Facing The Future With God
January 7th, 1990 @ 8:15 AM
1 Thessalonians 5:5-11
WE FACE THE FUTURE WITH GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:5-28
1-7-90 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the throngs of you who share this hour with us on radio. You are now a part of our wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled We Face the Future with God. It is the annual state of the church message from my heart. What a general does when he walks up and down and looks at the troops and reviews them, what a board chairman does when he has his men and speaks of the advancement of the corporation, what the president of the United States does when he speaks of the State of the Union, that is what we are doing: speaking of the state of our church.
And by the way, this is the eight decade through which I am preaching, the eighth one. I began preaching and pastoring in the twenties, then through the thirties, then through the forties, then through the fifties, then through the sixties, then through the seventies, then through the eighties, and now we’re in the nineties. I can’t believe such a providence of God – eight decades, still at it.
As a background text, 1 Thessalonians 5, beginning at verse 5:
Ye are all the children of light, the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
They that sleep sleep in the night. They that be drunken are drunken in the night.
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love.
God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;
And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.
The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faithful is He that called us, who also will do it.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
[1 Thessalonians 5: 5, 7-10, 12-13, 23-24, 28]
What a wonderful admonition and outline for the work that lies before us.
I have four areas to which we address our prayerful thoughts this precious hour. First: concerning the search committee: we are seeking a man to come and to be with me. I’d like to be called the senior pastor. I’d like for him to be called the pastor. And we work together building up this great household of the Lord. That search committee was appointed one and one-half years ago. The time is critical now; a decision has to be made before Easter of this year. I have studied this Book, this Holy Book, this infallible Word of God; I have studied it for a year and a half now, with relationship to this calling of someone to be with the pastor in adding to the brilliance of the life of the witness of our people. And there is something that I have seen and found in this infallible Word. I never had thought of it before; but studying it in the light of the great future of this church, there is a providence of God that is very apparent. Let’s begin.
In Israel, the birthright belonged to the eldest son. But Jacob gave it to his eleventh son. The birthright belonged to Reuben, the eldest son. Jacob gave the birthright to Joseph, the eleventh son; gave to Joseph a double portion, two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob did that. Jacob did that. The blessing also belonged to the eldest son. The blessing referred to the relationship with Jehovah God, through whom someday the Messiah would come. It should have been given to Reuben; if not to Reuben, then the second son Simeon; if not to the second son, then Levi, the third. Jacob gave it to Judah, the fourth son. Jacob did that. In the passage that you just read, Moses chose Joshua to succeed him. Moses did that. He did not choose Caleb, or any of the other of the elders of Israel: Moses chose Joshua. Moses did that. Samuel anointed David to be king over Israel. He did not choose Eliab, the first son. He did not chose Abinadab, the second son. He did not choose Shammah, the third son. He chose David who was a fair-haired, unshaven teenage boy. Samuel did that. Samuel anointed David to be king over Israel. David, upon the day of his decease, David did not choose his eldest living son Chileab. David did not choose his second eldest living son Adonijah. David chose Solomon to be king over Israel. David did that. David chose Solomon.
There were many prophets in Israel in the days of Elijah. Obadiah, for example, hid away one hundred of them. But out of all of the prophets of Israel, Elijah chose Elisha. Elijah did that. Elijah chose [Elisha].
Jesus chose Peter the apostle to Israel, to the Diaspora, to the Jewish people. Jesus chose Peter. Jesus chose Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Jesus did that. And Simon Peter chose Mark to carry through that work, not Tychicus. And Paul chose Timothy, not Titus, to carry through the leadership of that work to the Gentiles. Paul did it.
When we come to this tremendous decision that is to be made, that colors our church through all the years to come, you tell me what we ought to do. Shall we do according to the Word of God? Or shall we do according to the pompous piosity of some empty-headed somebody who is speaking out of his no-experience? I say let’s do according to the Word of God. Let’s follow the Word of the Lord. Let’s do what God says we’re to do, which has a very simple assignment here in our congregation. Search committee, listen and work with your pastor, according to the Word of God.
What a comradeship and what a relationship we can have, if you will listen to your pastor! We will carry this church to the heights of heaven! God’s in it. The Bible confirms it and reveals it to us. Search committee, work with me. Listen to me. If I could paraphrase Robert Browning’s "Rabbi Ben Ezra":
Search committee, come and work with me
The best in life is yet to be,
The last in life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, ‘A whole life planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!’
God will do a mighty work in this church in these years that unfold if we’ll listen to His voice and if we’ll follow the revelation in Holy Scripture. Search committee, listen, work with me and this pivotal springtime will bring an untold encouragement and an open vista of ministry such as, I think, the world has ever known.
Number two: our college; there is not another institution like that in the earth, not one. It is an accredited institution; it is an accredited school, it is an accredited college. The same accreditation that is accorded to Texas University, to A&M, to SMU, to all of the great universities, the same accreditation has been accorded to us. The difference lies in this: there is not another college in the earth that is dedicated to teaching the Word of God. We’re not training doctors, or engineers, or educational teachers in the public school; we’re training preachers, and missionaries, and staff members. It’s a unique school; there’s none like it in the earth. It is a fundamental school. Like Moody Bible Institute: after a hundred years, Moody Bible Institute is as fundamental and as true to the Word of God as when Dwight L. Moody founded it. The difference between them and us is they are an institute. This is a college, granting an accredited degree. And we have a new campus, beautiful, spacious; the harbinger of an incomparable ministry in teaching God’s Word and training preachers and missionaries through the years that lie ahead. We’ll be moving this fall to our new campus on Gaston Avenue, a beautiful and incomparably marvelous instrument through which we seek to exalt the ministry and the Word of God.
For that college we seek tremendous help. I’ve been introduced to these things to which I had never even thought before. I’ve learned there’s no such thing anywhere in the earth of a college being able to support itself, to sustain itself; it can’t do it. There’s no way possible that a college internally, tuition and otherwise, can generate the support to keep itself viable and alive; it has to be supported from the outside. Wonderful: we’ll take our school to the whole earth, starting with this great congregation, and ask people to sustain it, to educate a preacher or a missionary or a staff member, and to build it as a great instrument under the hands of God in the kingdom of our Savior: building a great Christian school for the training of God’s servants.
Number three: as has been announced, beginning this month of January and continuing for three months, there will be brought to our congregation here the appeal under the direction of Deacon Dell Rogers, a stewardship enrichment program. It has a twofold thrust: one, the Hunt family gave us $3,400,000 for our college, to buy the campus, with the understanding that we would match the gift. So we have to begin with an assignment on our part to be fellow prayer partners in raising $3,400,000 to match that gift on the part of the Hunt family. And it will take more than that to take that property and to make it usable for our school. It has to be greatly remade. But we can do it. All of us sharing, we can do it. And the other part of that tremendous appeal lies in the payment for our 505 North Ervay building. We are expanding; we are planning to expand the ministries of our church. And our minister of education, Jody Mazzola, has already begun. Dr. Charles Lowry’s class, for example, meets over there in the Fairmont Hotel; they are pushed out upon any occasion. We’re going to have a beautiful and permanent place for them in the 505 North Ervay building. We’re going to build a magnificent place for our Doctors and Dental division to meet. Our young people fill the Ruth Ray Hunt building: there’s not a space over there for anything else. We can advance in the 505 North Ervay building. Our Young Marrieds and our Young Adults have no way in the earth to expand. The C.E. building is filled. We’re going to take out the top: the Median Adult division, meeting up there on those top floors; going to put them over there in the 505 North Ervay building, so that our Young Adults and our Young Marrieds can grow. We’re going to put over there several of these tremendously effective chapel ministries we have, such as among Japanese and Chinese and Arabs and work like that.
That is a miracle, that building. It is eleven stories tall. It is cater-cornered from the post office. We bought that building for $9.23 a square foot. That building right across the street from us cost something like $300 a square foot; $300 a square foot that building there. We bought that building one block away, eleven stories, built like the Rock of Gibraltar, we bought it for $9.23 a square foot. There is a businessman here in this audience, and another businessman called him on the telephone and said, "The most unthinkable thing I ever heard of in my life is I have heard that the First Baptist Church got that building for $9.23 a square foot. I said that’s a lie, nothing like that could happen in Dallas today. And I want you to tell me, what did you pay for it?" And he replied, "We paid for it $9.23 a square foot." It’s the hand of God working with us. The Lord is for us. God is with us. And the Lord has assigned us the most tremendous part in the kingdom of God in our generation, in this twentieth century, and into the twenty-first.
And that leads me to my fourth assignment: God’s hand upon us in this sanctuary, and in this church, and in this congregation. It’s a remarkable thing what has happened demographically among the nations of the world. A hundred years ago, ninety-nine percent, ninety-nine percent of all the world’s population lived in the country, lived in rural areas and small villages, ninety-nine percent of them. Even at the turn of the early 1900’s, ninety-five percent of the population of the world lived in rural areas. Today something like four-fifths of the entire number of humanity lives in these cities. And that’s true with us here in America and here in the state of Texas.
These cities define and control the cultural and economic and political and educational life of the nation. London is England. Paris is France. Rome is Italy. Cairo is Egypt. Moscow is Russia. As those cities turn and go, so turn and go the entire population of the nation. And the greatest tragedy that I know in human history: the church has forsaken the inner city.
I read a week ago a survey had been made of the distinctive cities in America. And a few years ago, there were two hundred seventy-eight churches in those cities, downtown. Today there are seventy-six. In the years of my ministry here in Dallas, I have seen eleven downtown churches either move out or cease to exist.
What of us? What of the First Baptist Church in Dallas? From the beginning of the existence of this congregation, there has been an unswerving dedication, a decisive giving of ourselves to, God helping us, we’re going to build this lighthouse for Christ downtown. There has never been a deviation from that dedication. And it can’t be sickly, and anemic, and wobbly, and feeble; if it lives, it has to be tremendously alive and dynamic.
I don’t ever watch a boxing match, but I don’t know why I just happened to be seated there before a television set, and there were two fellows boxing, fighting, for the championship of the world. And there they were, those two men in the ring, fighting for the championship of the world. And one of those guys in the first round knocked the other one down. And in the second round, he knocked him down twice. And in the third round, he knocked him down three times. And in the fourth round, he knocked him through the ropes and into the stands. And when they counted the points, it wasn’t forty-three to forty-four, it was eighty-seven for that guy that had knocked the other clear out of existence. And that’s the way this church ought to be: we’re not just barely alive, and we’re not just winning by the skin of our teeth, and we’re not building a wobbly, feeble congregation, but we’re building the most dynamic witness in this earth! None like it, none like it.
That means a program. We want the best children’s program in existence. We want the best young people’s program in existence. We want the best adult program in existence; we want the best music program in existence. We want the greatest ministry to these minorities, our thirty-one chapels, in existence. We’re not playing at serving God; this is our life’s blood, God standing by us and helping us.
And for that, we need facilities. What arms are to a soldier, or what a trowel is to a mason, or what a hammer and a saw is to a carpenter, facilities are to those who minister in a great program for God; and that is the most marvelous thing and miraculous thing that I know of in this earth: the facilities God has given us here is unthinkable and unimaginable! We can teach twelve thousand every Sunday here, and not be crowded, twelve thousand. It’s unthinkable. We have had over twelve thousand here in Sunday school, and nobody ever said to me, "We were crowded out the wall." God has given us facilities unexcelled; starting there at the post office, going clear to Ross Avenue, God’s done it.
And of course, for us to be blessed by the Spirit of the Lord, there must be a personal response: God’s call to me, to us.
People are strange. They respond to love and to care. If you’re interested, they’re interested. A policeman stopped a little boy walking across Chicago to Moody’s Sunday school, and said, "Son, why in the earth to you walk across this city to go to Moody’s Sunday school, when you’ve got Sunday schools all around you?" The little boy replied, "Mister, they seem to love a guy over there" – makes a difference.
One of the most amazing things I stumbled across in our dear church: I met a family, visited momentarily with a family, the whole family, and I asked them where they came from: from some other city outside. "How come you to come to our dear church?" And they said, "We had never been in church in our lives, never in our lives. But somebody from the First Baptist Church came and visited us, and upon their first visit, we responded and came to church. And in the first service, the whole family of us, gave our hearts to the Lord Jesus, and you baptized us." I couldn’t believe my ears: first time they’d ever been in church, and the whole family here baptized into the faith.
It can be done. And by God’s grace the Lord has chosen us to do it.
I think of that mystic poet of England, William Blake:
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
O bring me my chariot of fire.
We shall not cease from battle strife
Nor shall the sword sleep in our hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In this fair and pleasant land.
Come with me, dear people; let’s build and rise and work and shine for Jesus, the greatest year and the greatest decade we’ve ever known. God love us in the way.
The gospel: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried and He was raised again according to the Scriptures; and to those who look in faith and trust to Him, He grants us eternal life in this world and in the world to come.
And in this first Lord’s Day of this new year, to give your heart in faith to the Lord Jesus, to come into the fellowship of our dear church, while we sing this hymn of invitation, on the first note of the first stanza, come, and welcome. God bless, angels attend, while we stand and while we sing.