I wasn’t preparing to write this post today. Not at all. I had something altogether different to post but when I got the call that Pastor Fred Winters had been shot to death at his pulpit in the Maryville, Illinois church he led, I had to change my plans.
According to news reports and some eyewitness accounts, Pastor Fred was preaching when the man who shot him entered his church. Many in the congregation thought the man was coming in late due to the time change over the weekend. What next happened is still under investigation but what’s not in dispute is this: Winters shielded himself at the first shot and the bullet fired obliterated his bible. Three more shots to the chest and then the gun jammed. Two men in the service subdued the 27 year old gunman and were slashed with a knife the man wielded after the gun jammed.
Pastor Fred died on his way to the hospital which was just down the road from his church. 45 years old. A wife and two children now without their spiritual leader and a church in shock and horror about losing their shepherd.
This story takes special significance for me. You see, Pastor Fred baptized my mother several years ago. My brother in law and his wife serve as Sunday School teachers there. The loss was one that’s tragic on any level but all the more so when you know someone. We weren’t buddies or even casual friends but I did talk to him occassionally and we discussed ministry more than once when I visited my parents years ago when they attended here. I hadn’t spoken to him in over 7 years but I still remember his kind, gentle voice praising my mother and him asking for my prayers.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:12 ESV)
This was a part of my preaching text yesterday. My sermon on the “battle lines” spoke of Satan’s very real attacks and how we MUST be prepared for them. I spoke of Satan attacking me to try to discourage others. I didn’t realize within moments of coming home that this truth would be revealed to me in a most unpleasant way. I know this..Pastor Fred is in heaven with his Savior now. I don’t know why God’s eternal plan included this event but I know He is in control. Jesus told us that we would be persecuted and that in the last days, the trials would increase. I’m not a fatalist by no means. No man knows the times of God but the bible did give us markers so we could gauge the seasons. Today is one of those markers. Satan did not win by removing the shepherd. God will take this tragedy and will honor Fred’s life of service for God’s glory.
May God Bless the pastors and congregation of the First Baptist Church in Maryville. Brother Winters, I will see you in heaven when my appointed time comes. Rest in His arms and enter into the joy of your salvation.