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God can redeem any situation, Kelley tells New Orleans grads

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–One of the most amazing verses in the Bible is Genesis 50:20, Chuck Kelley told May graduates at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary during the 80th annual commencement service May 15: “Although you meant it for evil, God meant it for good.”
“God is a redeemer,” the seminary president told graduates as he reminded them of the story of Joseph. “He has the power to take what was intended for evil and to use it for good.”
Realizing God can redeem any situation is “a very important thing for a minister to learn,” Kelley said, because as they go out from the seminary they will encounter:
— “a denomination in which 70 percent of our churches are plateaued or declining;”
— “a denomination whose growth rate for several years has been less than 1 percent;”
— “a denomination that is desperately in need of new blood, of fresh vision, but a denomination that really doesn’t want it when you offer it.”
A specialist in issues and research related to church growth and church health, Kelley previously directed Southern Baptists’ first Center for Evangelism and Church Growth, located on the New Orleans Seminary campus. A professor of evangelism at New Orleans Seminary since 1983, Kelley is in demand across the country as a public speaker and writer. Upon his election as New Orleans Seminary’s eighth president in 1996, Kelley set the seminary’s target for “healthy churches,” for, he said, “the health of a seminary is determined by the health of the churches its graduates lead.”
“The hardest thing in the world to do is to lead a church to change, and that is exactly what you are going to be doing,” Kelley said.
“It will not be an easy road. It will not be a soft road. It will be challenging, it will be difficult and there will be many heartaches along the way. You will see the people of God do some of the most cruel things you have ever seen them do as you attempt to share with them the challenge of living their lives and doing their church according to the Word of God and not according to tradition.”
Despite all of these circumstances, Kelley challenged the graduates to remember “there will never be anything unfolding in your life and ministry — whether it be meant for evil or good — that our Lord Jesus cannot redeem.”
Kelley pointed out students would be receiving their certificates and diplomas at the foot of the cross, as a 20-foot wooden cross is fixed to the organ pipes at the front of the seminary’s Leavell Chapel.
“The cross is God’s ultimate statement of his power to redeem, for he took the most cruel, painful, humiliating death a man could die in the world of that day, and he used that awful death to provide our glorious salvation. He redeemed that death and burial with the glory of the resurrection and new life.
“What Jesus did in his life and death and resurrection is an illustration of what he will be doing all the years of your life. His is the power to redeem every circumstance you are in.”
Kelley held up a special key, a memento he keeps with him to remind him of God’s power to redeem any situation. The key was presented to him in January by Burl Cain, warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, a maximum security prison to which men are sent when they must serve 20 years or more or life sentences. The seminary has an extension center located on the prison grounds. In January the first group to finish the associate of pastoral ministries degree received their diplomas during a service held in the prison chapel.
“Every one of those men in whose hand we put a diploma had killed somebody,” Kelley said. “Most of them will probably never leave that prison. Seventy percent of the men in Angola will never walk out of there alive. They will die in prison because their sentences are so long.”
However, at that 18,000-acre penitentiary are 20 churches with congregations of prisoners, 16 of whom are now trained to minister to their fellow prisoners. Capacity classes of 50 students each have been under way at Angola since 1995.
“I keep this key to the Angola penitentiary with me as a reminder of the incredible power of God to redeem,” Kelley said.
“You will be going out from here to serve all kinds of congregations, and some of your classmates will be serving a congregation behind the walls of a prison. Yet Jesus has taken a life badly scarred by sin and redeemed it.”
Kelley urged the graduates to remember “God holds the key to redeem every circumstance of your life. It does not matter if it is intended for evil. It does not matter if it is intended for harm. Whatever unfolds in your life, his is the power to use it for good.
His is the power to redeem.”
The graduating class included 247 students, 100 of whom received master of divinity degrees. This class was composed of the first group to complete the certificate in women’s ministry; the first group to complete the master of arts in marriage and family counseling; a group of 19 Hispanic lay men and women from the same church — Good Shepherd Baptist Church in New Orleans — who completed various church leadership certificate programs.
Also among the graduates were nine couples and many international students, including one from Holland, one from Nigeria, one from Zimbabwe, one from Singapore, two from Kasakhstan, three from Haiti, 11 from South Korea and 25 from various parts of Central American and the Caribbean.
Addressing family and friends present for the commencement, Kelley said, “Some of you have wondered why in the world that son or daughter, that brother or sister, would be willing to devote their lives to ministry when they could do something else and make a lot more money or have a much less stress-filled life.
“The truth of the matter is, it is that wonderful news of Jesus as the redeemer that has captured the imagination of these precious students. In their years here at New Orleans they have watched him redeem some incredible circumstances and every one of them has a story to tell of at least one thing God has done to bring them to this point right now.”
Examples of some NOBTS May 1998 graduates who saw God redeem “incredible circumstances” are:
— Michael Glenn of Pelahatchie, Miss., who finished the master of divinity degree 19 years after he started the program.
— John Morris III of Hueytown, Ala., who completed two degrees, the master of arts in Christian education and the master of arts in marriage and family counseling during the service, despite being wheelchair-bound. Just six months earlier he received the master of divinity degree.
— Jan Miller O’Daniell of Beaumont, Texas, who completed the master of arts in Christian education degree despite several bouts with cancer, brain surgery and rounds of chemotherapy during her three years in seminary.

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  • Debbie Moore