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In the early eighties I moved to Dallas, Texas, to start a counseling center for the great Dr. W. A. Criswell. Those were some of the best years of my life. The last five years I was in Dallas, I preached for him on Sunday nights. It was a great combination. He was content. I was comedy. He was a brilliant man. Once I told him, "Wouldn't it be great if God would put your brain in my head." He said that would be like putting a grand piano inside a closet.

One of my greatest memories is a cruise that FBC sponsored. I was to speak in the morning and he was to speak at night. While we were on the cruise he told me that he would not speak but wanted me to emcee questions that had been submitted for him to answer about his ministry. The first night, I asked the questions and he responded-and the people loved it. We also had on board about 300 teenagers from our youth group. That night, after the service, the student pastor said the students would like to ask the pastor questions. The staff thought this would be great. We laughed and thought that the kids would nail him. I was selected to convince Dr. C to answer questions live from the students. I was surprised when he said that would be great, and we were so excited thinking we would see the legend on the hot seat.

When we started, Dr. C turned to me and said, "We will do the program just like last night. You emcee and I will answer the questions." I gave a "thumbs up" to all the staff in the back of the room. We thought we had him. The first question from a student was, of course, about dancing and whether Baptists could dance or not. The second question was on the second coming. He probably thought he needed to ask a spiritual question. Dr. C didn't even hesitate. He said, "Young man, I will take your second question first." He took about twenty minutes responding about pre-tribulation, post-tribulation, and a-millennialism. I think he is on the program committee. I'm just on the welcoming committee and I was starting to daydream a little when I heard him say, "Now for your first question. My associate Dr. Lowery will answer." In sheer panic I realized that Dr. C would answer all of the questions he wanted to answer and I would answer the rest. The staff was now dying laughing. As we finished that night, an old deacon walked by and said, "Now you know why Dr. C has been our pastor for forty years and associates come and go." When I tell people that story they ask, "What did you say about dancing?" Of course, it's, "Some Baptists can and some can't."

People ask me what I remember about Dr. C. It's interesting, but I don't remember a single sermon, although he was one of the world's greatest preachers. What I do remember is the first Junior Camp for fourth-sixth graders that I attended. I saw a rabbit costume at camp and wondered who was going to be the rabbit — fearing that it was going to be me. It wasn't. It was Dr. C. He would dress up in anything they asked him to in order to win a child. I also remember that he met with our daughter in his office when she received Christ, just like he met with any child that received Christ. I remember that he loved children. I remember that he loved to laugh. The first time my picture was in the Dallas Morning News was when Dr. C and all of the staff on the platform wore fake black mustaches to match mine. Of course, the paper did point out that my facial hair was real. He loved to laugh.

I remember that he gave me the opportunity to preach. I came to First Baptist from a university setting. He shared his pulpit with me. The first book of the Bible I ever preached through was at FBC Dallas. The homiletics class at Criswell College outlined the sermons preached at the church — except when I preached. When I preached, nobody could understand the outline anyway. Each service that I preached, a man would get up, hold his Bible up in the air, and walk out of the service. He was protesting my preaching because people laughed too much. I asked Dr. C if that bothered him. He said, "Don't worry, lad, he is just mad about life and he can't stand to see you enjoying it. I'll get my secretary to send him some "mad" preacher tapes for him to enjoy." I then asked him if I should try to preach the way they taught at his college. I didn't want to be a bad example. With a little smile, he said, "Charles, you have a gift, don't study it, share it." I finished the book of Philippians. Dr. C stood up and said, "I have written a commentary on Philippians, I have read all of the commentaries on Philippians, but never have I heard anyone preach the book of Philippians like that boy just did." He paused and said, "I just hope it is all in there."

What is the bottom line? I had the opportunity to stand beside one of the greatest preachers of all time. I don't remember his sermons, I remember him. I remember that he was good to me and that he believed in me.

Pastor, think of people around you and remember that they probably won't remember your sermons, either. But they will remember if you were good to them and if you believed in them. And they will never forget the love you show them.

    About the Author

  • Charles Lowery