At first, I did not want to post the story of what really happened on the day of my dad’s funeral publicly, but then I found out that other Stanton-affiliated congregations were slandering me and the Ezell kids for “causing turmoil.” To set the record straight, here is a short account of what really happened.

First, to honor my dad, here is a link to the program for his memorial service. If you knew him, or want to know a little more about him, this is a good place to start. Also, at the end of this post is a short video tribute I prepared. It’s about 10 minutes of photos from different time periods of his life, set to some great acappella songs. He loved to sing tenor and bass.

He was frequently maligned by the Stanton group in the years following his departure from Stanton, and after his death, they tried to strip any reference to God from his memorial service. But the rest of the family insisted on providing a more accurate picture of his life, which was steeped in faith, imperfect as he was (as we all are). My sons and I led some of his favorite songs, my sisters and I shared memories, and I preached a eulogy (below). We then proceeded to a military honors ceremony, and then to my mom’s for an open house.

Stanton church members who wouldn’t fellowship with my dad during his life, insisted on showing up at his funeral after his death, even going so far as to come to my mom’s house to share a meal. In their view, they were there to support my mom, so we let it go on that basis. If they wanted to support my mom, we felt it should have been done on a different day, since they were the ones who disfellowshipped him. We thought it rude and a bit awkward that they would want to come at all, but we let it go and figured that somehow, God would be lifted up. Within a few minutes of arriving at my mom’s house for the open house, however, they tried to keep another family member (“withdrawn from” like my dad by the cult) from coming into the house to eat with us.

At this point, we felt the Christlike thing to do was to take the celebration of my dad’s life to my house, so this brother would not be unjustly isolated from the gathering. We took enough food (most of which my sisters and I had provided) to feed those coming to my house, and left some for the Stanton group as best we could (quantities were hard to split up evenly, since crockpots and platters of food had not been divided up for this turn of events, but we did try).

As it turned out, we enjoyed an amazing time of fellowship together at my house. Those of us there will never forget that night of fellowship. We held hands and prayed together for us and for the Stanton group, ate together, and sang some of my dad’s favorite songs (and many more) for the next three or four hours until our voices were hoarse. My dad would have loved singing tenor or bass with us. It was an amazing time of unity and encouragement, despite Satan’s attempt to crash the funeral.

Below is a rough copy of the sermon I preached at my dad’s funeral. This is not word-for-word, since I don’t read my notes when speaking in public. As far as I know, no one made a recording, so this is the best I have:

The heart of a Berean

When I picture my dad at the Stanton house where I grew up, one of my main memories is of him sitting in his study. I have an office. Dad had a study, and that’s what he used it for. He had a dark walnut desk with a glass top on it, and under that glass top I think there were some family photos and Bible references.

One thing I appreciate about him now, that I didn’t then, was the fact that he openly and frequently studied the Bible. I probably didn’t do that as visibly as I should have while my kids were younger–I’d study, but I’d stay up late, or get up early, or in more recent years, do my Bible reading on my phone. So my kids don’t always see me studying. But I frequently saw Dad crack open The Book and delve into it in depth. That was a great example to have as a young man. He taught me a love for digging into the Word to find out what it really means.

Dad loved to mine nuggets of truth from the scriptures in that study–whether he was reading up on first century church history, or doing a topical study with his big Young’s Concordance, or preparing for a sermon, or some other study he was interested in. That made an impression on me. He had a love for learning.

I’m grateful that Mom and Dad both taught me to look to the scriptures as my only authority for what I believe. That mindset of “what does the Bible say on that?” was all throughout conversations about the scriptures when I was a kid.

I remember conversations on the ride home from church, or with people on the phone, or with people who had the misfortune to knock on our door. Of all the doors in the neighborhood, in our home, the Bible was actually read and studied. Mom and Dad gave me, through their example of personal Bible study, a deep respect for the Word, and a real, honest thirst for Biblical truth.

The reverence for studying the Word in our home when I was a kid, reminds me now of the Bereans in Acts chapter 17. Luke wrote that they “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

Dad, I know, did a lot of topical studies, read a lot of history, and studied to figure out the meanings of passages–sometimes obscure ones. I remember one study he shared at church was on the fact that Jesus was the “only begotten” Son of God, and he had really come up with some interesting insights into what that meant. Another one was a study of Jesus being the Word made flesh, and the fact that the Greek word for “word” is logos, where we get our word logic.

I also remember him studying Revelation from time to time. He’s not one that spent tons of time doing that, but I think he figured if God put it in there, he must have wanted us to read it. So he did, and he tried to figure out what a lot of those symbols mean. I’m not sure if he ever figured out the correct meaning for the white horse, or the beast, or some of the other symbols, but he was a searcher, and I know he wanted to understand the truths in the Bible more accurately.

One verse that I know Dad spent a lot of time studying–and me too, later in life–was 1 John 1:7 – “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

I want to share one little nugget from that one little verse that’s very meaningful to me. This verse and various ideas about its meaning were very influential in my years growing up with Dad, and learning to study the scriptures.

Have you ever had a moment when you’re studying the Bible and something unexpected jumps out at you that you never saw before? I’ve never found actual hidden treasure, but I imagine that feeling is about how I felt when I discovered this clue in John’s writing that opened up my understanding of this passage for me. In fact, this was one of the principles of interpretation I learned from Dad–that the Bible usually does a pretty good job of interpreting itself, if we give it a chance.

So when I found this nugget in 1 John 1:7, I remember thinking, “I don’t know how I missed this.” Here John gave us clue after clue to his real meaning. One of those clues is just a few verses later. But if you read through all of John’s writings in one sitting, you’ll see clues scattered throughout his gospel and 1, 2, and 3 John.

Clues about what, though? One of the things Dad taught me is that words mean things. Words and the meaning of words are how we understand each other. He said one of the best things you can do to understand the English language is to take class in Latin. I never did that, but I did take two years of Spanish and two years of French–both Latin-based languages.

So I learned to dig around about the meaning of words to understand a thought properly in the Bible. And in 1 John 1:7, the nugget I found is the meaning of the word “light” when John says “Walk in the light,” and we’ll have fellowship with one another. Fellowship is another whole topic altogether, but what does it mean to walk in the light?

The answer, I found, is right there in Chapter 2:10. John actually defines exactly what he means by the word “light” right there. He doesn’t leave it up to our imagination, or hint at it. He comes right out and says that He who loves his brother walks (or abides or lives) in the light.

The neat thing is that this is John himself explaining what he means in 1 John 1:7. Walking in the light is loving your brother, according to Chapter 2:10. And as if to put an exclamation point on it, he adds for good measure: But he that hates his brother is in darkness.

Not loving our brother is walking in darkness. Loving our brother is walking in the light. In fact, there’s a song that probably every person here has sung at some point that says exactly that. Back in 1916, Laurene Highfield wrote “The Love of God,” and penned these words:

“While his love burns true and bright, we are walking in the light…”

Loving our brother is walking in the light.

There are tons more verses that support this idea that that walking in the light = walking in love, and that the greatest commands we have as Christians are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s what Jesus said. John simply repeats that over and over and over so we don’t forget it. Of course, as humans, we still do. Every day I have to remind myself “In all things, love.”

The point is, Dad never stopped digging for those nuggets of truth in the Bible. Did I agree with every understanding my dad arrived at, or every sermon my dad preached? Of course not. But you know what? I don’t even agree with every every sermon I’ve preached! In fact, I remember some pretty embarrassing sermons I’ve given, sermons that I’d cringe at now, because, hopefully, I’ve grown a little in about 31 years of being a Christian. If I did agree with every sermon I’ve preached in the past 31 years, that would be pretty scary, actually. It would mean I haven’t grown since then. But I have. And so did Dad.

I wasn’t born yet when Dad got to take the family on cross country flights, but we did do a lot of camping, fishing, shooting, and one hunting trip. But–if you add up all the time I spent at church with Dad since I was about 6 1/2, I probably spent more time with him there than all those other activities combined. I saw over time and with an adult perspective that Dad was not the same Christian at the end of his life that he was at the beginning of his walk with God, and that’s a good thing. I hope the same can be said at my funeral one day. Because that is what I call growth.

Jerry Harper Tribute Video

Jerry Harper Tribute Video by Kevin Harper.

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