VISIONS IN OUR SOUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-3-90 7:30 p.m.
And we welcome the throngs of you who are sharing this hour on radio. This is the first service in the new year; and may it be a sign, a portent, the beginning of the finest year we have ever known. And I speak of that ministry in this message. It is entitled Visions in Our Soul. And the title comes from a quotation of Simon Peter in his message at Pentecost. In Acts 2:17, he says, quoting Joel, "It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams" – visions in our soul.
And one of them concerns the ministry of our dear church in the heart of this vast metroplex. In Luke chapter 19, verse , the physician writes of our Savior: "When He was come near, on the Mount of Olives, He beheld the city, and wept over it." The desperate spiritual need of the city is manifest in every facet and every area of life. It is here that mammon, in the city, that mammon is worshiped. It is here in the city that Satan has his throne and his power is most concentrated. It is here that the magnates of finance and banking and merchandising color and control the life of the entire nation; in the city. It is here where thousands and thousands of young people come to find a life out of college, or even out of high school. It is a rare thing that you will find a young man or a young woman who stays in a rural area or in a small village. They come to the city, practically all of them, and they’re here seeking some kind of fortune and future. And it is in the critical years of their lives that they are here in this most dangerous of environments. And it is in the city where the crushed victims of sin congregate: men, women, who’ve lost the battle.
I was told a few days ago that right down the street where we live there are prostitutes who ply their trade every day. I’m unaware of it, unconscious of it; but it’s just typical of the fallen nature of the city.
In the development of society, in the continuation of the history of the families of the earth, is it ever thought for, ever envisaged that the city will cease to be? It is just the opposite: whatever the development of civilization, the city is always the focal point of growth, the congregation of the families of the earth, in the city. And lest you might think that the spreading of the city does away with the heart of it, you look at any city, including ours, these expressways are built to deliver thousands of people every day into the heart of the city. And these rapid transit services are always made to bring more people at a faster rate into the city. And did you ever think in reading the Bible, in the Revelation, in the Apocalypse, in God’s picture of humanity to the consummation of the age, He does it in terms of a city. The seven cities of Asia are God’s prophetic outline of human life to the end of the earth. In the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation is the great merchandising city of Babylon. And of course, the consummation of God’s purpose of grace for us is that we’re fellow citizens in the city of God, the New Jerusalem.
Is the abandonment of the inner city by the church pleasing to the Lord? I cannot think of any ecclesiastical development that must break the heart of God more than the leaving of the heart of the city to the emissaries of Satan, and they move out to greener pastures. You look at that a minute. Any time there is a new suburb built around the city of Dallas, you’ll find an immediate effort to establish a church in the community. That’s true of the denomination; it’s true of all of the leadership in the families of God. Tell me, has anybody in your purview ever spoken to you about the building of a church in the heart of Dallas? Has it even been thought of, much less discussed or projected? Since I have been pastor of this congregation, I have seen eleven downtown churches either give up or move out. It is not in the purview, it’s not in the thought, it’s not in the planning, it’s not in the prayerful intercessions of the people that we do anything about the heart of a great city – and that includes ours, the city of Dallas.
Can a church be too big? The church at Jerusalem had at least a minimum of fifty thousand members. The incomparable preacher John Chrysostom of Antioch had over one hundred thousand members. The city is a golden place for the building of a vast, expansive ministry. We just never think about it, and we never think in terms of it. Rather, our whole purview, our whole survey of the ministry of God in our cities is we think of them in terms of death, or of moving out, or ceasing to exist.
That’s why to us in this great First Baptist Church of Dallas there is a fundamental everlasting commitment to the purpose that we build here a tremendous lighthouse for God. And we do it in the ways that I’m going to name in this message now.
Let me ask you a question, to begin with. Out of all of the expenditures of government – and they are endless – billions and billions of dollars, and going into debt, and going into a greater deficit, spending, spending, spending, let me ask you, in all of your life did you ever hear anyone, anywhere raise an objection to building, say, a lighthouse to guide the traffic of the sea to a safe haven of life and rest? Did you ever hear of anybody anywhere objecting to building a lighthouse? Nor do I think there would ever be a hesitancy to support a great expansive program that is dedicated to saving the lost, to preaching the gospel, to bringing people to Jesus. Just to name it is to find in us an unconscious response of prayer and support.
And that leads me to the thing that I have prayed for, for years, that has never come to pass: I have talked to the staff, I have preached from the pulpit, I have worked with the leadership of the church, as a minimum goal to reach eight thousand in Sunday school every Lord’s Day, a minimum of eight thousand souls. We have never achieved it, never. Once in a great while we’ll have a great day, maybe have ten thousand here. One time not long ago we had twelve thousand here. But we have never had a sustained attendance of eight thousand souls here in our Sunday school. I pray that God will place it in the hearts of our people, our staff, our deacons, our Sunday school leadership, our membership, our prayer partners and fellow pilgrims, God helping us, we’re going to set as a minimum of souls for us to reach every Sunday at least eight thousand.
Now, I want to tell you how to do it. And I am addressing especially my young friend and minister of education, Jody Mazzola. Anything that is built is built by little pieces, little pieces. Look at your body: it was one cell, one. Then it was two cells. Then it was four, then it was eight, then it was sixteen, then it was thirty-two, then it was sixty-four, and finally you, composed of millions and millions of little infinitesimal cells. You are built by little pieces. That’s the way the nation is built. You have a precinct, you have a district, you have a congressional area, you have a state, you have a nation; it’s built by pieces. That’s the way an army is built: you have the corporal, you have the sergeant, you have the captain, you have the colonel, you have the general. All things are built by little pieces. And my young friend, Jody Mazzola, that’s the way to built a great Sunday school, is by these units, by these pieces. That’s why we have bought that 505 North Ervay building: in order that we might multiply the units in our teaching and outreach ministries.
Right now, yesterday, day before that, right now our people ought to be over there in that building, making a place for Charles Lowry’s Sunday school class, getting it out of the Fairmont Hotel, and making a gracious, beautiful, inviting place in that building for that class. Right now, yesterday and the day before, we ought to be hard at work building our Doctors and Dental division here in the church. It used to be a flourishing unit; now hardly exists. Over there in that building, creating a fine place for our Doctors and Dental unit here in the church. And that of course carries with it a vast ministry in the medical centers of this great metroplex, inviting nurses, and doctors, and physicians, and pharmacists, and everybody that has to do with health, inviting them to come and to listen to the Word of God, teaching them how to be saved. Our Young Marrieds, our Young Adult divisions, ought to be expanding. They say they have no opportunity to expand. They now fill the C.E. building. Wonderful! Let’s take the Median Adult division out of the top, and send it over there to the 505 North Ervay building, and then let our Young Married and let our Young Adult divisions expand. Everywhere in the Sunday school, Jody Mazzola, there ought to be a plan to expand the units in our church. That’s the way we came into existence. That’s the way we grew. That’s the way anything grows, is by little units, little pieces added, added, added. And that’s the way to build a great teaching ministry and a great Sunday school outreach.
So we’re going to pray for it, and we’re going to pray especially for Jody Mazzola. Now, son, I want you to come down here on this lower pulpit level, and kneel down there, and face our congregation. You kneel down there. And Eugene Green, where are you, son? The chairman of our deacons, I want you to come down there where he is – no, down here – I want you to put your – I want you to be on that side, stand on that side – I want you to put your hands on his head. Now you kneel down. You kneel down. That’s the way. And put your hand on his head. And David Lay, David Lay representing our staff, I want you to go down there and kneel, and put your hand upon his head. Eugene Green representing our deacons, our lay people, and David Lay representing our staff. As you heard, when he was introduced, he’s not only assistant to the pastor, he’s the leader of our Young Adult division. And Lanny Elmore, I want you to come and kneel in front, and I want you to put your hand upon his head.
Our tremendous outreach ministry, led by Lanny Elmore, has an infinite opportunity to win people to Christ, to bring them into these chapels. I was dumbfounded last Sunday night, I was overwhelmed: there were more than twenty Russians here, seated right back there. And when the service was done, they wanted me to come and to speak to them. And I asked, "Where in the earth did you come from?" And this was the answer: our Cambodian mission has moved out. The Cambodians have been taken away from our city. But, there are Russians who are coming into the city of Dallas; and twenty of them were here at church, and all twenty of them are now members of that mission that used to be Cambodian. And they have other Russian families, I’ve learned. And we ought to reach for them. We ought to bring them into the house of God. We ought to win them to Christ. We ought to teach them the blessed saving message of Jesus. God will work with us, and He will help us to do it.
Now, Fred McNab, while these three representative men of our church have their hands on the head of our minister of education, I want you to come up here and pray, as a minimum goal that we’ll reach eight thousand in Sunday school every Lord’s Day. And then if the Spirit of God works mightily with us, we’ll make it nine thousand, ten thousand, eleven thousand, twelve thousand. We have the room here to take care of those thousands of souls. We just need the heart and the spirit and the dedication to do it. Now Fred McNab, you come here and pray for your compatriot, Jody Mazzola, as he leads us in that tremendous conquest. Fred McNab: We are asking and pleading and begging that You will help us do what we know we need to do and God, there’s no doubt in any of our minds that there are people in this city that have absolutely no affiliation with any kind of a religious group, or church, or organization at all, and they are as lost as can be. They don’t know who You are, they don’t know anything about You. And Father, we are also aware that we come in contact with those people when we leave this place. And mostly, and mostly to our own shame, we are aware that we haven’t done a great deal about it. And Father, I pray for each one of us. I pray for Jody as he leads us. I pray that You would give him insight that he doesn’t have himself, You would give him ways that he can’t even think of, that he would know they are come directly from You. And I pray that somehow You would help him as he motivates us to do what we need to do to start new units, to start new beginnings. And Father, it’s not a matter of eight thousand, it’s a matter of one by one, it’s a matter of people needing to know You, it’s a matter of people needing to know You personally and then needing to know more about You; and then being able to go and share You, and being able to influence the people around them. And Father, we know it’s a multiplication process. We know that as that happens, people are drawn in by all sides. And so Father, I pray especially for all of us. And Father it’s true that many of us are just so comfortable in the fact that we know You, and we have a place to go, and we have a Sunday school class that loves us, and we get so comfortable, that we tend to forget there are people that don’t know anything about what we’re comfortable about. And so Father, I pray that if You have to make us uncomfortable, that You would do that. I pray that You would do whatever You have to do, to lead us in the way that we need to go, so that we would be willing to follow our leadership, we would be willing to follow Jody, we’d be willing to follow those in terms of our own departments, and even our own classes; and that You would make us uncomfortable to the point that we would realize the people all around us that need mainly to know You. And Father, we want to do it all, not because we want to be known as the largest church, but because we want to be known as the church who cares and who loves people mostly, and as people who really care about people who go through this life and have no idea, no concept of who You are. And God I pray, that if it is that this is the last decade, I pray that if You are coming soon, that Father that will inspire us, and that we’ll realize that we don’t have much time to do what we’ve been called to do, and that we must be busy doing it. So Father, I pray for all of us, and I do pray especially for Jody tonight, and I pray for all those he leads. I pray You would give them a special portion of your grace and leadership. And then I pray that we would follow, not with fear, but we would follow with the knowledge that we are doing what You have called us to do, and that we would follow realizing that actually we are being obedient. And I pray that that would be the case of everyone here, and those who participate Sunday in Sunday school. And God, we ask that You would lead us especially, and that we would follow You in a great way through our own pastor, as You encourage and as You strengthen him, as he leads all of us. So we thank You for this, Father, and we pray all this in Your name, amen. Amen.
Thank you, men. The Lord be good to you.
There is one thing that God has done for our church that is amazing! You have to have facilities to do a great work in a great city; you can’t do it without them. What arms are to a soldier, what a trowel is to a mason, what a hammer and a saw are to a carpenter, facilities are to the people of God. In the New Testament when they began, they used the temple and its area. As they were scattered abroad, they used the school of Tyrannus, such as in Ephesus; and they used the homes of the people throughout the empire. God has given to us the most extensive facilities of any church that I know. And as though God were not good enough to us in these days and years past, He has placed in our hands that 505 North Ervay building. One day ago it was signed and sealed, given to us for $9.23 a square foot. You can’t paint your house for $9.23 a square foot. It was a miracle. That building immediately across the street from us cost over $250 to $300 a square foot. And we bought that building for $9.23 a square foot. It’s eleven stories. We have the opportunity to reach people here by the thousands and the thousands. And if God will hear our prayers, we offer ourselves in His grace and goodness to be used of the Lord to reach these people for Him.
Now I have a very mundane conclusion to this appeal. How do you support a ministry like that, reaching people? How do you support it? You can think and think forever, and you will never improve upon the Word of the Lord; you’ll never do it. It is a simple commitment on the part of God’s people. "On the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by for God as the Lord has prospered him." [1 Corinthians 16:2].
What shall I lay by for God on the first day of the week? Two things. Number one: "The tithe is holy unto the Lord" [Leviticus 27:30]. Whatever comes into my hands in the prosperity and remembrance of God for me, one-tenth of it I will faithfully set aside for Him. And then I will add to it from time to time an offering. This is God’s tithe, sacred to Him; and this is my offering, over and above. That’s God’s plan. And when we obey it and follow it, God does something to you: He prospers you, He blesses you, He gives you His presence, His help, His wisdom. God does something for you. No man ever out-gave the Lord. And when we give ourselves to this kind of a ministry in the heart of this great city, O God, what will happen before our very eyes, precious Jesus? Let us see a marvelous outpouring of Your Spirit. Please, God, let our eyes see it, and our hearts feel it, and our souls rejoice in it.
Preaching the gospel: Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Preaching the gospel: He was buried, and the third day He was raised for our justification. And all who find refuge in Him will someday rejoice in His presence in the kingdom of God, in that upper and better world in heaven.
Oh, what a glorious message God has given us! What a marvelous salvation we have experienced! And what a sweet, precious privilege to share it with the families and homes in our city who are lost! God bless us as we commit ourselves to this new year.
Now, Fred, I want us to sing a stanza of a hymn. And I’m going to stand here in this lower pulpit. And while we sing this stanza of a hymn, if there is someone present tonight to give himself in faith to the Lord Jesus, or a family, or couple, or one somebody you to come into the fellowship of our church, how welcome into the kingdom, into the communion of God’s family, while we stand and while we sing.