Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Fred Luter’s start-of-the-semester sermon at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavell Chapel is always one of the most highly anticipated and attended messages of the year. A native New Orleanian with an energizing preaching style, Luter offers a nice welcome to new students and an inspiring welcome back to returning students.
The Aug. 22 message was Luter’s second – and possibly last – preaching appearance at NOBTS as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. With that in mind, Luter offered NOBTS President Chuck Kelley a special thanks for his support over the years.
“When we were leaving the Phoenix convention in 2011, Dr. Kelley pulled me to the side and said … ‘I would like to seriously ask you to start praying about running for president of the Southern Baptist Convention,'” Luter recalled. “He was the first one to put it into my heart and my spirit for doing this. I just want to thank God publicly again for his support for me through the years.”
He also offered NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke a special thanks for chairing the resolutions committee for the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Houston this past summer.
“I didn’t realize how difficult that committee would be brother, so I owe you a dozen charbroiled oysters at Drago’s. That’s a difficult committee, but you handled it well,” Luter said.
God’s undivided attention
Luter then turned to Malachi 3:16-17, which begins with “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another and the Lord listened and heard them.”
“I’m sure all of us have thought about it at one time or another. It does not matter whether you’re a new believer or a seasoned believer or a mature believer, I promise you you’ve thought about it,” Luter said. “As much as we depend on God, as much as we rely on God, as much as we confide in God, as much as we trust in God, as much as we call on the name of God, have you ever thought about it—whether or not you’ve ever gotten God’s undivided attention?”
Luter said “undivided attention” today is often hard to come by.
“I’m not denying you’re a busy person. I’m not denying your plate is full. I’m not denying you can multitask — especially the ladies in this chapel. I’m amazed at how you can drive and still put on your makeup,” Luter said. “However, my brothers and my sisters, I must ask you, are you busier than God?”
Luter pointed to Job 38-39 where God reminds Job of who He is and what He has done.
“‘Job, where were you when I formed the earth? Job, where were you when I said let there be light?'” Luter paraphrased. “‘Job, where were you when I put sweetness in the peaches, bitter in the lemon, tang in the orange? Job, where were you when I put sugar in Krispy Kreme donuts?'”
Still today, as in Job’s case, people still ask the question of undivided attention, Luter said.
“In spite of all God has done, in spite of who he is, in spite of the fact he holds the world in the palm of his hand, the question all of us [are asking] is how can we get God’s undivided attention,” he said. “Or for that matter, is it even possible to get God’s undivided attention?”
Luter said Malachi 3:16-17 describes the type of people who get God’s undivided attention. The first kind of people who get God’s undivided attention, Luter said, are those who are fearful. As verse 16 begins, “Then those who feared the Lord…”
“Now by fearful, I’m not talking about those who are afraid of God like some ghost or like he’s a madman or a dictator,” Luter said. “I’m talking about those who have a healthy fear of God.”
Luter used words like reverence, respect, honor and adore to describe this type of healthy fear.
“A healthy fear of God means you obey the Word of God and obey the will of God,” Luter said, adding, “Oh brothers and sisters, the problem we have in the world today and the problem we have in the church today is we don’t have enough people who have a healthy fear of God.”
Secondly, Luter said followers will get God’s undivided attention. As verse 16 continues, “Those who feared the Lord spoke to one another and the Lord listened and heard them.”
“God makes clear those who get God’s undivided attention are those who first speak to one another — uh oh,” he said. “That may be a problem for some of us. … In other words, God says, ‘How do you expect me to listen to you when you don’t even speak to one another?'”
Luter connected that commitment to speaking to one another to Romans 12:18, which commands believers to ‘try to live peacefully’ with everyone. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, he admitted.
“It kind of reminds me of a saying, Dr. Kelley, that I heard years ago: ‘To live above with those we love would truly be glory; to live below with those we know, that’s a whole other story,'” Luter said.
Lastly, Luter said people who are faithful get God’s undivided attention. Verse 16 describes a book of remembrance “written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I dare you, I dare you to be faithful to God,” Luter said. “Look at his promise in verse 17: ‘They shall by mine, says the Lord of Hosts.’ Not maybe. God says ‘they shall be mine.’
“You know what that sounds like to me? It sounds like that song we sometimes sing, ‘Blessed Assurance,'” Luter said. “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”