Facing The Future with God
January 7th, 1990 @ 10:50 AM
1 Thessalonians 5:5-25
FACING THE FUTURE WITH GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:5-11, 23-24
1-7-90 10:50 a.m.
The title of the sermon this morning is Facing the Future with God. It is my annual state of the church message. Like a general walking up and down the line, looking, reviewing his troops; or like the chairman of a board, with the board members there and he is plotting an advancement for his corporation; or like the president of the United States delivering the State of the Union message, this is a message of the church of this year and of God’s blessing upon us for the future.
You know, could I turn aside and make a little remark here? This is the eighth decade through which I am preaching. Can you believe that? The eighth decade – I started preaching and pastoring in the twenties, then the thirties, the forties, the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, and now the nineties! And we are just getting our second breath to do it better for the years to come. I can hardly believe that. Anyway, thank God for His wonderful goodnesses to me.
The background text will be from 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, reading 5 through 11 first:
Ye all are the children of light, the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
Let us not sleep; let us watch, be sober.
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; for a helmet, the hope of salvation.
For 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.
Wherefore comfort one another together, and edify one another, even as also ye do,
And 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 calleth you, who also will do it.
[1 Thessalonians 5:5-11, 23-24]
As I address our immediate future, there are four things of which I would love to speak. First: to the search committee. I have looked forward to the coming of a comrade and a fellow pastor to work with me in the ministry of this glorious church. I’d like to be called senior pastor; I am now beyond eighty years of age. I would like to be called senior pastor. I would love for him to be designated as pastor. And we’ll work together, pray together, serve God together, build this lighthouse for Christ together. That means somebody that would be a friend and a prayer partner, a fellow pilgrim to be loved and encouraged in the faith.
The search committee was appointed a full one and one-half years ago. For one and one-half years, that committee has been assigned this tremendous task. The time has come when an ultimate decision must be made. It must be made soon. It must be made by Easter. Now during this year and a half that the search committee has been assigned this tremendous appointment, I have been studying the Bible, reading the Bible. And as I have read the Word of God with that in mind, there is something I have discovered I never knew, never was introduced to before. Who is it that under God’s selects these successors? Who?
We begin with Jacob. The birthright belonged to the eldest son. The eldest son was Reuben, and the second was Simeon, the next one was Levi, and so on. But Jacob gave the birthright to the eleventh son, to Joseph. The birthright carried with it a double portion; and Joseph was given two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim, among the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob did that, choosing the eleventh son, Joseph. The blessing belonged to the eldest son also. The blessing was a covenant relationship with Jehovah God, through whom the Messiah someday should come. That blessing belonged to Rueben: if not to Reuben, then to Simeon; if not to Simeon, then to Levi. And Jacob gave it to the fourth son, Judah. Jacob did that. Jacob gave the birthright to Joseph; and Jacob gave the blessing to Judah.
In the passage that you just read concerning Joshua, Moses chose Joshua. Moses did not choose Caleb or any of the seventy elders: Moses chose Joshua. Moses did it. In the anointing of a king for Israel, Samuel did it; the prophet Samuel did it. There stood before him Eliab: "Surely this eldest son of Jesse is he." No. There stood before him Abinadab: "Surely it will be he." There stood before him Shammah: "Surely it will be he." Samuel poured the anointing oil of the kingdom of Israel upon a youth, upon a fair-haired, unshaven, teenage boy named David. Samuel did that. Samuel anointed David king of Israel.
When the time came for David to be translated to God’s heaven, he did not choose as his successor his eldest living son Chileab. He did not choose his second eldest living son Adonijah. David chose Solomon; and Solomon became king of Israel because David chose him. David did that.
Among the great prophets of Israel, Obadiah hid one hundred of them. And out of all of the prophets of Israel, Elijah chose Elisha as his successor. Elijah did it. Elijah did it. He did not choose Obadiah. He did not choose any of the other prophets of Israel. Elijah chose Elisha. Elijah did it.
Our Lord Jesus Christ out of the apostles chose Simon Peter to be the representative to the Jews. He did not choose Andrew, He did not choose any of the others; our Lord chose Simon Peter. He did it. And the same Lord chose the apostle Paul to be the representative of the kingdom of Christ to the Gentiles. He did it.
And Simon Peter chose Marcus: not Tychicus, not one of the other young men. Simon Peter chose Marcus to be his successor in that great work. And Paul chose Timothy, not Titus or other of the men around the apostle. He chose Timothy to be his successor. He did it.
There is no exception to that in the Word of God. From the beginning of it in the Genesis to the consummation of it in the Revelation, there is no exception to it. These men of God chose their successors. And my word to the search committee is this: listen to the Word of the Lord; follow the example of these men of God. Don’t listen to the voice of those who are piously pompous. Listen to the Word of God. And listening and following the Word of the Lord, come and work with your pastor. Let’s call us a man that can be as one with your pastor; a companion, a fellow pilgrim, a pulpiteer in this sacred place, a man of God. And let’s see if the Lord won’t take us to the heights of heaven such as we’ve never experienced in all of the pilgrim days of our earthly journey. If I could paraphrase Robert Browning’s "Rabbi Ben Ezra":
Come and work with me
The best 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!’
Let’s do it. And soon, let’s stand here in this sacred pulpit and announce to our people the coming of a man of God who will be my prayer partner, be pastor of the church; I’ll be the senior leader among the flock. And we’ll serve God as the Lord’s never been served in all of the years of the history of His churches in the earth. Let’s do it.
Number two: our college. Our college and this church are twins: they’re together just like that. And the opportunity, the open door God has set before us in that school, is without parameters: it’s as wide as the world is big. Strange thing how God has worked. This is the most unique institution I know of in the earth. It is an accredited college. The same accreditation given to Texas University, Texas A&M, SMU, to any other of these great universities, the same accreditation accorded to those marvelous institutions is accorded to us. It is an accredited college. But it is a Bible college. You can go to Texas University in many, many areas of study: medicine, engineering, architecture, education, a thousand other studies; so with all these great universities. This school has one tremendous purpose and dedication, and that is to teach the Word of God, to train pastors, and to train missionaries, and to train staff members for the churches. No other institution like that in the earth: a great accredited college dedicated to one thing: teaching and magnifying the infallible Word of the Lord. And it has with it a marvelous attendant: this wonderful school, blessed before the Lord God, is in the love and prayers of an increasing number, an expanding circle of people who are beginning to believe in it, and to love it, and to support it.
O God, how I praise Your name for the marvelous and wonderful school!
I have a reason for that: it is fundamental. Moody Bible Institute was founded over a hundred years ago, and it is as fundamental today as it was when Dwight L. Moody founded it. A school doesn’t have to grow to be liberal, or deny the infallibility and inerrancy of the Word of God. A school can be true to the Bible for all of the years and centuries of its existence. And that’s the characteristic that God will bless this school: a fundamental school. It’s not an institute, like Moody: it’s a college, like the great universities. And for it to be founded and true to the Word of God is a blessing, a gift from heaven.
And as though God were not good enough to give us that kind of a school, He has given us a campus. We now own that beautiful campus on Gaston Avenue, two full blocks, some beautiful buildings. And it is ours; we own it. There is one thing that God looks to us for, and that is to support it. I’ve been introduced to these schools as I’ve never been before. And here’s one thing I have learned: no school is able to support itself; it cannot generate in itself, tuition and otherwise, the support to keep it viable, keep it alive. It has to be supported also from the outside. And for us to do that is a privilege. As the days multiply and the years go on, more and more and more of us will be supporting that great school. I tell you truly, I don’t know of anything in this earth that’s more beautiful to think about, more challenging to the soul, than to educate a preacher, and then he goes out to proclaim the everlasting good news of Jesus; or to educate a missionary and send him to the foreign field. What could be finer in the earth than to do something like that? And by the increasing thousands, I think, we’re going to rise to do just that: to educate these ministers in the Word of God, and to train these missionaries in the great service in which the Lord has called them, and to rejoice in the souls that they win for Jesus.
Number three: this month, and for three months, we are entering a great, tremendous fund-raising appeal among our people. Deacon Dell Rogers will lead it. And he says to me, "We’re not expecting this to be led by the paid staff of the church; we’re expecting this to be led by our lay people, our men and women who belong to the congregation." And he says, "I can assure you, we will not yield." Wonderful! Wonderful, I’ll help every way I can as the pastor and as a paid staff member. But he says, "Our people are going to do it. It’s going to be lay-led."
For one thing, for example, the Hunt Family gave $3,400,000 to buy the campus. They did that with the understanding that our people would match the gift. We have to take the campus, we have to renovate it, we have to make it viable, usable for our school. We will rise to that challenge; it will be a privilege to do it.
There’s one other thing in that appeal, and that is the paying for that 505 North Ervay building just across the street. That is a miracle that I look at and cannot believe; yet it happened before my very eyes. That building there, just one block up – except we have a better location – that building right there in front of our church cost something like $300 a square foot, $300 a square foot, that building right there. We bought that building for $9.23 a square foot. I tell you, good deacon, Marvin Watson, you never did a deal like that in your life! You never did. He was up there in Washington running the White House, and he was up there in Washington running the postal department, and I don’t know what all, but you never did anything like that in the United States of America. It’s a miracle! I still can’t believe what God has done.
One of the big businessmen here in Dallas called a businessman in our church, and said, "I have told a man who said to me you bought that building for $9.23, I called him a liar. No thing like that ever happened in the city, and I want you to tell me, what did you pay for that building?" And my businessman said, "Sir, the man that told you that is not lying to you. We paid $9.23 a square foot." That’s God!
Well, what you going to do with it? By God’s grace and with His help we’re going to fill that building with people being taught the Word of the Lord. We have over here in the Fairmont Hotel Dr. Charles Lowry’s Sunday school class, they get pushed around, pushed out; we’re going to put them over there; this Doctors and Dental division, going to put it over there. We have filled that youth building, the Ruth Ray Hunt building, to its capacity. They’re going to go over there. We don’t have any place for our Young Marrieds to grow. We don’t have any place for our Young Adults to grow. Up there on the top of the C.E. building is the Median Adult division. We’re going to put it over there. And then the whole building, the C.E. building, can be given to our Young Marrieds and our Young Adults. Man, we’re on the way! God helped us. God is with us. And I say it’s a miracle before my eyes just to look at it, just to look at it.
O Lord, how good You are to us!
I must close. It seemed to me about the time I get started up here, that crazy clock says we’re going off the air. My last word concerns us in this dear church. This is our heart. This is our soul. This is our love, our precious congregation, our church. "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25].
These cities, a hundred years ago ninety-nine percent of all the people in the earth lived in the country; they were rural. Even at the turn of the century, ninety-five percent of the people of the world lived in the country. Today, four-fifths of all the human beings that walk on this globe live in the city. The city colors the cultural, educational, political, forensic, financial life of the people. It’s the city. London is England. Paris is France. Rome is Italy. Cairo is Egypt. Moscow is Russia. And as the city turns and moves and goes, the whole nation turns and goes with it.
And here is the tragedy of all tragedies: the church has forsaken that city. There was a survey made of the great cities of America, and the survey found a few years ago two hundred seventy-nine churches inside the inner part of that city. And today there are seventy-six left. Since I have been undershepherd here in this church in Dallas, I have seen eleven, I have seen eleven of our downtown churches either die, go out of existence, or move out to a greener pasture. All through these years, our people have said, "By the grace of God, and with the help from the Spirit of the Lord, we’re staying downtown." We’re preaching the gospel in the heart of this city, and God has blessed us in it.
I want to remind you of one thing: you can’t have a downtown church that is sickly, weak, anemic. Like a mission, it has to be vigorous and viable and dynamic if it is to live. And I don’t watch these guys fighting on television; I don’t know why, but I was just there before a television set, and I happened to be looking at a championship fight. Well, one of those guys got in the ring against the other guy, and in the first round he knocked him 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 out there into the stands. Well, when the points came in, the decision was not forty-three to forty-four, just barely win; and man, he won all eighty-seven points. Now that’s what I want our church to do. I want to knock them out! I want to knock them down! I want to know them through the roof! I want to knock them in the seat. I want to knock them out the window! Boy, let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! We can do it. We can do it.
That means, Jody, we have the best program for our children in the earth, the best program for our young people, the best program for adults, the finest ministry in the city. We have thirty-one chapels. That means, Fred, we’ve got the best music program on the face of the world. We can do it. We can do it.
May I close with this appeal from my own heart for all of us? In the Book of Nehemiah, each man built over against the wall where he lived. That’s the way God intends for us in the building of the house of the Lord: each one of us with an assignment, with a part.
One of the things I have learned in the sixty-three years I’ve been a pastor: people will respond to love, to care; they just will. I don’t care who the guy is or how hard he is: any man, anywhere, will respond to love. It’s like that little boy who was walking across to Chicago to Moody’s Sunday school, and an officer stopped him and said, "Son, why do you walk across Chicago to that Sunday school? Aren’t there Sunday schools out there where you live?" And the little boy said, "Yes sir, but they seem to love a fellow over there." That’s what we want to do: fond love and care for the people. And when we show our interest in them, they will respond.
Great God! I met a family here in the church. I asked them, "Where did you come from? And how come you belong to the church?" And they said, "We never went to church in our lives. We moved here to the city of Dallas, and somebody came to see us. And in that first visit, in our first presence in the church, we all went down the aisle and gave our hearts to the Lord, and we were baptized." One time invited, one time come, and here they are worshipping God with us in the house of the Lord.
I think of that poem of the mystic English William Blake:
Bring me my bow of gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
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.
That’s God’s call for us.
And you who have shared this hour on television, you want to know how to accept Christ as your Savior, you want to know how to go to heaven when you die, on the screen you will find a telephone number. Call us. There’ll be a dedicated man or woman there who will answer, and who will show you how to accept Jesus, how to be saved. And I’ll meet you in heaven one of these great, triumphant, and glorious days.
And in the throng of people in God’s sanctuary this morning, from the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles. "Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’m coming." Bring your family with you. Let’s go to heaven and shout and sing and praise our Lord forever and ever, starting now. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.