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


Anonymous said…
Have enjoyed this series of tribute to Bro. Harrell. I have listened to a fair number of his sermons via CD on many long trips. They were both practical and often uplifting but always a study in how preaching should be.

Oddly, I did not realize how much influence Bro. Harrell had on my preaching until I read this series. Most of it was due to the influence of Rev. Gurley's instruction in Bible school. He did the same for me there as Rev. Harrell did for him in those early years.

Thanks for reminding us all of the incredible influence of a preacher.

Mark Harrelson

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