NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Some things are absolutely essential for the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary graduating class of May 2000 to know, said NOBTS President Chuck Kelley, and one is the formula for significant ministry: miracles plus messes equal makeovers.
Kelley used the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah to explain that although God may do miraculous things in one’s ministry, messes often follow before a makeover takes place. Nehemiah saw the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt, but the transformation involved both miracles and messes.
During the seminary’s 82nd annual commencement May 19 in Leavell Chapel, Kelley conferred degrees on 176 graduates who represented 18 states and seven foreign countries. Graduates were awarded degrees from 21 different academic programs at the diploma, certificate, undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels from the seminary’s main campus and 11 of its 19 extension centers.
This year’s commencement featured the seminary’s first live video-streaming on the Internet of a graduation service for friends and family members who were unable to attend the special event. The video-streaming has been archived at http://nobts.edu/chapel/graduation.htm for future viewing.
In his charge to the graduates, Kelley said that with 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches either plateaued or declining, it is highly likely that most graduates will go to churches that have been the same size or smaller, and that transforming the community in the name of Jesus Christ is going to require a great and magnificent work of God through their lives and ministries.
“If that happens, it is because of that formula: miracles plus messes equal makeovers,” Kelley said.
Just as God called Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, Kelley said, “The fact is that God will call a lot of you to go to a place that needs a lot of help. If you are going to a place that is better than where you are now, you may not be following the call, you may be following prosperity. If the only thing you are going to do is something that will enhance your image, then you are not following a call, you are following a mirror,” he said.
“God is calling every one of us to have a willingness to go to the places that need his help the most and do the things that he wants us to do. For some of us, that will mean literally putting everything on the line and going to a ministry that may not work.
“That is what happened with Nehemiah,” Kelley said, explaining how Nehemiah risked his life, as cupbearer to the king, to seek permission to rebuild the Jerusalem wall.
“God did a miracle in enabling Nehemiah to do this ministry,” Kelley said, sharing how King Artaxerxes not only allowed him to go, but he also provided soldiers and physical resources for Nehemiah in addition to appointing him as governor of the province to give him legal authority.
“That’s what you will see in your lives: God doing great, miraculous and wonderful things to make possible what he wants you to do,” Kelley said. “There must be in your soul that conviction that is exactly what God is able to do.”
However, the thinking somehow develops that if God does miracles, he eliminates all the messes, Kelley added. “People get accustomed to life the way it is and they don’t often want to change it.”
This graduating class knows about change because this year they have experienced more simultaneous change on the campus than it has had in its history, Kelley said. These students are graduating with a degree from a whole different curriculum from which they started. This was also the first year for the seminary’s Internet courses and the first seminary graduation to be aired live on the Internet, he said.
The fact God does a miracle does not mean that a servant of Christ will not go through dangerous times, as was evidenced in Nehemiah’s life, Kelley said. Nehemiah suffered great personal sacrifice in the single most exhausting, demanding task he had ever done, Kelley noted, and God did not remove the necessity for labor in the face of opposition.
“You don’t develop spiritual muscles if you’re not working against resistance,” Kelley explained. “One of the ways God develops our continuing passion for him is to keep us aware of the lifeline of grace we desperately need to accomplish what God wants us to do.
“You will not have miracles of God without the messes that follow. There is no unbroken line, for we live in a sinful world. We are working with sinful people, among whom you find yourself. The fact that God does a miracle to get you someplace does not mean you won’t have intense and dangerous opposition. Miracles plus messes equal makeovers.”
As Nehemiah kept on working, God sustained him, provided resources and gave him wisdom, Kelley said.
“The greatest surprise people have in ministry is discovering that you can do exactly what God wants you to do and have some of the greatest heartaches and challenges in your life,” Kelley said. Encouraging the graduates not to let messes in their lives convince them that they’re not doing what God wants them to do, he said, “The God who saw you through the miracle will do whatever it takes to see you through the mess and take you all the way home,” he encouraged.
Then the makeover will happen, he said. “For Nehemiah, it happened after 52 days when that wall was dedicated in spite of all the opposition internally and externally. Don’t you know the joy in Nehemiah’s heart when he stood on top of a finished wall and he stood before a finished gate? Miracles plus messes equal makeovers.”
This formula will work if you believe two things, Kelley said: 1) God is able and 2) you will go until God tells you to quit.
“If you follow this formula, you are going to have some miracles, and it’s going to lead you into messes, but the bottom line is going to be a makeover, a victory, that will cause you to give glory to God and see the prosperity of his kingdom,” Kelley said.
“Who knows what God will do if only we will trust him,” he concluded.
During the commencement service, seminary graduates were presented copies of the updated New American Standard Bible as well as a NAS electronic Bible library from the Lockman Foundation in Southern California.
2000 marks the second year that the Lockman Foundation has given NOBTS grads the electronic Bible library with 19 helps including several versions of the Bible, dictionaries, concordances and historical reference books.
“Our years of hard work are paying off,” said Mark Hayman, who graduated with a master of divinity in Christian education degree. “We’re not the same people that we were when we first came through [New Orleans Seminary’s famous] gates. The diploma is more than a piece of paper, it’s a foundation for ministry.”