Top Ten Sermons - # 7 - The Beauty of the Beast - Ken Gurley
Ken Gurley is another one of the most remarkable men that I have ever met. Just as Kelsey Griffin would place his very valuable influence on my life, so would Bro. Gurley. I met Bro. Gurley in August 1989 in my early days of Bible college. He preached the opening chapel that year and in my mind, even to this day, there was only one other minister who held the power of words as did Bro. Gurley.
It had been (apparently) a long held tradition that the opening chapel of the year was to be preached by the Texas District Superintendent. During my tenure at TBC, E. L. Holley held that position and interestingly enough, he would only preach one chapel during my whole stay.
For whatever reason, Bro. Holley was unable to make the trip and so Bro. Gurley was summoned to preach. At the time, he was serving as the pastor of Pearland Tabernacle (now First Church of Pearland, www.firstchurch.net) and was the Texas District Youth President. He continues his role as pastor and is now the South Texas District Secretary.
The Occasion: Opening Chapel at Texas Bible College, Houston, Texas. August 1989.
The Preacher: Ken Gurley was another shaping factor in the way that I developed particularly as a young minister. As I get older, I have begin to understand a pattern of the providence and sovereignty of God in the way that He allows people to cross our paths. There have been numerous men who have walked in and out of my life and all of them had made some sort of positive influence on me.
Bro. Gurley would teach some of our senior level courses that primarily dealt with pastoral theology but not with preaching. We would always try to get him on the rabbit trail and go after the homiletics angle but he rarely would do that. Finally, after seeing a trend develop, he told us one day in class, "Guys, if you want to deal with some homiletics and preaching then we can work something out. If you would like, on the mornings that I am teaching the 8:00 block you be here at 7:00 and I will try to help you. However, I cannot in good conscience deviate from Pastoral Theology issues and go down the preaching trail in this class time."
So that began one of the most productive points of my final year. There were about 10 of us (out of 45) who would come to class at 7:00 and for fifty minutes, Bro. Gurley basically taught us a homiletics course. At the end of the semester, for the hearty ten souls who had come away with a vast amount of information, he dropped another ton on us. "Guys, I am going to reward you a bit for showing such dedication and coming to class an hour before you were supposed to. Since you chose to get out of bed early, you have honored me with you attendance. I have been preaching a series on some of the women of the Bible and I am going to have my secretary copy these and give them to you. In addition to that, I am going to give you a few other sets of sermon notes."
The next week, ten of us had a notebook with about two-hundred pages of notes in it. This was just about the time that personal computers were just beginning to come into the market and not every person had one. Bro. Gurley did not have one and we could tell because all of the notes that he gave us were typewritten. Just the effort required to use a typewriter demonstrated his commitment to excellence his preaching.
The sermon series on the woman of the Bible ultimately became a book, Notable Women of Scripture. Another sermon that was in the mix was one entitled A Trip to Denver and dealt with the issue of mid-life crisis. It was preached on a Sunday morning at Pearland.
While we were at TBC, we would rotate through different churches in the Houston area. I made it a priority to go to Pearland for one entire semester and to this day can remember some of the messages that I heard him preach. The following messages are noteworthy: High Noon at Gabatha and The Jefferson Jesus. Both of these messages are in one of his early books entitled Manifold Grace.
After I had left TBC and had come back to Alabama, I became involved in Senior Bible Quizzing. I had a tournament up in north Alabama on a Saturday several years ago and found out that Bro. Gurley was to be preaching a Friday night service in the Huntsville area. I drove about 300 miles to be in that service that night with hopes of possibly being able to see 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. After about 15 minutes of shop talk and catching up on things, I took off and decided that in a round about way that I was going to "control" the conversation. My wife was unable to make the trip and as Bro. Gurley's wife was in Houston, we made the most of it. So for about two hours, I would ask one question right after another about preaching, books, putting messages together, and sermon delivery. I left that night with the proverbial wagon loaded and further forged my friendship with Bro. Gurley.
He told me that in the early days, that he was an administrative assistant to E. L. Holley. 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 Bro. Holley started getting complaints about how terrible of a preacher that he was. He told me that everyone would always say, "Bro. 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 Bro. Holley sent Bro. Gurley to Bridge City, Texas or if he had Bro. John Harrell (pastor at Bridge City) to call Bro. Gurley. However Bro. Harrell soon took an active interest in Bro. Gurley. Bro. Gurley told me that Bro. Harrell started calling him twice a week. He would call him on Thursday night and say, "Ken, what are you preaching Sunday?" Bro. Gurley would say, "Well, I don't know yet." He said then that Bro. Harrell would start "rambling" about a story that he had heard and then would connect it with basically a sermon. Then Bro. Harrell would call him early the next week to find out how things had gone.
Bro. Gurley said that it took him about a month to figure out what Bro. Harrell was doing when he would call. He said then that as soon as Bro. 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 Bro. 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!!! Bro. Gurley said that when Bro. Harrell would call him early in the week and ask him what he had preached that Bro. Gurley would say, "Ahh, uhh, well you know, Bro. Harrell, ahh, uhh, I just sorta preached what ahh, uhh. . . me and you talked about last week." He said that Bro. Harrell never criticized, castigated, or humiliated him. He said that Bro. Harrell was always very affirming with his comments.
Bro. Gurley told me that Bro. 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 men.
Another time, I caught Bro. and Sis. Gurley on the fly at a General Conference in Nashville. They were leaving through the exhibit area and I caught him and asked him what book recommendations did he have. He was obviously in a hurry and I probably should have let him and Sis. Gurley go on without such a request. But he put the world on hold for five minutes and walked through the section where all of the sermon books were and begin to point out different books to me. I loaded up about 15 books that day. Not only did he point out some books for me, he also put me on the trail of a few authors that have since been greatly beneficial to me.
Bro. Gurley is now much more busy and is somewhat hard to get up with. Since my calls were frankly unimportant, I would always tell Sis. Gurley to tell him that I had called and it was not necessary for him to return my call. Finally one day, I came upon the brilliant deduction that she would know what he was reading and preaching and so I would ask her. She has been a wealth of information and inspiration for me since that time.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some more time with Bro. Gurley. Along with my brother Mark (who is a preacher) and Jason Deacon (who is just getting his feet wet), we would ask the preaching questions and then let Bro. Gurley load us up. We were not disappointed.
I did try to put a "big idea" on him. I told him that since he did not have very many things to do and since he played too much golf, spent too much time sleeping, and had a lot of free time on his hands, that he needed to host a conference at Pearland. It could be called "Preaching for A New millennium." He has written several volumes of sermons (pictured above) with the same title and I told him that many preachers would greatly benefit from a series of "how-to" sessions and workshops. He could keynote the conference and then maybe entice Bro. Harrell and some other great preachers (who are not currently on the conference circuit) to preach and we all would be greatly helped by that. Maybe when you see him again, you also might do a little helpful arm twisting with this idea.
The Message: Since it has taken forever to get to the first message that I ever heard him preach, I hope you will stay with me for a little longer.
Bro. Gurley started off telling the story of "Beauty and the Beast." You could have heard a pin drop in that chapel. The attention level of the chapel that day was very sharp. I had never heard this sort of preaching before. He then went to the story of Eleazer, who was the servant of Abraham, and his search for a bride for Isaac. He begin to recount the trip of hot wilderness lands and a train of camels.
He got us to the well where Rebekah enters the picture. He then began to tell how that Rebekah volunteered to water the camels and what all that entailed. He had really researched the traits of the camels and how much water it took for them and what a huge task it was for Rebekah.
He then took us on the trip back to Isaac. He begin to preach about those ill-tempered camels and how they wanted to balk. He preached all of the difficult things about the camels but interspersed throughout all of these comments was the statement, "But the beast was taking the beauty to the groom!" It was another one of those "magic" moments in preaching.
Then he finally got Rebekah to Isaac and then the camel turned into something far greater. He made the type to prayer and how difficult that praying sometimes can be. He preached about how resistant we are to prayer and that it can seemingly be one of the greatest challenges of the Christian walk and yet this "beast" is taking the "bride," the Church, to her Groom.
I will never forget that message. That was in the days before I took notes when preachers are preaching and who knows where the tape might be. But after almost 17 years have passed this message still stands out in my mind. There are times when my own prayer life starts wilting and I remember Bro. Gurley's words about how prayer is taking us closer and closer to the Lord.
Since honesty is good for the soul, I have to admit that I have preached that same concept in one of my own sermons before. It is a very good message and it need not die in my own spirit. I need to share it with others and so I have.