Thursday, March 10, 2016

To Live is Christ: The Life and Legacy of Rev. Harold Whitlock

This is the sermon outline and remarks by Dr. Stan Norman who delivered the sermon for my Grandpa Whitlock's funeral today:

1.    Introductory remarks

On behalf of the Whitlock family, let me welcome you today to this memorial service for Harold Emmett Whitlock.  We are here today to celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Harold Whitlock.  Harold’s life was rich and full.  Harold’s years on this earth were many, but even more important than the number of years he lived on this earth is the reality of Harold’s life, a life of loving fidelity in gospel service to the Lord Jesus Christ, and a life of loving, faithful devotion to his dear wife, Zelma Frances, and to his son, Ron, and the rest of the Whitlock family.  By my count, Harold and Zelma enjoyed 78 years of marriage.

When Ron and David asked me to officiate this service and preach the message, two thoughts immediately crossed my mind.  After the initial shock quickly wore off, my first thought was, “What a privilege to be asked to do this.”  As I remarked to David, the family could not have given me any greater honor than to have the distinctive privilege of sharing in this service.  I am honored beyond words and pray that I am able to honor the memory of Harold Whitlock as well as minister the word of God in comfort, encouragement, and peace to the family and to friends today.  May the Lord make it so.

The second thought that began to germinate in my mind was to contemplate how Harold’s grandson, David, would preach this message.  I wrestled with the question, “What would David do? (WWDD!).  I thought, “Well, I will be David’s proxy.  I will stand in for him and try to honor his grandfather as David would.”  So, if I get weepy or emotional, or if I tell a story that seemingly is unrelated to anything going on here today, you will know that I was successful.
As a pastor and preacher of the gospel, David is often requested to preach funeral messages.  He has developed an approach that I find to be biblically compelling and pastorally attractive.  Through prayerful deliberation, David tries to find a biblical character whose account in Scripture contains themes or events that parallel the person that he is attempting to memorialize.  Being in this “WWDD” mode, I began my preparations trying to find a biblical character that best represents the life and legacy of Harold Emmett Whitlock.


·         I briefly considered Methuselah, but then I decided that the measure of Harold’s life was far more significant than simply the number of years lived on this earth.

·         I thought about Noah—like Noah, Harold exemplified faithfulness and obedience in the midst of dark days and trying times.

·         I considered Abraham—who, through one son, was blessed by God with a rich legacy of godly descendants. 

·         Another person I considered was Joseph, who always sought to honor God and do the right thing, even at great personal expense and sacrifice, trusting that God would honor him in due time.

·         Maybe Harold’s life was like that of King David, “a man after God’s own heart.”

·         Or maybe, one of the OT prophets, like an Elijah, a simple preacher of bold faith.


·         Maybe Harold’s life could be represented by one of the apostles, say an Andrew, who is presented to us in John’s Gospel as someone who leads others to Jesus.  Harold was known as a soul-winner, and his ministry was known as one that led others to Jesus.

·         Or maybe Harold’s life was exemplified by Simon Peter, or maybe the apostle John, or maybe John the Baptist, or maybe Philip, or Stephen, or some other person whose life is found in Scripture.

·         Try as I might, I could not settle on any single character, for several biblical characters seemed to embody in some capacity something about the life of Harold Whitlock.

·         As I continued to mull this over, my thoughts kept turning the apostle Paul.  And, it wasn’t so much the life of Paul where I saw a theme that captured the essence of Harold’s life, but rather, it was something Paul said, something that he wrote.

·         We read what I believe to be an apt description of the life of Harold Whitlock in Philippians 1:12-26.

PHILIPPIANS 1:12-26 (focal passage, v. 21): 

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.


Harold Whitlock’s life was the embodiment of the verse, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  He was not a perfect man; none of us are perfect.  Yet, if ever a life testified to the truth of “to live is Christ,” surely that life was found in Harold.  At this point, I want to share the words and reflections of a grandson whose grandfather was a model of “to live is Christ.”
Harold was almost 99 (May 2).  He was one of 11 children born to Rev. Andrew Franklin (AF) and Tennessee Belle Whitlock.  AF had surrendered to preach and was a student at SWBTS when Harold was born.  He was born on Seminary Hill (is that what you alums call it) in Fort Worth.  He used to brag with Dana that the two of them had to stick together since they were both born in Texas. . . .

He was perhaps the most challenging of the five sons of AF and Tennie Belle.  He ran away a few times—really ran away, hopping train cars and going wherever they were headed.  Once he and a friend ran away, hopping a train car and ended up out west, where his buddy had a girlfriend who had moved there.  They sent their luggage ahead by Western Union and caught a ride in an open box car.  As they arrived in the little town out west (New Mexico or Arizona), the hobos started yelling that police were shaking down everyone at the station.  So he and his friend hid themselves in the coal car.  Covered in coal dust from head to toe, they went to the Western Union office and looked in the window.  They saw their luggage, but the place was closed.  There had been a murder in the area and police spotted them peering in the store and arrested them as possible suspects.  Under interrogation, the buddy said they were there to meet the girl, and they told the police her name.  The questions stopped, and the Chief of Police was brought in to hear.  The Chief had them clean off their faces, and he recognized Harold’s friend.  The Chief was the girl's dad.  So, they were released. . . .

Another time Harold ran away, catching a train that unexpectedly turned North, and he ended up in northwest Oklahoma. His oldest brother and family lived near where he got off the train, so he went to them, and they took him in.  L.D. (the brother) wrote a letter to A.F. and told him where Harold was.  A.F. wrote Harold a letter.  Grandpa said he started reading it.  No admonition.  No begging him to come home.  No scolding.  In the letter, A.F. just shared how much they missed Harold and how the next Sunday was the church's annual ice cream social.  Grandpa said he started reading about how mamma was making a certain flavor ice cream, and Mrs. So and So was bringing another flavor, and so on.  Grandpa said he managed to hitch a ride and get back home in time for the ice cream social.

Harold would meet his future wife, Zelma Francis Allen in Hinton, during his father's pastorate there at FBC (Zelma is too ill to be with us today). Harold and Zelma decided to get married and move to California.  During the depression, there weren't many jobs in Oklahoma, so Harold and Zelma decided to get married and move to California.  They didn't think Zelma's family would allow her to move off on such a whim.  They came up with a plan to get married and the produce a marriage certificate that they believed would allow them to go. So, they eloped.  Harold and Zelma were careful about their plan and did some research.  They discovered that OKC published marriage certificates in the newspaper, but the paper in Guthrie did not.  So they snuck out of town and eloped to Guthrie and came back to their respective homes that night in Hinton.  A few weeks later, Aunt Florence discovered their secret and insisted Zelma get Harold over to Florence’s house to consummate the marriage!  They did, and their marriage was announced publicly. 

The plan was for Harold to hitchhike to CA to find a job, and when he did, he would send for Zelma.  He got to a town that had a similar name as one in Northern California where he’d been told a job was.  He soon realized, however, he was still nearly 800 miles from the right city.  Depressed and alone on a Sunday, he found the First Baptist Church and wandered in and sat down for service.  And up in the choir loft was the mother of a former classmate from another town where his dad had once pastored.  They had moved there without him knowing about it.  This family gave him a place to stay, and he was able to look for work.  He said seeing her was one of the most happy moments!
He sent for Zelma and they lived in CA for many years.  He worked as a Fireman on a train, traveling the rails (this time being paid for it).  During WWII he was given civilian assignments both with the railroad and with Tinker Air Force Base.

Harold came to faith under his father’s preaching as a young man.  But in his early 30s, God got a hold of him.  He was a businessman working for Bordan's Milk.  He started getting serious about his faith.  Pastor Jay Badry, now with Golden Gate Seminary tells of his mother and aunt wanting to go to Falls Creek but unable to afford it.  A local businessman found out and quietly paid their way.  The businessman’s name was Harold Whitlock.

Not long after, attending FBC Moore under Pastor Warren Terry, he surrendered to ministry.  He sold his little farm, quit his job at Bordan, and started pastoring.  He pastored at Spencer, OK; Millwood Baptist OKC; FBC Newcastle; and later FBC Wayne.  He attended every SBC meeting from the late 50s through the mid 80s.  Around 1966-67, he was moved at the report at the SBC regarding the lostness of the northeast and was burdened for Ohio. Appointed as Home Missionaries with the Home Mission Board (now NAMB), Harold and Zelma moved to Ohio around 1968 to take a mission start, and he would grow the mission to a fully functioning church in Toledo. The church had a church bell between the building and the parsonage.  Whenever we arrived, day or night, after 24 hours of nonstop driving from Oklahoma to Toledo, we would announce our arrival to them by ringing the church bell.  I'm sure the neighbors were thrilled. And whatever the time, Grandma prepared bubble baths to clean us all up before sleeping in her clean sheets. . . .

He said he had always told God that if He wanted him to start a church with nothing out under a tree, he would be willing and that God began dealing with him about that. He found a city in Ohio that had no Baptist or evangelical church, Wauseon, moved there, bought a mobile home, and rented the YMCA every Sunday.  Each summer we’d visit.  Sundays we’d get up and pick up the trash and beer bottles out of the parking lot and gather for church.  I remember being there with only 2-3 other people in the beginning.  But Grandpa built the church by winning new converts to Christianity.  Over the years, the soul-winning efforts of Grandpa would result in an entire church full of people won to the Lord by his faithful witness.  I watched it grow into a strong church with its own facilities, Haven Heights Baptist Church, Wauseon.  Grandpa retired after a heart attack, but he later reentered the pastorate at FBC Sylvania, OH.  He pastored well past retirement years. They retired to Hinton, OK, and lived there many years before moving to assisted living in Moore, just a mile or so from dad, their only son.

Grandma was moved to full nursing care a year or so ago, but Grandpa didn’t like staying in the assisted living apartment without her, so he moved to the nursing facility and had the room next to her with a shared door.  He sat with her all day. 

Last time I visited them was so wonderful. She was lucid and visiting with folks.  Grandpa was joking and teasing as always, and when we took them back to the room, he had me lay her in his bed next to his recliner so they could hold hands while he watched television.  As I did, she whispered to me, “It just went by so fast.”

I have never known two people more in love.  Always holding hands.  Always kissing each other.  Unless they were playing cards or dominos.  Then they were brutally competitive.  They laughed more than any two people I’ve ever been around.  They loved playing games and traveling, making the annual SBC their vacation.  They always had an RV and would travel to the site and stay in a nearby campground.  They loved fishing together and talked often at how blessed they were to get to see the country and serve Jesus. 

I was never with them, never, that they didn’t share stories about God, and Bible stories and personal stories of God’s provisions.  Once, they were taken by an owner of a Piggly Wiggle grocery store and told by the owner to fill up their grocery basket for a blessing for their service.  They did so, but the owner guffawed that the basket wasn’t full enough and didn’t have enough from the butcher. Every time they would tell this story,, they would giggle about getting stuff they could never have afforded and how fun that was.  Another time, a suit shop owner insisted that Grandpa come to his shop for a new set of clothes.  And so forth and so on.  They saw Jesus behind every single blessing they experienced.

He loved Jesus!  And loved Zelma nearly as much.  He wasn’t perfect, and he had his flaws. Those of us who knew him best saw the flaws. I don't want to make him out to be beyond sin, but he was motivated by being made right with God.  All growing up he would tell Sherri, Terri, and me, “God has a plan for you!  I pray you understand this.  He has a plan for your life!”
When I was interviewing for the job at OBU I waited until a few weeks before the final stage before telling them, and swore them to secrecy.  After I signed the contract, I stepped back into the empty Gold Room at Geiger.  I made three calls; to mom and dad and the grandfolks.  I shared the news and they began to shout how happy they were that I was moving back to Oklahoma and working at OBU! Grandma shouted, “Can we tell someone?”

In many ways, that was their lives: telling other people the Good News!  Theirs is a love story.  For each other.  But it’s also a love story where two people fell in love with the Savior who died for them.
A few years ago, we were certain Grandpa was dying and at Integris, we were preparing to say our goodbyes.  He was in awful shape.  Then suddenly he rallied and did well.  He said after being discharged, “You know, I discovered why I had to go through that. One of the doctors who had treated me came in to visit me, and I witnessed to him and led him to faith in Jesus.”
Up in Bolivar, he went to Walmart and came back and told me, “David, here’s a name of a lady I met at WalMart, who I invited to your church, and told about Jesus.”  He had led her to faith in Jesus there. 

He told me once, “You know everyone who knows I preach is dead. So I don’t get invited anymore.  But God opens doors everywhere.  At WalMart, every checker asks, ‘How are you?’ And I reply, ‘I’m doing great. You know why? Because I was once lost in sin and Jesus died in my place, was crucified, buried, and rose again, defeating sin and death, and because I’ve placed my faith in Jesus, I have the promise of eternal life?’  You know, you can preach wherever you are.”

His and grandma's testimony is also one of the power of persistent prayer.  Evidenced by their own son coming to faith.  Evidenced by their grandchildren coming to faith.  You know how powerfully humbling and thrilling it is to realize that from the first moment you were on the radar, before even birth, someone had been praying for you year after year your entire life?  It’s incredible! 
Dana once said to them how wonderful that was for them to have prayed for me my whole life.  Their response: “Oh Dana, we’ve been praying for you since the day we we started praying for David.  We just didn't know your name yet.”

Oh that my sisters and I might repeat that same habitual practice; praying persistently day after day for our children, our grandchildren, our great and great great grandchildren and their spouses!
Grandpa on a few times told me of the day that would come when he would depart to his Heavenly Father, and that he would not leave riches or land or trust funds, but a legacy of faith.  He did indeed leave us a legacy of faith.  And we are the richest heirs in the world.


A.    Brief Historical Overview of Passage:

                    i.            “For to me”:  A phrase emphasizing Paul’s personal reflection, consideration, and assessment of his own life in light of his current situation.

                  ii.            “To live is Christ”:  An assessment of the life that he lived with Christ, for the sake of Christ.

                iii.            “To die is gain”:  A reference to the great gain his death would bring

                iv.            **Verse 21 is an overall statement of his personal assessment of the kind of person he was to be, shaping and guiding the kind of life that he would live, and defining the nature of his death.

B.     The realities taught by Paul in Phil. 1:21 proved to be true for  Harold Whitlock:

                    i.            “For to me”: Harold’s ongoing assessment and renewal of living daily in his faith commitment to Christ

                  ii.            “To live is Christ”:  the life that Harold lived, radiating love for God and for others in faithful gospel ministry

                iii.            “To die is gain”:  the “for to me” moments, shaping and directing the “to live is Christ” life, culminates in the “to die is gain” reality; such was and is true for Harold Whitlock

C.     “The milestones, or markers, in life in which we celebrate and commemorate the life and death of a man life Harold Whitlock should never be wasted”:  the teachings of Phil. 1:21 for us today

                    i.            “For to me”:  this moment, this hour, is before us today is a “for to me” moment. As we remember the life-legacy of Harold Whitlock, and confronted by the truth of the word of God, each of us find ourselves at a “life marker,” a time for each of to consider, to contemplate, to wrestle with the reality, the quality, and the measure of our own lives.

1.      Have I embraced the person of Jesus the Messiah as Lord?  If not, then my life is not “to live is Christ,” and my death will not be a “to die is gain” kind of death.

2.      What is the Lord saying to me at this moment?  What significance does this “life marker” event of the passing of this dear saint God have for me today?  For the rest of my life?

                  ii.            “To live is Christ”:  This moment, this hour that is before us today, compels us to examine and give serious consideration, to the life that we live now, and the way we will live the remainder of our life in the time that God has appointed us to have.

1.      If I have embraced the Jesus and His gospel, what of my life?  What kind of person am I?  What kind of life am I living?

2.      Is my life one of a passionate pursuit of loving Jesus with the entirety of my being?  Is my “to live is Christ” a declaration that I treasure Jesus Christ supremely and absolutely above and before all things?  Is my “to live is Christ” a reflection of loving Jesus in real, actual, and overt expressions of loving others?  Is my “to live is Christ” a journey with Jesus on the “narrow way?”  Does my “to live is Christ” reflect a devotion of gospel service with eternal significance in the “mundane,” the regular flow of daily life?

                iii.            “To die is gain”:  The “for to me” moments of our lives shape us, mark us, and direct the “to live is Christ” realities of our life.  As was true for the apostle Paul, and certainly was true for Harold Emmett Whitlock, so is such also true for us:  “for to me” must move us through “to live is Christ,” and conclude with “to die is gain.”

                iv.            “We most honor Harold Whitlock and His Lord not only in this hour, but in the remainder of our lives, by “living for Christ” such that when our time on this earth ends, our passing will be “to die is gain.”


  1. Finding this is what I call one of my 'God Surprises!' Brother Harold Whitlock was our pastor in Toledo, Ohio in the early 1970's. In the late 1970's, on a trip from CA. to the East Coast, we stopped to visit him and Zelma in Wauseon. God has blessed me with a writing ministry and I shared a humorous story about Brother Whitlock in a daily devotion book [without calling him by name.] He touched our lives... Pam & Norm Davis

  2. I would love to read that story! Please share if possible.