Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

May 12, 2010

Spiritual Giant

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

W.A. Criswell was the best-known Baptist preacher in America in the latter half of the 20th century.  Few ministers have impacted America like this man.  Many of our spiritual leaders today have been influenced by him.

In 1944, he was called as pastor to First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas.  He  followed the well-known George Truett.  The church was the largest Protestant church in America with almost 8,000 members.  Dr. Criswell would lead the church in unprecedented growth surpassing a membership of over 25,000.  The church began to absorb much of the downtown area, with  hallways under the city streets to connect to various buildings.

Shortly after I arrived in Texas, several  friends and I visited First Baptist Church.  I had never seen such a church!  It was larger than I could have ever believed.  On the platform were eight over-stuffed chairs.  Associate pastors sat on the platform with the pastor.  I had never even been in a church that had one staff person.  I was overwhelmed. 

But it was not the organization or buildings that most overwhelmed me.  It was the man, Dr. W.A. Criswell!  Prior to the worship service, two young ladies came over to speak.  They had been raised in this church and wanted us to meet Dr. Criswell.  Within a matter of minutes, one of the young ladies brought Dr. Criswell  over to us.  This man took time prior to the service to greet us and asked several personal questions.  One of the things he did was to lightly place his hand on our heads and say, “Lad, . . . .”  I later learned that he did this to almost everyone he met.

The large stature of this man was only overshadowed by his very loud and deep voice.  His performance in the pulpit was a fiery exhibition, a roller coaster of whispers, bellows and shouts, tempered by the occasional joke. He certainly held your attention.  I know now that it had a tremendous impact upon my life.

Not being aware at that time that my future would be involved with the church or ministry, I was not there to seek a model in ministry.  I was there more as a curious observer.  And I did observe more than I could absorb.

In fact, we were all so fascinated that we remained in town for the evening service.  At the close of the service, I observed something that I could have never imagined from such a distinguished pastor and in such a large church where it would be virtually impossible to know everyone.

After the invitation, Dr. Criswell walked off the platform and down to the main floor.  He called a young boy by name and asked him to come up and stand with him.  Dr. Criswell explained that this young boy, about 10 or 11 years old, had come by himself on the streetcar to the evening service.  Dr. Criswell had met him before the service, remembered his name and knew how he had come to church.  He had come to know this boy, just as he had spent time with us that morning.  That impressed me like nothing else!  Dr. Criswell then said to the congregation, “I want one of you deacons, with your wife, to come up here and stand with this lad and commit yourself to drive him home.”  There were several responses, of course.

Only a spiritual giant can have that kind of compassion and time!  Too many are too busy or uncaring.    Dr. Criswell never became less in my eyes through the years that were to follow.  Through his writings and preaching, I always received a word as if I was in the presence of Moses.  I would know more about this remarkable man through his daughter, later in college.  He was as real as a  husband and father as he was in the pulpit.  There were not two personalities.  There was no hypocrisy.  He truly was a spiritual giant.

My life was later impacted by his influence.  Soon after I surrendered my life to ministry, I was called to the church where Dr. Criswell began his ministry. (See blog, March 8, 2010, My First Church.)  His footprints were all around!

Sometimes there are spiritual giants who walk among us.  I am blessed that this man of God was one who touched my life.

Each person will be influenced by those with whom they cross paths.  The responsibility of God’s people is that such influence will make a positive difference in that life.  I must be acutely aware today that there may be one person watching me, seeking to learn from me, and desiring to echo through their life what I am.  I must accept this responsibility.  You, too, share with me this assignment.  Let us be the spiritual giants God needs!  And we all can be!  It is not position in the world that makes one a spiritual giant.  It is the position one has with Christ!  Every child of God can be a spiritual giant!

” . . . set an example for the believer in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”  (1 Timothy 4:12)  We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we can present everyone perfect in Christ.”  (Colossians 1:28)



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