We were in Nashville for the winter meeting of the SBC Executive Committee. Fred and I were invited guests as newly elected Presidents of our respective State Conventions - Illinois and West Virginia. LifeWay Christian Resources sponsored a breakfast for the State Convention Presidents and their wives. Linda was not able to make the trip, so, like several of the other guys, I was there "stag". I was seated at the table with Fred and Cindy and with Steve Deighton (from the Kansas-Nebraska Convention) and his lovely wife. We were all "rookie" presidents and we all struck up a friendship that morning. Our hosts asked us to introduce ourselves and tell a little something about ourselves and our states and local churches, so we each took our turn.
I will never forget how Fred introduced his pretty red haired wife to the group. "Whatever you do, don't call her the first lady." he grinned. "A woman in our church calls her that, and she hates it!" Well, those of you who know me well, know that I can't pass up one like that. From that day on, whenever I saw Cindy or Fred I always inquired as to how the "first lady" was doing. We had a nice conversation that morning and I did a little good natured ribbing when I found out that Cindy was a big Cardinal fan. She was aghast that I could root for the Cincinnati Reds. At the convention in Greensboro she gave me a baseball card featuring Cardinal's slugger Albert Pujols and his Christian testimony. I still have that card.
I was in the midst of a course of chemotherapy at the time, and I shared my situation with the folks at the table. Before we left breakfast that morning, Fred said, "Let us pray with you", and those at our table and a neighboring table gathered around me and prayed for my recovery from what had been identified as incurable cancer. I will never forget the blessing that day of those brothers and their wives interceding to God on my behalf. Fred was a great guy and it was always a joy to be in his presence. I last saw him in Indianapolis this past summer. He gave me that grin, a firm handshake and the usual, "I see you're still kicking!" remark.
This afternoon I heard the news that earlier this morning, some lunatic walked down the aisle of Fred's First Baptist Church of Maryville, IL and fired four shots - killing my friend in front of his wife, two daughters, and 150 members of his congregation.
Shock and disbelief were the first emotions. How can things like this happen in the House of God? Well, it is symptomatic of the sin sick culture in which we live. We hear of these things happening more and more, and one wonders where it will end. News reports indicate that no one in the church seemed to know the gunman. A member of the church staff told reporters that no one had any idea of the motives of the killer. When his weapon misfired after the fourth shot, he began stabbing himself with a knife and wounded two church members who helped wrestle him to the floor.
We could go into a long rant about the evils of our society. I don't have it in me tonight to do that. All I can think of is the grief that Cindy and the girls must be going through tonight and for the deep sense of loss to the congregation of Maryville First Baptist Church. Fred is with the Lord. We can only pray for God's comfort for his family and his church family. We can pray that his life and ministry will have made a lasting impact in that suburban St. Louis community. We should also pray for the depraved individual whose actions have made Cindy a widow.
There are a number of unanswered questions about this terrible incident. Many of them may never be answered. Only God knows.