the Lord confronted him, and the Lord said to him, “You have a choice of three things: either seven years of famine, or to flee before your enemies for three months, or a pestilence of three days, and you choose” [2 Samuel 24:11-13]. And David, in an agony, said, “Lord, may we not fall into the hands of men; but may we fall into the hands of the Lord” [2 Samuel 24:14]. And he chose three days pestilence. And from Dan to Beersheba, there died seventy thousand men [2 Samuel 24:15].
And David saw the destroying angel of the Lord standing above Jerusalem, with his sword drawn, and he cried unto God, “O Lord, O God!” [2 Samuel2 4:16-17]. And the Lord sent Gad the prophet to him, and said, “David, you go to Mount Moriah,” that’s where Abraham offered up Isaac [Genesis 22:1-10], “you go to mount Moriah, and there the threshing floor on top of the mount is owned by Araunah the Jebusite. And you build an altar there, and you placate the judgment of Almighty God” [2 Samuel 24:18-19]. And David came to Araunah the Jebusite, the stranger, and said to him, “God hath commanded me thus to intercede for our people, to build here an altar unto the Lord” [2 Samuel:24:20-21]. And Araunah said, “Take this mount, take this threshing floor, I give it to you. I give it to you [2 Samuel 24:22-23]. I give you these oxen for sacrifice, and I give you these implements of threshing, this wood, for wood to burn. And may the king be pleased to take it; I give it to you.” And ennobled David turned to Araunah and said, “Nay, nay, not so: neither will I offer unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing. I will buy it of thee of a price” [2 Samuel 24:24]. And David bought the mount and threshing floor, and there he built his altar [2 Samuel 24:25]; and there he told Solomon to build the temple of God [2 Chronicles 3:1].
When I look at the Salvation Army building, I think we ought to write over it, “This is an offering to God of that which doth cost us nothing!” When you look at the Spurgeon Harris Building, I think we ought to write over the front of it, “This is an offering to God of that which doth cost us nothing!” It is a rebuke from heaven itself that our people would take and assume a property, and offer nothing for it. I think it is an insult to heaven, and unworthy of our name, and I think it is a judgment of God upon us. Our people are giving more than we’ve ever given, but for us to plan a program to buy a great building, to buy the land downtown for a sustaining building, and we pay nothing for it, and the deficit we incur, and the handicap under which we labor is a judgment of God.
That brings me to the responsive heart; I am praying that this month of December our people will bring a special gift to the church. We should have done it years ago, but this month of December, we’re going to bring a special gift to the church. We’re going to ask God that we finish the year without a deficit; a special offering to the Lord. And I am praying that in 1986 there will be a set day for a building fund appeal. We owe several millions of dollars. We set a day in 1986 for a building fund appeal. For us to use the Army Building, the old Salvation Army Building, for our teenagers, we must renovate it; we must make it usable for them, and that will be a cost of something like $800,000. For us to use the Burt Building—and I think we ought to use it—it’s a small lot, and if we tear it down, you just add a few feet to that plaza. The building is built like a fort: built there to stand forever. It’s built for an office building. We can use it for offices. I asked our First Baptist Academy leadership: they would love to have it. Our Junior children are in it. They ought to be taken out of it, and for us to take our Junior children out of the Burt Building, we have to build another place for them. These things are bound up in that building fund appeal we ought to make in 1986, and if we do it, I think God will bless us.
The Christian faith is nothing, it is dust and ashes in our hands, if we take out of it tears, and blood, and sacrifice, and trial, and cost. It’s a country club and not a church. It’s a convenience and not a necessity. It’s an “at ease in Zion” [Amos 6:1], and not a devotion to the Lord God. I often think of our children: why is it that God made it that when a child is born, the child is born in travail? I think it’s because the cost of the birth of a child does something to the heart of the parents. Our freedom was bought in blood and in sacrifice. The worth and the depth of meaning of the Christian faith is found in the sacrifice and the tears and the blood that we pour into it.
We’re not to give to God that which is worthless, the leftovers and the unwanted; to tip Him. When the Lord sat over against the treasury in the temple, He watched the people as they gave. And there came by a poor widow who cast in two mites, a fourth of a cent. And the Lord condemned her because of her poor judgment? The Lord said, “Look, she has cast in everything that she has,” and the Lord commended her [Mark 12:41-44]. When Mary of Bethany broke over our Savior the alabaster box of ointment, Judas voiced the opinion of all of the apostles: “What a waste.” God said, “Not so. Not so” [Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-7].
A visiting pastor was invited by the pastor of a church to go see a man in the congregation. They called him “Old Skinflint”; they called him “Old Tight-Fisted”; they called him “Old Scrooge.” The pastor said to his friend, “We keep our giving records secret. We don’t publish them to the church. I just want you to see this man. I thought we’d have a prayer in his home.” And the reason: this man, this godly man, took all of that he possessed and gave it to God, all of it, every month, except what was necessary for him to eat and to wear in the hovel in which he lived. Everything he gave to the Lord God.
I counted dollars
While God counted crosses.
I counted gains
While He counted losses.
I counted my wealth
By the things gained in store,
But He valued me
By the scars that I bore.
I counted the honors
And sought for ease;
He wept while He counted
The hours on my knees.
And I never knew,
Until one day by a grave,
How vain are these things
We spend a life to save.
[author and work unknown]
And could I add my own conclusion:
And I never knew,
Until one day as I wept,
How empty are the things
I have selfishly kept!
The responsive heart: “Pastor, by God’s grace and with His help, I’m going to change, we’re going to change, the church is going to change; and we’re going to give our lives and everything we have to the Lord.” And then God will bless us with all of the necessities that we have need of in our lives.
So this month of December, coming to the end of the year triumphantly, we’ve been honest with God, we’ve paid our debts, and in 1986 we’re going to have a great day, and whatever we owe, we’re going to pay it. The Lord grant it to us as a church and as a people.
And we’re going to sing us a hymn now of invitation and appeal. “This is God’s day for me, pastor, and I’m giving my heart and life to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], and I’m coming forward.” “This is my family, pastor, and we’re call coming today.” “Want to take the Lord as my Savior, and here I stand.” “Want to put my life in the fellowship of this wonderful church, and here I come.” “God’s called me, spoken to my heart in a deep way; and I’m answering with my life.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your soul, make the answer: “Yes, Lord, here I am, and here I stand.” On the first note of the first stanza, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “This is God’s day for me, pastor, and here I am.” Welcome, in the name of the Lord and of His Holy Spirit, welcome, while we stand and while we sing.