Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones. (Psalm 116:15)
I’m not quite old enough to check the obituaries every morning; however I am old enough to occasionally find one of someone I know. The next time I check I will find the name of my friend Omer Ritchie. It is an honor to call Omer a friend although I have only known him a few short years.
We met when we were attending Charlie Johnson’s Bible study in the apartment complex where Charlie and Omer lived. Sharon and I attended because we loved Charlie. Omer attended because he loved the Bible.
I was amazed to discover that Omer, and his twin brother Homer, were the pastoral successors to J. Frank Norris at First Baptist Church of Fort Worth. Having studied a little Baptist history, I know that Norris was a firebrand preacher who had a reputation for being an extreme fundamentalist. It was quite natural to assume that Omer would be of a similar theological persuasion.
That is what made it fascinating for Omer to be so faithful to Charlie’s Bible study. No one has ever mistaken Charlie for a fundamentalist, and most in Southern Baptist circles would have a hard time even putting him in the conservative camp. But Omer came every Thursday morning.
When the Bible study began to take shape and move toward becoming a church, Omer kept coming. Whether we met in a church fellowship hall, a local restaurant, someone’s living room, or out in the park, Omer was there whenever possible.
He loved our little group of believers, especially the young adults. And they loved him in return.
We celebrate communion every time we meet and we had some great times sharing that meal together. It was not unusual for Omer to break off a piece of bread and preach a short sermon about Jesus’ sacrifice.
One of my fondest memories was a Sunday evening as we passed the bread around the room for communion. Omer took the loaf, broke off a piece, and turned to hand it to my son Matthew with the words, “This is the body of Christ broken for you.”
Matthew does not look like someone who would be in Omer’s circle of influence. His long hair and bread are accented by his tattoo covered arms. It was an amazing sight to see this juxtaposition of people who belong to the Body of Christ. I shed a tear as I watched a few minutes later as the juice moved around the room in the other direction and heard Matthew say to Omer, “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.”
He loved Matthew and Matthew loved him.
Omer could barely hear what was going on, but it never kept him from experiencing the presence of God’s Spirit in our midst. On more than one occasion, when Omer was asked a question that he did not hear well enough to understand, he would simply lead out in prayer. It was great!
Almost every Sunday Omer would have a word to share about the passage of Scripture, even if it didn’t apply to the subject we were discussing at the time. But it was always appropriate because it came from his heart filtered through decades of scholarship.
He carried a five-pound Scofield Bible in a plastic bag, which made it easier for him to handle while he used his walker. Every page of the Bible was filled with writing, notes he had accumulated over the years. He could open it up and preach a three point sermon on any passage of Scripture.
Omer and Charlie are quite a pair. I’m sure friends of both of them are shocked to learn of their relationship. However, the reason their relationship worked is quite simple – they both love Jesus and they both love people.
Omer talked frequently about Charlie being a great preacher. He also frequently complimented me for having a great wife, even though he occasionally called her “Sarah.” Perhaps I reminded him of Abraham.
The last time I saw Omer was at a Mexican restaurant where our little group met on a Sunday evening. It was hot outside and it took a lot of effort for Omer to walk the necessary distance. I’m not sure he heard any of the conversation around the table. He did say the prayer before we ate. And we were all glad he came!
If the Psalmist is correct, God saw something precious early Wednesday morning when Omer crossed over to a much better place. However, there will be an empty place with our little group that will be very hard to fill.