Monday, February 28, 2011

Christ Rescues an Abortion-Minded Woman

The following story is from my lovely wife of 40 years, Debbie. She volunteers as a counselor each week at Salem Pregnancy Center in Winston Salem, NC. Through her, the Lord Jesus has led countless abortion-minded women to have their baby and turn to Christ. This is the story of one of those women.

Several times a month I volunteer at a local pregnancy care center. Here we offer pregnancy counseling, abstinence education, post-abortion counseling and adoption counseling. We also offer comfort and hope. Most importantly, we offer the greatest gift of all and that’s Jesus. Sharing Jesus and watching someone come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is why I do this. I also have the opportunity to stay in touch with the young ladies and see and hear about their progress with their baby and their walk with the Lord. I remember one such young lady.

She had been living with her boyfriend and she became pregnant. She wanted to keep her baby but her boyfriend was pressuring her to have an abortion. When she came to the pregnancy center she was till undecided. I shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with her and she received Christ as Savior and Lord. Together we rejoiced in her new life in Christ and she decided that the right thing to do was to have her baby. Praise God!

As I normally do, I tried to contact her a couple of weeks after this appointment, but could not reach her. Her phone had been disconnected. A couple of months passed and the pregnancy center received a call that one of our clients was looking for a place to get away from her abusive boyfriend. The information was given and, from what I understand, the police became involved. I found out later this was my client. My heart broke for her, but no one was allowed to know where she was or contact her. I took comfort in knowing that she was safe.

Several years later, one of our women was at a training session on domestic violence when a young lady approached her. It was my client. She said she had her baby and was doing well. She was so thankful for the ministry of the pregnancy center that she expressed a desire to help. She has volunteered to be a counselor and she is currently going through training. I have the wonderful privilege of training a former client to help other young ladies who are going through what she went through. What an awesome God we serve!

Jeremiah 29:11-13 comes to mind.
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

This story is being repeated in pregnancy centers all over our nation. If your church is not actively supporting your local pregnancy center, I would humbly advise that you consider supporting them.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Rules of Engagement

Our new church is busy trying to get the word out about our church. We've divided our area of local ministry into six zones and assigned teams to distribute the brochures to each home in their assigned zone. Our method of distribution has been to staple a rubber band on each brochure and hang the brochure on each home's mailbox. In apartment complexes, we're hanging the brochures on the front door of each apartment.

For the most part, we've not received many complaints. One person even emailed us to thank us for distributing the brochures to communicate the Lord Jesus. However, two apartment complexes have called and complained about "solicitation" and asked us to come back and retrieve the brochures. Since we view the distribution of the brochures as "sowing seeds," we declined to retrieve the brochures we have already distributed.

I had a talk with our local postmaster and he said that we cannot put brochures in a mailbox or on a mailbox. Violation is a federal offense. With that tidbit of information, we're no longer putting brochures on mailboxes.

So what are we to do? Well, we're going to continue distributing our brochures by placing them on the doorknobs of each homes' front door. If a sign is displayed that says "no trespassing" or "no soliciting," then we're going to skip that house. The only other alternative I' aware of is to do direct mail from someone like outreach.com.

Anyone have any other ideas?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Released From the Bondage of Drugs

We were conducting our annual VBS when I first met Rene*. I noticed her in the foyer of our education building. She was waiting there while her children attended VBS in our church. Rene was in her late 30's and one could see that she had lived a rough life. Her hygiene could be improved, her dress was too small for her, and all of her top teeth were missing. However, she smiled brightly when I spoke with her. She sat in the foyer paitently waiting while VBS went on for the first couple of nights. The third night, one of our volunteers for crafts didn't show up so Rene was asked to helped. She was delighted to be useful in some way. She worked in crafts the rest of the week.

At the end of the week, her two children made professions of faith in Christ and Rene was overjoyed. When I spoke to Rene about her life, she was very shy and did not open up. I encouraged her to bring her children to church after VBS ended. She did not have any transportation so we arranged for one of our members who lived close to her to bring their family on Sunday mornings.

Rene and her two children were faithful to come to church every Sunday morning. On the day that I had the awesome privilege of baptizing her two children, her husband, Bobby*, attended church as well. After the service, I spoke briefly with him and he made it clear to me that he wanted nothing to do with me or the church. He said that he only came to support his children but he had no intention of coming back.

Rene and the children expanded their attendance to include Sunday School as well as worship. The children were being discipled and growing in Christ. The Lord was touching Rene's heart as well. Finally, one day she asked me to come to her house and speak with her. She told me the sad tale of her life and how she had been involved with drugs since she was 13 years old. She said she was ready to change her life and she wanted to start fresh by giving her life to Christ. She received Jesus as her Lord and Savior that day. A couple of Sundays later, I had the honor of baptizing Rene. Bobby was there as well, scowling the whole time. A few days later, we took Rene to Durham to enter a drug rehab facility. After six weeks, Rene emerged clean and drug-free for the first time in many years.

A few months later, I received a call from Rene. She said that Bobby had been arrested for possession and they had no money for bail. I went to the jail and bailed Bobby out. He was embarrassed yet thankful that I had helped him. The next Sunday morning, Bobby was sitting with Rene and the children in church. He continued to come Sunday after Sunday. I was with him when his case went to trial. He received probation instead of jail time and we were all rejoicing in the Lord. After the trial, I went back with Bobby and Rene to their house. Bobby wanted to talk with me privately. That same day, in his bedroom, Bobby gave His life to Christ.

Bobby and Rene were faithful members of our church. It's amazing how different people look when Christ cleans them up. No longer were they unkempt, lacking personal hygiene, or appearing like they had not slept in days. Now they were clean and refreshed. It was a joy to see the change Christ made in their lives.

A couple of years later I left to go to another church. I did not hear from Bobby and Rene until a couple of years ago. Bobby called me at home one evening and told me that Rene had died suddenly. He asked if I would come back and conduct her funeral. I was very pleased to do so.

What a wonderful time of celebration we had together of the life that Jesus had given to Rene. We rejoiced in her transformation that only can come in Christ. We were all comforted with the knowledge that Rene was with Jesus. Jesus had released her from her bondage to drugs and set her free. Her family is forever grateful to Christ for all He has done.












*name changed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tom Elliff, IMB President: A Very Good Choice

I am very pleased with the announcement of Tom Elliff as the IMB's choice for President. Tom is a wonderful man of God and I believe will serve well. Not only does he have IMB experience, he also has experience as a local pastor. In addition, Tom Elliff has demonstrated his love for small church pastors. He was the IMB speaker at the 2008 Small Church Leadership Conference which I hosted in Lewisville, NC. The following is a video of his talk to small church pastors. I think it conveys some of the great qualities that Tom has and will be on display as he serves as the new IMB President.

Tom Elliff - 2008 Small Church Leadership Conference from Les Puryear on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Have You Been Found Worthy to Suffer For the Name of Christ?

One of my heroes of the faith is missionary Guy Muse. He inspires me in so many ways it is hard to begin to explain it. Recently, one of his blog posts really struck my heart. The post is entitled "What Curious Alchemy is This?". A curious title to be sure, but a wonderful article and I believe it would be well worth your time to read it.

In his post, Guy muses (sorry, I couldn't resist) on the passage in 2 Cor. 11:23-28 in which the apostle Paul recounts a partial list of his trials and sufferings. Similar to Paul, Guy writes his list of trials and sufferings for Christ in the 20+ years of being a missionary in Ecuador. Guy admits that his list does not come close to being comparable to Paul's list, but I think Guy's list is pretty impressive.

Every person who is trying to reach lost people for Christ can recount times of perceived persecution. Although my list is pitiful in comparison to Guy's list and Paul's list, here's my meager attempt at a 2 Corinthians 11 list of mine and Debbie's sufferings for the name of Christ:

Are they servants of Christ? (We are out of our mind to talk like this.) We are more. We have been called liars, untrustworthy, false prophets. We have submitted ourselves to unrelenting accusations, threats, false witness, and character assassination. Opponents have spat on us, cursed us, threatened us with bodily harm, and tried to restrict our place of ministry. We have been labeled as unloving, unkind, deceitful, dictatorial, dogmatic, too biblical, unbiblical, lacking common sense, lacking biblical wisdom, preaching too calmly, and preaching too loudly. We have been chewed out for soliciting (passing out gospel tracts or church brochures), berated for bothering people at home, and criticized for not visiting in homes enough. We have been depicted as antinomian, legalist, Calvinist, Arminian, not baptist enough, and being too baptist. We have been mocked, laughed at, and been the object of derision and malicious gossip.
Some people might read this and wonder why am I being so negative. This post is not intended to be negative. It is intended to awaken your notion of what it really means to be a Christian. Jesus told us that if we followed Him, we would be persecuted. Jesus told us that because the world hates Him, it will hate His followers also. In Acts 5:41, the apostles rejoiced "that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." Persecution, trials, and suffering are normal for followers of Christ. Why are we surprised when they come?

Are you rejoicing that you have been found worthy to suffer for the name of Christ? What would your 2 Cor. 11 list of sufferings look like? Please share with us and let us all rejoice in your sufferings for His name. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

Will They Let Me Come to Church?

Like most churches, we have visitor's cards available for our visitors to provide us with their information and any requests they may have for us. Dan* had visited our church a few times and finally he filled out a visitor's card. I noticed on the card he indicated he would like a pastor visit so I made an appointment with him to visit in his home.

He welcomed me into his modest home and we exchanged pleasantries before talking a bit about the church. Dan said that he really enjoyed coming to our church and he was thinking about joining. But he wanted to tell me about himself and he said that if I didn't want him to come to our church anymore, he would understand.

Dan told me about a life spent in alcohol and drugs. He was a big guy and he loved to fight. Every Saturday night he would get liquored up and pick a fight with somebody. He spent more time in jail than out of jail. Then one day, he was accused of murder. Dan was arrested, charged with murder, and was in jail waiting on his trial. He began attending chapel services and gave his life to Christ during one service. After 18 months in jail, Dan was released when another person confessed to the crime.

He had a fresh start and was trying to live right. He told me that he stopped drinking, drugging, and fighting. He was ashamed that he was living with a woman with whom he was not married. He said he knew that wasn't right and he wanted to make it right. After he finished his story, he again said that if I didn't want him to come to church anymore, then he wouldn't come. I explained to him that no one was worthy of salvation or worthy to come and worship Christ, that it was all based on grace. I told him that he was welcome to come to our church and I would be proud to have him there. Dan asked, "What about your people? Will they let me come to church?" I assured him that the people of our church would welcome him with open arms. Dan broke down crying.

Dan and his girlfriend  became regular attendees of our church. Soon they joined the church and I baptized both Dan and his girlfriend. I also had the privilege of conducting their wedding ceremony. Later, Dan went with us on our mission trips for prison ministry and was able to witness to some of the men with whom he had been in jail. Even though I have been away from that church for several years, I know that Dan continues to be a faithful member there.

If you have a testimony about how God is working in the life of real people, write it up and send it to me at lespuryear@hotmail.com. I'll be glad to publish it on this blog.


*not his real name.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ben Barfield (NAMB)

For some reason, testimony videos are hard to find. Here's one of the better ones I have used in worship. Maybe you can use it too.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What is Hope?

Here's a video I played in a recent worship service. I hope you find it encouraging.

Friday, February 4, 2011

At the Last Minute

God gave me an exciting opportunity to share the gospel with an older gentleman (80) whose wife was a faithful member of my formerchurch. He had been diagnosed with cancer of the spine and the doctors had told him that he had weeks to live. We had been praying that God would save him for several years. When I visited him in the hospital, I asked him if I could come and talk with him when he came home. He said, "Yes, I would like that." A few days later, his wife called me an said that he was having a good day and would I come and talk with him. Upon my arrival, he needed to go to the bathroom and so I lifted him out of his chair and helped him do his business. He seemed grateful that I would help him in such a way. When I returned him to his chair in the den, he asked me what he needed to do to join the church. As lovingly as I knew how, I shared the gospel with him and he was very attentive. However, in the end, he said he wanted to think about it. I told him I would check back with him in a few days, but I warned him not to delay too long due to the advancement of his illness.

On Saturday, a week later, he let me know that he had repented of his sins and received Christ as His Lord and Savior. Our plans were that he was going to join the church on Sunday morning and I would baptize him Sunday evening. His wife said that they might be a little late to the 11:00 service as it takes a lot to get him out of the house. He cannot use his legs and he has little strength in his upper torso. His daughter, who is a nurse, and her husband were coming to help get him to the church. As I stood to preach about 11:25 am on Sunday morning, he still had not arrived. I gave the invitation and watched anxiously, hoping he would arrive at the last minute. He didn't come. I was confused and disappointed. What could have possibly happened? Did he change his mind?

When I arrived home, there was a voice mail from his wife. Apparently, he had some kind of physical episode in the early hours of the morning. Hospice came and he was placed in their facility. They sedated him and there was a sense that his cancer was much more aggressive than anyone thought. It was doubtful that he would ever return home.

Two weeks later, my friend died without regaining consciousness. For several days before he died, I spent time with the family while they kept their vigil at the hospice home. They told me stories of how this man never wanted to talk about God. He was a mean alcoholic. It's amazing how someone can live their entire life in such a state of misery. Even though his wife and all three of his children were devout Christians (one son is a Presbyterian minister), his heart was closed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But then two weeks ago something wonderful happened. His heart was regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit and he received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. His wife and children are certain that his conversion was authentic. On the Saturday before he was going to come to our church and come forward to publicly proclaim his trust in Christ, he was telling all of his family and friends about his love for Christ. I had promised to baptize him the very next day and he was eagerly anticipating the event. However, when he awoke on Sunday morning, he either had a massive stroke or his cancer entered his brain. At least that is what the doctors surmise. Instead of going to church, he went to the hospice home.

The Sunday before he died, I told our church the story of my friend and how he was planning to come to join our church and be baptized. I told them of the testimonies of his wife (one of our church members) and his children as to his changed heart. Then I did something I have never done before in 14 years of pastoring. I asked our church to vote him in as a member of our church based on his stated intentions before he was gravely stricken ill and the testimony of his family. The vote was unanimous. He was now a member of our church. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.

Following our 11:00 am service, my wife and I went to hospice and told his wife and children of the action of the church. His wife collapsed in my arms crying with deep heaving breaths. Her children expressed their gratitude to the church for their love and compassion for their father. I stood at his bedside humbled by the awe and wonder of our Lord Jesus. This unconscious man had been snatched from the jaws of Hell at the last moment. I trembled as I thought about the gift which God gave him in the last two weeks of his life: the gift of another chance; the gift of forgiveness of sin; the gift of Jesus dying in his place; the gift of regeneration.

On Wednesday after he died, I conducted his funeral in our church. My text was Luke 23:39-43. It's about another man who was saved at the last minute. A thief on a cross.

My prayer is that my friend's story will bring hope to countless others who are praying for their own loved ones to come to Christ. As long as there is breath, there is hope. Do not stop praying for the lost to be saved. Tell them about Jesus at every opportunity. It makes a difference. It really does.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Just in Time

One Sunday morning as I was greeting the people after the morning service, one of our deacons came to me with a serious look on his face. He told me that he was burdened over a friend of his named Dyrk Garrison. He asked if I would go visit Dyrk with him. I said that I would be glad to visit with him.

Two days later, the deacon called me and asked if I had some time to go visit Dyrk that day. I said "Yes," and we arranged a time to go. When the deacon picked me up, I asked him about Dyrk. He said that Dyrk was 79 years old and recently widowed. He lived alone and had been in poor health for a long time. Dyrk's wife was a faithful Christian but she could never get Dyrk to go to church with her. After her death, Dyrk expressed to my deacon his regret that he had never gone to church with his wife. My deacon asked me to share the gospel with Dyrk.

We pulled into the driveway of a small, modest house a few miles from our church. As we approached the door, Dyrk came outside and greeted my deacon friend who promptly introduced him to me. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Dyrk invited us inside. I asked Dyrk about his family and his employment history. His conversation revealed a man who was no-nonsense and didn't suffer fools gladly. He was very pleasant and respectful to me but he was also made sure that I knew what his opinion was about church. He didn't have a lot of respect for "church folks" because he saw them during the week and they didn't appear to be living any different than anyone else. I said nothing in response to his objections about church but just nodded my understanding of what he was saying.

When I turned the conversation to his deceased wife, his demeanor changed radically. He spoke of her in terms of tenderness which seemed foreign to such a man but he easily expressed his devotion to the love of his life. I asked him where he thought his wife was right now. He fought back the tears as he choked out, "heaven." Then I asked him where he thought he was going when he died and he replied, "I don't know." I asked him if he were standing before God right now why would God let him into heaven. He thought for a moment and said "I can't think of any good reason He would let me in."

I asked him if he would like to know what the Bible says about the way to heaven and he replied in the affirmative. I went through the gospel with him and he prayed to receive Christ that day. My deacon and I rejoiced with Dyrk as his demeanor went from sour to joyful. Although Dyrk had not been interested in church, he was very interested in Jesus. It was a great day in the Lord.

Three weeks later, I received a call that Dyrk was in the hospital with chest pains. I went to see him and he was genuinely glad to see me. He said the catherization had revealed a couple of blockages and they were going to do surgery in the morning. I prayed with him and assured him that I would be there for his surgery.

The next morning, I went by my office before heading out to the hospital. When I got there, a note was taped on the door. The note read, "Dyrk died last night." I stumbled into my office and called Dyrk's grandson. He told me that Dyrk had suffered a massive heart attack an hour after I had left his bedside. His family did not call me because they did not know my home number. I fell down trembling. Although I was surprised and devastated that my new friend had died, I trembled because the thought kept coming to me, "What if I had brushed off my deacon because I was too busy and not have gone to talk to Dyrk?" I sat there trembling for the longest time.

I had the privilege of performing Dyrk's funeral. From a preaching perspective, his funeral was the easiest one I have ever done. The story of his salvation was my sermon. I rejoiced with his family in that as long as a person is alive, it is never too late for Jesus to save him.

Even now, as I sit in my office writing these words, I can glance at the note that was taped to my office door that day: "Dyrk died last night." I have taped that note to the side of a bookcase next to my desk. I glance at it several times a day. It reminds me to be available to talk to anyone at anytime about Christ. The note also reminds me that as long as a person is still breathing, it is never too late for Jesus to save him or her.

Thanks, Dyrk.