Our Five-Year Achievement Program

Nehemiah

Our Five-Year Achievement Program

April 21st, 1974 @ 10:50 AM

Nehemiah 2:18

Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work.
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OUR FIVE-YEAR ACHIEVEMENT PROGRAM

Dr. W.A. Criswell

Nehemiah 2:18, 4:6

4-21-74    10:50 a.m.

 

 

On the radio and on television we welcome you to the services of our First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Our Five-Year Achievement Program.  Practically all of the Bible was written by an apostle or by a prophet, but there are some books in the Holy Scriptures that were written by laymen.  Daniel, for example, was a statesman; he was a seer, but he primarily was a prime minister.  He was an official in the Babylonian and in the Persian governments.  He was a layman, a statesman.  Nehemiah was a layman; God’s consecrated, devout servant.  He also was prime minister of the Persian Empire; stood next to the king.  And as a layman, he came to his own people and told them of the "hand of my God which was good upon me.  And they said, Let us rise up and build.  So they strengthened their hands for this good work" [Nehemiah 2:18].  And I turn the page, as Nehemiah, God’s layman, writes, "And so we built,for the people had a mind to work" [Nehemiah 4:6].

That would look good in any situation.  Whether you were watching a field on the farm or watching the herds on a ranch or watching a great business institution downtown, anywhere in the earth, that sentence would look good, "For the people had a mind to work"; united in a common determination.  But how splendidly appropriate are the words when they are applied to the house of God and the people of the Lord as they were here by this layman Nehemiah. 

As you know, Sunday a week ago, Sunday before Easter, I prepared and delivered an address here at this hour on a five-year plan for our people.  In that program, there was laid before us goals, not fantastically unrealistic, but they were obtainable, they are reachable.  They are capable of achievement by our church.  One of them, for example, was that we have an average attendance in our Sunday school of 8,300.    Another one was that we win to Christ and baptize into the fellowship and communion of His church at least 1,200 every year.  There were other like goals of achievement and outreach.  At the service, Sunday a week ago, at which time that message was delivered, there was a visitor here who also brought a friend; they live in another state.  And the week that followed, I received a letter from him, and he said, "I came to church and brought a lost friend; he needed to be saved and my own heart needed to be encouraged and uplifted, but instead of an evangelistic sermon, we heard a message on some kind of a church program."  He said he was deeply disappointed and then closed his letter with this sentence, "I think you ought to preach the gospel and leave the five-year program to God." 

Well, what do you think about that?  I am not suggesting that the man wrote in sarcasm or in bitterness.  He was merely writing what he thought is the difference between the gospel and the building up of the church.  I wish sometimes that he be right, that all the assignment that the pastor faces would be to preach on John 3:16 or Acts 16:30: "What must I do to be saved?"  It would greatly simplify our task and would certainly be easy for us who would like to sit at ease in Zion.  But I’m not sure that you divide the gospel like that.  That this is the gospel, a sermon on what must I do to be saved, but this is not the gospel, how I must build up the church of the living Lord. 

For I remember in the first chapter of the Apocalypse:

 

I John,your brother in tribulation,was in the isle of Patmos for the word of God, and the testimony of the Lord.  I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying: I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. . . .  And I turned to see the voice that spake unto me.  And being turned, I saw seven lampstands; And in the midst of the seven lampstands, One like unto the Son of God, girt about the breast with a golden girdle.

[Revelation 1:9-11, 12-13]

 

And then follows the description of the sublime and iridescent and glorified Lord.  Where did John see Him?  "In the midst of the seven lampstands."  And what are the seven golden lampstands?  A little down in the chapter it says, "And the seven lampstands are the seven churches of Asia" [Revelation 1:20].  What is a lampstand?  It holds up the light.  Is it the light?  No.  For Christ is the light thereof.  And the glory of the gospel message shines from the face of Jesus Christ.  But the lampstand holds it up.  The church holds it up! [2 Corinthians 4:6].  The light would lie on the ground and would not shed its beams of salvation and glory abroad if it lay on the ground.  But the lampstand holds it up.  And the church that is built holds up the light of the glory of God in Jesus Christ. 

 

God builds no churches by His plan. 

That labor has been left to man. 

No spires miraculously arise. 

No little mission from the skies

Falls on bleak and barren place

To be a source of strength and grace. 

The humblest church demands its price

In human toil and sacrifice. 

Men call the church the house of God

Toward which the toil-stained pilgrims trod

In search of strength and rest and hope

As blindly through life’s mist they grope. 

And there God dwells,

But it is man who builds that house and draws the plan. 

Pays for mortar and the stone

That none need seek God alone. 

The humblest spire in mortal kin

Where God abides was built by men. 

And if the church is still to grow,

Is still the light of hope to throw

Across the valley of despair,

Men still must build God’s house of prayer. 

God sends no churches from the skies,

Out of our hearts they must arise.

[Edgar A. Guest, "God Builds No Churches"]

 

It is we who build the lampstand and hold up the light of the glory of God.  Now, in building up the house of the Lord, in raising the church of faith, I do not hide my face from the desperate fact that it costs in sacrifice, in toil, and in fortune.  The kingdom of God is put together like that.  It costs. 

Upon a day, the sons of Zebedee came to see the Lord Jesus.  And they requested, "Master, when You come into Your kingdom, grant to us that one of us may sit on Your left hand and one on Your right hand."  And the Lord replied, "Can you drink the cup that I drink?  And can you be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"  And they said, "We can."  And the Lord looked at those two boys – James and John, brothers – long and earnestly, and He said, "Ye shall indeed be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.  And you shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of" [Mark 10:35-39], for the Lord looking beyond, into the years of the life of those two brothers, saw James beheaded, a martyr by the sword of Herod Agrippa I [Acts 12:1-2], and John, exiled to die of exposure and starvation on the lonely, rocky isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9].  In the Holy Scriptures, it is at a cost and at a sacrifice, in toil and blood and fortune that the house of God is built.  Am I therefore to cringe before it; to hide my face from it; to seek refuge and escape from the assignment?  Under God, a thousand times, no!  Its cost in toil, in love, in devotion, in commitment, in fortune are welcomed by my soul.  I am blessed by it, and I gladly assume its responsibility. 

There was a man who had a boy, and he said to a friend, "The boy is very expensive.  He costs and costs and costs.  He must have shoes, and they cost.  And clothes and they cost.  And then he wants a bat and a ball and a mitt, and they cost.  And he wants skates, and they cost.  Everything about him costs."  And the friend replied, he said, "I understand all about that for I also had a boy, and he wanted skates, and they cost.  And he wanted a bicycle, and it cost.  And all of his clothes they cost."  But he added, "My boy costs me nothing now; nothing.  For you see, we buried my boy about three weeks ago.  He costs nothing; maybe the small sum to mow the grass above his grave; costs nothing."   Do we not together thank God for the children for which we must provide in the church?  Do we not thank God for our young marrieds who bring their babies down here to this church?  Do we not thank God for every program that enlists and reaches out and invites to God the homes, the families, the children, the fathers and mothers of the congregation?  Costs, yes – but a cost we are happy to assume, a responsibility we are grateful and glad to bear. 

Now, as we face the program of our church, there are dreams in our hearts of things that we would like.  I think of many, many things that I would love for us to possess.  Some of these we are working on, asking God to bring them to reality.  But these are some of the dreams that I have in my heart:  I wish we had a fine organ.  Our present organ was placed in the church in 1890 and has been added to and worked on through the years since.   I wish we had a glorious organ, a new organ.  I wish we had a retreat, a large acreage somewhere and we could have a summer program all the months and weeks long, even in the wintertime, maybe all the year round.  I wish we had a gift like that.  We are working for and praying for our retirement center, a place we could pray that could be close to the church and the people live with us in the circle of this glorious koinonia.  I could pray that God would give us an increasingly open door in television and in radio that we could share the glorious, glad message of Christ with thousands and thousands still others.  We need right now four mission homes for furloughing missionaries who come back and have no place to live. 

I could wish that somehow, sometime, the necessity of a library expansion might come to pass.  Our school must have a library, and our Bible Institute cannot find accreditation without it.  We desperately need an enlarged facility to house a library.  Dr. Leo Eddleman, the president of our Bible Institute, and I shall give our libraries to our Bible Institute.  Both of us have agreed to do it, and that means that there must be found a place for something like twelve to fifteen thousand volumes. 

I dream in my heart of a dining hall.  Oh, I wish I had that, a dining hall where at least two thousand could be seated, and for example, every Wednesday night we would invite our friends and our neighbors to sit down and break bread with us.  And around the tables, the pastor would break also, the bread of life, God’s Word.  These are dreams that I could pray in times to come might come to pass.  These and other things, but I am not speaking of them now.  I am speaking now of the necessities that God has placed upon us.  There are some things that, as a church and as a people, we must face and responsibilities we must accept. 

May I illustrate?  And these are just illustration: there will come to me the leadership of our Nursery division, and they will say to me, "Pastor, there must be found a way to expand our nurseries.  We cannot have young married couples come and bring us the baby to keep while they’re in Sunday school, and there’s no place for the child.  Pastor, somehow you must provide us space for the nursery."  No sooner do I hear them say, "There must be found an area where we now have all the nurseries on the second floor and the third floor of this Truett Building.   We must find space for them.  It must be done.  And especially, if we enlarge our outreach and bring other people to Christ, there must be room for the babies."  No sooner do I hear them make that appeal, than there comes to me the minister of music and the leadership of our music program, and they say, "Pastor, it is impossible for us to grow and difficult for us even now to continue in the cramped area that is allotted to the choir and our orchestra.  We desperately need a place where we can meet, where we can practice, where we can robe, and where we can prepare to come into the auditorium."  And they will say to me, "The only area close to the auditorium that is available for us, that is possible for us is the area that is now occupied by the nursery." I have just been listening to the nursery appeal, "We must have an area in which to expand."  And while the words still are on my heart and in my ears, then comes the leadership of our music ministry and say, "The area occupied by the nursery somehow must be made available to us."  What do you do?  Where do you turn?  And what do you say?  Shall I say to the nursery, "Let’s just forget that these babies and children belong to these young families, and when they come to the door and ask that we take care of the child, you tell them we’re not that much interested, close the door and bid them goodbye."  Would you?  Could you? 

And what shall I say of the choir?   This last week I was reading the twenty-third and the twenty-fourth and the twenty-fifth chapters of 1 Chronicles.  They describe what King David did in praising the Lord.  And as I read, they say there were thirty-eight thousand Levites, and of those thirty-eight thousand David set aside four thousand to praise the Lord with the instruments which I made, saith David, in praise therewith [1 Chronicles 23:3-5]. Then I turn the page and I read where there were two hundred eighty-eight of them skilled in instruments, and they guided the others and the untaught how to praise the Lord with beautiful instruments, "With the harp, with the psaltery, with the cymbal."  And then I read, "And these four thousand Levites and the two hundred eighty-eight pieces of orchestra, they prophesied; they prophesied with harps and with psaltery and with psalms." 

Why, pastor, surely prophecy, that’s to tell the future.  That’s how language can mislead us, how nomenclature can change, how semantics can deceive us.  Prophecy in the sense of foretelling the future is a late, late use of the word.  A prophet might incidentally foretell some great event, but the word refers to no such thing at all.  Prophecy, prophecy is a man who speaks or a instrument that is played or a song that is sung under the divine inspiration of God!  And in the Bible, when a man was moved by the Spirit of God, he prophesied!  And when instruments of song and music of praise lifted up the hearts of heaven, they called it prophecy!  There’s a whole lot of that that has been held over into our modern nomenclature.  A man that can write glorious poetry or write glorious secular music, we say "He is inspired."  There is a moving in it from above.  There is a genius from heaven in it.  We still have a repercussion of that meaning of the word in the old Bible.  You see, a man can be moved to love God and to praise the Lord by song and by psaltery and by harp just as he can by a spoken word.  And that’s why they say these prophesied with harps, and with psaltery, and with songs, and with psalms. Dear people, you cannot know how deeply I am committed to building up the praise of God and the prophecies of the Lord with orchestra and with choir, with cymbal, with harp, with psaltery, with trumpet.  Shall I then, feeling that way, having read it in God’s Book, shall I say to our minister of music and the leadership of our choir, "You just forget it?  We want to praise God maybe, we would love to exalt the name of our Lord possibly, but not really, not actually, not movingly."  O Lord, no.  No.  No!  What shall I do?  What shall I say to our glorious minister of music and our program of praise and prophecy, and what shall I say to these who keep our little ones?  What? 

All right, just another illustration: there will come to me the principal of our First Baptist Church school, and here again, you’re touching the very heart of the pastor, for education belongs to the church!  It was born in the church, and they stole it away!  Education found its birth in the house of God.  And to teach the child the Word and the way of the Lord is our heavenly assignment and prerogative.  My heart is in the schools.  So the principal will come to me and say, "Pastor, we must have the gymnasium.  We must have the gymnasium.  For it to be a school of any accredited standing, there must be a physical education program, and it is the delight of our boys and girls to compete in sports.  We must have the gymnasium.  We must have."  And no sooner does he leave the study laying that appeal on my heart, than the minister of missions comes, and he says, "Pastor, we must have the gymnasium for our boys and girls in our missions.  That’s the only way that we can get them to come.  We don’t have any other recourse.  But if we can promise the boy and the girl that if they’ll come to our mission Sunday schools" – and there’s seven of them – "if they come to our mission Sunday schools, we’ll take them to the recreation building in the church, and there they can play."  And to a boy living in poverty and a girl living in need, a dreary, dull life, to that child coming to the recreational building here is a bright, happy, little place in their lives.  So the minister of missions says to me, "We must have the gymnasium," and they now possess it three days and nights in the week.  It’s given to the missions.  So the principal of the school says, "Pastor, we must have it.  It is a necessity for us.  We must."  And the minister of missions says to me, "Pastor, we must have it.  We must.  We lose our appeal to reach these boys and girls if you deny it to us." In the agony of the decision, what would you do?  What would you say?  I must say something?  What shall I say to our principal in the school?  And what shall I say to our minister of missions?  What shall I do? 

I just mentioned one or two other things that have been pressed upon me this week.  One: as you know, this is an old, old church.  I got a call from Time Magazine one time and from New York City, and we had been involved in one of these national questions, and the reporter wanted to know, "How old is your church?" He thought we might be a fly-by-night bunch down here, just popping off, you know.  I said to him, "Sir, we are one hundred seventeen years young.  That’s how old we are.  We’ve been at it a long time, and these facilities that you look at were built in 1890, in 1890."  So this last week there was brought to me the necessity of meeting city standards in our buildings.  Shall we defy the city?  The last people in the world that ought to dodge behind codes and the laws is the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  We ought to be the first to conform to government and to law.  And to bring our facilities up to the codes of the standards of the city is a vast outlay we must meet. 

All right, just briefly to mention one other; when we built our Christian Education Building, there were areas vacated when the adults left to go over there.  And those areas have been assigned to our older children.  But a child, in the way that we teach the child, cannot use the facilities that are occupied by adults – the way you teach a child is in a different world from the way you teach an adult, and these facilities must be remodeled – they must be remodeled.  It would be a sin before God to have them here and not use them.  They must be made adequate and congruent.  Then, some of our adult areas are so cramped, and they need an opportunity to expand and to grow.  What do you do with these things?  What do you say?  Well, I have a little plain and simple solution.  It is just a suggestion on my part.  By no means is it mandatory or binding, nor could I make it but just an idea; just a suggestion how we can do.  It is this: our recreational division, as you know, is on the top floors, top two floors of the Veal Building right across Patterson Street.  And on this side is the Truett Building; one, the Veal Building with its recreational program on that side; the parking building and then the two top floors, the recreational building there; and on this side is the Truett Building, our seven-story educational building. 

Now, one of the things – and this is a suggestion – is to take the area over there, the two top floors of our recreational building and extend them across Patterson to the Truett Building.  And in that way, we would have our enlarged gymnasium; then to take the lower floors and extend them across the street, and this would be for our children, and then to take the still lower floors for our choir and extend it across the street.  And in that way, we would have the wonderful felicity and facility.  You could drive up into the parking building, and there the mother could take her children and walk right into the children’s divisions.  And we could take our choir and it would be right there, and they could have a glorious place in which to prepare, and then come right out and prophesy and glorify God before the congregation of the Lord.  This is one of the things that we could do.  Just cross Patterson Street from side to side, from the Truett Building to the Veal Building, and just build those floors across, and these floors for the choir and for the children, and those floors for our gymnasium and our recreational program.  But such a program as that costs; it costs.  "Pastor, why do you do these things?"  Not only is it in my soul and in my heart and with these who love God by my side, not only is it the present necessity that presses upon us this appeal, but there is also God’s tomorrow. 

We have a big debt.  Our Christian Education Building, there is an indebtedness on it of $2,000,000.  That lot over there at Federal and St. Paul on the other side of the Veal Building, we have a debt on it of $186,000. The lot and property here at St. Paul, we have an indebtedness upon it of $554,807.  And then – and then, just in the last few weeks, we went down to the bank and borrowed the money to buy the rest of that block facing Ross Avenue.  And we borrowed $1,726,000 at prime interest rate, ten percent.  On that lot alone, we pay over a $172,000 a year interest just on that lot.  "Pastor, why are you doing that?  You will never live to see the day when it is used.  It belongs to some other day, some other tomorrow, beyond your life and your ministry.  Why are you doing that?"  Would you like an answer?  This is it:

 

An old man, going a lone highway

Came, at the evening, cold and gray,

To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,

Through which was flowing a sullen tide. 

 

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;

The sullen stream had no fears for him; 

But he turned, when safe on the other side,

And built a bridge to span the tide. 

 

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near

"You are wasting your strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day; 

You never again must pass this way; 

You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide –

Why build you the bridge at the evening tide?"

 

The builder lifted his old gray head:

"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,

"There followeth after me today,

A youth, whose feet must pass this way. 

 

This chasm, that has been naught to me,

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be. 

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim; 

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him."

 ["The Bridge Builder," Will Allen Droomgole]

 

God’s tomorrow.  The kingdom will not cease when I am gone.  The church will not fail when my ministry is done.  Beyond the days and the years of the strength of my life, there is a more glorious tomorrow, and I must prepare for that.  That is the burden and the appeal that is laid upon your heart.  And increasingly, I can see our people respond with their lives.  Many of you – and we do encourage you to will to the church your estate, put it in God’s hands.  We have done that with everything that belongs to us.  We have willed everything to the church.  The will is in the Baptist Foundation now.

But, against the time when we are translated and gone, I must do something now, and we shall.  Already pledged? "Yes!"  Going to pledge again?  "Yes!"  Generously, largely?  "Yes!"  Having already given to the work? "Yes!"  But when I look and see, I had rather invest what I am capable of giving here than all of the other places in the world put together.  I think it counts for the most.  And when there is placed in my hand that card to fill out, I shall look, not at the printed words on the card, but I shall see before me the babies, the children, the schools, the kingdom, the church, the outreach, the souls, the whole message of God’s blessed gifts to us. 

And I shall respond in kind.  May the Holy Spirit of heaven sanctify to each one of us in prayer as unto Him our utmost in life, in toil, in fortune.  In a moment, we shall stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, coming to the Lord and to us, "Today I take Jesus as my Savior, and here I am."  "Today we’re placing our lives in the circle of this dear church.  Here I come."  As God shall say the word and press the appeal, make it now.  Do it now.  Come now.  God bless you as you respond.  On the first note of the first stanza, down one of these aisles, from the balcony into the aisle on the lower floor, when you stand up, stand up coming.  Make the decision now in your heart and answer with your life.  Do it now.  Come now.  Make it now, while we stand while we sing. 

Now may we bow our heads for a moment?  In a congregation this large, even though it’s been an inclement day, and we came through the rain; yet in a congregation this large, always there is somebody to whom God makes appeal.  There is somebody to whom the Holy Spirits bids come; some to give their lives in a new way to the Lord, as did this sweet, precious mother; some to put their lives in the church, some to accept Jesus as Savior.  Is that you?  Is that you?  Is that somebody you?  Is that couple you?  Is that family you?  Is that somebody you?  In this quiet moment, bowed before God, opening our hearts heavenward, if the Lord bids you here, today, this moment, this precious hour, "Here I am pastor, and here I come.  I make it now."  While our people pray with bowed heads and while the choir sings the appeal, in the balcony round, you, on this lower floor you, "Here I come pastor, here I am." "We make it now?   I make it now and here I come."  While we pray and while we sing, you, you, you, you.