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(He) had set his heart to study the law of Yahweh, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel. Ezra 7.10
Every Sunday morning, after the sermon, I walk to the back of the sanctuary. Every Sunday I look forward to a greeting by three of our elders, who shake my hand and give me a “good job,” and often a more hearty and approving assessment of the lesson. It is a blessing to get this kind of feedback. Last Sunday I received only two.
Every Sunday morning our beloved brother and shepherd, Ron Higginbotham, would rise from his seat on the second row and come back to meet and greet visitors. Every Sunday we would exchange information: “Did you see that ____ is here today?” “Have you met the new family there on the right about half-way up?” Every Sunday he would give the sermon a grade. Sometimes I got a “good job,” sometimes an “A,” sometimes an “A+,” and sometimes I received a “that was a really good job!” I have always been desirous of good grades and worked hard each week to get a “really good job.” I can’t explain how much I missed my grade last Sunday, and will miss it from now on – how empty the aisle seemed (the whole auditorium seemed) without him in it.
Our family has experienced an enormous loss. We have lost a brother, a shepherd, a friend, a counselor, an encourager, a scholar, an attentive listener, a positive outlook, a beaming smile, a mentor, a patient disposition, a tireless worker, a thorough and rigorous student of the Word, a kindly and wise older brother, a spiritual warrior. To understand all we have lost with the passing of our brother is to simultaneously understand how blessed we have been by his being with us.
Back in 1997, when our family was at a low point, God sent four families to us in the span of three weeks – The Booths, the Coveys, the Ellenbergs, and the Higginbothams. All four men served this congregation as elder (Bill Booth, of course, still shepherds us). We cannot quantify how much we were given 18 years ago, but in assessing our loss we come to perceive something of God’s largesse.
I wish I could express to you all what a blessing it is for a preacher to have an elder whose knowledge of New Testament Greek exceeds his own (even though this preacher’s Seminary degree is in the Greek New Testament). How blessed one is to have someone older and knowledgeable who wants you to succeed, and who intends to keep your preaching accurate. But of course most all of us could begin a similar sentence: “I wish I could express how Ron blessed me by….” The line above from Ezra, to me, says it all – because it is not just about scholarship, but about the set of a man’s heart. It is about a man who loved God and God’s people as well as the study of God’s word – for whom scholarship was not just an academic exercise, but the very act of reconciling God and humanity. The Passage from Ezra 7 is about a man who believes that as we understand God’s word, and respond to it, we have life. This was our brother.
In the coming weeks we must be constant in prayer for Phyllis, Eric, Trici and the grandchildren. We must keep our church family in prayer. We must never for get to pray for our elders who shoulder the responsibility for our souls. We should thank God that this flock has been so well fed, so well led, so well nurtured, and so well instructed for so long.
Most of all we should remember God’s promises, and be thankful they are firm. These are the words God instructs us to remember and share while we wait to join those who are already home (I Thessalonians 4.13-18). Any separation we experience as God’s family is temporary. Our reunion will be eternal.