Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Pastor of Discernment

In Memorium: Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Readers of the Herescope blog know the late Larry DeBruyn as a scholarly writer of helpful books and articles discerning truth from error. But he was first and foremost a pastor, a gifted shepherd, who sincerely cared about people and actively ministered to them in their day-to-day lives. In fact, he once said that the ministry of discernment must arise from rugged ministry done in the trenches of real life with real people, not sitting at a computer in an office. Below is the testimony of his work in the trenches with one of his parishioners, Gaylene Goodroad, who spoke at his memorial service:  https://youtu.be/NyUD_ZOMMlE 
Pastor Larry (left) on the mission field in the Ukraine

“…for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”
(2 Tim. 1:12-14)

By Gaylene Goodroad
I met Pastor Larry DeBruyn over a decade ago after fleeing from an unhealthy, errant church, that left me beaten down, weary, and even wary of “church”. As it happened, I had read a blurb on the Herescope blog about his book, Church on the Rise, that I wanted to read. When I contacted his church to inquire about getting a copy, I discovered that it was only a 20-minute ride from my home, so I arranged to pick up a copy of the book in person from Debbie, his faithful church assistant. Coming out of the church office that afternoon, my new book tucked under my arm, I literally ran into Pastor Larry walking down the hallway. He invited me to chat with him for a few minutes, but the minutes turned into almost two hours. We talked about church, and most importantly about our Savior, as this gentle pastor, yet unacquainted with me, heartened a very discouraged sister in Christ. 

It had truly been a divine appointment. Before I left for home, he invited me to the Sunday service. My husband Steve and I were both there that weekend, eventually becoming permanent, active church members: Steve became a deacon and member of the sound ministry; I a deaconess. As a couple, we also sang hymns for special music. [Steve was a dear brother to Pastor Larry, but could not attend the memorial service due to job requirements.]

Those years under Pastor Larry’s gifted Bible teaching were the most edifying of my Christian life. His careful ministry of the Word greatly expanded my understanding of Scripture and fed my hunger to know Christ more. Sunday evenings became a cherished part of the week. Pastor Larry would lead an informal service of prayer, congregational hymn singing, and more Bible study. He had such a command of the Word—an exhaustive familiarity—that the multi-layered applications and endless connections seemed to flow from his mind and mouth with effortless precision. I never wanted these sessions to end. He truly heeded Paul’s admonishment to Timothy: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15)

By God’s grace, I was able to grasp the incredible blessing of this brief snapshot in history; a precious yet fleeting time never to be repeated in my lifetime.

Steve and I developed an inseparable bond with a dear, older, godly couple who attended the church with us. Ron and Artie opened their home to Pastor Larry’s Bible studies and fellowship gatherings. Artie even traveled with me to hear Pastor Larry speak at conferences. Many holidays were spent with them—and Pastor Larry—talking about the Lord Jesus Christ and His life-giving word. Ron went to be with the Lord in 2013; Artie in 2015. Pastor Larry officiated at both funerals. Right before Artie’s service, Pastor Larry called Steve and I into a little room near her casket. He grasped our hands as we stood in a circle facing each other, his head bowed. I could feel him trembling as I looked up to see him quietly weeping, something he wasn’t prone to do publicly. He struggled to speak, but managed to say in a hushed tone, “I have given literally hundreds of funerals during my many years of ministry, but this one is tough. Please pray for me.” This was a side of Pastor Larry that not many knew. His bold, and at times, fiery writings often concealed his abiding love and tender mercy for others. He never advertised these softer traits, but they were part of him.

One of the most difficult times of my life was when my mother died in August of 2014. She had cancer and was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. My youngest sister and I spent three days with her at the care center in North Dakota without any sleep as we excruciatingly watched her slowly ebb away from us. She couldn’t speak and did not know us. The morning of her death, weary and fatigued, we struggled out to the parking lot with 35 miles yet to travel to complete her final arrangements. I said a silent prayer, asking God to give me the strength to do what I needed to do for my mom. As I turned the key in the car ignition, my cell phone rang. It was Pastor Larry. I’ll never forget his encouraging words: “Dear sister, I’m praying for you.” As I wept into my phone, he said, “Let’s pray.” I don’t know how he knew to call me at that moment, but the Lord does. That one phone call answered my initial prayer and strengthened me to finish my difficult task. 

Pastor Larry was a true shepherd of God’s flock. May he be richly rewarded by the Good Shepherd himself (Jn. 10:11), the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Larry also had a compassionate connection to young people. He constantly sought them out for witnessing and ministry. He eventually set his sights on one young man in particular; my youngest son Dana. Both my sons were born with special needs: Jimmy my eldest with high-functioning autism; and Dana with life-altering neurological difficulties. Last summer, Dana was hospitalized after a major life crisis. Pastor Larry visited him every day, and later spent hours with him praying, talking, and ministering the Word. On more than one occasion, he conducted Bible study with Dana and me over a burger and soft drink, even when it was evident that he wasn’t feeling well.

Unexpectedly one Sunday morning a few weeks ago, he boxed up his own leather-bound Bible (that he purchased for himself), and gave it to us to keep. He said that he wanted our family to have an additional good study Bible. He meticulously and carefully showed me how to maneuver through the marginal notes in the most solemn manner. Then I noted the gilded imprint on the cover with Pastor Larry’s name in bold letters. What a special treasure he had given us! I wonder now if he had planned to give this special keepsake all along—knowing what it would mean to me personally—and knowing that the Lord would be calling him home soon. God knows.  

Pastor Larry’s writing ministry began in the early years of his full-time church ministry, as he published papers for congregational consumption, through newsletters and various articles posted to his church website. Out of his deep concern for those being seduced by heresy, he remained steadfast to the Word of God in confronting the onslaught of deception coming against the church in these last days. Pastor Larry’s comprehensive, multifaceted, and in-depth writings have been featured on a multitude of online ministry publications and websites throughout the world, as well as in his own published works. His immense body of work becomes even more astounding knowing that Pastor Larry never learned to type. It was indeed an effort of devotion as he ‘hunted and pecked’ each character onto the page himself.

Pastor Larry was also an effective communicator in other venues as he ministered the Scriptures to the saints worldwide, through digital media, one-on-one teaching, and conference speaking. He was an exceptional preacher, teacher, and church planter. His careful handling of the Scriptures ministered to everyone within range of his articulate speaking, and insightful, timely writings. He truly was an itinerant pastor and protective shepherd.

In the Lord’s gracious economy, He brought this gifted pastor-teacher together with an ad hoc group of Christian authors in a writing ministry known as the Discernment Research Group, a group including Sarah Leslie, Susan Conway, Dr. Martin Erdmann (our German brother), myself and others. Warren Smith became more of a silent partner to our noble endeavors. Our bonds tightened as we shared time in the discernment trenches; a lonely position not suitable for the faint at heart. We shared insights, research, and an inimitable kinship. Pastor Larry was our resident minister, confidant, and father figure. He generously shared his seasoned wisdom, friendship, pastoral oversight, biblical knowledge, and discernment—immeasurable, God-honoring attributes that penetrated deep into the lives of each one of us.

One of his most enduring qualities was his ability to turn a phrase or a word into a thought-provoking, meaningful, and edifying truth. A gifted and prolific writer, he was able to unpack difficult material in such a way that inquiring Bereans could recognize heretical ideas and clearly understand the truth apart from the deception. We even invented a term—a ‘Larry DeBruyn-ism’—i.e., a carefully crafted phrase or title with a touch of humor or alliteration, such as one favorite: “saints and ain’ts”.

His experience, keen insights, and scholarly intellect were lightyears ahead of me, but not once did he demean my contributions nor disparage my gender. Instead, he treated me as a favored daughter. Pastor Larry invested himself in the ministry of two nondescript housewives from the Midwest doing discernment work. Under his pastoral tutelage both Sarah Leslie and I were assisted in our writing. Pastor Larry was always excited to share insights he had just gleaned from Bible study, or new ideas for upcoming writing projects. He would always solicit feedback and inspiration. I am indebted to his dear wife, Margie, and sons David and Daniel, for sacrificially sharing their beloved husband and father with so many of us in the discernment ministry.

Pastor Larry’s loss to us personally cannot be calculated.

I am overjoyed to know that Pastor Larry’s physical sufferings are complete and that he is safely and eternally in the care of our precious Savior, but my heart still hurts because he is not here. Pastor Larry was not only my pastor, friend, ministry partner, and brother in Christ, but he was truly my ‘father in the Lord’. 

My husband Steve and I consider it a great blessing and honor to have known this prodigious man of God. In keeping with the Apostle Paul’s charge to Timothy, Pastor Larry preached the Word in season and out, reproved, rebuked, and exhorted with great patience and instruction, was sober in all things, endured hardship, did the work of an evangelist—and fulfilled his ministry. The time of his departure came having fought the good fight, finishing the course, and keeping the faith…. (2 Tim. 4:1-6) I am comforted with the truth that we will reunite someday, when the Lord Himself descends from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, as we are caught up together to meet the Lord in the air, so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4: 13-18) Maranatha!
 “… Shepherd the flock of God among you,
exercising oversight not under compulsion,
but voluntarily, according to the will of God;
and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;
nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge,
but proving to be examples to the flock.
And when the Chief Shepherd appears,
you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

(1 Pet. 5:2-4)