NEW ORLEANS (BP)–For New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, reopening after its Hurricane Gustav evacuation, Sept. 9’s chapel service became a time of thanksgiving and reunion -– and words of encouragement from New Orleans pastor Fred Luter.
Because of widespread power outages and Louisiana law prohibiting habitation of multi-family housing with no utilities, many NOBTS apartment dwellers could not return to the campus until Saturday, Sept. 6. That amounted to a weeklong absence for many seminarians.
In welcoming students, faculty and staff back to campus, NOBTS President Chuck Kelley encouraged them to view difficult experiences like Hurricane Gustav in light of God’s refining work. Kelley compared that work to intense fire that produces steel and intense pressure that produces diamonds.
“There’s no way for us to become who God wants us to be without going through the fire and the pressure,” Kelley said at the Tuesday gathering. “All of this is to prepare you to have a word for those people you will be leading.”
Kelley gave thanks that New Orleans and coastal Louisiana were spared from what was predicted to be a devastating storm. He also reminded that not all of the seminary family has gone untouched through the 2008 hurricane season.
New Orleans Seminary has partnerships with Baptists in both Haiti and Cuba, two island countries that have been battered by multiple hurricanes this year.
Kelley concluded his welcome by reading Psalm 46, a psalm appropriate for both the person spared from calamity and the person struggling to recover. Regardless the circumstance, Kelley said, God’s mercy is reliable.
Tuesday’s chapel speaker, Fred Luter, pastor of New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, titled his message “What to do when the storm comes.”
“Somewhere between the time of your first breath and your last breath,” Luter said, “storms will come your way. And my concern is not that we have storms and tribulation but what we do when the storm comes.”
Luter then offered a glimpse into his personal faith struggle following Hurricane Katrina.
“Do you know what I have discovered?” Luter asked. “I’ve discovered that when trouble comes our way faith is the first area that Satan works on.”
Luter said he remembers sitting in his daughter’s apartment in Birmingham, Ala., in August 2005 as Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast. His faith was shaken.
“I looked at what was going on [in New Orleans] and I looked up and said, ‘God, why don’t You do something?'” Luter recounted. “For the first time in my life, ladies and gentlemen, my faith was literally shaken unlike it had ever been shaken before.”
Not only was he mad at government leaders and agencies, Luter said he was mad at God. But through that experience, Luter said he learned afresh to trust God.
“I have discovered that every now and then God will allow you and me to get into a situation where we can’t trust in mama, daddy, the pastor, the president, the government or the mayor,” he said. “Your back is against the wall and all you can do is trust in God.
“If you don’t have faith, you have fear,” Luter continued. “And if the enemy can get you to fear, he can get you to doubt everything God has told you in His Word.”
Luter pointed to Mark 4:35-41, the account of Jesus calming the storm. To strengthen their faith in times of trouble, Luter challenged the chapel audience to first remember the promises of Jesus.
In verse 35, Jesus told the disciples, “Let us pass over to the other side.” And yet when a fierce storm threatened the boat, the disciples feared they were about to drown. Luter pointed out that their fear could have been quickly quelled if only the disciples would have remembered the purposes and promises of Jesus.
“Jesus didn’t come to drown,” Luter said. “He didn’t come to drown; he came to die on the cross…. He couldn’t drown because He’d said, ‘Boys, let’s go to the other side.'”
Just as the disciples in the boat could have found confidence in the words of Jesus, so Christians today can find confidence in the promises of God during times of trouble. For instance, Psalm 34:19 states, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”
Luter also said Christians must remember the presence of Jesus. He said Jesus could have easily sent the disciples across the lake while He stayed behind to rest. Instead, Jesus opted to go along with them in the boat. Christians can find encouragement and confidence in the fact that Jesus was in the boat and in the storm with the disciples.
“My brothers and my sisters, I don’t care what you’re going through. I don’t care what the enemy brings against you. I don’t care what trials or tribulations or storm it might be. If you’ve accepted Jesus into your life, He’s walking with you,” Luter said. “His grace is with you. His mercy is with you. … He’s walking with you. He’s there all the time.”
And, pointing to the power of Jesus, Luter compared the water crashing over the sides of the disciples’ boat to the waves splashing over the walls of the Industrial Canal in New Orleans during Hurricane Gustav. The New Orleans pastor noted: With only three simple words -– “Peace, be still” -– Jesus brought calm to the situation.
Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.