Barnabas Letter # 48 -- To Myself When I Am Old

To the uninitiated who are reading this blog, you are about to read a Barnabas Letter. This is Letter # 48. I begin writing these in March 1995 with nothing more than an effort to be an encouragment to those who were serving in some capacity of helping others in the Church. May you gain something from your time with this thought. My hope is that you will become a greater servant for the Lord.

rch 28, 2006

Dear Servant of the Lord,

A good friend of mine, Paul Jacks, told me some time ago about going to a Men’s Retreat in Texas and hearing the venerable Crawford Coon teach. He taught three sessions on various matters to men who walking through this world and trying to remain unspotted from it. He told me that at some point during these sessions that Bro. Coon shared with them a letter that he had written to himself when he was a much younger man. The whole emphasis of this letter was to remind him of what it was like to be young and what was going through his mind at that time. Bro. Coon’s purpose in this was to help him to maintain his balance when he was an “old man.”

I was told that Bro. Coon would give you a copy of this letter if you were to write him and ask for it. Although I had great intentions to do this, I never did.

However, the whole concept of this idea has really gnawed at me for a few years and so after much contemplation and jotting down ragged notes on a legal pad, I am going to write myself a letter. I no longer fit into the category of being a young preacher. I was ordained this past summer and prior to that had in possession a General license for 13 years. But on the other hand, I am not an old preacher either, so with that in mind, I am taking you along with me so that you might gain some insight from this letter too!

A Servant,

Philip Harrelson

Dear Philip,

You have finally decided to sit down and read a letter that you wrote to yourself a long time ago. You wrote this letter when you were 5 ½ months shy of forty years old. I was told that something “magic” happens when you turn forty and you obviously now know whether or not that is true or not. But since I am this side of forty, I cannot know the future. I do know that what you saw as future then is now past. I pray that your past has been extremely productive and that you have continued to live a consistent and faithful walk with God. But as you age, you begin to understand some things about the younger men who are now stepping up to replace you. Some of these young men, you have actively placed your hands on their lives. They have seen your faithful example and are now walking purposely with “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Do not fear these young men. They love the Kingdom of God, they love the saints of the Kingdom, and they especially love the elders of the Kingdom. Do not fear for the Kingdom, it belongs to God and He will entrust that it is not subverted nor torn down.

Here are some of the things that you were living and thinking from your 35th to 40th year. You had the good sense to jot some things down that you were thinking as you contemplated dealing with your youthful peers during that era. They are listed as points and are not in any particular order, they are simply things to prompt you to what you were thinking years ago.

1. Please do not get bitter.

I have noticed that some old men turn into old, bitter and angry men. I have been associated with some young men who have incredibly gifted minds, very sharp talents, and very warm hearts. These young men simply do a better job than “old preachers.” They are more organized, they speak better, and they can accomplish things faster. Furthermore, they love God with all of their heart.

The fact of the matter is this: They are not better men because success is not measured in numbers but rather in character. The reason that they are better is because this generation and the pace of technology has given them absolutely unlimited resources that older men did not have and have not gotten comfortable using.

Remember the first time that Bro. Patterson handed you your first real book that was ministry related. It was that old Swindoll classic, Hand Me Another Brick, a devotional commentary on Nehemiah. Remember how you devoured that book.

But my resources have now so far escalated that at my fingertips on this handy little notebook computer, I can get into the Greek and Hebrew languages, rare commentaries, a vast array of sermon notes, millions of audio/video messages, not even to mention this little matter of “blogging”. It would be an incredible shame if I did not bypass the generation of older men in front of me.

In fact, I am going beyond that thought and will say that I would have been lazy, undisciplined, negligent, and any other negative allusion you can think to add if I would not have developed my heart, soul, and spirit. Remember that these young men honor you because your own personal growth has challenged them to grow. Now they have bypassed you. . . . But isn’t that what you would have hoped for. Would you want them to always stay beneath you? For young ministers to stay under the “old preachers” would mean that this glorious Church has become atrophied with paralysis.

Please keep in mind that all of these young men are there because they stood on the shoulders of giants. You were one of the giants. Just like you stood on Bro. Patterson’s shoulders (who was a giant), they are now standing on your shoulders! Don’t get disheartened into thinking that your best days are behind you, you are living out a very useful life in these young men now and you have the greatest reward in front of you. Please do not get bitter!

Youth is not your enemy. Harness the strength of youth with wisdom of age. Let the powerful vision of youth drive you on to hunger for more of God and more of His presence.

2. Love Justice.

Youth has a tendency to rattle the sabers. They want justice. The world of a young man is often very black and white. This can be good and it can be bad. It can be good because it means that life is pulsing through their spirit. It can be bad because sometimes the charge of justice will turn the world upside down. Mercy sometimes can get shoved out of the way when Justice charges forward.

One of the reasons that old men do not like justice is because it creates havoc in their world. Older men have the tendency to “go along to get along.” You can let sin lurk in the Church and in time it will bite you. But worse than it biting you, the cover-up is going to end up destroying the lives of an innocent bystander. You are an old man now and you can deal with it. The greater question is what will it do to those new tender converts if justice is not served?

Always try to err on the side of mercy, but there are unique situations, where the voice of Justice needs to thunder with an absolute clarity. Put your trust in the Book and let “justice roll down like the waters.”

3. The Matter of Desire.

Youth has a great tendency to be motivated by ambition and by desire. Very little is accomplished in a minister’s life or in the Church that he serves without ambition and desire. No revival or great spiritual awakening was ever generated without a man having his whole world turned upside with desire. It is important to be content but you have seen contentment degenerate into laziness. There is great poverty associated with satisfaction.

Remember that Tozer quote that you found one day while you were studying to preach:

Pray that I will not just come to a wearied end—an exhausted, tired, old preacher, interested only in a place to roost. Pray that I will let my Christian standards cost me something right down to the last gasp. A. W. Tozer

Remember that things are built in youth and they are preserved in old age. If you have distilled some of your desire it will now be feeding you. You will not be preaching “re-runs” as are some of your peers, you will still be digging for the “fresh words” to blow that Church you are still serving sky high. If there are any traces of desire, it will still motivate you to do some fasting. Don’t get down on yourself for not being able to go on those extended fasts as you did when you were younger, but continue to skip some meals it still works. You need to still be investing yourself in some of those gut-wrenching prayer meetings where tears seemed to be your “meat.”

Desire fosters revival. Desire cultivates excellence. Please whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the maintenance mode. This will be bad for your mind and your health. Age can sometimes lean toward security and a comfortable path. Resist It!!!! Take the Risk!!!

You have to remember all of the times that Bro. Patterson was going to the revival conferences scattered around the country. There were a few “old men” at those conferences but not many. There were a lot of young men who were hungry for God to do something in their lives at those places. You have to remember what it was like when Vesta Mangun cut loose at BOTT in 2004 and J. T. Pugh began to cry out, “Night Cometh” which was apparently a sermon that he had preached in the distant past. He never forgot it. Most folks their age were resting comfortably in some extended care facility but they were not! They had huge doses of desire still left in their lives.

Associate with people who have desire in their lives. They will leave this world with their boots on and their gun barrels red-hot. Seek these folks out. Run with this crowd. Get off the golf course. Get out of the fishing boat. You have a job to do! You can fish and golf when you get to Heaven. Down here, your old voice is needed and the wisdom that is in your hoary head needs to guide and direct. Only what you do for Christ will really last!

Youth wants to speak. Old age wants them to calm down. Let the young men speak, they are no longer children. There are some young men who are wise beyond their years. Just as you have seen immature old men, there are immature young men. They have dull hearts, soggy brains, and little to offer. However, there are some young men who are mature men and they are like the men of Issachar, they have an understanding of the times.

4. Generational Down-Grading?

Every generation has the tendency to think that the one beneath them is compromising and giving every doctrinal truth and standard away. Remember the year of 2002. You spent that whole year reading and spending time with Charles Spurgeon. That was the year that you found the website with all of his sermons on it. Remember running across the “Down Grade Controversy” and how that Spurgeon got into a huge fight with his denomination and ended up being censured by them. Remember what it did to his health and it probably led to his premature death. He thought that there were some in his generation who were tossing important and crucial things out the window.

The devil loves to this sort of thing with the generations. Remember what a “generation gap” is and take it for what it is. A “generation gap” does not mean that the younger preachers are throwing things out the window. As long as there is a Church, you will have your men who look and act like Judas, Diotrephes, Hymenaeus, and Alexander. They will compromise and create trouble but just remember this for every one of them there are ten who aren’t. You will still have men like Gaius, Quartus, Marcus, Rufus, and Epaphras. The reason you don’t know these faithful men is because they are very low profile on this earth. However, their profile on the other side of this life is stunning. Given time, you are going to die or be raptured out of here and you will see this.

Don’t waste your time sharpening your axe to cut down these men. Their effect will be very short-lived. If you spend all of your time with Barnabas Letters, “hot potato” sermons to your local church (they don’t know about all of the politics that you are firing at), politicking with those who hold the same grievances, and trying to build a conference to stifle these fellows, it will bite you. Please remember the troubling words that you read in Spurgeon’s autobiography and some of the other books about how that it led to a harsh bitterness and depression in his life. Remember that it tore him and his own brother apart. Remember that Spurgeon lost some of his closest friends over this unimportant battle.

It was not so much a matter of change of doctrine as it was a change of time. Be assured that time will change but doctrine will not. If you want to really prevent doctrinal compromise then put your hands on some young men. Teach them how to pray and fast. Teach them the Word. Grant them the opportunities that Bro. Patterson granted to you. Don’t decapitate them when they make mistakes, work gently with them and then repair the fences they have mistakenly run through. By the way, don’t infect them with your prejudices, bias’, and negative feelings. Show them the ropes and this Church will continue on.

5. Stay Fresh.

Read new books. Preach new sermons. Find new friends. Remember those two churches that you preached in your late 20’s and how that both of those places had been dead for years. The reason that the churches were dead was because the pastors were dead, they just had not been buried yet.

Wade through your incredible personal library that you have been building for 30 years and find that book that Tim Kelley put in your path, Preaching with Freshness, by Mawhinney. Even though you have already literally read it five times, read it again! Pull out the checklist in the back and stay fresh.

Go back and pick up John Harrell’s catalog of sermons and look through it and compare where you are now with where he was then. Be careful with this little catalog because you only have this one and it is literally falling apart. If you are still coming up short, then let your goal be to bypass him before you pass on. If you have caught him, then give thanks to God that he came into your life when you were 35. His preaching motivated you and now you have fed the flock that you were responsible for.

Finally, you need to thank God for the blessings, the setbacks, the trials and tribulations, and for the great discoveries that you have managed to lock into with your life. Being a servant of the Lord is the most wonderful thing in the world.

May your reward be great!

A Servant,

Philip Harrelson


Anonymous said…
Bro. Phillip
I love to read your Blog from time to time. They really do inspire me to do more in my life. I was just telling Robert how we are so blessed to be born into America where we have freedom to worship as we please and to merely be ourselves without someone looking over our shoulders and threatening us. We do take our freedom for granted because we are a spoiled generation and we are use to our freedom, until, we see what others are going through in our foreign countries. That's when we open our eyes.
But also I wanted to say that there has been alot of things that are going on in our lives that sometimes I feel like I am on a roller coaster wanting to get off at the next turn. Maybe God has to get us out of our comfort zone sometimes and shake us into reality. That's how I feel at times. I've always wanted the gift of healing and it seems like everytime I turn around lately that, for some reason out of nowhere, something happens to me. Like I had to go to the hospital Saturday night and now here I am suppose to go for an mri and an mra monday evening for tests. But I have to admit that Robert Had gotten slack in his prayer life and now it's like he is coming out of a deep sleep since things are happening to me. He is wanting to pray more now. I want God to use me in getting my family to living for him if it takes me getting sick to wake them up, for that is all that matters in this life is making it to heaven and helping others to do the same.
Well, I know I got a little carried away on just a mere comment, but I did want you to know that I love to read your Blog,s and I have gotten Joey to do the same. He loves them or says that he does. They do seem to be helping him also. But anyway, see you tomorrow.
Pat Redden

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