NOBTS President Chuck Kelley started his commencement address by congratulating the graduates for completing an intense course of study.
"Ancient Greek and Hebrew, church history, theology, Christian education -- so many things are right there at the top of your mind," he said.
But Kelley then challenged the graduates not to get distracted by the knowledge and experience they've gained through their students while losing sight of the centerpiece of who they are as ministers and graduates of New Orleans Seminary.
Kelley offered a comical example of losing focus by playing a video of the Indiana University a cappella group "Straight No Chaser" singing their version of "The 12 Days of Christmas." During the song, the group switches between tunes of popular Christmas songs without any warning.
"That's not exactly as it was designed," Kelley said after the song had played. "It's always important, not simply that you have all these things you've learned rolling around your mind, but that you 'get them.' That you understand the essence of the whole of what you learned and why you came here."
That centerpiece, Kelley said, is summed up in the Apostle Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth.
Kelley read from 1 Corinthians 15, beginning in verse 3: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. And then he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. And then he appeared to James, then to all the Apostles. And last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."
Kelley reiterated, "Christ died for our sins, was buried, He rose from the dead," noting that "the point Paul makes over and over again in that great passage is that it was witness. ... It is for this purpose that you have been trained and taught and commissioned. To be that living witness of Jesus."
The reality of Jesus' resurrection is central to each person's calling, Kelley said, and it's central to what it means to be involved in New Orleans Seminary.
"We are NOBTS," Kelley said. "We will not be known by our potential, our intellect, our ability or our bank account. We will be known as those men and women whom God called out for service, and we said yes. We are NOBTS."
That identity applies also to the seminary's location in New Orleans, Kelley said.
"You could've taken an easier route for seminary. You could've gone to a city that's a lot more Baptist than New Orleans," he said. "You could've done just school instead of leading a church ... but we are NOBTS and we don't wait to fulfill the Great Commission."
That sense of identity impacts even the partnerships the seminary has forged over the years, Kelley said. From a partnership with Bethel Colony South, an organization that ministers to men and women suffering from addiction to drugs and alcohol, to the seminary's training programs in prisons in three states, NOBTS is active, as Kelley put it, "punching holes in the darkness where the darkness is darkest."
"We are NOBTS, and we go where God sends us," he said. "We go with a very particular message: Jesus is alive. And that is so crucial, because if Jesus is alive, that means the stain of sin has no permanent hold on any human heart. Jesus washes it clean."
That's what makes the task of ministry so different from professions like the medical field and the law, Kelley said.
"Doctors can give people medicine and perform surgery and help people get better physically, but you have Jesus the surgeon of the soul who can transform lives," Kelley said. "Lawyers sort things out about who's responsible for what, but you prepare people to stand before the judgment seat of God with the confidence knowing that He will pronounce them His child."
Concluding his message, Kelley stated: "You have been chosen. You said yes. We are NOBTS."
Frank Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
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