Orginally published on Monday, March 09, 2009 at 7:26 AM
by Todd Rhoades
I'm sure it seemed like just any other Sunday yesterday morning when Pastor Fred Winters left his house for the church. Little did he know that while he was preaching during the first service at First Baptist Church of Maryville, IL, a man would walk up the center isle and shoot and kill him. The congregation at FBC was caught off guard as well, in fact many people thought that this was just part of a sermon illustration (Pastor Winters would often use unusual illustrations and dramas during worship). It was all over in seconds. According to some reports, Fred held up his Bible to shield himself from the shots of the 27 year old gunman. But it was to no avail. Pastor Winters was pronounced dead at the local hospital minutes later. Fred leaves behind a beautiful wife and two young daughters.
This incident has sent shock waves through the church community; particularly among pastors and church leaders... as well it should... for a couple of different reasons...
The first reason is the matter of church security. There will be some that will come out this week and criticize the church for not having proper security measures in place. In fact, I already saw at least two articles this morning about church security; why armed security is needed; and the amount of churches that have no plan at all when it comes to security in their facilities. This is a good discussion to have at some point… just not today.
Today, I’d rather take on the obvious: This could have been any one of us. Regardless of security measures in place, very few of our churches could have prevented this from happening. It could have been YOUR last sermon; your last opportunity to share the gospel. That is where it hits all of us most dramatically, I think.
I can think of a couple other instances of pastors who had their last opportunities to share the gospel. And, just like Fred, neither had any idea it was their last.
For Pastor Forrest Pollock, it was a tragic plane crash. Forrest and his son were on their way to a meeting in Dallas on a Monday morning. I was headed to Dallas for that same meeting. Forrest’s plane never made it to Dallas, and tragically, he and his son were both killed. He had no idea that just 24 hours earlier, he would have his last chance to share with the congregation at Bell Shoals Baptist Church.
For Kyle Lake, it was a freak accident in a baptistry at University Baptist Church in Waco, TX that took his life. He had just finished preaching and was getting ready to baptize a person when he touched a microphone that was not properly grounded. He was instantly electrocuted.
When things like this happen, it always reminds me of Dan Brown: When Pastor Don Brown got behind the pulpit on August 10th, 2005, he had no idea that he would preach the most profound sermon of his life. He also didn’t know that it would be the last sermon he would ever preach.
Pastor Don had just finished speaking on “Why bad things happen to good people” from the book of Job. As the congregation of First Baptist Church in Creedmoor, NC sang the closing song (Face to Face), Pastor Don told his Associate Pastor, Eddie Mauldin, that he “felt a little pain”; then walked out of the sanctuary. Mauldin recalls, “When he said that to me, I didn’t give it a second thought because of his casual nature.” After the closing prayer, church members found Pastor Don had died on the floor of the church library…
We have no idea why God chooses to work the way He does sometimes. Many times His plans for us just don’t seem to make any sense at all. Sometimes devastating times do come to those who strive to do good…
Look at some of what Paul says in II Corinthians 1 (from The Message):
“He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort--we get a full measure of that, too. When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation… Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you’re just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you’re going to make it, no doubt about it… Now that the worst is over, we’re pleased we can report that we’ve come out of this with conscience and faith intact, and can face the world--and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high. But it wasn’t by any fancy footwork on our part. It was God who kept us focused on him, uncompromised.”
If you’re going through a tough time in ministry, take heart. God has a plan, and you’re in it! The key is to run the race and to finish well. Just like Pastor Don did last year, and Forrest and Kyle did, and just like Pastor Winters did yesterday.
Face to face with Christ, my Savior,
Face to face--what will it be,
When with rapture I behold Him,
Jesus Christ Who died for me?
Face to face I shall behold Him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all His glory,
I shall see Him by and by!
Let’s keep Pastor Fred’s family and the FBC Maryville church family in our prayers today.
How might this change what you share with your church this Sunday?
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