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Wedgwood pastor points to hope in sermon at Ill. church

MARYVILLE, Ill. (BP)–Al Meredith, pastor of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, where seven people were murdered by a gunman nearly 10 years ago, told members of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., that no matter how bad it gets, the best is yet to come.

Fred Winters, First Baptist Maryville’s pastor, died the previous Sunday when a gunman entered the sanctuary and shot him on the platform. All week, the church has had countless opportunities to tell a watching world whether Jesus makes a difference when life falls apart.

“We’ve been praying for these kinds of opportunities, and we didn’t even have to budget for it. Fred would like that,” Meredith said, referring to the pastor’s thriftiness, during one of the morning worship services March 15 where he was the guest speaker.

Meredith said everyone’s pain is unique because every situation is unique, and the fact that seven people were killed at his church doesn’t minimize the fact that only one died in Maryville.

“You had one, but he was your shepherd,” Meredith told the people.

He said the Book of Zechariah and the New Testament note that the enemy knows if he can strike the shepherd then the sheep will scatter.

“If this church — you guys — survives, it will be the grace of God,” Meredith said. “You need to know we’re at war. We are at battle, and there are no guarantees. My Savior lives, He’ll always be there for me, but almost all of us have seen churches split over things like the color of the carpet or the music they sing for crying out loud. You guys are under particular attack, and right now without a particular shepherd.”

Everyone in the church must step up to the plate, he said, and God will be there for them if they’ll seek Him.

“But if you think you’re going back to whatever normal was, there’s going to be a new normal and it’s going to be different,” he said.

Meredith pointed to Romans 15:13, which says, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” People in the world are searching for hope, he said.

“Ernest Hemmingway, Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain all concluded that there was no hope and took their own lives,” Meredith said, adding that the U.S. Department of Defense has reported that during the last two months more American soldiers took their own lives than were killed by the enemy.

“I have come here to be with you to let you know there is hope,” Meredith said.

After the tragedy at Wedgwood in 1999, a reporter asked Meredith whether any place in society was safe. The pastor replied that there is no safe place except in the center of God’s will. Someone else asked, “Where is God in all of this?”

“God is exactly where He was, on the throne of the universe, when His own dear Son was cruelly beaten and murdered,” Meredith recounted in Maryville. “… He is in control and He is the parent that is brokenhearted and knows what it is to have a child grievously murdered. He weeps with us. He is the compassionate God, and He is moved to tears by our tears. He is faithful.”

The first word of Romans 15:13 answers the question of when God is going to supply hope and grace, Meredith said: Now.

“Right when you need it. He’s an on-time God,” he said. “Some of you guys are wondering, ‘I don’t know how in the world I’m ever going to get through the days ahead.’ God says, ‘Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.’ Trust Him for today. In fact, when it really gets rough, trust Him for the minute, then the next minute. Trust Him for the hour, then the next hour, and eventually the days.”

God didn’t promise a life without trials, Meredith said, but He did promise that in the midst of the tribulation He would supply joy and peace.

“God has given a sweet spirit of joy and hope to us that I’m seeing in you as well, that the world just doesn’t understand. That’s why they’re so curious. Christians die differently, people,” he said.

The biblical hope that Christians have is the “sure and certain coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Meredith reminded the church. And some days, like the Sunday their pastor was killed, are evil, he said. Such days will cause struggling for years to come.

“People are going to ask, ‘When are you going to get over this?’ You’re never going to get over this, but by God’s grace you’re going to get through it,” Meredith said. “And God will give you joy and peace in the midst of it, in the midst of the tears and the heartache…. It is the praise you give with a broken heart that is the greatest sacrifice you can offer God.”

The way to receive the joy and peace God gives is through believing Him, Meredith said. Faith is not a feeling, and nowhere in the Bible are believers commanded to feel anything, he said.

“Feel your feelings. I encourage you to do that in your Sunday School classes. Express them. Get them out and deal with them,” Meredith said. “But believing is simply choosing to obey and trust God no matter what.”

Church members in Maryville can be sure of the sovereignty of God, the Texas pastor said.

“God was not on vacation last Sunday morning,” he said. “God is not pacing the portals of heaven wondering, ‘Oh, what are we going to do about that Maryville situation? Who was Pastor Fred’s guardian angel? Take his union card.’

“He was here, just as 10 years ago He was in our sanctuary.”

The secular world has no hope, he said again, but Christians are people of hope. As believers, no matter how good or how bad it gets, the best is yet to come, he said, closing with a story.

“I’m like the little boy whose daddy promised him a puppy and finally after nagging and nagging, months later, they went to the pet store and there were scores of puppies so cute, jumping and barking,” he said.

“He couldn’t make up his mind, but there was one little puppy who was wagging his tail so much you couldn’t tell if the dog was wagging the tail or the tail was wagging the dog. He turned to the owner of the pet store and said, ‘Mister, I want the one with the happy ending.’

“If that’s what you want for your life, then come and receive Him as Savior and Lord today,” Meredith said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. To read the sermon that Al Meredith preached at Wedgwood Baptist Church on Sunday, Sept. 19, 1999, after the Sept. 15 shootings in the church in which a gunman killed four youths and three adults before taking his own life, go to

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  • Erin Roach