Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Month of Puritans--Jeremiah Burroughs--Part 3--The Evil of Evils


One of the things that give the Puritans a seemingly bad rap is that they appear too obsessed with sin, worldliness, and the coming judgment. That might be a fair statement although there is a host of their writings that deal with the so-called “positive” elements of the Christian life such as liberty, blessing, and seeking after character qualities that reflect the presence of God in our lives. But it must be taken into consideration that the Puritans were as Alexander Whyte termed them, “specialists of sin.” They had a way of describing sin in such a way that would be considered graphically repulsive to most people.

One of the reasons that they had such a huge disdain for any kind of sin was because of their high view of God and Scripture. When you have those two elements at play in your heart, much spiritual progress can be made. Suddenly God is no longer the meal ticket to accomplish whatever dreams you may have for this very short and limited life down here. They believed that by having such a relationship with God it created an atmosphere for them to live a faithful and godly life. They diligently pursued times of privacy with God that involved private prayer, Scripture reading, and meditation on the Scriptures. This action is what led to their understanding of who God was and what He desired of them.

Jeremiah Burroughs found himself in this vein of thought when he wrote this book that contains sixty-seven chapters. As with the book on Earthly-Mindedness, there are various divisions that he works through. The opening chapter informs the reader that these were actually a series of sermons that were preached on Sunday mornings beginning in November, 1641 and concluding in February, 1643. He works with the thought of the corruption of sin through seven different avenues:

1. It is an evil choice to take sin over affliction (trials and/or temptations).
2. Sin is most opposite to a man’s good and far more opposing to the good of man than any trial he has to endure.
3. Sin is opposed to all that is good. It takes away the goodness of all things in life. It brings a curse on us. It is a burden to heaven, earth, and all of God’s creatures. It turns the greatest good into the worst evil. Sin, if left alone, will bring all things to massive confusion.
4. Sin works like poison.
5. Sin has an unending power and fallout that one has to deal with in life.
6. Sin makes a man very pliable in the hands of the devil. (Unique thought in that because Rob Bell’s new treatise has done away with the devil and Hell.)
7. The last part deals with many comparisons and observations that Burroughs makes when he notes the outcome of sin in a man’s life.

As E. E. Jolley would tell you, “This chapter is worth the price of the book!” That chapter to me is Chapter 52. Burroughs spends much effort in making a determination what the difference between depression (melancholy) and a troubled conscience. The question arises for our modern day society; Is the vast evidence of depression really a troubled conscience that God is attempting to use to turn the unconverted into the converted?

Other observations that Burroughs uses in regard to sin come in this manner:

1. What is gotten by sin costs dearly.
2. What is gotten by sin is accursed to you.
3. What is gotten by sin must be cast away or the soul must be cast away.

He also marks three things that happen to men who become more prosperous by their sin:

1. Their prosperity becomes more fuel for their sin.
2. Their sin soon gives them more liberty to sin.
3. Their liberty and sin simply hardens their heart to indulge more and more.

Various Quotes:

Many of you, when it comes to it, will be more loathe losing a coin than commit a sin, more loathe enduring the least shame or nick-name than to commit a sin. Are there not many servants here, or children, who will tell a lie (when they have done evil) rather than suffer a little shame in the family from their parents or masters, fellow-servants and children? What a difference is there between your hearts and the heart of the martyrs!

(Speaking of the Apostle Paul) But when he comes to sin, that is heavy! O wretched man that I am! Thus he gives a dreadful shriek at sin. See what a difference he makes between affliction and sin, and accounts it abundantly more evil to be in sin that to be in affliction.

A gracious heart may bless God for afflictions, bless God that ever He did call him into an afflicted state; but he can never bless God for putting him into a sinful state, though God works good out of it.


More tomorrow. . .

Thanks for reading. . .

Philip Harrelson

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Month of Puritans--Jeremiah Burroughs--Part 2--Earthly-Mindedness. . .

A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness


The next few blogs will be about the writings of Jeremiah Burroughs which have been preserved via the printed press and now very accessible through various e-formats. As with all of the Puritans, their writings primarily consist of the sermons that they preached in their churches. If you take their sermons and compare them with what passes for sermons in our days, you will immediately notice the great lack in our times. Most of the sermons that the Puritans preached were around 1 ½ to 2 hours in length. People in our generation think that 40 minutes is a long sermon and some even conclude that the less the better. Furthermore, you will discover that the Puritans loaded their sermons with Scriptural exposition and frequently they would come at their texts from many different angles. I have no doubt that much of the Puritan preaching would probably empty out our modern day churches because there would be very few who could track with their messages.

As you begin to read their material you will immediately notice that they set forth a doctrine in the opening chapter and then spend many pages following to document and cross-reference that particular doctrine. The same practice is noted in Burroughs’ “A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness.” It is as follows:

DOCTRINE: The great difference between a wicked man and a godly man is that one minds earthly things and the other has his conversation in heaven. I intend to handle both these in order.

Next you will find that they Puritans will give their points as to how they expect to do this. Burroughs’ says he will do it in five ways.

1. What it is to mind earthly things in a sinful way.
2. The great evil that there is in minding earthly things and I shall help you discover a greater evil in it than you are aware.
3. Lay down some proofs whereby those men and women that think they are clear of this sin may have it revealed to their consciences that they are the men and women that do mind earthly things.
4. I shall search into the reason why the hearts of men and women are so much after earthly things.
5. I shall labor to take your hearts off of earthly things.

For those who are interested in doing sermon series, this is the introduction. There are seven more that follow this introduction and when you get finished with reading this sort of thing, much conviction will have settled into your heart.

They are listed as follow:

1. Earthly-Mindedness Discovered in Nine Particulars
2. Six Evils of Earthly-Mindedness
3. Eight Additional Evils of Earthly-Mindedness
4. Five Things may be Wrought in an Earthly-Minded Man
5. Seven Reasons of Men’s Earthly-Mindedness
6. Eleven Considerations to Take the Hearts of Men off of Earthly-Mindedness
7. Five Directions How to Get Our Hearts Free from Earthly-Mindedness

This is how the Puritans worked their preaching to their congregants. These congregations were people who read their Bibles intensely and were very knowledgeable to Scripture. Because of their proficiency with Scripture it forced the ministers to a greater depth of preaching. I pray for a revival of this kind of hunger for the Word in our generation.

Burroughs then goes into the aspect of what he calls “A Heavenly Conversation.” This is the mindset that is opposite of being worldly-minded. The sermons are as follow:

1. How Far the Examples of Godly Men Should Prevail with Us
2. What’s to be Done when Examples of Godly Men are Contrary?
3. Rebuke of those that follow the Example of the Wicked and Reject the Example of the Godly
4. Two Doctrines Observed from the Text
5. How the Saints are the Citizens of Heaven
6. How the Saints Have Their Conversation in Heaven
7. The Saints’ Trading for Heaven
8. Seven Evidences of Men’s Having Their Conversations in Heaven
9. Four Reasons Why the Saints Have their Conversations in Heaven

I can only recommend to you to dig into this work of Burroughs and you will find a soul-stretching, heaven reaching, and sin-hating attitude to develop within your own heart. I daresay that if you are a minister that there will be quotes and concepts that will stimulate sermons to come to life in your own preaching.

Various Quotes:

An earthly-minded man is like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. We read that they were swallowed up by the earth. So, the truth is, the things of the earth, contentments, provision for themselves and families in earthly things, opens up and swallows up the very hearts of earthly-minded men.

There are dangerous temptations in following after the things of the earth, and there is a snare in them that you do not think of. You think only of the splendor of the things of the earth, how sumptuously you should live and how fine you should be, in your house, in your clothes, and what table you may keep. You only think of those things that may give the flesh contentment. But you do not think of the temptation and the snare that is in them; and those whose hearts are set upon this thing fall into the snare, the temptation.

Earthly-mindedness is the root of apostasy.

Earthly-mindedness is that which will bring destruction at last, as it will drown your soul in perdition.


More tomorrow. . .

Thanks for reading. . .

Philip Harrelson

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Month of Puritans--Jeremiah Burroughs--Part 1

If you are a preacher, you have discovered that you must have an effective devotional life to continue to preach week-in and week-out. If your preaching is profitable to you and the congregation that you serve, you probably have discovered that good preaching has a price-tag on it. I am aware that the majority of readers of this blog are those who are actively involved in ministry of some sort and I am thankful for the privilege that you give me by visiting my ramblings. It is always my hope that when you are finished reading that you are more encouraged toward becoming better at what you do.

A part of a preacher’s devotional life is that of reading. I heard J. T. Pugh say in a licensing seminar one time that you will never be a great preacher if you are not a great reader. I have also become very aware of what we think is heavily influenced by what we read. GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out or Good In, Good Out!) really is a principle that we need to remember.

I remember stumbling across a book a number of years ago, entitled “The Minister’s Opportunities” by Ralph Turnbull. There is also a companion volume entitled “The Minister’s Obstacles” which has also been extraordinarily beneficial to me. But in the “Opportunities” book there is a chapter that is devoted to the study habits and study life of a preacher. I think I probably read that book back in 1993 or 1994 and just running over the part where Turnbull encourages the reader to seek out the Puritans. At the time, I hadn’t the foggiest idea who these writers were.

A bit later, I picked up a book written by Tony Sargent (The Sacred Anointing) that was a biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and discovered that D ML-J had spent much time with the Puritans. More recently I read the two-volume biography written by Iain Murray on D ML-J and really found much expansion on the Puritans. One last book that I read was the small biography written by Earnest Bacon on Charles Spurgeon who was considered an heir of the Puritans.

When I started delving into the sermons of the Puritans, I soon discovered a wealth of devotional material that served as priming points for sermons. With this information, I started building into my personal library a segment totally devoted to the Puritans. Oddly, I found that very few modern preachers really read much of their writings. So for the month of April, I am going to blog a series of articles about some of the more prominent Puritans that might be helpful for you. To further assist you and save you some money, you are going to discover that the great majority of their writings are in public domain and you can download them for free if you have any kind of e-reader. (I am still without an IPad and probably will be for a while unless one of you great fellows out there decides to send me one!)

First up is one of the lesser known Puritans but he has much to offer to your devotional life. Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) was a student of Thomas Hooker. He had a relatively short period of ministry where he served in four churches. Although his life was relatively short, it was a productive one that was marked by zeal and faithfulness. It did not take him very long to face the teeth of the opposition of the state run church. King James, around 1627 published a book called the Book of Sports. In it he stated the dancing, archery, pole vaulting, and other games were lawful recreations on the Lord’s Day.

Burroughs and many of his compatriot Puritan brothers refused the directive of the King that it should be read in the church. I have a feeling that many in our generation would scoff at this kind of thing and would acquiesce to the folly of reading this today in church. However, the Puritans found a number of great themes that they preached around; Heaven, Hell, Sin, and Calvary and the work of Atonement. Therefore any encroachment of what they deemed as worldliness was ardently preached and fought against. When was the last time that you preached a message on worldliness? That is a sobering question because this is not a “hot topic” that many preachers give their efforts to nor would our hearers purposely choose to listen to a sermon on this kind of content.


I realize that some of my Pentecostal brothers are going to swipe at my recommendation of the Puritans. However if you are even remotely acquainted with church history, you will discover that the Puritans and their preaching against sin and high calling for holiness affected the Wesley’s who were the founders of the Methodists. Whether we want to admit it or not, the Methodists and their call for personal holiness and separation from the world led to the so-called Holiness movement which in turn ushered in the Pentecostal revival that took place in the early 1900’s.

Burroughs had to endure some political and social sanctions against his ministry because of his disapproval of what he felt like was a work of the king to turn the church into a social activity instead of a spiritual one. His associations were very important in their influence on his ministry. Thomas Hooker, William Ames, and Edmund Calamy all had a part in helping Burroughs come to some of his strong convictions. What I found interesting about these Puritans is that many of them preached every day! They would have morning sessions that was designed much like a Sunday School and then at night they would teach various Bible classes and they were well attended. Burroughs died in 1646 after a fall from a horse.
Many of his books are still available through reprints or e-format.

The Evil of Evils, or The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin—Has 67 short chapters that expose sin and urge believers to fight sin in their personal lives.

The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit
—Based on Numbers 14:24 where Caleb is described as having “another spirit.”

An Exposition of the Prophecy of Hosea—It is considered one of Burroughs greatest works and fills 700 pages.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
—This is an excellent work on Philippians 4:11—I have learned! It describes the fruit of contentment in a believer’s life.

A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness—A great warning against allowing the mind to live and breathe the world that it has to live in daily.
Tomorrow I will break some of these down so that you will be able to discover some helpful things. If you choose to acquaint yourself with the material of the Puritans, you will soon discover how superficial that many of the books that are being churned out these days are.

Thanks for reading. . . .

Philip Harrelson

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--The Tape Lady--Paula Thompson

For the last couple of weeks, I wrote several blogs honoring Brother Harrell in Bridge City, Texas leading up to his and Sister Harrell’s 40th pastoral anniversary. Today, I want to go with one last blog post on that before I move on to other things. I called Paula Thompson who is responsible for what used to be the tape ministry at BCUPC but has evolved into the CD ministry there. I wanted to get some of her reflections on how much the preaching has affected her over the years.

She started attending BCUPC in 1980. She relocated from Indiana because of a sister who lived in Bridge City. Prior to her arrival in Bridge City she hadn’t attended church of any kind for over twenty years. Formerly a Jehovah’s Witness, she had walked away from all trappings of religion at a relatively young age. When her sister started attending BCUPC, she told the person who was making tapes to send some of Brother Harrell’s sermons to her in Indiana. She told me that she would get ten at a time and would listen to them all in one day. Although she had little respect for ministers and had never sat under a pastor, Brother Harrell’s preaching connected with her because as she said, “I was spiritually starving to death.” She couldn’t wait to get those tapes out of the mailbox. She would later realize how important that tape ministries are to churches.

So when she relocated to Bridge City, she started going to church there with her sister in 1980. It wasn’t too long before she received the Holy Ghost when an evangelist named Richard Nyhart came through and preached a revival.

In 1983 after some difficult health issues arose she was unable to work any longer. She approached Brother Harrell and asked him if there was something around the church she could volunteer to do. It just so happened that the lady who was taking care of the tape library moved away and someone needed to undertake the tape ministry at BCUPC. When some families relocated away from Bridge City to various parts around the country, they requested for her to mail them tapes. This is how the mail-outs started. It then grew until they were going out everywhere.

Through all of this she landed in her spot that has helped her to get Brother Harrell’s sermons out to the world. She is coming up on her thirty year anniversary in 2013. So that means Brother Harrell has to keep preaching and she has to keep making CD’s! She is seventy-two years old and needs to make it until she is eighty-five so that means Brother Harrell has quite a few sermons still left in him even after forty years!

She told me that when she started, only one tape at a time could be duplicated. Then they moved up to three and then up to six at a time. Before the tapes were replaced by CD’s she was mailing out 200-250 sermons per mailing to 15 states.

While she is responsible for taking care of CD recording and duplication, there are some other key people who assist in the process. Tom Snyder and Roy Vanhess run the sound board and the projection/video system at BCUPC. Tom has been in his slot since 1976 or 1978 and Roy has been involved for a long time also but Sister Paula (as they call her in BCUPC) did not know how long.

She told me that there has never been a sermon that Brother Harrell preached that she did not get something out of it. She knows the sermons well enough that if someone asks her what might be good for them at that particular time she can recall and recommend something to them. She periodically finds that ministers call the church and ask her if there is a particular message that might lift their spirit and she always is able to fill the bill.

She related to me recently about a lady who had just had a catastrophic and tragic event to take place in her life. She was fighting with a lot of despair over the situation and just happened to ask Sister Paula if there might be a sermon that Brother Harrell had preached that might help. She recommended “A Dark Place” to her and in a short period of time, she had called for twelve copies of the sermon to give out to others. Additionally she took several of them to work with her and passed them along to people who came to her office and would begin to tell of their own struggles in life.

One of the very popular sermons that ministers call for is “A Call and A Burden.” This sermon was one that Tim Delano recommended in a previous blog post. I have had others to mention this one to me also. She said that another sermon that she cannot keep copies of is “The Butterfly Effect” that Brother Harrell has preached within the last year.

When I asked her if there were any sermons that had stood out to her over the years, she gave me the following:

• An Ear Bored by an Awl
• Moab Is My Washpot
• You Can’t Carry Your Own Cross
• You Can’t Choose Your Own Cross
• Consistency, Thou Art a Jewel


She told me that this past weekend that when ministers would speak about Brother Harrell’s influence in their lives, the majority of them spoke of how consistent that he had been over all of the years of his ministry.

In some of the previous posts in case you might want to get some of the sermons Brother Harrell has preached, I listed the church phone number (409-735-5844). However, I am going to list the e-mail address of Sister Paula so that you will not have to call during church hours to request sermon CD’s. It is paula.thompson@bcupc.com .

Lastly, I am listing all of the posts honoring Brother Harrell.

Thanks for reading. . . .

Philip Harrelson

A Life of Preaching--A Salute to Rev. John Harrell--UPC Bridge City, Texas--Part 1

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--Part 2--A Pilgrim's Progress

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--Part 3--Stability


A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--Part 4--Helping Preachers


A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--The Top Five Sermons—5. Getting Used to the Dark

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--The Top Five--4. You Don't Choose Your Own Cross

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--The Top Five--3. Four O'clock In the Morning Courage

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--The Top Five--2. Oh Consistency, Thou Art a Jewel

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--The Top Five--1. A Perceived Slight

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--The Top Five--1. A Perceived Slight

# 1. A Perceived Slight


We have reached a concluding point of a two week series of this blog honoring Rev. and Mrs. J. W. Harrell who will be celebrating a 40th Pastoral Anniversary Sunday, March 20, 2011 in Bridge City, Texas. For those who have been reading these series of blogs, you owe it to yourself to at least visit the Bridge City United Pentecostal Church and if you cannot do that then call and order some of Brother Harrell’s CD’s of his preaching and you will find a great blessing.

Pastor Ken Gurley has posted a tribute to Brother Harrell on his Houston Chronicle blog and is worthy of your time. Brother Gurley showcases another one of Brother Harrell’s sermons, one of which I failed to mention, “The Hidden Part of a Dream.”

One other thing of note, pack a lunch before you read this one! It is very long, the longest one of all of them! I have received a number of e-mails that I am going to lightly edit and add to this blog of those who wanted to honor Brother Harrell. Furthermore, I trust you will forgive me for some personal references I will make at the end of the sermon synopsis of “A Perceived Slight.”

The lesson I learned with this sermon is that you never judge Brother Harrell’s sermons by the titles. That is what I did with this one. I looked at the title a number of times and did not listen to it because I judged it by its title. I am sure that I carried it around for six months in my car before I listened. However, in my opinion it has been the greatest sermon that he ever preached!

I listened to it on a very early Monday morning in 2002. I can’t remember a time in my life when I had been wearier spiritually, mentally, and physically. I was so tired that I was almost cross-eyed and still had a good 200 miles to drive before I could find a place to stop. I had gone to take care of an assignment for the weekend and a gripping discouragement had crept into my heart. It was almost as if Giant Despair had me in the dungeon at Doubting Castle and was beating the life out of me.


So after driving an hour and a half, I reached into my box of cassettes that I kept Brother Harrell’s sermons in and pulled out this one. I still remember that this one had the gold label on it instead of the silver one that was on many of the others. I read the title, “A Perceived Slight” and almost put it back in the box to move on to another one. Instead, I slipped it into the cassette deck of my little white Mazda 626 and little did I know that God was about to get in the seat next to me for the next 200 miles.

The text comes from Numbers 7:1-9 where the princes of Israel come to Moses and Aaron with a gift. The gift is six wagons and twelve oxen. I didn’t even have an inkling of where Brother Harrell was going with this sermon and even after he mentioned that Paul said in Ephesians 3 that we fellowship a mystery, I was still in the dark. However it did not take long to understand that God was using this message to help me get my focus back where it needed to be.

God’s math is sometimes fuzzy. So when Moses, under the direction of God, divided the gift up, it came down to this: Gershon was given two wagons and four oxen; Merari was given four wagons and eight oxen; and Kohath received nothing.

There seems to be a hint of injustice here. If one were to be fair about the whole matter, it would have been easy to come to a point of outright division. Three men so the logical conclusion would be to give two wagons and four oxen to each group. What an insult to Kohath and it appears he had been willfully and purposely mistreated. Invariably in life and even sometimes in the kingdom of God this is the way that things sometimes appear to us from the surface. Unfairly treated!


Periodically all of us have found ourselves encouraged by the words of Paul from Romans 8:28. All things work together for good. Not some things or many things but all things are working in our behalf. A whole lot of life will have many things that are not as they appear. Therefore the entire length of the way to heaven is a faith route. We must walk it by faith! Put your trust in God because He knows exactly what He is doing.

There are many dark threads of life and a lot of loose ends that you will not be able to explain or understand. Your life is not made up entirely of bright colors and everyday will not be sunshine and flowers. The sons of Merari used their two wagons as they were directed and the sons of Gershon used their four wagons as they were told to do. But the sons of Kohath, the Bible informs us that they had to shoulder their burden.

They were the most burdened of all. They had to take those old poles and slip them into place to carry the ark. Other men’s burdens rode on carts but Kohath’s burden rode on his shoulders. But God in his providence and in His economy and in His wisdom gave Kohath something that Gershon and Merari did not have. We are told that Kohath and his sons were given a song to sing as they were bearing the Ark of the Covenant.

There were some things of the Tabernacle that were too precious to be placed on a wagon. Moses did not trust the wagons for the precious cargo. He wanted the burdens to be carried in the hands and arms of the sons of Kohath. These consecrated hands carried something that they really did not comprehend. The Bible tells us in the previous chapters of Numbers that the furniture of the Tabernacle was wrapped up before they were given to the burden bearers. They were carrying something that they could not see. However that Ark represented the glory of God. For years on end, as they wandered through the wilderness, they carried their burden with the song that God had given them.

Some scholars say the Ark weighed in the neighborhood of 750 pounds and others say it was upwards of 1500 pounds. Regardless of what it weighed, for four men to carry something they couldn’t see for forty years had to a great duty. There is something about duty and says “I am going to get up and do it again.” Sometimes what we perceive as a slight is the vehicle by which God carries his glory. Hurting shoulders, weary feet, tired backs, and over-taxed minds pull at us because our circumstances don’t seem fair. But if I could only take this bit of truth and break it off in your heart like Brother Harrell did in mine, it would bring much assurance and encouragement to you in the place you are presently in right now!


God never fully explains Himself. The soldier on the front lines cannot see the whole picture that the General sees. He is simply at the command of an officer who does know the full detail. More often than not we find ourselves withering at the point of doubt and discouragement that forces its way into our heart. We sometimes look around and attempt to compare our burdens with others and from all signs; it sometimes appears that we may have to endure more than others. We want the right opportunity, the right chance, the right relationship, or just some intangible to be right.

Sometimes the sheer monotonous length of the journey gets to us and we feel as if we are simply spinning our wheels and accomplishing nothing. But just do what you are supposed to do and keep carrying your burden. Watch the burdens of others riding on carts and pulled by oxen but don’t dare get bitter or cynical or sarcastic or hard-hearted, or. . . you get the picture of what Brother Harrell was driving at.

It just so happened that I had gotten to a precarious place of watching a lot of burdens riding on carts and I didn’t have one for mine to ride on. But remember you are in great company! Simon the Cyrene got a cross he didn’t want, Abraham had some rocky valleys to contend with while Lot had well-watered plains, and John the Baptist had to decrease so Jesus could increase but all of these great men stepped into immortality because they didn’t let a perceived slight get to them.

Comparisons are deadly and they can give you a much skewed idea about what success really entails so don’t feel slighted in where God has you, it is a place of strength and an opportunity for development!


So often in my own personal life I thought that I had been slighted. One of the huge slights that I routinely had to battle with was the fact I worked full-time in a secular job along with ministry responsibilities. My situation was a bit different in that much of it was spent working with Brother Patterson who was actually the pastor. I was with him in much of the day-to-day operation of the church and he bore the primary load, I was still in a position that required much responsibility. I spent from 1992 until 2006 juggling work, family, and church until I left Flowers Hospital and assumed role as the pastor here in Dothan.

I can well remember going to various conferences and events and having ministers walk up to me and ask, “When are you going to get a real ministry?” or “When are you going to take a step of faith and do what God wants you to do?” or “I wouldn’t put up with what Brother Patterson is making you do!” How those things cut me deep into the soul and much wrestling would take place that no one could see.

One time just prior to leaving the hospital allowing my tongue to get out of hand and sarcastically responding to one of my detractors. He said, “When are you going to really do something with your life?” My response to him was, “You mean do like you? Play golf three or four times a week and fish away the spring and waste the winters hunting?” And I concluded with “I don’t think I want to work for God like you’re doing.” It was the wrong thing to say and later the Lord took me down a notch or two but the frustration of my perceived slight would sometimes make me want to throw it all in and further my education and be a CRNA and forget this business that God had called me to do.


I was like Kohath’s boys, wilting down under a burden that I couldn’t see. It was heavy; it was more than I thought I could bear but duty said, “Keep going!” and that is what I did. More times than not I had to keep my head down and my eyes cast to the ground because I dared not let anyone see those tears of weakness rolling down like a river. I know what Jeremiah felt like when he longed for his eyes to be like rivers.

A couple of times the battle came tremendously difficult. I started at Flowers Hospital just before I graduated from RN school and have known a lot of the old-timers there since the summer of 1985 and that helps when you want to get things done. One time several of the members of the anesthesia department and finally the director of the department approached me and told me that they would pay my way through school if I would just go and work there when I graduated. Another time, I had a physician approach me who was representing his group and wanted to send me to school to be a physician’s assistant. Both of these positions would have tripled my salary and would have been much more prestigious jobs but I couldn’t give in to those. Don’t think the battle was not monumental because the angst within was ripping me apart. But I just kept on walking while I watched the burdens of others riding on carts. I prayed desperately that my spirit wouldn’t get infected with jealousy, envy, and bitterness that sink even the stoutest of men. I would be remiss to leave out Brother Patterson in all of this for there were many times he helped me to keep my priorities right and my vision focused.

I have preached countless times; I have spent time praying with folks in the altars; worked at church “work” days; tried to encourage and help others and all the while had a beeper on my belt. At any moment it might go off and I would be summoned to an interventional radiology lab to work. Several times it went off in church and I would have to leave. Another time we had a big Accent weekend going and I was with the minister who had flown in to preach and I had to leave him and spend about half of Saturday night in the IR lab. What I did not know was that those moments were building character in me, I just couldn't see it.

A couple of other occasions stand out in my mind. One was a call weekend when our team (RN and two RT(R)s) spent most of Saturday both day and night, Sunday morning before church, and Sunday afternoon after church working with Dr. Downing. Another time, I had managed to get away all weekend without being called in and I told my wife just before 11:30 on a Sunday night that I thought I was going to make it without a callback weekend. Ten minutes later, I was called in and we worked all night long (12:15 until 6:30 AM) with Dr. Ahmed stopping a hemorrhaging kidney with coiled stents. Then our team ran home and got cleaned up and made it back to the hospital a little after eight to go at a full schedule in IR. The devil and your mind will take advantage of you during those times like that. He will say, “Boy, if were a real preacher you wouldn’t be doing all of this!” And you feel the weight of something you can’t see. In those times you no longer ache physically but it becomes mental and spiritual. Brother Harrell saved my soul with “A Perceived Slight.” That sermon breathed something into my soul.

Let me tell you just a few things my perceived slight did for me. It taught me incredible discipline and time management. It taught me a standard of excellence. It taught me that material things will pass away but the Kingdom of God will last forever. The practice of medicine added much wisdom to my understanding of human suffering. It taught me that big is not always better and that better is not always big.


The situations I worked around put me in contact with some of the most intrepid minds in our city and they motivated me to no end. I learned vast things from that group of physicians and our health care team. Dr. Veale taught me kindness and had a bedside manner that no one else rivals either in Dothan or Houston. He could bring bad news in a good way. Dr. Ahmed was a literal guru when it came to performing procedures and I wanted to do that with preaching. Drs. Lund and Alexander taught me how to be humble despite much success that had come their way. Dr. Fernandez taught me how to be kind to those who were seemingly working to undermine you. Dr. Downing taught me to leave no stone unturned because if we miss something the patient could have a bad outcome. Dr. Turner had the most brilliant mind in the group and I wanted to give my mind to theology like he had given his to the practice of medicine. Dr. Brink taught me how to be a workhorse that just steadily moved the mountain. Dr. Storm never allowed his position as a physician to be lorded over us. With Kevin, Regina, Michelle and Tara, I saw what teamwork could do.

There are qualities that I have in my life now that I would have never gotten if I hadn’t had to deal with these challenges. “A Perceived Slight” is only an opportunity for God to smooth out the rough edges of your soul. But you don’t see that too much when you are trudging around in a wilderness that is provided a defining moment in your life. I hope you get the picture with what I am writing to you. I plead with you that wherever you are at don’t let your burden get so difficult that it destroys you! It is not a slight, it is God’s plan! I could go on and on with this but I know you can see the same pattern in your own life if you look for it.

No sermon that Brother Harrell has preached before that one or after that one washed my soul like this one! Obviously I am not minimizing any of the previous sermons or the ones that have followed but God in His sovereignty let this one catch me at a time when I was slipping and sliding all over the place. I am not sure if this sermon is still available because it was one that captured on cassette before Hurricane Rita destroyed their tape archive. But you owe it to yourself to find this one!

On to those e-mails I mentioned in the beginning. One comes from our General Youth Secretary, Rev. Michael Ensey. He wrote:

Thank you once again for your inspirational writing and for helping so many of us see into the life of an amazing preacher and even better person. I have not heard that many of Brother Harrell's messages, but I have heard a few through the years. My mom has been a faithful subscriber for over a decade (I think she gets the top five each month) and she has passed on several of his messages to me that she thought were the best of the best.

One of them I believe was titled, "In Spite of Everything." The text was Phil 4:22 KJV 22 All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household. The main point: those who were Christians in Caesar's household were doing so against incredible odds and opposition, and they were putting their lives on the line by doing so. They were living for God in spite of everything. It was an incredible message and thought taken from one simple phrase in this verse.

Another of the most memorable and interesting messages I heard him preach was titled, "Slip." This nautical term means, "The difference between a vessel's actual speed through water and the speed at which the vessel would move if the screw were propelling against a solid." It is a message that encourages church attendance and explains the reason we need to hear preaching every week, and why we need to hear certain topics and themes repeated often. The point is this: God speaks a message into the heart of a preacher. That message is filtered through that preacher's life experiences and knowledge, and a little slip occurs. The preacher then delivers that message to his church. The message is shaped by the preparation and presentation ability of the preacher. A little more slip occurs. Then the hearer receives the message into their heart. It is filtered by the hearer's life experiences and knowledge. The hearer is also battling all of the distractions that occur at church both in their own mind and from others around them. More slip occurs. The end product is not quite always the same message that originated from the heart of God. That is why we need to go to church and hear preaching often even on the same subjects over and over again.

I have one final thought about Bro Harrell's preaching. One thing that stands out to me and seems to be pretty consistent in his messages: he repeats his titles often in a message. He drives home the main thought of his message (most often the title) and will repeat it over and over again. Maybe that is why his messages and especially his titles are so memorable.

Thanks again for your investment of time to share about Bro Harrell. God bless!


Another came from Pastor David Elms. Brother Harrell took him under his wing in the early '90's when he was a traveling evangelist. He wrote:

Thank you for doing this honorable thing for Bro Harrell. Here are my thoughts:

On every man's horizon there appear stars. They are not the Sun, yet they are dependable points of light by which one may chart the direction of their life. These steadfast lesser lights will always be shining amidst the haze of shifting things. They speak of life's fixed and stable qualities. Rev. John W. Harrell has been just that for me. His loving guidance has been a constant in my life. I am eternally grateful.

I cannot number the sermons 1-10, I will just name 10 which jump to the front of my heart.

You Can't Carry Your Own Cross
The Ear Bored through with the Awl
An Appeal from the Present into the Future
The Idolatry of a Friendship
Long Ropes Need Strong Stakes
Repairing the Gates I & II
Take What You Want, Take It, and Pay for It
The Conquest of Holy Eyes
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
A Thief Named Familiarity
A Ribbon of Blue
The Long Way Home

I could go on and on! I know I have neglected some of the best.

I owe so many of my victories to Rev. John W Harrell. He taught me to cut off my mountaintops and fill in my valleys. I love his soul! His sweet Hazel (his wife) is just as amazing. He is also great because of this great woman of God.


One more came from Pastor Andrew T. Urshan. He wrote:

I came across your blog, have enjoyed it, and want to add honor to Bro. Harrell.

The details are difficult to recall, but approximately 10 years ago after preaching somewhere down in the South, an old acquaintance approached me and in our conversation said that I would like her pastor's preaching. Back at home, in the days following that conversation, which I had though little more about, I received a padded yellow package in the mail. I noticed the package originated from Bridge City, TX. Inside the package were five cassettes with maroon labels with Pastor Harrell's name on them. I had listened to many hours of cassette preaching through the first eight years of my ministry at that time especially while driving. Little did I know how much I would appreciate the messages on those tapes. To a young minister, the preaching of an elder is very important. Along with my father and a very short list of other elders, Bro. Harrell's messages had a ring of stability, dependability, and depth of thought. As others, I also enjoyed the phrasing, thoughts, and texts of those messages. There will be times that I go back and listen again to those cassette tapes. As I write this, there are two messages that really stand out in my memory. 1) "The Carpenter Encouraged the Goldsmith" 2) "I Can"for

I also want to express my appreciation to the audio personnel of the Bridge City UPC. Without my request, there were several more yellow padded packages from Bridge City that appeared in my mailbox. What a great care package this was to one young minister! In one package there was a note that expressed the desire of the sound personnel to help strengthen my ministry with the messages that were sent. I would like to personally express my gratitude to those who cared enough to send those messages. Those individuals who record, duplicate, and distribute those quality tapes and CDs do a great job.


Brother Harrell has a son, Darryl, who has engineered a masterpiece computer program to track sermons. I have been using the program for about six or seven years and it is very useful. You can track the sermons by subject, date, Scripture reference, location, and subject. Additionally it exports the records in PDF format and also in Microsoft Excell. Another unique feature is that it allows one to track his personal library by purchase date, price, author, and subject. I do not have a contact number for him but drop me an e-mail if you are interested and I will see as to how you can purchase it. It is very economical and I have found it to be much more valuable than the modest price than I paid for it.

Brother Harrell many of us are in great appreciation for what your preaching has done for us. Bridge City, I hope you have an awesome weekend! I regret that I cannot attend but will be thinking of you. . . . .

God Bless to All. . . .

Thanks for reading. . . .

Philip Harrelson

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--The Top Five--2. Oh Consistency, Thou Art a Jewel

# 2. Oh Consistency, Thou Art A Jewel


We are winding down toward Number One leading up to the 40th Pastoral Anniversary of Brother and Sister Harrell in Bridge City, Texas on Sunday, March 20, 2011. Before going any further, I have had a number of e-mails asking about sites that have MP3’s of Brother Harrell’s preaching. To my knowledge there are none out there. However, I am going to give you a person who can send along most of the messages that have been featured on the Barnabas Blog in the last two weeks and you can order them on CD.

None of Brother Harrell’s preaching would have made it out of Bridge City as we have come to know and appreciate if it weren’t for the assistance he has of some very good audio support folks. I think Tom (sorry I don’t know a last name) is responsible for the sound; another man is responsible for Powerpoint and Paula Thompson has been doing the tape/CD ministry for a long time. I am not sure when she started but I do know that she was taking care of it in the early ‘90’s maybe even longer. You can reach her at the church at 409-735-5844. She can send along requests that you have or put you on a subscription list and you will receive CD’s in the mail on a regular basis.

I have had a bit of a dilemma in coming down to these last two slots. I actually had three choices for this spot at Number 2. Oh Consistency, Thou Art a Jewel won out after a phone conversation I had earlier in the week with Brother Harrell. The other two choices that I had were “A Loaf of Bread and A Flagon of Wine,” and “The One-Hundred and Fifty-Six Mile Race.” I would recommend both of these to you to listen to at some point.


Over the years, this sermon is one that Brother Harrell has repeated perhaps more than any other. However, when you are logging in 90 or more times to preach per year out of 156 opportunities, even if he makes it around to preach it once every other year that is only once every 312 opportunities. It is a message that we need to hear much more than once every other year. This sermon is more than just a sermon Brother Harrell has demonstrated this with his life. When your life is consistent, it is easy to preach something of this nature.

Brother Harrell took his text from Matthew 25:21 where the phrase is found that you have been faithful over a few things. This is the way that we will get to heaven by being faithful over a few things, not doing great things, just being a responsible person. Shove off the patterns of inconsistency in life and look forward to hearing the voice of the Lord saying, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.

Jehu was a man who was anointed to be the king of Israel. He immediately set about to making proper reforms. He brought a brief revival of reform but because he was not consistent it was short-lived. Consistency would have brought much to the soul of Israel if Jehu would have done what he was called to do.

• Consistency hates tardiness and absenteeism.
• Consistency thrives on sacrifice and unselfishness.
• Consistency is a mark of maturity; it hangs in there day-in and day-out.
• Consistency makes people very valuable to God and His kingdom.
• Consistency is a vital ingredient to a happy home and marriage.
• Consistency won’t let you wallow around in self-pity.
• Consistency does not get weary in well-doing.
• Consistency works in season and out of season.


What many people do not realize is that the everyday mundane routines of life are actually creating a sense of stability in the lives of many that are associated with us. I can remember well what Brother Harrell told me one time. He said, “When those folks walk in that church in Dothan every Sunday and see you and Brother Patterson sitting on that platform and preaching the Word, it very well could be the only consistent thing in their lives. You need to be consistent amidst all of the ups and downs that people have to deal with. Job pressures, financial setbacks, and all the other stresses of life will wilt them down and they need to see a pastor who just keeps on doing the same thing over and over. That is how you build a church. It’s going to take your whole life to build that church!” This is wise advice not just for me but for a host of other ministers out there.

He concluded the message with this thought: The last thing the world needs is people who are not consistent in their lives and in their profession. One of the things the church is here for is to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. He said that numerous people who are totally backslid tell him how worried they were that one day when they decided to get in a right place with God and their wouldn’t be an old-fashioned apostolic church for them to go to so they could get right. Even if those kinds of folks don’t come right now, they know that you are going to be here. Consistency, Thou Art a Jewel! They can drive down the road at night and they are thankful that the lights are on and someone is inside being consistent in the apostolic doctrine and lifestyle despite it being under great challenges in our day.

Brother Harrell said when he was growing up in Lake Charles that he wasn’t right with God. He would tell the boys in the car “Don’t go down 6th Street tonight.” He said he never did tell them why but on Friday nights, the First Pentecostal Church of Lake Charles, Louisiana was having church. He said that every time he went by there in that condition, it was like a dagger plunged in his heart. Even though he wasn’t right with God, he knew that he ought to be there with them. That is why we have to be consistent is because there are a lot of folks out there who deep down in their heart know this is the right way and one of these days when they make it back, we don’t need to have changed a bit!

Quotes from the sermon:

“Pastors have it when they labor in rocky soil. It reveals itself when employees show up on time, roll up their sleeves and commit themselves to doing their job instead of watching the clock.”

“Diligence is the brother of consistency. Dependability is its partner. Discipline is its role model.”

“I’m not mad, I’m just preaching!”

Murry Ray has dropped me another e-mail that I thought would be a good part of this blog post. It is as follows:

I noticed that several people have remarked about certain phrases Bro. Harrell has used over the years. I realize you have probably heard some of these but I thought you might be interested in them anyway.

1." I'm not mad I'm just preachin!"
2. "What's the deal?"
3. "What's that all about?"
4. "I'd like to drive this into your heart and break it off! Then I'd like to drive the rest of it in on top of that!"
5. "Dear, God! Have mercy!"
6. "Somebody punch me with an Amen!"
7. "Everybody, warm up your Amen!"
8. "I wish somebody would help me preach!"
9. "I just love that!"
10. "You can hold a bear that long!" (My personal favorite)
11. "Awesome!"

Never ask his opinion if you can't handle an honest answer. I was getting ready to buy a motor home once. I felt a little uneasy about it so I called him to get some advice. I was on my way to sign the papers when I finally got in touch with him. He said, "Oh, Murry. You have called the wrong guy to ask about a motor home! You might as well stop on your way home and get a loaf of bread and a large jar of mayonnaise. When you get a chance you need to slather the miracle whip on both pieces of bread and slap the bread on each side of that motor home because you are going to be eating it for a long time!" I never bought a motor home and haven't even considered one since!


Coming tomorrow is the greatest sermon that I think Brother Harrell has ever preached.

Thanks for reading. . .

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--The Top Five--3. Four O'clock In the Morning Courage

# 3. Four O’clock In the Morning Courage


The third sermon of the top five in my opinion that Brother Harrell has preached was entitled “Four O’clock in the Morning Courage.” I have mentioned several times in the last few blogs how important it is to listen to sermons and how that the state of mind and of the soul all influence how we hear the sermon. Some time back I wrote a series of blogs about how we should listen to sermons (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) and there is a prominent responsibility that must take place with the hearer. As a listener, we need to go beyond just hearing what a preacher is saying.

Before I get into a brief summary of this sermon, I would encourage all of you who listen to Brother Harrell to go with me on a bit of a trip with those sermons. Don’t just hear them! Mull them over and consider what is beyond he is preaching and for that matter any preacher is preaching. I have noticed over the years the sermons that Brother Harrell preaches have a theme or principle behind them. When you go beyond the sermon itself and glean the nugget that the Word is bearing out then you have gained a treasure. When you listen to preaching in this manner, it suddenly opens up a new world to you that will lead you to spiritual growth.


For the sake of an example, I will stimulate your thoughts with some of the sermons that I and others have mentioned. Consider the “Comfort” series and you will find that there was comfort or encouragement that was invested into every one of them.

• The Carpenter Encouraged the Goldsmith—Encouragement; Excellence
• Truth Crushed to the Earth Shall Rise Again—Justice
• Nachon’s Threshing Floor—Personal Sacrifice; Commitment
• Forgetful Green: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth—Ingratitude
• Tell Hell I’m Getting Back Up—Persistence; Perseverance
• Vanity Fair—Parts 1 & 2—Worldliness; Corrupting Influence of Sin
• That Which He Took in Hunting—Laziness
• The Bitter Is Better—Challenges of Life
• Making Change Your Friend—Adaptability
• The Seed by the Wayside—Dangerous Distractions
• A Sermon on Diamonds—Tribulation and Trials
• Roadblocks—Hindrances to Progress
• The Treasure—Priorities
• The Battle Is in Your Mind—Taking Thoughts Captive
• Between A Rock and a Hard Place—Trouble
• The Price Can Be Too High—Stubbornness
• Fading as a Leaf—Death
• A Basket of Summer Fruit—Judgment
• The Art of Looking Away—Patience
• Somebody Helped You Get Where You Are—Brotherhood
• Open Your Hand and Let It Go—Overcoming Bitter Experiences of Life; Pruning
• Remembering the Fish, Cucumbers, Onions, Leeks, Melons, and Garlic—Glamorizing the Past; Temptation; Backsliding
• Living Under Tension—Obstacles and Irritations of Life
• Don’t Fail Backwards—Making the most of Failure
• It Behooved Christ to Suffer—Value of Suffering

I know many ministers who are listening to Brother Harrell every week. I implore you to pay attention to what he is doing, every time you listen to one of the CD’s or tapes you are sitting in a Homiletics lab or sorts. Go beyond just listening to him but think with what he is saying and it will make you a better preacher. Take note of the themes that are listed beside the sermon titles and you notice a very balanced delivery of virtues and themes that will make better Christians.

I go back to a quote from my Bible college days when a teacher said, “Poor preaching is a heavy cross to bear.” The burden is on the pulpit to communicate and if the people aren’t getting it, it is not their fault but rather the fault of the one preaching. Good preaching is hard work and it doesn’t just happen. A preacher has to spend time working at his craft. It is curious to me how that the most important thing that preachers do—preach; often gets the least amount of their time. After forty years of devotion to preaching, we admire Brother Harrell because of his gifts but it did just happen, he worked day after day with it. Bridge City has been built on preaching. Brother Harrell has told me numerous times, “It’s hard to improve on three songs and a sermon!” I couldn’t agree more.

The sermon, “Four O’clock in the Morning Courage” gives away its theme in the title. He took his text from Luke 9:51 where Jesus is going to face the crucifixion. He knows what is in store for him and the greatest quality of it all was his sense of courage. It is a cold-blooded courage that usually has no one watching. It is a place where one does what he is supposed to do regardless of the situation.

• Four O’clock in the Morning Courage is bearing untold grief for the loss of a loved one.
• Four O’clock in the Morning Courage is taking care of a family member who has a long debilitating illness.
• Four O’clock in the Morning Courage is dealing with severe financial setbacks.
• Four O’clock in the Morning Courage is fighting things out to the finish.
• Four O’clock in the Morning Courage is ignoring the odds and facing it down with honor.
• Four O’clock in the Morning Courage is overcoming a difficult childhood.
• Four O’clock in the Morning Courage is what is demonstrated by a lot of parents, Sunday School teachers, and those who live the rank and file of life and they face life and get the best of it.
• Four O’clock in the Morning Courage is a young married couple pressing through obstacles of life while they have to endure wagging heads and tongues.
• Four O’clock in the Morning Courage a young person living for the Lord in a school when no one else around them is.


God is aware of the struggles of those who manifest this kind of courage and the angels observe but the eyes of all others are never aware of the difficulty they face. Esther had this kind of courage when she said, “If I perish, I perish!” Job had this kind of courage when he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust him!” The Lord set his face like a flint to go on.

Read about Emily Bronte and you will discover the actions of one who is filled with courage. She worked steadily despite a terrible dog bite, a fire that destroyed her home, and a host of other calamities of life. She wrote these words not long before her death, “No coward soul is mine, No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere: I see Heaven's glories shine, And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.”

You have to get back up again and again after you fall. Brother Harrell ended by saluting the congregation in Bridge City by telling them that many of them over the years had demonstrated tenacity that had inspired him.

I include another e-mail that I have lightly edited to remove some of the personal comments from Tim Delano who pastors in San Marcos, Texas:

My favorite sermon by Brother Harrell is a "A Call and a Burden" preached on 7-6-2003. It starts out with the words: "There is nothing more overrated than a burden". He goes on to say that many have followed a burden and have messed up their lives following that burden when they did not have a call. He also makes this statement: "When you answer the call of God then the burden will come." I tell many ministers that this is the sermon that they should listen to. In fact I would go as far as to say that every minister needs to listen to this sermon. Sitting in front of me are many more sermons that I have not listened to that I look forward to hearing. I have been blessed by the ministry of Brother Johnny Harrell.

More tomorrow. . . .

Thanks for reading. . .

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--The Top Five--4. You Don't Choose Your Own Cross

# 4. You Don’t Choose Your Own Cross


In trying to pin down the best sermons that I gained the most from that Brother Harrell preached has been difficult. I also realize that when a man preaches those in the congregation are listening with various difficulties of life that they are facing. While one may say that it was the most encouraging sermon he has ever heard, another hearer may not even be stirred by it. Much of the way that we listen to sermons is what we are struggling with at the time. This message came to me during a time of personal disappointment for the cross that I was having to shoulder at the time. Doors were not opening as quickly as I wanted and the doors that were open to me were not the ones I wanted to walk through at the time. I look back now from a vantage point of seventeen years and see that God could not have worked it out any better. It will happen with you too but you don't choose your own cross.

Over the years, Brother Harrell has routinely preached about the Cross. Sermons such as “You Can’t Carry Your Own Cross,” “Paradoxes of the Cross,” “It Was Dark at Calvary,” “Calvary,” “Bearing the Cross,” “They Ministered at Calvary,” “The Cross You Can’t Carry,” and “The Fading Cross.”

Brother Harrell preached “You Don’t Choose Your Own Cross” on January 12, 1994. Over the years, he would occasionally repeat it particularly when he would do the “Favorite Sermons” to the church in Bridge City. The gist of the message is that God’s children will periodically have to endure the firm hand of discipline that comes from the Lord. He does this because He loves us and our chastening is not grievous but it is helpful in that many times it will be the salvation of our soul.


The surrounding text from 2 Samuel 24 was the time when David was to be punished by God for numbering Israel. He was given choices by God as to what the judgment would be but instead he deferred and allowed God to determine what to do. This is always the best choice because God knows far more about the future than what we even could perceive to understand.

David had a choice of seven years of famine which would mean that there would people would be starving to death. Another choice was fleeing from the enemy for three months in the wilderness but he already knew what that was like also. Thirdly, he was given a choice of having to endure a plague that would have tormented and even destroyed the lives of those he ruled over. The dilemma was difficult at best.

One of the greatest mistakes in life is that we look on the hardships and difficulties of others and secretly wish that we had their cross instead of our own. We have the idea that we would be able to handle it so much easier to contend with. However the very nature of the cross is that it will be difficult for a man to bear. It is quite foolish to long and pine for another man’s difficulties in exchange for your own.

Brother Harrell rarely uses poems in his sermons but during this one he used this one:

I asked God for strength that I might achieve. I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey. I asked for health that I might do greater things. I was given infirmity that I might do better things. I asked for riches that I might be happy. I was given poverty that I might be wise. I asked for power that I might have the praise of men. I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God. I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. I was given life that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

God knows exactly what He is doing when He chooses our cross!

Your cross will blossom and bloom just as Aaron's rod did in the Old Testament. But you have to stay with it and don't lose faith in God. Brother Harrell encouraged that we must have a blind faith in the plan of God for our lives. Again, looking back in retrospect it was all for the best. There are gifts and talents that have made my life so much richer but it was made so because I didn't choose my own cross.

He concluded with something that many would probably enjoy. He said that he would like to have a preaching marathon. He thought he would start at eight with just him and Sister Harrell. Then he would preach at the ten o’clock service, dismiss and go eat and come back and preach that afternoon and then again that night. He would preach the marathon. I have no doubt he could do it!

Quotes from the sermon:

“Men have a tendency to quarrel with their own cross. They would have chosen something else to contend with. If it would have been another situation, I could have borne it better.”

“One man’s meat is another man’s poison and it is certainly so when it comes to crosses. When we get over there, we will see how wisely the Lord has chosen our cross for us.”

“Churchanity wants to do away with cross-bearing but if there is no cross there will be no crown.”

I have had a few more e-mails of those who have heard Brother Harrell over the years and have sent in their “Top Ten.”

Garrett Delano
—1. They That Were Ready; 2. A Call and a Burden; 3. The Holy Ghost Sat on You; 4. Truth Crushed to Earth Shall Rise Again; 5. A Branch with Berries on It; 6. Contented yet Discontented; 7. The Blood and The Ground; 8. God Knows How to Thread the Needle; 9. Heaven on the Road; 10. Nachon's Threshing Floor.

I received the following e-mail from Murry Ray who pastors in Trumann, Arkansas. I have edited it somewhat but you will again see the impact of Brother Harrell on a young preacher. It is as follows:

Murry Ray--Bro. Harrell has been my pastor for 32 years! It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed by so quickly. I was ten when my family started attending BCUPC and received the Holy Ghost shortly thereafter. I have many wonderful memories of growing up in that church and cherish the Word preached so effectively and masterfully by Bro. Harrell. Sermons I remember most are some of those already mentioned, but there are a few more I could add to the list. Here are just a couple:




The Carpenter Encouraged the Goldsmith
One of the Days of the Son of Man
Nine Miles to Hell (Probably stirred me more than any message I've ever heard)
The Bells on the Horses
What To Do When You Panic
The Carvings on the Wall
Light Sown for the Righteous
The Word of a Gentleman

Bro. Harrell not only has the unique ability to reach into the depths of God's Word and draw out precious truths. He also has the rare ability to preach profound sermons from simple, if not, unusual thoughts. Three that come to mind: Apple Blossoms, Hope Seed, Hymn Number One.


More tomorrow. . .

Thanks for reading. . .

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--The Top Five Sermons


# 5. Getting Used to the Dark

Today and through the rest of the week, I am going to pull out the top five sermons that Brother Harrell preached that personally caught me at the right time. I could easily do many more that have helped but for the leading up to the fortieth anniversary in Bridge City this coming Sunday, I limit them to five. The greatest power that a sermon has is when it makes those who hear want to do something, make some sort of adjustment and give themselves to a noble cause. This one did exactly that for me. It made me want to be holy and to rise and preach holy.

Brother Harrell preached “Getting Used to the Dark” on January 8, 1984. I was a senior in high school and at the time had no idea that I would be where I am today, much less the pastor of a church. America was somewhat in her height of being a super-power with Ronald Reagan in the White House and the economy had significantly turned around from the previous Carter era.

The United Pentecostal Church had N. A. Urshan as its General Superintendent, C. M. Becton as its General Secretary, and Harry Scism as the Foreign Missions Director. If memory serves me correctly, Rex Johnson was the General Youth Division President, Jerry Jones was the Secretary, and Jerry Dean was the Promotions director. The Youth division men were in their thirties and Brother Harrell was in the neighborhood of forty-three or forty-four years old. Around that same time, Because of the Times, a conference that would have far-reaching effects would be in its infancy led by Anthony Mangun in Alexandria, Louisiana.

The sermon text was from Ephesians 5:11. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” He starts by telling a story about a visit to a restaurant that had poor lighting and the challenges of reading the menu and then having to eat in the dark. He used that as a starting point and how that after a while when he was able to read the menu and eat because he had gotten used to the dark.

He then turned his preaching to the fact that if we aren’t vigilant and determined that our society can literally stand us on our heads spiritually because of the gradual desensitization that takes place with us concerning sin. The message is timeless because what Brother Harrell preached in 1984 is very applicable for today. We have gotten so acclimated to the darkness that what we think is normal and acceptable now would have been anathema to those who were in the early church or for that matter those in the church in the 40’s and 50’s. The rising argument from our opponents is that we have embraced legalism and bondage with our lifestyle when the sad reality is that we having gotten used to the dark. I have a feeling that if Brother Harrell were allowed to preach this message at a large conference, he would be mocked, shouted down, and chided because we have gotten so used to the dark. Live in the darkness long enough and you get accustomed to it.

Lot never got around to correcting his direction of his life. He pitched his tent toward Sodom and it wasn’t long before he moved in. There was only one message of righteousness that Lot heard to try to get him to turn around. But because he had gotten used to the dark, he had made too much money there, he had lived there for way too long and he lost so much. He lost his family because he got so used to the dark. There are many things he lost because of doing business so long in Sodom.

There are many “Lot’s” in our generation that are telling us that we need to associate with Sodom in order to convert them. They say keep the lights off and get used to the dark. Theological shifts are creating Mulligan stews that are crippling our movement. They are saying that the darkness is lifting and there is more light coming our way but the sad fact is that we are simply becoming more accustomed to the dark. The moorings have been lost and the church is in deep trouble. Remember this was in 1984 and it was a sure word of prophecy then. For those who are old enough, you would have to admit that we have had incredible shifts away from where we once were. I can even see that in my own life. However, it isn’t too late! All we need is for a few to be willing to take some criticism and misunderstanding and get back to preaching this kind of content and plead with a church to turn around and listen to the warnings of Scripture.

Brother Harrell again reaches back to Pilgrim’s Progress and pulls out the story of Christian when he and his companion get to Vanity Fair. He notes that Bunyan wrote, “and as they wondered about their apparel, so did they likewise about their speech. Few could understand what they said for they naturally spoke the language of Canaan. But they that kept the Fair, that is Vanity Fair, were men of this world and they seemed to be barbarians to each other.” Their clothes and their speech were so different from the citizens of Vanity Fair that they were spectacles. How sad it is that there is little difference between the church in their clothes and their speech now from those who live in our modern “Vanity Fair.”

When the fences get down all sorts of things begin to creep in the church. When preaching on holiness becomes absent from the pulpit the church will get more and more like the world. All the while we are getting used to the dark. Desensitized to the degree that we often get angry when a preacher rises to the pulpit and tries to turn us toward God and so the darkness is ruining us because we are used to it.

There is great power in consecration and sacrifice that will come to your life if you will make the commitment to live in the light. Some of that consecration and sacrifice will mean that you will have to have a preacher. The watchman has to get on the wall periodically and send out a clear call to holiness. God has limits that have to be applied in every aspect of our life. If we lose our consecration our personal lives and the church will become nothing more than a swamp. We need a river flowing through the church. It brings depth and cleanliness to our lives.

I have a few questions for you:

• How do you respond when a preacher makes you uncomfortable with preaching standards of holiness?
• Do you accuse those who have standards of holiness as embracing legalism and bondage?
• Are you doing things now that you would have blushed at twenty years ago?
• Are you making allowances and excuses for your acclimation to the dark?
• What are your spiritual disciplines like? Prayer? Fasting? Devotion to the Word?
• Are you more spiritual since you made all of these changes or less spiritual?

Some quotes from this sermon:

“There is a slow brain-washing that has taken place with our society and sin.”

“Many of the magazine articles and television shows of our day are nothing short of vile and have put America in the darkness of Sodom and Gomorrah right in their own living room.”

“There are people who have had convictions for years but now their values are crumbling. The strange thing is it is taking place just before the end of the age. Spiritual deadness is settling down on our generation.”

“There is more pressure on the ministry to compromise than ever before. You are feeling the pressure too! Not only on the pulpit but on the church too!”

“Grace, grace, grace. . . . Mercy, mercy, mercy. . . we are hearing that more than ever but God is still a righteous God and immorality is not justified. What is happening is that we are just getting used to the dark.”

“There is a hot coal from hell that the devil has taken and laid it on the conscience of men. Their conscience has been seared. It has been cauterized by a hot iron.”

“We have lived to see the day that if a preacher preaches on holiness, he is called a redneck. Well. . . just let my neck get red!”

Routinely in Brother Harrell’s preaching, he says “I want to take this Word and break it off in your heart!” This one got broke off in my heart and I am not letting go of it. Too much is riding on me not getting used to the dark.

Thank You, Brother Harrell!!!!!! May God give you ten more years of good health and a ready mind. . . .

More tomorrow. . . .

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--Part 4--Helping Preachers

I appreciate all the e-mails and comments that have come my way during this time that I am honoring Brother Harrell from Bridge City, Texas. One week from this coming Sunday (March 20), Brother and Sister Harrell along with the church will be celebrating their 40th pastoral anniversary.

Along with the consistency and stability that Brother Harrell has modeled for the last forty years, there is another outstanding quality that he has that goes along with his preaching. He is very willing to help preachers. Whether it is with a sermon they may be working on, a church problem they are attempting to work out, or personal problems that are deep-seated and challenging, he does his best to help them out. This is not something that has just started but has been going on for years.

In the neighborhood of thirty years ago, a young preacher from Texas lost his wife and son in a tragic motor vehicle accident. At the time, in addition to being a pastor, he was also the Texas District Youth President. When Pastor Rex Johnson wrote his book, A Palm and A Willow, he documents that Brother Harrell called him every day for a year to help him get through that terrible accident. You have to remember that this was in the days before cell phones so there wasn’t much multi-tasking going on. You were confined to wherever the phone was. This is just one of the examples of many that Brother Harrell has helped over the years.

He was also more than willing to help young preachers get the hang of preaching. For those who listen to preaching, I will tell you that it is a whole lot harder than it may look! In years gone by numerous young preachers have gone to Bridge City and sat down with him and while he talked, they scribbled furiously on legal pads. They ended up going away from that meeting and working with that material and turning it into a sermon. I know of several prominent men both in the UPC and in other circles who would have a series of camp-meetings to preach and would spend time with him preparing for it. Brother Harrell laughingly told me one time that then they would go off and preach it better than he could. Just for the record, I don’t believe it!

One such man he has helped who has in turn done the same thing is Pastor Ken Gurley who is also the South Texas District Superintendent. Brother Gurley has helped multiple young preachers over the years. In fact, Brother Gurley was one of my instructors in Bible College and I attended his church numerous times during my time in Houston. He is also a masterful preacher.

After I graduated from Texas Bible College in 1992 and had come back to Alabama, I became involved in Senior Bible Quizzing. I had a tournament up in north Alabama on a Saturday more than fifteen years ago and found out that Brother Gurley was to be preaching a Friday night service in the Huntsville area. I drove about 300 miles to be in that service with hopes of possibly being able to catch up with him. That night he preached a message Dance Like Nobody Is Watching, a classic Pentecostal sermon about worship.

After the service, I found out that he did not have any commitments and so we went to a local Appleby's in Huntsville. So for about two hours we talked about preaching, books, putting messages together, and sermon delivery. I left that night with the proverbial wagon loaded and further forged my friendship with Brother Gurley.

Here is where Brother Harrell enters the life of Brother Gurley. He told me that in the early days, that he was an administrative assistant to E. L. Holley, Texas District Superintendent. One of his responsibilities was to go and preach in churches that were in transition between pastors. After he had been out of the circuit a bit Brother Holley started getting complaints about how terrible of a preacher that he was. He told me that everyone would always say, "Brother Gurley is the nicest young man but he is the most terrible preacher we have ever heard!!!" He was devastated by all of this and started trying harder to put it together but he just could not do it. It seemed as if the harder he tried, the worse it got.

I am not sure if Brother Holley sent Brother Gurley to Bridge City, Texas or if he had Brother Harrell to call him. However Brother Harrell soon took an active interest in Brother Gurley. He said that Brother Harrell started calling him twice a week. He would call him on Thursday night and say, "Ken, what are you preaching Sunday?" Brother Gurley would say, "Well, I don't know yet." He said then that Brother Harrell would start "rambling" about a story that he had heard and then would connect it with basically a Scripture that went with a sermon. Then Brother Harrell would call him early the next week to find out how things had gone.

Brother Gurley said that it took him about a month to figure out what Brother Harrell was doing when he would call. He said then that as soon as Brother Harrell would call on Thursday or so, that he would go flying through the house and find a legal pad and then scribble down everything that Brother Harrell said while they were on the phone. Then he would go preach it on the weekend!

But then the piper had to be paid!!! Brother Gurley said that when Brother Harrell would call him early in the week and ask him what he had preached that Brother Gurley would say, "Ahh, uhh, well you know, Brother Harrell, ahh, uhh, I just sorta preached what ahh, uhh. . . me and you talked about last week." I will never forget Brother Gurley telling me this in that Appleby’s in Huntsville. I laughed until my sides hurt when Brother Gurley told me about all the hemming and hawing he did on the phone. He said that Brother Harrell never criticized, castigated, or humiliated him. He said that Brother Harrell was always very affirming with his comments.

Brother Gurley told me that Brother Harrell called him for a solid year or so until he had determined that Bro. Gurley had a grasp on putting things together. What a thing to be said! This is where mentoring must play a role in the lives of preachers! As time has passed, I have met a number of men who Brother Harrell has helped.

On yesterday, I requested that those who had heard Brother Harrell preach memorable messages to send me an e-mail with those sermons. I got the following responses.

Jerry Dean— He preached a message called “Oil from the Flinty Rock” to the General Youth Committee. I am not positive that the title is exact but I never forget the sermon. I think the text may have been from Psalms where it says something like oil from the flinty rock.

Shannon Stanley—I guess I contribute an incredible amount of my ministry to Pastor John Harrell - someone that I have admired and been touched by over the years (especially my formative years). I owe probably 75% of my personal library to Pastor John Harrell's recommendations. The sermons are: When We Walk, We Save Something; That Which He Took In Hunting; Yokes of Wood and Yokes of Iron; A Branch on the Breakers; A Thief Named Familiarity; An Appeal From the Past; How to Argue with God and Win; Making Change Your Friend; and Rest Your Soul in a Patch of Light. You are free to use any of these. I also could list others, but I think you listed a lot already and I was trying to list a few that I hadn't noticed.

Tony McCall—In my opinion his legacy is much like that of Spurgeon, who he often references. He is truly the "Prince of Pentecostal Preachers." I have a neighboring pastor that originated in his church. Every time I'm around him he gives me a handful of Harrell CDs to listen to. I've never been disappointed and often I've been challenged. Many of them have found their way into my preaching. In response to your request, my all time favorite sermon by Brother Harrell is "The Bitter is Better", about the bitter springs that God first took the Israelites to in the exodus from Egypt.

Alfred Gibson—Brother Harrell was my pastor for 17 1/2 years. One of my all time favorite sermons was "Treasures of the Snow."

Jonathon Sanders—One of my favorite sermons that Brother Harrell preached based on Pilgrim's Progress was "Forgetful Green, the Most Dangerous Place In All These Parts." Powerful message. “When Prayers Are Feeble" changed my life.

Thanks for reading. . . More on Monday. . .