By Fred Luter, Pastor Franklin Avenue Baptist Church
NEW ORLEANS (BP) — I am the middle of five kids. My mom and dad were divorced when I was 6 years old. As a single mother of five kids, my mom had a lot of rules; however, the one that was non-negotiable was that everyone in our house had to attend church on Sunday mornings.
My mom would often say that everyone who sleeps in her bed, eats her food and drinks her water had to go to church on Sunday mornings. I have told people through the years that my mom gave me my first “drug” problem — she drug me to church, she drug me to Sunday School and she drug me to Vacation Bible School! However, the fact of the matter is, I was just going to church but not living for God after the benediction.
Because my mom had to work two to three jobs, I literally lived the life of a street kid, getting involved in things and living a lifestyle that I knew was not pleasing to God. However, it was a lifestyle that all of my so-called friends were living and I wanted to be just like them.
I shudder to think where I would be today if I had gotten caught doing the wrong things simply because I was hanging around the wrong crowd. Several of the guys I used to run the streets with are either in prison, alcoholics, drug addicts or are dead as a result of their lifestyle choices. As I look back on those days, I often think that “but for the grace of God there go I.”
The turning point in my life happened in the summer of 1977. I had joined a motorcycle gang that my mom was totally against. However, because she was always working, she could not prevent me from hanging with the guys in the gang.
One evening, I was riding my motorcycle and saw a car turning in the intersection where I was turning. I tried to avoid a collision, but it was inevitable. The next thing I remember is laying with blood covering my leg and head in Charity Hospital of New Orleans. I soon was told that I had a compound fracture in my left leg and had a serious head wound.
While lying in the hospital recovering from my wounds, I received a lot of visitors.
Some I remember and some I don’t, but there was one visitor I will never forget. His name was Brother Louis Beloney, an older deacon at the church, I was being “drug” to every Sunday.
He asked me how I was doing and told me how concerned my family was about me. Then he did and said something I will never forget.
Brother Beloney pointed his finger within one inch of my face and said these words, “Boy, obedience is better than sacrifice. If you were obedient to your mom, you would not be sacrificing your life in this hospital. You better get your life together, ask God to forgive you and to give you another chance to get it right!” Then he prayed for me and told me that he and God loved me — now that is what I call direct evangelism!
That night, I made a deal with God. I said, “God, I do not know if I am going to live or die. But if you wake me up tomorrow morning, I will live for you all the days of my life.” The next morning I woke up, gave God the praise and was determined to keep my vow to the Lord, and I have never looked back. I like to refer to my salvation testimony as my “Damascus Road” experience similar to the apostle Paul.
After getting out of the hospital, I willingly attended the church that I had been drug to all of my life as a kid. When the invitation was extended, with tears in my eyes, I walked down the aisle of that church and asked the members for their forgiveness and prayers. I told them of the vow I made to the Lord at the hospital and asked them to hold me accountable.
At the end of the service many of the members came to greet me. The first person in that line was Brother Louis Beloney.
Today, he is in heaven watching the fruit of his labor. He has seen the young man that he challenged get saved, become a street preacher, become a pastor and eventually make history as the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
That is why I am a living witness that “obedience is indeed better than sacrifice.”
To God be the glory, great things He has done!