We Begin our 45th Year
October 2nd, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
WE BEGIN OUR FORTY-FIFTH YEAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-2-88 10:50 a.m.
Once again, welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on cable television. Beginning next Sunday, we will be back on Channel 5 here in the city of Dallas. As a background text, three passages from God’s Word; the title of the message is We Begin our Forty-Fifth Year. Numbers 27, verse 15:
And Moses spake unto the Lord, saying,
Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation,
Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which hath no shepherd.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man of whom is the Spirit, and lay thine hand upon him;
And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight.
Verse 23: “And Moses laid his hands upon him and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses” [Numbers 27:23].
A second passage in 1 Kings, chapter 19, verse 19:
So Elijah departed, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen . . . and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him.
And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee.
And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen . . . and he offered them as a sacrifice before God. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.
[1 Kings 19:19-21]
And the third one is in Titus, verses 5 and 7: “For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldst ordain elders, pastors, in every city, as I had appointed thee . . . For a pastor, an elder, a bishop, a presbuteros, a poimēn, an episkopos must be blameless, as the steward of God” [Titus 1:5, 7]. We Begin our Forty-Fifth Year. I have five things that I lay before thee and before the Lord in heaven.
The first: our church is poised and is ready to rise to heights it has never known before. It is ready to be like that eagle in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 40:31], to soar to the heavens itself. Here in our own Sunday school, it is easily possible for us to have twelve thousand studying the Word of God every Lord’s Day. Our outreach ministries know no boundaries, no limits; our evangel groups and our Bible study groups in institutions and in homes. I was told just before the service that one of our divisions, the Meridian Adult division, is asking God today, in a prayer at the end of the service, to bless a ministry in one of the institutions here in the city of Dallas—teaching the Word of God.
In one of those strange providences that I cannot account for, right this minute, right now, there are extended preparations made for extended properties so useful by our church. There is a vast facility being arranged for, in ministering to the poor of our city. The paper says there are more than fifty thousand homeless street people in Dallas, and we are going to try to minister to those people. Not only that, but adding to our properties here a beautiful building. And not only that, but there is even now an effort being made to provide for a fifty-acre campus downtown for our schools.
This is happening in the day of the “mega-church”—the big church, the tremendous church. These demographers, and these prognosticators, and these students of ecclesiastical organizations, all of them avow that the mega-church is the church of the future. The smaller the church, the less able it is to minister; the larger the church, the almost endless numbers of facets of its family life and devotional life and organizational life. May I point out that in these years past; this church has been the only mega-church in our Southern Baptist Zion. But today there are many all through our communion. And if we don’t live up to the call and expectation and purpose of God for us, we’re going to descend to be a third-rate or a fourth-rate or a fifth-rate or a less-rate church.
It is the will of God that we win people to Christ. God never set us here in the earth to be ineffective, nonproductive. God set us here in the earth to magnify His name. The Lord never intended that Pentecost [Acts 2] be the big end of the horn. Pentecost is to be the little end of the horn, and the kingdom is to grow and prosper and flourish. In John 14:12, Our Lord said, “Greater works than these shall ye do.” The church at Jerusalem had at least fifty thousand members. There are many ecclesiastical students who say that there were at least one hundred fifty thousand members of that church in Jerusalem. God intended for us to grow, to magnify the gospel, to be effective in our witness.
I have stood, as some of you have, in Constitution Hall in Philadelphia and looked at the chair in which George Washington sat as he presided over the Continental Congress. On that chair is a sunburst, and Benjamin Franklin said that as he looked at that sunburst during the days of the Constitutional Convention, he wondered whether it was a setting sun or a rising sun. But now, at the end of the convention and the forming and writing of our United States Constitution, Benjamin Franklin said, “I believe it is a rising sun.” It is my persuasion, thus, of our dear church; it is not a setting sun. It’s not a dissolving, lessening ministry, but it is a rising sun to do greater and more marvelous things for our Lord. This calls for a tremendous commitment on the part of all of our people.
Out of the shame of my withdrawing 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 the 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 the spirit of victory eternal,
O God, fling me again to the fight!
[“Undefeated,” Ralph S. Cushmon]
That devout, devoted commitment, God I am here, standing in the breech, preaching the gospel, praying for the lost, witnessing for Christ, building up the household of faith. God bless me, Lord, as I stand.
The second: how much I pray that our church will build upon the forty four years of this pastoral ministry. Why throw it away and start all over again? Why not build upon it, using it as a foundation, as a great encouragement for what can be done, to go on and upward and forward? And that would bring to us a co-pastor. To keep on building, the work without a break, without starting all over again, another man, a new man. And he has to get new people and new leaders and to build the church. Why not—on the foundation laid for these last forty-four years—why not continue? No break, no hiatus, no separation, no division, just right on, building and growing, reaching toward heaven itself.
Such a proposal carries with it, the idea of a co-pastor, carries with it a fragile and delicate and vulnerable arrangement. No two-headed monster is acceptable—a two-headed calf, a two-headed chicken, any kind of a two-headed animal is rejected. Even the United States of America, as great as this nation is, does not have, cannot have two presidents. No nation ruled over by a king has two kings. For us to think in terms of two pastors is almost beyond imagination. But I have been encouraged to do so, first by the reason I’ve just stated. Instead of a hiatus, instead of a separation, instead of starting all over again, why not continue on as we now are, building upon the foundation we’ve laid and the years past?
And the second reason I have been encouraged to do so, to think so, to pray so: because of the example of one or two communions, congregations, in our Southern Baptist Zion. One of those congregations with co-pastors now has a Sunday school that enrolled, that numbers in attendance, from a thousand to a thousand five hundred more than we have. I have held several revival meetings in that church. In those days when I was there several years ago, they had four hundred in Sunday school. They had five hundred in Sunday school, six hundred in Sunday school. Now that same church has a thousand or a thousand five hundred more in Sunday school than we have. And not only that, but they are preparing now to build a sanctuary that seats 10,000 people. I repeat, unless God stands by us in our witnessing ministry here in Dallas, we are going to be a third-, fourth-, or fifth-rate church one of these days.
When you think in terms of a co-pastor, of someone being brought into our midst to stand by my side, Amos 3:3 asks, “How can two walk together, except they be agreed?” That includes the staff, and that includes the families, and that includes the leaders, and that includes the people of the church; if the staff is divided and some of them pull for him and some of them want to honor him; if the families are divided and they dislike each other; if the leaders are divided and they choose sides—”I am for him,” and, “I am for him.” Such a prospect is unimaginably disastrous and indescribably tragic. That’s why Amos asked the question, “How can two walk together, except they be agreed?” [Amos 3:3]. Our prayer to God in the face of the possibility of failure is one of intercession. O God in heaven, how shall we do, to make a tragic mistake now and to destroy this congregation, and destroy this witness, and destroy this ministry? Lord, Lord, it is unthinkable. It is unthinkable. We have a dream. O God, bless and prosper that vision of a greater church, in a greater context, in a greater message, in a greater ministry, in a greater tomorrow.
There was a little boy walking by the side of his mother down the street, and he looked at a little puddle of water that had on it a little skimming of oil. And, as you know, oil on water will become iridescent—be colored. And the little boy looked at that puddle with the oil on the top and the iridescent colors, and he called his mother and said, “Mommy, Mommy, come and look. Here’s a rainbow gone to smash.” That is the possibility of our future here in the church, a rainbow, “gone to smash.” O God, how we pray that Thy purposes may be wrought in this all-important decision and call that is made. If what we do is of men, if the decisions are made on the basis of prejudice or preconceived ideas, if it is our own choice and work, God will leave us to our own devices. But if what we do is of God, if God does it, then God will work with us to bring to fruition His purposes in our dear church. O God, how we need to pray.
A call to prayer, I cannot sleep.
A midnight vigil, I must keep,
For God doth call, I hear Him speak.
To prayer to prayer, I but repeat,
To prayer to prayer, prevailing prayer.
The need for such is everywhere.
It covers earth, it fills the air.
This urgent need for urgent prayer.
To bended knee, to bended knee,
God’s call to you, God’s call to me,
Because what is and is to be
Shall reach beyond eternity.
O folks, I say. Again I say
A truth has burned in my heart this day.
It’s the need of prayer; let come what may,
We shall o’ercome if we watch and pray.
Awake, awake, ye saints, awake.
Your place of prayer believe and take.
Stand in the breach, for Jesus sake,
And the cause be lost, too late, too late.
Great God, bless Thou this choice, and this call, and this work. Please, God, do something wonderful for us.
Number three: the reason that lies back of this tremendous intercessory appeal to God, it lies in the lost world’s desperate need of our witnessing appeal. Our church ought to be a lighthouse by the stormy sea. It ought to be a life-saving station on a rocky shore. Let me give you an example out of a thousand, thousand that I could choose. By law, by law, by law evolution has to be taught in our public schools. By law, by law, by legislation God’s creation, that God did it, is interdicted. It is prohibited. You cannot teach creationism in our school system. By law, by law our children have to be taught that we came from brute apes, that the apes came from marsupials, that the marsupials came from frogs; that the frogs came from paramecia. That’s by law. And in deference and in defense of that legislation, they point to progress and to advancement and to evolution in science and technology and invention.
But, my dear people, may I say to you that there is also progress and advance in evil, war. In these days gone by, men fought with their fists; then they fought with their clubs; then they fought with spears and swords and bows and arrows; then, finally, they fought with guns; and now they fight with bombs falling from the heavens. Why do you think that we’re seeking to place satellite stations up there in the sky? It is for the defense of our nation, to rain death and damnation upon any nation that would dare attack us; and our enemies do the same. There is progress and advancement in evil.
There is progress and advancement in sodomy, venereal disease. And the whole world is beginning to cower before the awesome spread of AIDS. You never heard of AIDS a few years ago. I rarely thought of venereal disease when I was a lad. There is advancement in progress in drug addiction, in alcohol, in marijuana, in cocaine. God only knows the extent of the sweep of this terrible scourge of drug addiction.
Family disintegration is a characteristic of our modern American culture. For five hundred years—for five hundred years there was not a divorce in the Roman Empire; not one. A few years ago, about four years ago, seventy percent of the marriages here in Dallas broke up in divorce. There is progress in hurt and tragedy. I cannot tell you the number of children being reared in single parent homes, and our church is trying and working in order to help those who are rearing their children without a father, or without a mother.
Humanism, progress in humanism, leaving God out of life; progressing in atheism; progressing in communism; great God in heaven! How we need the message of the Lord our Savior in heart, in home, in life, in destiny. Great God, we pray for this hope of the world!
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been affluence, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need is forgiveness, salvation, rebirth. Therefore, God sent us a Savior [John 3:16-17].
Number four: our support for this work of witnessing. We are now in the midst of a great appeal that will continue until about the second week in November. We are now in the midst of a great appeal, seeking from all of our people the support of this witnessing ministry. First Corinthians 16:2 says: “Let every one of you”—“let every one of you lay by him in store.” Let everyone of you: the dad is one, the mother is one, that teenager is one, that child is one, that little baby is one. And from the very least there ought to be from our families a continuing support for this work of the Lord, every member of the family apart. Not just the father who might be the wage earner, or the mother who works and helps, but all of them are dear and precious in the sight of God. And to take our children into the confidence of the family, and they all share in that support; precious, little baby, you have a part, and you will never know any other thing than to love God and serve the Lord and support the work of the kingdom. And you, young man, or you, young woman, and you, dad, and you, mother, we all share in it together; all of us; that least one. For the lack of a nail, the shoe was lost. For the lack of the shoe, the horse was lost. “For the lack of a horse, the rider was lost. For the lack of a rider, the kingdom was lost. All for the lack of a nail.” That little one is important. And in the circle of our church, all of us are to be included—all of us.
The appeal to give, to support, is one that comes from God Himself [Deuteronomy 15:9-11]. A pastor received a letter from one of his parishioners, and the letter said, “Pastor, all you do is stand up there and plead, ‘Give, give, give.’ That’s all you do, just plead give, give, give.” And the pastor wrote him back and said, “Thank you, friend, for the best definition of the Christian faith I’ve ever heard. Give, give, give” [Acts 17:25]. That’s what God does. He gives us life and breath; God gives [Genesis 2:7]. That’s what Jesus did. He gave Himself that we might be in heaven someday [John 3:16, 10:10, 17:3]. And that’s what our forefathers did; they gave and gave that we might have the gospel message. Gracious Lord, help us to be that way, too, to give and to give.
There was a father talking to a neighbor, and the neighbor said to this father, he said to him, “You know, that boy of mine, all he does is just need things and want things and ask for things, just all the time. He knocks out the toes of his shoes; he needs new shoes. And he knocks out the knees of his pants, and he needs new pants. And he’s always asking for a basketball or a baseball or a bat or skates. All he does is just ask and ask and ask.” And the father replied to his friend and neighbor, he said, “You know, I had a boy like that. I had a boy like that. All he did was to ask. He wanted a baseball, and he wanted a bat, and he wanted a basketball, and he wanted skates, and he needed clothes. But,” the father said to his friend, “he doesn’t ask any more. You see,” he said, “my boy died last week and we buried him.” Sweet people, the finest sign of God’s gracious presence in our midst is our children’s needs and our teenagers’ needs and our fathers’ and mothers’ needs. And the church needs and the mission field needs; it’s a sign of life, it’s a sign of God’s blessing upon us. And for us to be moved to reply, to minister, to help, to respond is a gift from heaven [1 Corinthians 16:2].
The last: we are watching, and waiting, and praying, and working, and preparing for that great consummation, the coming of our Lord. In the Bible, always the coming of the Lord is imminent—i-m-m—imminent, always at hand. The Book closes at Revelation 22:20: “He which testifieth these things saith Surely, surely I come quickly”—and the last sentence—“Amen, Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20]. Our Lord’s Supper ends like that, achris hou elthe, “until He come, until He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26]. The great sixteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians closes with Maranatha—Maranatha, “the Lord cometh—Maranatha, the Lord cometh” [1 Corinthians 16:22]. That marvelous third chapter of the Book of Philippians, 20-21: “Our citizenship—our politeuma—our citizenship is in heaven” [Philippians 3:20-21]. Our home is in heaven. We are strangers and pilgrims here [Hebrews 11:13]. This is not our home. Our home is in heaven from whence we look for the Savior who shall change our vile, decaying body that it might be transferred, translated, remade like unto His own glorious body [Philippians 3:21]. This is the great hope of our faith [Titus 2:3]. Jesus is coming again [Acts 1:11, Revelation 1:7, Revelation 22:20].
I, like you, have been on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. There is the tomb of David. There is the upper room where our Lord instituted the Last Supper [Luke 22:12-22]. And on Mount Zion, there is an extensive portrayal of the Holocaust; oh dear, room after room after room. Here is a room depicting the ministries of the rabbi in a synagogue and the garments of the officiating rabbis are stained with blood, murdered there before the Lord. And here are examples of the Torah, the sacred Scriptures that were torn apart in violence. And so it all continues until the last room. And in the last room is a table, and on that table first is a whole bunch of bars of soap made out of human flesh—made out of Jews who were slain and boiled; and out of the flesh, these bars of soap. And here is a lamp shade, and the lamp shade is made out of the skin of a Jew. And you can see the number of the Jew tattooed on that parchment, that skin. And you come to the final exhibit. It is a poem; it is a song they sang when they faced death. The English translation that I have written down by no means reflects the beauty of the song; but this is just a literal translation of those words.
Of all truth, this is the truth that we believe,
Messiah is coming soon.
Despite the fact that He has not come today,
despite any other fact of life,
this is the fact that we believe.
Messiah is coming soon.
What a wonderful faith, and to die for it is a privilege. Moses, in the ninetieth Psalm, said: “A thousand years in His sight, are but as a day when it is past” [Psalm 90:4]. And Simon Peter the apostle, taking that text, expatiated upon it saying that a thousand years is but as a day, and He is coming soon [2 Peter 3:8, 10]. And may I add, if a thousand years is a day in God’s calendar, sweet people, He has been gone two days—maybe the third day, He will return. “ Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20]. If I know my heart, we are ready. Welcome, blessed Savior.
May we pray together? O Christ our Savior, how dear Thy promise to us; to be with us now as a fellow pilgrim, a prayer partner, an encourager, a Paraclete, One who walks by our side. Then, Lord, how precious the day when we see Thee face to face, kneel at Thy blessed feet, kiss Thy precious hands. These wounds, nailed to a tree for us, dying in our stead, that we might have eternal life in heaven [John 3:16], O Christ, how precious You are to us. And our Lord, in this moment of appeal, may God touch the heart, appeal to the soul in these who want to accept Thee as Savior [Romans 10:9-13]; who want to come into the fellowship of our church; who want to answer God’s call in their heart and life. Send them to us now, dear Lord, and we will praise Thee forever for the sweet gift, in Thy saving and keeping name. Amen.
In just a moment, we’ll stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, to come; or a couple you, or one somebody, you, answering God’s call in your heart, make that decision now, and upon the first note of the first stanza, come. Welcome, angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
WE BEGIN OUR FORTY-FIFTH YEAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Our church poised, ready to soar
1. Sunday school, outreach, extended properties
2. This is the day of the mega-church
3. Call of our commitment to the task
II. Building upon the 44 years of this ministry
1. Why throw it away and start over?
2. A delicate arrangement
3. A call to prayer
III. The lost world’s desperate need of our witnessing appeal
1. Our church is a lighthouse by a stormy sea
2. Evils of secular education, God prohibited in public schools
3. The message of salvation is the hope of the world
IV. Our support for the work of Christianity
1. We are all a part
2. The appeal to give
V. Watching, waiting, praying, working, preparing for the coming of the Lord
1. Always imminent
2. Mt. Zion, tomb of David, Upper Room
3. One thousand years is a day