Surrender to Hope
by Susan Brown
“I am convinced that this world has yet to see what can happen when born again believers sincerely and truly surrender to God and ask God to direct our path. I believe that God can break down every chain, every warfare, every division that is among us, but we’ve got to put our faith and trust in God–not man, but in God.” -Fred Luter
With an easy grace and engaging frankness, Dr. Fred Luter has a way of cutting through the cultural clutter to convey a message of hope. As the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention [2012-2014] – the first African American to hold that position – Luter continues to be at the forefront of efforts to heal racial division, return churches to prayer and promote scripture-based action. Under his leadership, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans has grown from 65 members in 1986 to more than 7,000 in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Now, plans are underway to relocate the landlocked church to a more spacious site 15 miles away in New Orleans East to accommodate standingroom-only crowds.
His message: Take a straightforward look at our communities, then recognize there is hope. “Understand that we can’t just sit idly by and see all the things that are happening in our community,” he said. “We’ve got to determine to make a difference. ‘If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’” [2 Chronicles 7:14].
“We live in a crazy day and time. All across America, I go to big cities, small cities, country towns, and the message I try to share with people is: I know that when we read the news and watch stuff on the internet, all the things that are going on look dismal, but God is still on the throne,” he said. “We put trust in man and not in God. When we turn that around, I believe we’ll see God doing miracles in our lives and in our nation.” But it requires humility – surrendering to God’s will, Luter said. His “life verse” is Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Pastor Luter believes that God can fully transform lives and circumstances through ordinary people who become humbly devoted to Him. “I grew up in the church, Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. My mama and daddy got divorced when I was six years old. I’m the middle of five kids, but one of Mama’s rules was on Sunday morning, everybody goes to church,” he said. “So, I tell people all the time: My mom gave me my first drug problem – she drug me to church, drug me to Sunday School and drug me to Bible study.”
“When I was 21 years old, I was in a motorcycle accident. I was in Charity Hospital. A senior deacon from the church I grew up in came to my hospital bed, put his finger right here in my face and said, ‘Boy, obedience is better than sacrifice.’ He said, ‘You need to surrender your life to the Lord, and if you surrender your life to the Lord, you will not be throwing your life away in this world.’ And so, I cried out to God that night. I said, ‘God, I don’t know if I’m going to live or if I’m going to die, but they tell me that I’ve got a 50-50 chance of living. God, if you wake me up tomorrow morning, I’ll serve you all the days of my life.’ That was in October of 1977, and I’ve never turned back.”
“We’ve got to consciously make decisions to do all we can to foster lives that the enemy and the world are pulling up,” he said. “Realize that you’re my brother; I’m your brother; you’re my sister. We need each other.”
“In the Body of Christ, we need to take the high road to show the world how we, as people with different racial and cultural heritages, should love our neighbor,” Pastor Luter said. “If we don’t get along down here, how do we think we’re going to go to heaven and get along?”
“We need to step up and realize, as I heard from a pastor friend in Philadelphia: ‘In America, we don’t have a skin problem; we have a sin problem.’ We need to give ourselves to God and realize that all of us are God’s children. We need to step up to the front and exemplify that in our lives.”
“First of all, we have to pray. Ask God for leadership,” Pastor Luter said. “Ask God for direction as to how we are to see the things that are happening in our society and deal with these times. Things will not change in America because of who the president is, or who the governor is, or who is riding an elephant or riding a donkey. Things will change in America when men of God and women of God seek God’s face. Because I believe that when God’s people stand, God’s people can make a difference.”
“We need to pray for those in authority. There are some individuals that I call by name like the governor and his wife Donna, and the guys in my church who are representatives. But also pray in general that God will touch the hearts of those in our legislature because the decisions they make will affect all of us. And we need not only to start from the president, to our governors, to our state legislators, our mayors, the police chief, but everybody who’s in authority. God tells us to pray for them [1 Timothy 2:1, 2].”
“I have no doubt the reason I’m here today, the reason I’m a pastor, the reason I’m saved, is because somebody prayed for me,” he said. “I believe in the power of prayer. Prayer is how we communicate with God. I’m not talking to you; you’re not talking to me. We’re talking to God. ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.’ [Matthew 7:7]. It is a privilege and an honor to call on God in prayer as a believer, and we should exercise it every day of our lives.”
A commitment to faithfulness is vital, Pastor Luter said, especially for young pastors. “Be faithful to God, be faithful to God’s word and be faithful to your wife and family. Be faithful to the church that called you. If you’re faithful in those areas – I’m a witness – God will be faithful to you.”
“I am convinced that if you have a genuine, authentic relationship with God, you’re going to treat your spouse with respect, with honor and with love,” Pastor Luter said of his 37-year marriage to Elizabeth W. Luter. “I find it very interesting, in Genesis chapter two, that both Adam and Eve knew God before they ever knew each other.” He recognizes Elizabeth as his most important influence. “She’s the love of my life, the apple of my eye, my prime rib, my good thing,” he said. They carve out one full day per week to spend together.
“Every day of our lives, we should try to do all that we can to decrease ourselves, decrease in the flesh and surrender to God’s will. Because that will determine the choices we make, the decisions we make,” Pastor Luter said. “To surrender, for believers, is simply to realize that I am not my own.”
“Whenever Jesus had a choice to make, he always, without fail, consulted with his Father,” Pastor Luter said at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Baton Rouge. “Put yourself in Jesus’ place. Why should I give my life for those who are ungrateful? Why should I give my life for those who are hard-hearted?”
“Oftentimes in this Christian journey, oftentimes in your walk with God, there will be times when you face situations that just don’t make any sense.” Surrendering to God might bring sorrow and solitude. “Sometimes people don’t understand your pain. Sometimes people don’t understand your convictions. Sometimes people don’t understand your mission,” he said. “But according to the word of God, you are never, never, never alone.”
“Notice the submission of Jesus,” Pastor Luter said. “Submission means to let go and let God, to relent, to relinquish, to surrender, and that’s what Jesus did while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.” Even though Jesus faced people who were indifferent, cold-blooded and uncooperative, he prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done” [Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42.
“That’s what God wants to hear from every last one of us who are called sons and daughters of God. When we are faced with decisions, when we don’t know what to do, God wants to hear, ‘Not my will, God, but your will be done.’” Look at the strength of Jesus. Look at the courage, look at the boldness, look at the energy of Jesus Christ…. and it’s all because Jesus had taken the time to talk to his Father,” he said.
“In essence, Jesus surrendered. And every day of my life that’s what I pray as I get opportunities around the country. ‘Lord, let me not get into self. Stand in my body, think with my mind, speak with my voice. I want to do your will.’”
Susan Brown began her career in radio news. she was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds Master’s Degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional institute for Women.