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Growing number of grads prompts 2 New Orleans commencement events

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary held two separate commencement services for the first time in its history in May, one for graduate students and another for undergraduate students, made necessary by the increasing size of graduation classes.

In recent years each graduate was limited in the number of guests who could be invited to commencement, but with separate graduations, students could bring more friends and family to the Leavell Chapel ceremonies, which was filled for both events.

President Chuck Kelley conferred degrees on 128 students on May 18. In his address, Kelley cited Acts 1:8 as the commencement service for the first graduating class from the “Seminary of Jesus.” Pointing to Jesus’ last encounter with the 12 disciples before he ascended into heaven and the subsequent conversation of angels clothed in white with the wide-mouthed disciples, Kelley said in his usual jubilant way, “Now, that’s what I call a recessional!”

To the families, friends and fellow laborers of the certificate, associate, diploma and baccalaureate graduates, Kelley spoke of three reasons that Jesus’ ascension was a blessing to Christians: to prepare a place in heaven for believers, to advocate the believers’ case before the Father in heaven, and to complete the believers’ race by his second coming.

Noting that Jesus ascended 2000 years ago, Kelley conjectured that angels were still renovating rooms for believers in God’s mansion in heaven. Comparing the renovations to what parents could offer their earthly children, he said joyfully that “eye has not seen; ear has not heard; neither has the mind of man ever conceived the things that God has prepared for those who love him.”

To the applauding audience, he cheered, “Heaven will be glorious. There will be morning without night; a church without a fight; laughter without crying; [and] living without dying.”

In addition to preparing a place in eternity for Christians, Jesus is advocating the case of believers in heaven, Kelley continued. Jesus is not trying to convince God to intervene in the lives of his children, the seminary president noted. “God already made that decision,” he said, pointing to the cross of Calvary.

Reminding the students of Hebrews 4:15, which affirms Jesus as a high priest who is able to sympathize with Christians’ weaknesses, yet is without sin, Kelley said, “Jesus has fought the fight that we are fighting, and he’s the one telling the Father how he can best minister to us. Jesus knows all that needs to be done that we might be nurtured and cared for to receive grace in our time of need.”

Kelley also noted that the Bible promises that Jesus will return again to complete the race. He encouraged the graduates to recapture the nation’s cities, to teach churches how to grow again, to continue their education, and to do whatever God has directed them to do in order to finish their particular race.

“Go!” Kelley said, indicating the urgency of completing their assigned tasks before Jesus’ return. “Go now! Go quickly! Go to the ends of the earth,” he said.

In a second graduation service on May 19, Kelley conferred degrees on 142 graduate and doctoral students, including the first master of divinity graduates to receive degrees in new specializations of biblical studies, evangelistic church growth, missions, urban missions and a Christian education concentration in women’s ministry. In his graduation address, Kelley reminded the students that time spent in the presence of Jesus is necessary for the Christians’ witness.

To illustrate the power of Jesus exhibited in people who spend time with him, Kelley recounted a trip to an evangelism training conference, where he was the keynote speaker. Still suffering from the flu, he had prayed for a quiet flight. Instead, Kelley said he encountered a businessman who started talking as soon as he reached his seat.

The talkative traveler was a corporate troubleshooter. As he explained his work, he drew his own parallels to the story of Jesus and the work of a preacher in evangelism. As the conversation progressed, the traveler’s explanation of his job turned into a presentation of the gospel to himself. “This guy was driving himself down the Roman Road,” Kelley told the graduates. “The Holy Spirit began to convict him of his need for Jesus without me having to say a word.” The traveler then asked Kelley if he had the information in a written form so that he could learn more about becoming a Christian.

Remembering his prayers to be left alone so that his sore throat could heal, Kelley then regretted thinking he would not be able to witness. God found a way to use him that involved nothing more than nodding his head. “I was defining my involvement in witnessing on the basis of my ability rather than on the power of God using me in spite of my limitations,” Kelley recounted. “It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s a matter of what Jesus is capable of doing through you.”

Pointing to Matthew 4:19 where Jesus commanded the disciples to follow him so that he could make them fishers of men, Kelley contended that the reason the Lord can expect his followers to witness is because of the promise contained in the middle of the passage. “I will make you,” he quoted. “The command of Jesus to witness is also a promise that he will do whatever it takes to enable us to witness. When Jesus is on your mind, he will come out of your mouth.”

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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