Joining the Cloud of Witnesses: 130th Anniversary of White Oak
Every year Australia hosts a 543.7-mile endurance race from Sydney to Melbourne. The race takes 5-days to complete by running 18 hours and sleeping 6 hours each day and is normally only attempted by world-class athletes, usually under 30-years of age sponsored by athletic apparel companies, who trains specifically for the event. In 1983, 61-year old potato farmer Cliff Young, wearing work boots/gumboots and overalls but not his teeth because they rattled when he ran, picked up his number and joined the runners. Told he would never finish the race, he replied that he would. He told the story of growing up on a 2,000 acre ranch with 2,000 sheep. No tractor or horse because they couldn’t afford one. “Sometimes I would always catch them.” When the race began, he seemed to shuffle instead of running like an athlete. The pros left him behind. Many feared for Cliff’s safety as he would run the distance across the wild terrain of the race. On the second day of the race, he responded that he would run all five days without stopping. Cliff crossed the finish line first, won the $10,000 prize and set a course time record for the race that still stands. He was 9-hours ahead of second place. He entered the race the next year and took 7th because he suffered a displaced hip during the race. Cliff died in 2003 at the age of 81. However, his shuffle lives on. Having seen the witness/testimony of Cliff’s victory, several athletes have adopted his shuffle for more than a marathon distance runs.
Who told you? Who showed you? From whom did your evidence of faith, encouragement in faith, enlightenment in faith come? A true witness is one who tells the story, the truth, the detail of the story. A witness is one who has lived the story before us. One who lives the commitment of a faith confirms to us the truth of the matter. Our cloud of witnesses, as the one in this text, are not looking on what we are doing. They are the ones who bore witness and have enlivened us to the life that has transformed us into the image of Christ. This is not a theater with us on stage. This is the testimony of lives lived, martyrs who died, and the voices of a life now remembered that continues to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love. The “therefore” of our text reflects on Hebrews 11 and all who are named there and all the activities recorded there giving testimony to the faith that sustains us who follow Christ.
On this day of remembering the 130th anniversary of the organizing of White Oak Baptist Church, we reflect on those who have come and gone before us. Those men and women who set in place the light of this church to preach the gospel in this area. That flame, ignited in 1859 was found a dying ember in 1930. Some weeks prior to October 15, 1930, the church had decided to dissolve. However, A. J. Alford, E. M. Bain, R. A. Darling, Tom Coker, Sallie Lindley, Deacon Winnie Banta, Mary Banta, Lizzie Adair, Obie Norton, Fred and Nina Boyd and 20 others met together and determined to continue the life of the church. Today, we thank God for their determination to keep the light of the gospel burning in this area. Let’s move ahead to 2014 when 7 committed to faith--Nelson and Martha Howard, Bill and Norma Basham, Joe and Pat Rehders, and Margaret Silks sat on the front two rows of this room that seats 350 and listened as a then itinerant preacher shared the Word. A bond of love and mission formed that has led us to today when this out-of-the-way place and growing congregation now takes the gospel into all the world through Cooperative Program mission support with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Rehoboth Baptist Association, lightradio.online, Blessed Hope Foundation in Uganda, social media, whiteoakchurch.org, and other avenues of gospel presentation. Today, we who are a part of this great church continue the witness of faith. Culture has changed over the last 130 years. Conveniences have changed. Buildings have changed. Methods have changed. The faces and numbers of faces have changed. People have come and moved on. Some have come, stayed, died, and are now glorified in heaven. Some are just now entering into this fellowship. Yet, the gospel has not changed. The truth of life in Jesus Christ has not changed. The Bible has not changed. The light of the world continues to shine and this church, as a city set on a hill, shines forth light for all to be drawn to its source--Jesus Christ our Lord. We, refusing to put the light of our own lives and that of our church under a bushel or under a bed (Matthew 5:13-16) go forth to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love. We are now the living witness.
Our cloud of witnesses remind us to see the task before us and its final goal. We are not tourists. We are pilgrims. We are forever on the way to our destination to be like Jesus to the glory of God. The Christian life is much like a race to be run. We train for the race. We train not for speed but for endurance. This is a distance run and not a sprint. We train with vigorous exercise directing all our energies into love and service. We exercise self-control in disciple learning the pace. Those training for a race often wear weights. Leg weights or even weighted backpacks are employed in training for a race. However, when one runs in the race, the weights are set aside. To run in the race with the determination to win requires little impedance of movement to achieve the needed speed. If an angry bear is chasing you in the woods, you are not going to tarry to carry the weight of your tent, food, and camping gear as you race for your life. So it is in the spiritual life, we lay aside the encumbrance and the sin that would entangle us. A search of the Scripture and an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ will inform you of the encumbrance/liability that you need to lay aside. We “put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:12) Every race has a destination. Even a marathon has a finish line. With the shouts of encouragement from those who have run the race before us and have now reached the finish, so we run the race set before us with the object of winning our race. Paul admonished the Corinthians (I Cor. 9:24) to “Run in such a way that you may win.” Corinth hosted the Isthmian games and awarded winners every two years.
For a race to be won, a church to be the church, and an individual to live the Christ life, there must be endurance that keeps us moving toward the goal no matter the course laid before us. Running on a quarter mile oval track can become monotonous if more than one lap is required. Running cross country requires one to be prepared for all types of terrain and following guideposts. Running a marathon requires following guideposts, timing your pace, hydrating a proper intervals and more. Every life has its own course. Every church has its own niche of ministry. However, one must endure to receive the crown of life. How do we endure? We must all have encouragement and inspiration to motivate us to train and achieve. Every athlete has someone who had served as a role model. Role models for one’s vocation, community service, family commitment can be found. Therefore, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Why is Jesus our role model? “He is … the author [writes the script/leader] and perfecter [completer/finisher] of faith…” He has run this race and knows the course well. He has set the pace for this race. We learn from the witness of those who fixed their eyes on Jesus and have run before. We see both the joy of our Lord in accomplishing the Father’s will and the glory of God in a life well-lived. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinth. 1:18)
I would not in any way say to you that this church has a proud past. There are those things that have happened in the past 130 years that have not been pleasing to God. However, there have been those times when the Holy Spirit moved in the hearts of those who were this church. Some of the things in which we rejoice today are the result of sacrifices made in the midst of conflict. I say, let’s forget and where necessary forgive that we may be like Jesus as we move forward in His love and service.