The Responsive Heart
December 1st, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
THE RESPONSIVE HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-1-85 10:50 a.m.
You are a part of the morning worship service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Responsive Heart. As a background text we are reading Matthew chapter 9, verses 35 to the end of the chapter; Matthew chapter 9, beginning at verse 35:
And Jesus went about all of the cities and the 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.
And that gave rise to the title of the sermon, The Responsive Heart. The need is so great, but there are so few who dedicate their lives to the ministry of the need of the people and the work of the Lord.
On the first Sunday of each new year—and this time it will be January 5 in 1986—I prepare and deliver a message on the state of the church. But this first Sunday in December, responding to the need of the church, I have prepared a special address: and thus, The Responsive Heart; the great need, and the call for laborers in support of the ministry of our Savior in the earth.
We speak first of the days past. And that brings to my mind one of the greatest miracles I have ever witnessed in my life, a miracle in several parts. It began like this: in a debt we owed for these buildings that we have added to God’s sanctuary—the Spurgeon-Harris Building, there cater-cornered across the street from our front door; and on this side of us, the large and beautiful Ross Avenue parking building—that, and other things, brought our church debt to $10,500,000. Instead of taking the interest on that debt at a certain percentage, we let it float with the promise to the bank that we would pay one point above prime. That prime rate rose in those days to 22 and one-half percent, which meant that we were obligated to pay 23 and one-half percent interest on that debt of $10,500,000.
The executive committee of our fellowship of deacons, made up of the chairman and former chairmen, called me to a breakfast at the Dallas Country Club, and announced to me that we were being forced to sell one of our buildings because of the debt we couldn’t pay on our property, and the building they chose to sell was the Spurgeon-Harris Building, just there. That building has our parking building. On the eighth floor it has our Meridian Adult Ministry, on the ninth floor it has our Singles Ministry, and on the tenth and eleventh floors it houses our Center of Biblical Studies, and the secondary school of our First Baptist Academy.
Hardly in life could one experience an agony of soul as I did when I listened to that mandate, “We have to sell that building.” That gave rise in those days to what I call a liberation appeal: to liberate us from the enormous stranglehold of that heavy indebtedness. And out of that liberation appeal we gave $2,200,000 against that debt. That staved off the foreclosure of the bank on our properties.
Then the other part of this unbelievable miracle: our Criswell Foundation bought the entire block right in front of our church door, the YMCA Building, the street—San Jacinto Street, the Baptist Building, and the building beyond, the SMU night school. And with that block, we made a purchase with Lincoln Properties on which, they have erected that gorgeous and beautiful Lincoln Plaza building that faces our front door, one of the most beautiful office buildings in the world, forty-five stories tall.
And in the goodness of God, a thing was brought to pass in that exchange, in the purchase of that property, that I to this day, cannot understand, nor can anyone else, the goodness of God in it. Lincoln Properties paid off our debt. And yet, they let us keep those two big parking buildings. They belong to us: the Spurgeon-Harris parking building and the Ross Avenue parking building. And we receive all of the rentals from those buildings. It was one of the most miraculous interventions I have ever witnessed in this world.
Now to speak of our days present: the rentals from those two parking buildings, there and there, amount to about $1,200,000 a year. And the rentals go up as the city is compressed in its downtown area. That income from those parking buildings under no conditions—please, God—will ever be used for the support of the gospel ministry in the church. Our people must support the ministry in the church: the pastor’s salary, the staff, the work of teaching, and soulwinning; we support that with our tithes and with our offerings. And if the day ever comes when we refuse to support the ministry of the church, we ought to close it, write “Ichabod” over the door, and confess to the Lord God our Savior, that we’re not worthy to bear His name. The ministry is to be supported by our people: by our gifts and by our tithes and offerings.
That $1,200,000 that we receive as income from the properties ought to be used for our facilities, for the excellence of these five blocks on which our church is located, not for to buy light bulbs, or to sweep it out, or to clean it, but to keep it in beautiful repair. We ought not to look at that building across the street and say, “This is one of the most beautifully-kept buildings in the earth,” then come across the street and look in God’s house and say, “This is the dirtiest and shabbiest of all the institutions in the city of Dallas.”
This five blocks that comprise our church ought to be pristine, kept in beautiful repair, everything glorious for the work and use of our Lord. These things arise out of the use of a property. You cannot obviate that use. For example, just a few days ago the boiler in the Truett Building went out. We have to buy a new boiler, construct a new boiler. For example, the big compressor in the chapel building across the street, in the last few days went out, and we have to buy a new compressor.
For example, if we use the Burt Building here, that eleven-story building on that side of the Plaza, we have to buy elevators for it, new elevators, and they cost one half million dollars. If we use that building, there have to be new windowsills placed in it; the old are rotten. We have just recently placed a new roof on that building, and we have just recently placed a new roof on the Veal Building. Always, always, there are these supporting ministries for the facilities of whatever you use.
If you have a house where you live, and you don’t keep it up, the wind and the rain and the storm and the heat will finally destroy it. You have to keep it up. If you have a car, you have to keep it in repair. If you live in an anatomical body, you have to take care of your body. There is nothing in this earth that does not demand a care.
I received yesterday a letter from Rodney Sawtell, who is the first British minister that we had come here from the Spurgeon’s College in London, England. He is now pastor of the Colchester Baptist Church in Essex, in the eastern part of Anglia. And as I look through the bulletin he encloses, he has two pages—two pages here of “Repair Work to our Church.” That’s what he calls it: “Repair Work to our Church,” and it goes on down for two pages.
All of life is like that. And that’s why we have the rentals from these two buildings is to keep our church beautiful, keep it clean, keep it attractive, keep it vibrant and viable and alive, a beautiful place in the very heart of this queenly city of Dallas. Then in the providence of God, the Salvation Army came to us and said, “We are offering for sale our building.” We own that entire block there, except the corner, on which is erected the Salvation Army building. And the Salvation Army said to us, “We will sell you this structure for $4,600,000.”
At the same time we were faced with the land lease underneath the Spurgeon Harris Building. No church ought to have its property on a land lease, because the church is forever. You can lease a property 99 years, and you’ll be dead 60 years, maybe, before the lease comes up, but not a church. Ninety-nine years from then, this church ought to still be a lighthouse for Christ. And that land lease ought to be bought, and we bought it. We paid $1,900,000 for that land lease, which meant that we bought for those two properties, $6,500,000.
Now we made a choice. We made a choice concerning how to pay that $6,500,000. And the choice was to do nothing, just sit down and take it easy. The choice we made was to take the rentals from these two buildings, and to buy those two properties, no appeal for prayer, no burden of sacrifice, no asking for support or giving, just the easy way of voting to take the rentals from these two properties and use them to buy those two buildings. The repercussion, I think, is a judgment from God. You cannot take $1,200,000 out of any budget and not feel a loss. That’s what we voted to do; to take that $1,200,000 that we received for our rentals out of our sustaining program, out of our facility repair, out of our operational upkeep—to take it and to use it to buy those buildings, so we would have no burden of prayer or of sacrifice or of response. Therefore, the judgment of God: we run a current deficit. When the fall time came, the finance committee said, “We are going to face a deficit of a million dollars. By the end of the year, we will owe one million dollars.”
In keeping with that prognostication, I made an appeal the first Sunday in October that we bring a special gift to the Lord. And we received on that one Sunday, in cash, $1,850,000. One million fifty thousand dollars of that gift was designated, $800,000 of it was for our deficit. But the Finance Committee says, that at the end of this month, at the end of this year, we will still owe a deficit of something like $250,000 to $400,000.
Now may I speak of these days future? In the last chapter of the Book of 2 Samuel, the twenty-fourth chapter, there is told the story of the judgment of God upon David. Why the sin was so grievous in the sight of Jehovah, the Bible doesn’t say. He numbered the children of Israel. He numbered his people [2 Samuel 24:2-9]. He took a census, in order to know the strength that he could command in battle, in war. He did it either out of pride to boast of the glory of his military strength, or he did it because of a lack of trust and faith and dependence upon God. For whatever cause was in the heart of David that he did it, it was a sin in the sight of the great Creator. And the Lord sent Gad to David [2 Samuel 24:11-12] and said to him, “You have a choice of three: either seven years famine, or three months to flee before the face of your enemies, or a pestilence of three days. And you tell me the choice, so I can answer back to God.” [2 Samuel 24:13]
And in agony of spirit, David said, “Let me cast myself upon the mercies of God and not upon the hands of men [2 Samuel 24:14]. I choose the three days pestilence.” And from Dan to Beer-sheba, there died 70,000 men [2 Samuel 24:15]. And as the plague waxed and the people were dying, the destroying angel came to Jerusalem and stood over Mount Moriah, with a drawn sword in his hand. And when David saw that destroying angel, with his sword unsheathed, ready in pestilential judgment to destroy the people, David fell down in intercession before the Lord God [2 Samuel 24:16-17].
And the Lord sent Gad to him and said, “There, on top of Mount Moriah where Abraham offered up Isaac [Genesis 22:1-13], there build an altar unto the Lord God, and make intercession for the people” [2 Samuel 24:18]. The top of the mount was owned by a stranger; by Araunah the Jebusite. And when David came to Araunah, he said, “God hath commanded me here to build an altar where you have your threshing floor, that the plague may be stayed” [2 Samuel 24:19-21]. And Araunah bowing himself before the king, said, “Nay, I give it to you. The top of the mount is yours. I give it to you. And here are my oxen for sacrifice. I give them to you. And here are my instruments of threshing, wood for the fire, I give it to you” [2 Samuel 24:22-23].
And David replied, “Nay. But I will buy it of thee for a price. For I will not offer unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing” [2 Samuel 24:24]. And David bought of Araunah, the Jebusite stranger [2 Samuel 24:24], the mount where Abraham offered sacrifice [Genesis 22:1-13], where he commanded Solomon to build the temple of God [2 Chronicles 3:1]. And there, building the altar, the wrath of God was assuaged, and the people were spared [2 Samuel 24:25]. And out of that story there rings in my soul the word of this great king: “Neither will I offer unto the Lord my God that which doth cost me nothing” [2 Samuel 24:24].
And that is exactly what we have done. Rather than praying and bringing to God an offering, we have voted the easy, supine, unworthy way. Let’s just take our rentals and buy these properties; and we, we do nothing. It is not right in the sight of God, and it is unworthy of the name we bear of our Lord.
Therefore, in prayer, I am asking that our people, in the month of December—there are five Sundays in this month, in this month of December; that we bring a special offering to the Lord our God. That we not come to the end of this year owing money; in a deficit. And one other thing: that in 1986, in the new year of 1986, in that year, we set a date for a building fund appeal. We owe several million dollars. Let’s pay it. We must remodel that Army building for the use of our teenagers. It will cost something like $800,000. They are worth it. One of them is worth it. We have hundreds of teenagers. They are worth it.
And we ought to dedicate ourselves for the use of the Burt Building. If we were to tear it down, that eleven-story building right there, it’s on so small a property, it would just add a few feet to our plaza. The building is built like a fort, built long time ago, built to stand there forever. It’s an office building. If we were to use it for offices, it would be very salubrious, felicitous.
I talked to the leaders of our First Baptist Academy. They would love to have it. They can use it to great advantage. Our Juniors are there. Our junior children are in that building. They ought to be taken out of it. They ought to be placed in an area that is built for them, that is nice and accommodating and welcoming for them, which would mean to build a new place for our juniors. We’ve taken all of our people out of that building except those juniors, our children. They are too small to have a voice so we just take advantage of their youth and put them there while the rest of us who have a voice, we have other facilities. We need to use that Burt Building, and can to a great advantage. There ought to be a set day in 1986 when we have a building fund appeal and our people respond.
May I close with a word about the Christian faith? The Christian faith is nothing—it is dust and ashes in our hands—the Christian faith is nothing if there is not in it tears, and blood, and trial, and sacrifice, and cost. You take the cross out of it, take the blood out of it, take the tears out of it, and we don’t have a gospel to preach. The Christian faith is that: it is blood, and toil, and tears.
I often wonder—do you?—why children are born into this word in such travail. God has a reason for it, I think. At so great a cost is the child laid in the arms of father and mother; the child is doubly dear because of the cost. We think of our freedom in America. Think of the blood shed, think of the lives sacrificed, in order that we might be free. It is the same and identical thing in the Christian faith. It’s the blood in it, and the sacrifice in it, and the cost in it, that makes it dear and precious in God’s sight and in ours. To offer to God what is worthless and left over and unwanted is unthinkable.
In the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is seated over against the treasury, and there passes by a widow, a poor widow. She has two mites, all of her living—that’s one-fourth of a cent. And she cast into the treasury of the Lord those two mites. When the Lord looked at her and watched her, did He condemn her for poor judgment? The Lord commended her: her faith, her sacrificial spirit, her love for God [Mark 12:41-44].
Turn over the page of the Book of Mark to chapter 14. There is the story of Mary of Bethany, who breaks over the head of our Lord an alabaster box of spikenard, of ointment [Mark 14:3-9]. Judas, voicing the response of the rest of the disciples said, “What a waste. What a waste” [John 12:4-6]. Not our Lord. The Lord said, “Wherever this gospel is preached, this will be told in honor and memory of Mary,” that I am fulfilling part of that prophecy today [Mark 14:9]. The sacrifice, the gift, that it cost, pleases God, and is the very heart of our Christian faith.
A minister invited a fellow pastor to go visit a man in his church. He said to him, “You know, this man that we are going to visit, he lives just out of bare necessities—his clothing, the hovel in which he resides, the food that he eats. They call him ‘Old Skinflint.’ They call him ‘Old Tight-fisted.’ They call him ‘Old Stingy.’ They call him ‘Old Scrooge.’” The pastor said to his friend, “What the people don’t know is what he does for God.” He said, “And this is the way we are in our church. We keep the giving of our people secret. It’s never published. And what this man gives is never published. But he lives out of bare necessities—just enough to take care of him, to keep him alive, something to wear, something to eat, and a place to live—and everything else, he gives to God.” Lord, Lord, how little of that is in us: just the necessities of life that we might live and the rest of our strength and possessions dedicated to God.
I counted dollars while God counted crosses.
I counted gains while He counted losses.
I counted my wealth by the things gained and stored.
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 that we spend a life to save.
And I’d like to add a couplet to it—
And I never knew until one day as I wept.
How empty are the things I have selfishly kept.
Coming to the end of the way with just things, and leaving God out of our lives.
So this appeal, this month of December—and I’ve already started. In this collection that we had up here this morning, I put $1,000 in it. That’s the beginning. This month of December, bringing a special gift to the Lord, something for God. Then in the new year, in 1986, as we pray and dedicate our lives, seeking the face and mind of the Lord, and answering with all the love and devotion of our souls. God will no less bless us than He blessed David. God will no less bless us, than He blesses all of those who place Him first in their lives. He enriches us beyond compare when we bring to Him our souls, our hands, our hearts, our homes, our lives, and all that we have, living as unto the hand of God.
In a moment, we’re going to sing us a song of appeal. And while we sing that song, a family you, “Pastor, today we’re placing our hearts and lives and love and prayers in the circle and circumference of this dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25]. We are going to pilgrimage with you to that upper and better home in heaven. We are going to serve the Lord, pray with you, work with you. We are coming.” Somebody you, to give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], “This is God’s day for me and I am on the way.” Or to answer some call of God in your heart, “The Lord has spoken to me, dear pastor, and here I stand.” As God shall open the door, in faith and commitment, enter in. Now may we pray, asking the Lord’s blessings upon the decision that we make.
Our Savior, as we come into Thy presence, we confess there has been so little of Thee and so much of us in our lives. Forgive us. Lord, may it be less and less and less of us, and more and more and more of Thee, until finally, there is nothing of us and everything of Thee. Help us to live by faith. Help us to look to God in commitment and love. Dear God, may the Lord be pleased with us. And our Savior, when we come to the end of this year and when we begin the new year, may it be a triumphant time for each one of us. And as God counts us together, a glorious time for the gospel message, preached in the pulpit, lived by the people, glorified in the earth, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You give us, in Thy saving name, amen.
In this minute when we stand and sing our appeal, down one of these steps, out of the balcony, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I am on the way. In the press of people on this lower floor, down these aisles, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me and here I stand.” May the angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.