There have been books written and movies made about time machines. Sometimes they take you backwards and sometimes they take you forward, but it’s always an exercise in imagination and what-ifs and what is. I recently had the privilege of being caught in a time machine. I’m not sure how many people who were with me on that day felt a sense of amazement and wonderment as I did in a few hours flying through this stratosphere in the time machine.
It was back in August 2017 and I was to speak on Sunday morning for the 175th Anniversary of the Pleasant Ridge Church in Union County. With joy, anticipation, and expectation, I looked forward to being there to celebrate with them 175 years of ministry beginning in 1842 and continuing until that day. The church had been meeting to worship Jesus and preach the Good News of the living Savior. Just think about it. They have been meeting Sunday after Sunday for over 9,100 Sundays. To look at it another way the church has been preaching the Good News and serving the folks for about 65,000 days, and here we were gathering to celebrate again.
I say it was a time machine event for me because I couldn’t look at going there on the 175th Anniversary without thinking and re-thinking and enjoying and standing amazed at the 125th Anniversary of Pleasant Ridge Church. When we had that anniversary, I had the privilege of being the pastor. I was twenty-one years of age when I went there. I thought that I had gone to the greatest church in the whole world — and in fact, for me, it was.
When Shirley and I arrived there, we had been married all of four months. We knew everything about marriage and raising children and life and how to grow old gracefully. Whatever you asked us we knew, or at least I did. There we were working with some of the finest people in the whole world and loving a congregation that was just filled with great old seasoned saints, wonderful leaders in mid-life, great young people, and children all around us. It was an amazing time in our lives and ministry.
As I told them on the 175th Anniversary, I, along with many other pastors, came to Pleasant Ridge Church thinking I would make some kind of impact or at least have some input in leading the church, only to find out the impact was made on me more than what I made on them. So here I am thinking about 50 years ago while preparing for the 175th Anniversary and looking at this landscape of life.
I felt led to preach on the subject, “So Great a Cloud of Witnesses,” from Hebrews 12. In so doing I was going to look at 175 years of time and history and what God had done. The time machine was certainly a pleasant one and larger than just my small slice of remembrances. As I shared with the folks on that remembrance day, the past 175 years have been anchored to looking unto Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith but we have observed that great cloud of laymen and laywomen and great pastors who have been there from the outset making a difference in a community and in Kingdom work.
It was not possible to talk about everyone who had been a part of the church in those 175 years, of course, but I was able to point to a few who had been a part of the cloud of great witnesses that still remains. There are far more people in the cloud of witnesses than just one in the crowd like me, but I am so thankful to have been a part of that great experience.
Over the bulk of my journey serving Jesus, some of the people I mentioned to the church on that anniversary were people like J. B. Gambrell who started The Baptist Record and was its first editor. Later, he would serve numerous churches across our state and Texas. He would help start schools and serve in educational positions and serve four terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
People who in recent years have served as the president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention like Kermit McGregor, Rex Yancey, and Jimmy Porter all had Pleasant Ridge Church experiences and roots. The folks there on the scene now are following in the steps of so many great people who have been so strong, faithful, and effective in their leadership. People have come along not to fill their shoes but to step up and walk in their own shoes as they live for Jesus.
Still, overarching everything is the fact that Jesus is the foundation and the builder of His church and He is still Lord being lifted up as the Savior of the world and the One who can guide every step of every day in your life. The members of Pleasant Ridge Church, like so many of our churches across Mississippi, after 175 years keep on faithfully moving forward to serve Jesus to the best of their ability. May God bless each of our churches, whether 200 years old or a 100 years old, or celebrating their first anniversary. God be praised and His people be blessed as His mighty power is still at work. I often think of that great old statement that says, to the past we say thank you and to the future we say welcome.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.