NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Chuck Kelley held forth a walking stick he acquired on a recent mission trip to Peru.
Noting that the same wood is used by South American Indian tribes to make weapons, Kelley said the purpose of the walking stick was determined by the carver. He then challenged students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to examine what they are doing with the “wood of their souls.”
The message by Kelley, NOBTS president, echoed a call to repentance issued by Southern Baptist Convention leaders. He affirmed his support for the convention’s call and announced that the seminary will hold a solemn assembly March 1 as a prelude to the annual campus revival services. Kelley urged students, faculty and staff to begin preparing for repentance by looking deeply within and asking, “God, what do you want me to do?”
Using Revelation 2:1-7 as his text during the seminary’s first chapel service of the year on Jan. 18, Kelley said the church at Ephesus had a rich heritage of spiritual leadership from the Apostle Paul to Apollos to Timothy and the Apostle John. Yet while Jesus offered the church high praise for its deeds and its steadfastness in the face of opposition, He held something against the church: “You have fallen away from your first love.”
Drawing parallels between the church at Ephesus and seminary life in New Orleans, Kelley warned his hearers to heed Jesus’ admonishment of the church.
“What you will find as you live in the city of New Orleans is that it’s easy to grow weary because this is a city that is not unlike Ephesus in a lot of ways,” Kelley said. “This is a city that can be in your face with values that are quite different than the ones we have from the Gospel.”
Kelley noted that Jesus did not say the church had stopped loving Him. Instead, Jesus observed the church was becoming more mechanical and less devotional. Kelley acknowledged that everyone at seminary is susceptible to the condition of the church at Ephesus.
“We are ripe for what Jesus is describing,” he said, urging those in attendance to consider their level of passion for Jesus.
The possible consequence faced by the Ephesian Christians was the removal of their lamp stand. Kelley explained that love for Jesus is so essential to ministry that without it, Jesus says He would rather shut a ministry down. The good news, however, is that “there is never a hard word from Jesus without an open arm and an invitation.”
Jesus’ prescription for the renewal of love and relationship, Kelley said, is threefold: remember, repent and return.
“Remember! Cling to those times in your life when the passion has been deep and real and profound. That was normal. Where you are now is not,” he said of anyone whose heart may have grown cold.
The second step of Jesus’ instructions is a call to repent, to go in a different direction. The final step is to return to the deeds one did at first.
“To recognize that you have been slipping away from first love is a problem,” Kelley said. “The worst problem is to ignore it because it can be good if you are willing to acknowledge it.”
Jesus offers reward and restoration for those who return to their first love. “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God,” the passage says.
“Jesus is not into scolding; He’s into renewing,” Kelley said.
Kelley closed his message by drawing attention to his new walking stick. Made of chaka wood, he said it is the same type of wood the Auca Indians fashioned to make the spears they used to kill Jim Elliot and four other missionaries in 1956. Recalling the redemption story of the Auca Indians, Kelley said much of the tribe came to Christ following the death of the missionaries.
“This walking stick could have been a spear to kill or a walking stick to support,” Kelley said. “You see, it isn’t the wood that makes that determination. It’s the will, the decision of the one who works on the wood.”
Similarly, he said that the defining statements about Christians can be found in how they handle the circumstances of everyday life, the “wood of their souls.”
The question, he said, is, “Will you make [of those circumstances] something God can bless with not only your obedience but with passion and devotion, feeding the flame of your love? Or will you use the circumstances of life as a reason to be less in love with Jesus?”
Suzanne Davis writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.