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To New Orleans’ believers, Will Graham urges ‘surrender’

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–A broad cross-section of nearly 1,200 New Orleans-area residents gathered at First Baptist Church on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall.

They came to the 2007 Katrina Anniversary Prayer Rally to praise God for His abiding grace over the last two years and, under the high-energy direction of worship leader Lisa Pierre of Houston, praise God they did.

They came to pray and, led by pastors from all over the city plus one high school girl, pray they did, for safety in the city, people who are standing in the gap, mothers keeping their families strong, students and teachers and more.

Hard times continue in New Orleans, so they came also to be encouraged. George Shinn, owner of the Hornets pro basketball team, did more than that: With a coach’s pre-game fervor, he motivated those who had gone through a bad season to have faith -– in America, New Orleans, oneself, neighbors and God.

But Will Graham -– son of Franklin, grandson of Billy -– brought the unexpected.

The program had William Franklin Graham IV bringing a “message of hope.” Susan Emory of Metairie, for one, said she expected to hear “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

But from the first words from Graham, standing at the pulpit his grandfather preached from in 1954, and his father last year, Graham didn’t apologize for his youthful appearance, his being neither his grandfather nor his father or his lack of an opening joke.

“I can’t comprehend what you’ve gone through,” Graham began. “I can’t comprehend the destruction or what it’s done in your lives…. I can’t comprehend it, but God can.”

Graham said he believes “we’re in the end times” and repeated it a few sentences later as if to emphasize the point.

“When I give up on this world, I’m reminded God has not, and it convicts me,” the young evangelist -– but father of three — preached. “God has not given up on this world. God has not given up on this city. God has not given up on you.”

Graham instructed the audience to turn to 1 Kings 8, but first he cited the one-verse admonition in Luke 17:32 to “Remember Lot’s wife.”

Lot and his family, as they fled the destruction of Sodom, were physically safe and in the presence of angels, Graham said. But he took note of Lot’s wife, who is unnamed in Scripture, and noted: “but her heart was in Sodom.”

Graham paused, then declared to the audience: “You’re just like her.” His look, his words spared no one in First Baptist’s nearly full worship center.

He let the words hang in the air for a moment, before voicing his message: Forget what was before; forget “pre-Katrina”; and surrender your heart to the Lord.

To surrender is to go way beyond commitment, Graham explained. Commitment is something a person chooses to do or not do; they still maintain control. To surrender is to give up control.

“Some people want to hang on to their bitterness,” Graham preached.

“Surrender it,” his jarring words causing some across the worship center to gasp.

Some people need to surrender their time; some need to surrender their money, Graham continued.

“You have a lack of personal holiness because you have not surrendered every aspect of your life,” Graham said, letting his words echo mentally for a moment, allowing people to count ways in which they haven’t surrendered to God’s control.

Graham closed by cautioning his listeners with the need for a continual surrender, rather than a one-time event, before inviting them forward to pray or speak with a pastor.

About a dozen responded to the altar call, while more bowed their heads at their seats as the mass choir softly sang, “I Surrender All.”

Much later, after nearly everyone had left the worship center, Graham signed his name to the pulpit below the signatures of his grandfather and father.

“This was New Orleans,” said David Crosby, First Baptist’s pastor, as he swept his hands out to include all those who had participated in the Katrina Anniversary Prayer Rally.

“This mix of people represented New Orleans better than any other crowd I’ve seen at any of today’s [commemorative] events, and we’re declaring our faith in the God of recovery and rebirth,” said Crosby, who co-hosted the gathering with Fred Luter, pastor of the Katrina-battered Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.

Luter, standing nearby at the front of the church’s worship center after the two-hour prayer rally, agreed.

“This is my fourth one today,” Luter said. “It had by far the best cross-section of people from across the city…. There was that mass choir of people from First Baptist and from Franklin Avenue, singing together; there were pastors and people from several ethnic backgrounds, all praying together; there was a joining of hearts because we realize no matter what our background, no matter what our life was like, because of what we experienced together as a result of Katrina, we can understand each other.”

The four Katrina events Luter attended started with a Tuesday evening dinner with President Bush and his wife Laura and about two dozen other New Orleans community leaders at Dooky Chase restaurant, a historic African American restaurant in central New Orleans.

“I just got a call from the White House, inviting me,” Luter said. “I don’t know what the criteria was; I was just glad to be included.”

The conversation ranged from the Texas Rangers and other sports to Bush’s daughter getting married.

“Can you imagine what it took for [the fiancé] to ask for her hand in marriage?” Luter quoted Bush as saying and sharing a laugh about.

“I sat next to him all night,” Luter said. “It was light conversation, a light evening.” Neither politics nor the war in Iraq were mentioned, but Bush reiterated his interest in New Orleans, Luter said. “He’s committed to seeing New Orleans rebuild,” the pastor said.

Laura Bush impressed him as well, Luter said.

“When she shook my hand, she literally put both of hers on it,” Luter said. “She’s very personable too…. To have that honor, to be included in that dinner, for me it was a great privilege.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, on the Web at www.baptistmessage.com.