The Golden Tomorrow
January 4th, 1987 @ 8:15 AM
OUR GOLDEN TOMORROW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-4-87 8:15 a.m.
And once again, welcome to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing an annual message. On the first Sunday of the new year I always deliver a sermon on the state of the church. And that message is prepared most prayerfully and carefully and delivered today.
The text is the one that we just read out of Philippians 3:14, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." This year, this year we shall pass the ninetieth year that the First Baptist Church in Dallas has had two pastors. Dr. Truett was undershepherd for forty-seven years; I have been undershepherd for, this year, forty-three years. That’s ninety years. And we shall pass that ninety year mark in this glorious year of 1987.
One of the things that I have been doing for the last two and a half years has been to bring capable, dedicated young men to the church, that our people might hear them and see them. Over these two and a half years, I have brought toward twenty of those young ministers. Wherever there has been a capable and young preacher-pastor, I have invited him here to this pulpit. What I have prayed for is that there would be a rise out of our people as they listened to him, as they looked at him, as they saw him, there would be a response on the part of our congregation, "This is the young man that we would love to invite to come to be here; first, in God’s grace and goodness to be with our pastor. That they be together for awhile and then gradually, he assume the responsibility of being the administrator and the leader of our wonderful First Baptist Church."
Those young men have all appealed to me, one of them especially. I’d rather hear him preach than any other man that lives in our generation. But the response has always been the same on the part of our people. It has been greatly mixed. Some would say, "That’s just marvelous." Others would say, "I’m not interested at all." And after two and one-half years, we are no nearer the goal that I have had in my heart, than we were at the beginning.
There has been no consensus, there has been no rise, there has been no response from our congregation whatsoever – none. When I speak to our people about this ultimate successor, this young man to come and to be pastor of the church, when I speak to them and cannot hide my discouragement after these two and one-half years – speaking to deacons and leaders and women and people in the church – they always reply, "Pastor remember, God has His man. And when the time comes, when the time comes, God will choose him. And God will make him known."
And when I say, "But there are no young ministers of proportion and ability that I do not know – I hear them, I see them, they are known throughout our convention. Any young man with great ability is already known. He’s already preaching. He’s already pastoring. And I am discouraged that they, being brought here, have not found repercussion on the part of our congregation.” Then always that reply, "But there may be a young man somewhere that you don’t know and maybe we’ve never heard of him. And he’ll be that young man." There’s nothing for me to do but to acquiesce in that prayerful persuasion and that earnest and heavenly hope. God must choose that man in God’s time and in God’s way.
I think of the hand of the Lord in a story in 1 Samuel. When God said to the prophet, "I have chosen Me a king in the household of Jesse the Bethlehemite" [1 Samuel 16:1]. And Samuel goes to Bethlehem and calls the household – to Jesse – to sacrifice and has in his hand the horn of anointing oil. And Samuel says to Jesse in Bethlehem, "Have your sons pass before me." And the first son stands before the prophet, Eliab. And Samuel looks upon his stature and his presence, and the prophet says, "Surely God’s anointed is before me" [1 Samuel 16:6]. But God said to Samuel, "Man looks on the outside; God looks on the heart, and I have rejected him" [1 Samuel 16:7].
And Jesse calls his second son, Abinadab. And Abinadab stands before the prophet, tall and handsome, impressive. And Samuel says, "This is God’s anointed." And the Lord said, "I have rejected him" [1 Samuel 16:8].
And Jesse calls his third son, Shammah. And Shammah stands before the prophet, like his brothers, handsome and tall and personable. And God says, "I have rejected him" [1 Samuel 16:9].
Jesse, the father, has all seven of his sons pass before the prophet. And God says of all seven of them, "I have rejected them" [1 Samuel 16:10].
In despair and frustration, the prophet Samuel says to Jesse the Bethlehemite, "Is this all of your sons? I cannot understand. God hath sent me here to anoint a king for Israel and all seven of your sons have been rejected. Is this all of your sons?" God said, "I have chosen a son out of the household of Jesse." And all seven of them stand before the prophet, rejected. And the father says – Jesse says, "I have a little boy. I have another son, but he’s with the sheep. He’s keeping the sheep. We don’t even include him with these seven." The prophet answers, "We will not be seated till he be come. Bring him. Fetch him." And they go to the sheep and call David and the lad comes. The Bible, the Book says, "He was ruddy, of a beautiful countenance, unshaved, not old enough to grow a beard." And the lad stands there, and God says, "This is he. Anoint him!" And the next verse says, "And Samuel anointed David, king over Israel in the midst of his brethren" [1 Samuel 16:11-13].
God has to do this with our church and our people and our congregation. God has to do it. The choice must lie in His hands and the Lord must point him out. God does this. Deuteronomy, the last book of Moses, closes in the description of Moses. "His eye was not dim, nor was his natural strength abated. But God buried him in Bethpeor, in Moab" [Deuteronomy 34:6-7]; and the Lord chose Joshua. God took Elijah to heaven in a chariot of fire; and God chose Elisha. God took Paul, His wonderful apostle, beheaded, out of the Mamertine dungeon on the Ostian Way in Rome; and God chose Timothy. We leave it in the hands of the Lord. I shall not try. I shall not enter into it, I shall pray and wait and leave the choice in the hands of Almighty God.
In the meantime, in this moment, a golden moment, before a golden tomorrow: when I came, when I was called before I came, when I was asked to be pastor of the church in 1944, I received this letter from Dr. T.L. Holcolm who was then secretary, executive leader of our largest convention board, the Sunday School Board. He wrote me, "Never yet has there been a downtown church that really has done the job, reach 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."
In these years since then, forty-three of them, this church has become an altogether different kind of a ministry before the Lord. It moves in an altogether different world. The idea of a church then was someplace where Truett was preaching and that was all. My idea of a church was that it ministered to every facet of the human family, of the human heart, and of human need.
And in these years, the church has grown by the thousands and the thousands. In our stewardship, before I came, the stewardship program was $150,000 a year. Our response in our tithe’s and offerings is a barometer of the spiritual life of our people.
We have founded our schools. For thirty years I prayed for and worked for our academy. The first chapel service moved my heart to tears. We sang a song of Zion. We prayed. We read the Bible. We announced our courses of teaching. You can’t do that by law in a secular school. We do it in our academy, magnifying the Lord, winning them to Christ, teaching them the mind of Christ.
We organized our Center of Biblical Studies. I was delighted in the current issue of the Reminder, all of these many, many, many courses, dozens of them, in our conservatory of music, adding to the outreach of that glorious school. And our KCBI radio, which may soon under the surveillance of God and the direction of the FCC be vastly expanded beside our KCBI International, that preaches the gospel behind the iron curtain and down through Central and South America.
Our outreach ministries; we have twenty-six chapels, twenty-six of them. And we are multiplying them as the years go by. Out of that inner-city chapel just down the street and out of that flotsam and the jetsam of humanity that you see go up and down these avenues, four of those men won to Christ are now in our School for the Prophets, our school for the preachers. Four of them: out of the gutter, now dedicating themselves to the preaching of the gospel.
There are many charities that you read about at Christmastime or at Thanksgiving time. But we carry on that ministry to the poor three hundred sixty-five days out of the year. We are feeding families. We are clothing the naked. We are helping. It never stops. It goes on day and night, year after year.
Beside our evangel home groups, seeking to gather people in homes in every neighborhood of the city; our care ministries, these who are not well, remembered by us, not only in thought and intercession, but seeing them, encouraging them.
And we are beginning this month a tremendous brotherhood work in our church. The president of the State Brotherhood is a deacon in our church; the men who direct that brotherhood in our Baptist General Convention are members of our church. For us not to have a tremendous men’s work in our church is unthinkable. We are beginning this year a tremendously effective men’s work. Not just to meet and eat, but organizing our men into men’s brotherhood units, brotherhood units, men’s, Baptist men’s units. There are about eight of them already being organized.
We differ in our gifts, greatly. According to the Book of Romans, according to the Book of 1 Corinthians, according to the Book of Ephesians, God gives us differing gifts. For example, one of those men’s units is a spiritual responsibility for our chapels, our outreach ministries. Another one of those men’s units is to help us here in the care of our church and its facilities. They came to me and said, "We need $250,000 in order to remake that tenth floor, that side, the town side, the city side of the tenth floor of our Spurgeon Harris building." On this side of it is the Wallace Library that has something like one hundred thousand volumes in it. On that side, it is useless. And the accrediting agency says, "You must use that side." And they say we must have $250,000 for it. I don’t have $250,000, and the church is involved in so many other things.
Well what do you do? This is what we do, what should have been done what now we’re going to do. There are men in our church who can work with their hands. They’re plumbers and they’re electricians and they can work with sheetrock, drywalls, and they can paint and they can build with their hands. I have never been gifted with my hands. I am not able to work with my hands well. My gift is in another area. I can take one of these chapels – I don’t care where it is – I did it as a boy, as a youth, I can take a chapel and I can make it grow and glow and go. I can do that, but I can’t do something with an electrical wire or with a pipe. I cannot do that. We differ. God has given me the gift of a pastor. According to the Book of Ephesians, I have the gift of a pastor. These men have other gifts. What we need to do in our church is according to a man’s gift, to use him. Give him an open door. And that’s what we’re going to do. How many of those men’s units we’ll organize is known but to God. But we’re going to launch that kind of a program where we open doors for men to serve. And it’s going to be a great and marvelous blessing for our people, for our congregation, and for our work.
May I speak now, and I must close, of our golden tomorrow? If you’ve ever been in Philadelphia, in Independence Hall, there is a chair there in which General George Washington sat as he presided over the Constitutional Congress. The back of that chair, the back of the chair has a sunburst. It is inlaid, beautifully inlaid. And when the convention was over, Benjamin Franklin said, "As I have sat here these days and weeks and now months, as I have sat here, I have looked at that sunburst, and I have wondered whether it was a rising or a setting sun. Now," says Benjamin Franklin when they had finally hammered out the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin said, "I can see it is a rising sun."
I feel that way about our church. We have a golden tomorrow. We have a rising sun. Denny Dawson has come, and with him a new and vibrant spark in our services. Dear me, how he has changed the very complexion of the convening and convocation of our people. And he’s just begun. He hasn’t been here a year yet. And what that means for these days and months and years that lie ahead will be glorious even to contemplate.
We have Dr. Charles McLaughlin coming to lead us in our educational ministries. Our staff has set itself to have twelve thousand people in Sunday school here, learning the Word of God. In these years past, we have had ten thousand people here in Sunday school. Once in a while, we have had twelve thousand in Sunday school. But at no time, at any one of those times, has anyone ever come to me and said, "Pastor, with these ten thousand we were not able to take care of them. With these twelve thousand we were crowded to the walls."
This is the only church I know of in the earth that can have twelve thousand people here in these Sunday school facilities and easily take care of them. If it were any other church that you ever saw, the first thing they’d have to do, if they had a goal of having twelve thousand in Sunday school would be to mount a fifty or sixty or seventy-five million dollar campaign in order to build facilities in order to take care of that number of people. We already have the facilities. It is just for us to have the dedication to do it.
With the dedication and consecration of our youth building, and so far as I know we’re the only church in the world that has a building, a spacious five-story building just for our teenagers; God in heaven, how You have blessed us and worked with us. And with that new building beginning next Sunday and with Dr. McLaughlin and with our staff and with us, we are confident that the Lord will give us an increasing harvest; thousands of people being taught the Word of God and being won to Christ. May it be that we consecrate ourselves to this assignment from heaven? In our day, in our generation, these, Lord, are the hands you’ve given me and the heart that beats in my soul and my life, and I consecrate them, Lord, unto Thee.
All of us live in the immanency – i-m-m – in the immanency of the coming of our Lord. He said, "I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man as his work shall be" [Revelation 22:12]. And he closes the Bible with, "He which saith these things, also says, ‘Surely, surely I come quickly" [Revelation 22:20].
Those first Christians bid one another a fond farewell with an Aramaic word, maranatha, “the Lord come,” or in Greek, achri hou elthe, “till He come,” till He come. They close the Lord’s Supper, achri hou elthe, “till He come.” They live in the immanency of our Lord.
Second Peter says, "A thousand years with our Lord is as one day" [2 Peter 3:8], a thousand years as one day. Our Lord then has been gone two days; maybe He will return on the third.
All of our lives are to be lived in the immanency, in the presence of the coming of our Lord. And what we must do, we must do now. When He comes, when He comes, may He find us working, praying, watching, waiting, faithful to our tasks.
On Mount Zion, where David was buried, in the holy city of Jerusalem, on that side, Mt. Moriah, on this side of the Tyropoeon Valley, Mt. Zion, I walked through an unbelievable display on Mt. Zion, room after room after room, a display of the tragedy of the holocaust in Europe. In this room, the interior of a synagogue and the robes of the rabbis stained in blood, covered in blood while they were officiating in their services of worship, the rabbis were attacked and slain and their rabbinical robes covered in their own blood. In this display, the Holy Scriptures, the scrolls that they read, torn apart and the menorahs beat shapeless. And room after room and finally the last room; on a table there, soap, soap made out of human lard, out of human Jewish bodies, soap. And on the table, a lamp. And the lamp shade with a tattooed number on it, the lamp shade made out of a Jewish tanned skin. And the last of the displays was a poem written in Hebrew, and this is it:
Of all truth, this is the truth that we believe:
The Messiah is coming soon.
Despite the fact that He has not come to date;
Despite any other fact of life,
This is the truth that we believe:
Messiah is coming soon.
We are like that, in that same holy and heavenly expectancy. We live in the hope of His coming. "Behold, I make all things new. And My reward is with me. I am coming soon" [Revelation 21:5 and Revelation 22:12]. And when He comes, when He comes, may He find us faithful at our tasks, when He comes, when He comes.
We’re going to stand in a moment and sing our hymn of appeal. What a beautiful moment; what a precious hour to begin a new year with our Lord. "Pastor, today I’m accepting Jesus as my Savior. I’m opening my heart to Him. I’ll be ready when He comes." A family coming into the fellowship of our wonderful church, somebody you answering God’s call in your heart, make the decision now. And in this moment when we stand singing our hymn, on the first note of the first stanza, come. God bless you, angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.