NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Ministry won’t be easy, Chuck Kelley told the graduating class of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Dec. 18. Churches are declining. Missionaries are being martyred. Many people are uninterested in the Gospel. But through the power of Jesus Christ, ministers can be victorious, he said.
Kelley encouraged each of the 171 graduates to stay focused on Christ and His Kingdom task rather than on circumstances. During the commencement ceremony the seminary awarded ministry certificates, undergraduate degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral degrees.
“What we must always remember is that when you are in the presence of Jesus, all those circumstances seem insignificant, because it is in His presence that we have that anchor of peace and the complete sense of His power protecting us,” Kelley said. “Where the sacrifice has been the greatest and the hardest God has done the most transforming change.”
Today’s graduates have unique opportunities and unique challenges, Kelley said, adding that ministers have an unprecedented opportunity to take the Gospel to the very ends of the world. But there are real struggles and real dangers.
“Ministry is going to demand the very best that you have,” he said. “It’s going to exact a terrific toll on your life as you literally give your life away for the service of God’s people and the service of people who have never heard the name of Jesus.”
Pointing to Luke 5, Kelley referred to Peter’s response to Jesus’ call. After a long night of fishing with little results, Jesus told Peter to go to the deep water and fish again. Peter obeyed and let down the nets. He brought out so many fish that the nets began to break and the boat began to sink.
“Peter fell down in fear at the feet of Jesus and said, ‘Please go away from me. I am a sinful man,'” Kelley said “Peter instinctively knew that a man with that type of power had to be from God.”
Kelley said he believes Peter was afraid of what Jesus would do next.
“Perhaps Peter was afraid of what else Jesus would want,” Kelley said. “This time all he wanted was the boat for a few minutes. [But] what else would Jesus want?”
Kelley noted that Jesus asked Peter to leave his nets and “fish for men.” Peter obeyed.
Kelley speculated that some of the family members in the audience were wondering why their loved one went to seminary, and did not go to law school or medical school. Some, he said, were wondering why the graduates would give their life for what seems like a small return.
“When you look in the face of Jesus you can never be the same,” Kelley said. “What has happened with these graduates is that they have seen the face of Jesus.”
The graduates, Kelley said, have experienced love and forgiveness that changed each of them. They know that God can transform any life, he said.
“God wants to forgive. … He wants to restore … He wants to renew and transform every human life,” Kelley said. “We must always remember in the presence of Jesus [that] we are in the presence of a forgiving, loving God who wants all to be changed. His desire is not for their judgment. His desire is for their forgiveness. They are being made new through the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Those who have been called to ministry understand Peter’s fear, Kelley said, adding that the graduates fear what God will expect them to do one day. And, he said, they fear what complete openness to His leading will take them. But God needs men and women who will submit themselves completely to His service, Kelley said.
“God is at work, but He is at work in hard places and in difficult times and He uses the most challenging of situations in order to accomplish His greatest purposes,” Kelley said. “When you are attuned to Jesus, you will never be intimidated or defeated by the circumstances around you.”
Kelley used a video clip from “Henry V” to illustrate his message of staying focused on Jesus. The setting is Agincourt, France. The dialogue is from Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Henry’s troops are preparing for an impeding battle with the French. The weary English soldiers, led by Henry V, are outnumbered and facing overwhelming odds.
Henry rides out among his men. He rallies them for battle with a stirring speech. The English, completely behind their leader, prevailed at Agincourt. Despite the odds, they were victorious.
“The Kingdom of God shall triumph at the end of the day,” Kelley said. “The sacrifices will not go unnoticed or unrewarded. In His company, we are in the company of the victorious.”
“God is going to take your life and He is going to use it for His Kingdom purposes,” he continued. “Because of the power of Jesus Christ He shall prevail.”
That day at the boat, Peter did not know how the message of Christ would spread throughout the world, Kelley said. Yet, he laid down his nets to follow Jesus.
“That is the challenge that you have today, to lay aside any distraction and to say once again, looking in the face of Jesus, ‘I will give it all to go with You to fish for men,'” he said.