It didn’t take long for the people attending the Carver Medal Ceremony at Simpson College to understand how Pastor Fred Luter Jr. went from preaching on street corners in New Orleans to leading the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
He transformed the annual event into a revival. “Simpson College, I promise you, if you continue to be faithful to God, God will continue to be faithful to you,” he said during Thursday night’s ceremony.
Luter, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is the 40th person to deliver the Carver Lecture. The annual event honors the legacy of George Washington Carver, whose education began at Simpson.
Simpson College established the Carver Medal in 2008 to annually recognize an outstanding individual whose life exemplifies the commitment and vision of service of George Washington Carver. The annual Carver Lecture dates back to 1975, paying tribute to George Washington Carver’s legacy at Simpson College.
George Washington Carver is most noted as an agricultural scientist, but much more than that he was an artist, inventor, author and teacher. He was also a man of deep faith in God. His practical approach to science was continually influenced by his faith. His early morning walks with God inspired him to seek a life of service for the greater good of all people.
Carver said, “It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank that counts. It is simply service that measures success.”
The Carver medal is given to an individual who has distinguished himself/herself through service, like George Washington Carver. “When I see the list of incredible individuals who have received the George Washington Carver Medal in the past, I cannot help but ask the question, ‘Why me, Lord?’” Luter said.
He then described his personal spiritual journey, mixing humor, Bible verses and anecdotes with a booming voice and passionate fervor that filled Smith Chapel.
Luter was one of five children. His parents divorced when he was six, forcing his mother to perform a series of jobs, “not to make ends meet, but to kind of make ends wave at one another.”
During his youth, he “got involved in some things I should not have gotten involved, with some people I should have not gotten involved with.”
The turning point came after he was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in 1977.
“For the first time in my life, I started thinking seriously about my relationship with God,” he said. “I made a decision that would literally change my life and forever change my future. I asked Jesus Christ to come into my life, I became a born-again believer and gave my life to the Lord. As a result, my life has never been the same.”
He began preaching on street corners in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. “What I had, I wanted everybody that I knew to have.” In 1986, he was offered the chance to lead the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. Church leaders told him, “Fred, you’re either going to resurrect this church or we’re going to bury it.” He had never led a church before, never been to seminary, “but I knew God had called me, and I knew Jesus had saved me, and I knew the word of God was real.”
Inspired by Matthew 25:21 – You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things – Luter told his tiny congregation that the church would thrive if they followed four principles.
First: “Be faithful to God.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Luter said, waving his arms in the air, “you will be amazed what can happen in your life if you’re faithful to God. You will be amazed what can happen in your life, in your home, in your marriage if you’re faithful to God.
“Notice I said faithful to God and God alone. Not God and someone else. But God alone. Not God and something else. But God alone. Not God and the lottery, not God and the casino, not God and the horoscopes, not God and the racetracks, not God and Dr. Phil, not God and Dr. Oz, not God and Oprah, not God and the Housewives of Atlanta, but be faithful to God and God alone.”
He continued: “It’s not about the pastor, it’s about the master. It’s not about the preachers, it’s about the Creator. It’s not about the singing, it’s about the Savior. It’s not about the leaders, it’s about the Lamb of God. It’s not about the members, it’s about the Messiah. It’s not about the building and the budget, it’s about the bright and morning star.”
The second challenge to his church: “We must be faithful to God’s word.”
The third: “We must be faithful to God’s ways.”
The fourth: “Let’s be faithful to God’s will.”
“Come on church,” he told them, “let’s walk by faith, let’s talk by faith, let’s preach by faith, let’s sing by faith…let’s be about faith, let’s testify by faith. And that’s what I’m doing tonight at Simpson College.
“Ladies and gentlemen, God knows I am testifying to the goodness and grace of God. I’m not boasting, I’m not bragging, I’m testifying that if you’re faithful to God, God will, God will, God will be faithful to you. I have seen that happen in my life.”
His church was indeed resurrected as it grew from 59 members to more than 7,000, then had to be resurrected again after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
After the event, Simpson President John Byrd said, “It’s not often you hear a talk with that much passion and power. It was spectacular.”
Article reprinted in part from http://simpson.edu/news-center/carver-medal-recipient-tells-simpson-remain-faithful/