Three years ago, I had the immense privilege of conducting an evangelistic series in a small farming town known as Durant, OK. Last month, I returned for a weekend. I was truly encouraged to see how the church is still growing. But, before I share with you what took place during that weekend, I would like to give you the backdrop for what I wrote shortly after the first time I was in Durant.
Brothers in Christ—Herb Montgomery
The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers.
—E. G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 315. (1915)
Last October, I had the immense privilege of conducting three weeks of meetings in the small town of Durant, Ok. I had decided to base the entire series for an audience from any background, churched or un-churched, and to follow the advice of the statement you read at the onset of this article. Years ago, I became convinced that what people need the most is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and all of the other amazing things they can discover from the Bible need to follow and be based upon their primary encounter with the love that continuously surges in God’s heart for them.
The meetings started off with a wonderful surprise. One of the elders of the church had grown up with one of the local Baptist pastors in the area who also does music ministry. The elder invited his pastor friend to come and do the musical specials for the first two nights. Little did I know at the beginning how the Lord would work. Although the meetings were being held in the Adventist church, this Baptist pastor agreed, and, boy, were we in for a blessing. But the greatest blessing was what the Lord would teach me through our encounter.
The pastor did the music for the first two nights. We discussed the fundamental need for everyone from every walk of life having a true understanding and encounter with the character of God and His extravagant love for them . . . That Sunday, I was graciously invited to attend my new Baptist friend’s church where he pastors. It was packed, and I could see why. I was so welcomed and loved from the moment I walked in the door that it was refreshing. The service was comfortable, culturally relevant, and yet Biblically pure. The sermon was outstanding. It has been so long since I have attended any church service outside my own denomination, and I was honestly and pleasantly surprised. The passage that morning was Titus 2:11-13, and the main point of the sermon was that the same grace that saves us also teaches us to obey. Then the pastor surprised me again.
He announced to his congregation that he had been attending the series of meetings that were being held at the local Seventh-day Adventist church. He made me stand, and he introduced me to everyone, and then he spoke the very words that I was longing to say.
He said, “I know we have some differences with the Adventists, but I think there is plenty enough that we agree on too. I think we would get a lot further if we focused on the things we agree with the Adventists on rather than always fighting over the things we differ in.” He went on to testify of the tremendous blessing he had been receiving through the meetings, and then he looked at his congregation, as said something I never thought I would hear a Baptist pastor say. “I’m going to be attending these meetings, and I want to see every one of you there too.”
That next week, we had lunch together, and what a blessing it was. We both shared, back and forth, of our love for Jesus and His people. And I was amazed to see the bridges that God could build between His children. The pastor attended as many of the rest of the series as he could. He sat through presentations that were distinctly Adventist. We covered things that I know did not harmonize with some of the Baptist teachings, and, yet, he was incredibly gracious and open. He truly is a brother in Christ.
On the last night, he asked if he could just have thirty seconds before I began to talk. I readily agreed, and the words he shared that last night are still etched in my memory:
“I have been a pastor for over thirty years, but what I haven’t done for the last twenty years is to go to meetings because I just got burned out on all the garbage that’s out there. And yet, I have found myself attending most every night of these meetings. Tonight, I just want to say I am thankful for three things. Number one, good friends (and he pointed to his friend who was our elder) who reached out and invited me to these meetings. Second, I’m thankful for a group of people who meet under a different name and on a different day, but whom I’ve learned are my brothers and sisters in Christ. And, thirdly, I want to thank God, that, somehow, in His infinite wisdom and love, He could see fit to look down and use this young kid from West Virginia to teach this Baptist pastor who’s been ministering for thirty years new insights into His love and give me some things to think about. I love you like a brother, man.”
I have never been so blessed by anyone’s response to my meetings as I was listening to his heartfelt response that night. Roger, if you’re out there, and you happen to be reading this, I truly consider you to be a brother in Jesus. You were a tremendous blessing to me, as well. And when all else fails, remember, “Give ‘em heaven brother, give ‘em heaven.” I’ll see you in the kingdom.
Last month was the second time I have been able to go back to Durant since the above-mentioned series. This time, we covered topics from God’s Faith Awakening Love to the Sabbath, The Final Fate of the Lost, Death, the Latter Rain and, finally, Calvary. Each topic took us deeper into an encounter with the heart of God and the Love He has for each one of us. As always in Durant, we had a mixture of different denominations who attended. Of course, there were the local Adventists, but we also were blessed by having Baptists and Lutherans, as well, fellowshipping with us that weekend. It is always exciting to me when someone of another faith visits, and the first thing they hear from an Adventist pulpit is a presentation on the Gospel that, according to them, is unlike anything they have ever heard before. Praise God! For too long, we have left the wrong impression on our fellow Christians outside our faith. It’s encouraging to me to see that being reversed. I’m reminded of that famous statement:
“Of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world. The proclamation of the third angel’s message calls for the presentation of the Sabbath truth. This truth, with others included in the message, is to be proclaimed; but the great center of attraction, Christ Jesus, must not be left out. It is at the cross of Christ that mercy and truth meet together, and righteousness and peace kiss each other. The sinner must be led to look to Calvary; with the simple faith of a little child, he must trust in the merits of the Saviour, accepting His righteousness, believing in His mercy. (Ellen White, Gospel Workers p.156)
I will be returning to Durant next April, and then again in November. We are going to be looking into a neutral location where we will be able to reach more of the small farming community. I solicit your prayers as this little church in the plains of Oklahoma seeks to profoundly lift up Christ for the blessing of those around them.