NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter preached during New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Sept. 20 chapel service, his first speaking engagement there of his historic presidency.
“My life has been turned upside down since this election on June 19,” Luter said. “I never realized this position of Southern Baptist Convention president would bring so much notoriety.”
Luter said he has received phone calls from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, a call from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s camp, personal letters from former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and a proclamation from Texas Governor Rick Perry.
“Then a month ago, my wife and I got the greatest joy of our life. We sat for 45 minutes in the home, at the kitchen table, of Dr. Billy Graham,” he said.
Reflecting on all the experiences of the past three months, Luter, pastor of New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, asked for prayer.
“I’m just asking for your prayers for me,” he said. “It’s been a great joy, and I thank God that He’s allowed this historical time to happen in my life, the life of our city and the life of our church. I’m just honored to serve this convention and to serve you.”
Luter preached from John 10:7-11, where Jesus describes himself as “the door of the sheep. … If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
Luter first pointed chapel attendees to battles in life.
“It could be a battle you’ve read about. The American Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Battle of New Orleans that was fought not far from here in Chalmette, La., the Hatfields and McCoys, the children of Israel versus the Philistines, young David against a giant named Goliath. And for the younger folk in the house, East Coast rappers, versus West Coast rappers,” Luter said. “But it could also be a battle you’ve been a part of.”
Luter said he can remember as a kid having to battle a bully in school who would take his lunch money every day.
“It just got to the point where I was tired of this bully messing with me,” he said. “Sure enough, I went to school that next day and that bully came up to take my lunch money. The bully said, ‘Fred, give me your lunch money.’ I said, ‘No.’ The bully said, ‘If you don’t give me your lunch money, I’m going to beat you up.'”
“And I looked at that bully, and I said, ‘Girl –‘” Luter said as laughter roared through the chapel. “‘I’ve never hit a girl in my life, but I’m tired of you taking my lunch money.'”
Luter said after that confrontation the bully left him alone.
“Many of you today have seen battles in your life,” he continued. “However, in spite of all the battles you’ve seen and been a part of, I assure you today that none of us has ever been in a battle that would compare to the ultimate battle that’s found here in this text.”
This ultimate battle, he said, is a spiritual one.
Luter first pointed to what he called “the shepherd’s provision.”
“Seven times in the book of John, Jesus uses this ‘I am’ term to remind His followers about His provision for each of us who are saved,” he said.
Those “I am” statements include “I am the bread of life” (John 6), “I am the light of the world” (John 8), “I am the good shepherd” (John 10), “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11), “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14), “I am the true vine” (John 15), along with “I am the door” in John 10:9.
“In this chapter, Jesus is the good shepherd and those who go in the door are His sheep. He says anyone, anyone who comes through the door shall be saved,” Luter said. “Not that you might, that you will. Not that it’s a possibility; that you will. Jesus assures us that if you come through the door and come through Him, you shall be saved. And because you’re saved, you can enjoy the shepherd’s provision.”
Luter then challenged those present to look carefully at their relationship with Jesus. Is it possible, Luter asked, that some people struggle and ultimately fail in spiritual warfare because, though they’re involved in church, they don’t truly have a relationship with Jesus Christ?
“Yes, you sing in the choir, but did you come through the door? Yes, you stand at the door as an usher, but did you come through the door?” Luter said. “I know you’re in seminary. I know you’re trying to prepare for your future, but do you know Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of your life?”
Luter next pointed to “the serpent’s plan,” described in John 10:10.
“A thief steals, a thief takes, and that’s the serpent’s plan,” Luter said. “He’s come to steal from you all the shepherd has provided in your life. He’s come to steal your dreams and visions for your future when you leave this wonderful seminary. He wants to steal your hopes. He wants to steal your ministry. He wants to destroy your peace and your happiness.”
Luter said believers are often tempted to engage in sinful behavior based on a sense of secrecy or privacy. He said Satan will often tempt believers with arguments like, “Go on, no one will find out. Your husband won’t find out. Your wife won’t find out. Your church won’t find out. … No one will find out. You’re in a different city. You’re in a different state.”
“He has a pretty good track record of doing that in the lives of sons and daughters of God,” Luter said, as he surveyed people from Adam and Eve, Noah and Moses, to Peter and people in the present day.
“The Bible says, ‘All of us like sheep have gone astray,’ but thank God for the good shepherd who provides and preserves and protects His sheep,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the Lord on my side, where would I be? He kept my enemies away. He let the sun shine through on a cloudy day. He rocked me in the cradle of His arms. Why? Because He promised to never leave us alone.”
Luter concluded with a look at “the shepherd’s promise.”
In contrast to the thief’s effort to kill, steal and destroy, Jesus says in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”
“The serpent takes, our shepherd gives,” Luter said.
But he reminded those present that “abundant life” doesn’t refer to material possessions.
“Abundant life means life to the max. Joy that the world can’t give or take away. Peace that the world can’t give or take away,” Luter said. “You may not have silver, diamonds or gold across your wrists or across your teeth, but you can still say, ‘I’m blessed.'”
Believers may not have every material possession, but the shepherd promises to provide everything needed, Luter said.
“And He gave us the best He can give us, because … He gave His life for you and me,” he concluded. “Ladies and gentlemen, you can win the victory. You can win the battle, because of what Jesus did at Calvary.”
Frank Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.