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.
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:
“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. . . .