Fred R. Coulter


  • Spiritual Strength In Time Of Disaster - March 13, 2005

    or Download

  • God's Hope For Us & The World - March 20, 2005

    or Download

March 17, 2005

Special Letter—Shooting in a Church of God

Eight Brethren Killed, Four Wounded

Dear Brethren,

This past Sabbath, I was in Seattle, Washington. We had a Friday night Bible Study and double services on the Sabbath. We had fifty in attendance, and God blessed us with wonderful fellowship and inspiring services. Then, on Saturday night March 12, I flew to Spokane, Washington, arriving at the Hampton Inn about 10 PM. There was a message from my wife, Dolores, to call home as soon as I arrived. When I got into my room, I called. She told me the shocking news of the murder of seven brethren and the wounding of four others that occurred on the Sabbath during Living Church of God’s church services in Brookfield, Wisconsin. After shooting eleven people, the killer turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. When I heard this, I was totally stunned. How could such a thing happen in a church of God? My first thought was, "These things usually only happen in the world, but now it has happened in a church of God." I immediately turned on the television and caught a short news summary of it.

What a sad day this was for all the churches of God. Here are some excerpts from the newspaper, USA Today, March 14, 2005:

"Witness tells of killing spree at church service. Brookfield, Wis. — Terry Ratzmann, who police say turned a quiet church service at a suburban Milwaukee hotel into a blood bath Saturday, was upset over a recent sermon, a fellow churchgoer said Sunday.

"Chandra Frazier told ABC’s Good Morning America that Ratzmann walked out of a recent sermon at the church they both attended ‘sort of in a huff. Something that the minister said he was upset about,’ she said. ‘I’m not quite sure what exactly.’

"Ratzmann, 44, a churchgoer known by his neighbors for the vegetables he raised, walked into the hotel room where the church had services and fired 22 rounds from a 9 mm handgun. Seven people, including the church’s minister and his teenage son, were killed and four others wounded. Ratzmann then took his own life, police said.

"Ratzmann was a member of the Living Church of God, a denomination whose leader recently prophesied that end times are near.

"About fifty to 60 people were at Saturday’s meeting, and anyone in Ratzmann’s path appeared to be a target. During the rampage, he reloaded his weapon.

"Frazier said she dove under a chair, and the man sitting in it died. ‘I just remember crawling on the carpet and just praying, screaming out and praying.’ "

The next morning being a Sunday, we had special Bible Studies. The thirty-five brethren in attendance in Spokane had all heard about this horrible disaster. When we met for services, we only knew a few facts from the TV news stories. I realized that we needed to draw close to God, so we had a special prayer for all the brethren involved and for the families of the dead in their shock and grief over the loss of their loved ones. Brethren, please pray for the survivors and their families. Those brethren who were gunned down during Sabbath services were our brethren in Christ. They were gathered to hear the Word of God. They were innocent victims of a satanic attack. They died for Jesus Christ on the Sabbath day. They will be in the Kingdom of God.

What a disaster this was for all the churches of God! The churches of God are supposed to represent God the Father and Jesus Christ on the earth. They are supposed to be known for their love of God and each other. Instead, this carnage has brought shame and disgrace upon us. Ironically, it was nineteen years ago in Spokane to the very week that I was there that another murder/suicide took place in a church of God in that city. At that time a minister killed his wife and took his own life. It is terribly sad that these things have taken place in God’s Church. What have we been missing? What went wrong?

How do we begin to find some meaning in this unbelievable tragedy?

First, we cannot make any sure judgments about why it happened because we don’t know all the facts. The various news reports can only give what they believe to be the facts. Second, we don’t know what was in Ratzmann's mind—only God knows the heart. Nevertheless, we can learn some profound spiritual lessons from this massacre. Because this situation was weighing so heavily on everyone’s mind, I gave a sermon that I entitled "Spiritual Strength in Time of Disaster." It is enclosed in this special mailing.

This disaster may very well reveal that the spiritual condition of the churches of God is greatly lacking. Just as 9/11 was a wake-up call for America—physical Israel, this may be a wake-up call for the churches of God—spiritual Israel! Yes, God could have stopped Ratzmann—but He didn’t. Therefore, we need to heed God’s warning. How much more when we realize that this occurred during a Sabbath service!

To begin, it is obvious that this occurred because of a great lack of love—love for God and love for the brethren. The apostle John wrote: "Anyone who claims that he is in the light, but hates his brother, is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother is dwelling in the light, and there is no cause of offense in him. But the one who hates his brother is in darkness, and is walking in darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes" (I John 2:9-11).

John also wrote that hatred in the heart is the same as murder: "By this standard are manifest the children of God and the children of the devil. Everyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, and neither is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning—that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the wicked one, and murdered his own brother. And what was the reason that he murdered him? Because his own works were wicked, but his brother’s works were righteous. My brethren, do not be amazed if the world hates you … Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life dwelling within him" (3:10-15).

As we ponder these scriptures, without judging anyone else’s heart, we need to ask ourselves if we haven’t been Laodiceans for a long time. Rather than thinking that we are being picked on whenever we hear about the Laodicean spiritual attitude, we should take Jesus Christ’s admonition and correction to heart and repent! Perhaps it should come as no surprise that in our becoming too much like the world, something like this would come upon us. As we examine Jesus Christ’s message to the Laodiceans, we find that their greatest problem is their lack of love for God and the brethren. We need to remember that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. God the Father and Jesus Christ are dealing directly with the entire Church and with each of us personally: "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans, write: These things says the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginner of the creation of God. I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you be either cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and are neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’; and you do not understand that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:14-17).

When we don’t have love, we are miserable and poor. When we don’t have love, we are blind! When we are not walking in God’s way with all our hearts, we are spiritually undressed—naked, indeed! This results in spiritual weakness and vulnerability to satanic attacks of all kinds—rooted in Satan, sin and self—without any consideration or love for the victims or how others will be affected.

When we do not wear the full armor of God, we cannot discern Satan’s devices. Paul wrote that we are to be strong in the Lord and wear the full armor of God: "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the might of His strength. Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil because we are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against principalities and against powers, against the world rulers of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual powers of wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:10-12).

When we are naked and lukewarm, we make ourselves easy targets for Satan. Satan’s plan is to take us away from God—to try to turn us against God. Remember this is spiritual warfare! We need to do as Paul admonished: "Therefore, take up the whole armor of God so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having worked out all things, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girded about with truth, and wearing the breastplate of righteousness, and having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Besides all these, take up the shield of the faith, with which you will have the power to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one; and put on the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; praying at all times with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and in this very thing being watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints" (verses 13-18).

God’s admonition in Ephesians 6 is very similar to Christ’s call to the Laodiceans to repent. "I counsel you to buy from Me gold purified by fire so that you may be rich; and white garments so that you may be clothed, and the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and to anoint your eyes with eye salve, so that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. To the one who overcomes will I give authority to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and sat down with My Father in His throne. The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 3:18-22).

Unfortunately, we have come to accept today’s ease of living as normal—life with few difficulties. Perhaps one of the hardest things for a Laodicean to understand is that God did not promise us smooth sailing into the Kingdom of God but instead said it would be difficult: "Enter in through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter through it; for narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life, and few are those who find it" (Matt. 6:13-14).

In our own lives, we must come to a spiritually mature frame of mind where we fully realize that we are God’s—whether in life or in death. Did not Jesus Christ die for us? Was not His death horrible and gruesome? Did it not happen on the Passover day? Did not Jesus promise that we would face perilous times—even death? Did not Jesus promise that we would be persecuted? Did not Jesus promise that we would be killed because we believe in Him—whether we are zealous or lukewarm? The answer to all these questions is "yes"!

We will not be able to stand in these kinds of life-threatening situations if we do not love God with all our hearts and all our minds. Jesus said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but do not have power to destroy the life; rather, fear Him Who has the power to destroy both life and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a coin? And yet not one of them shall fall to the ground without your Father taking account of it. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore, do not be afraid; you are better than many sparrows. Now then, whoever shall confess Me before men, that one will I also confess before My Father Who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, that one will I also deny before My Father, Who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man at variance against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s enemies shall be those of his own household. The one who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and the one who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And the one who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. The one who has found his life shall lose it; and the one who has lost his life for My sake shall find it" (Matt. 10:28-39).

Those who died in this bloodbath did not die in vain. They died for Christ’s sake. Their next moment of consciousness will be the glory of the resurrection. Death cannot hold them in the grave. Christ will raise them to glory and immortality as God the Father has promised: "For this corruptible must put on incorruptibility, and this mortal must put on immortality. Now when this corruptible shall have put on incorruptibility, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?" (I Cor. 15:53-55). And again: "And I heard a great voice from heaven say, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men; and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people; and God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, or sorrow, or crying; neither shall there be any more pain, because the former things have passed away’ " (Rev. 21:3-4).

Brethren, our special prayers go up to God for those who have survived this horrible satanic attack. Please continue to pray that those who were wounded will have a complete physical recovery. It will take time for those who have experienced the shock of this horrendous carnage to get over the vivid memories of the sights and sounds. Please continue to pray for them for a long time as they will need God’s special comfort in order for the mental and spiritual wounds to heal. Paul wrote: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforts us in all our tribulation, in order that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trial, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For to the degree that the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. And if we are in distress, it is for your comfort and salvation, which is being worked out by your enduring the same sufferings that we also suffer; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort and salvation (and our hope is steadfast for you); knowing that as you are partners in the sufferings, you are also partners in the comfort" (II Cor. 1:3-7).

Finally, brethren, we need to claim the promise of God for all His churches: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28).

With love in Christ Jesus,

Fred R. Coulter