"This is my prayer for you: That you will make an irrevocable act of faith and bless God all the days of your life," Kelley said.
New Orleans Seminary celebrated a total of 268 graduates who received both graduate and undergraduate degrees. One graduate traveled from Cairo, Egypt, to receive a diploma. Mounir Sobhy Yacoub Malaty, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cairo, received a doctor of ministry degree.
When Ji Eun Yoo received a doctor of philosophy degree, she and her husband became the first Korean couple to both earn Ph.D. degrees from New Orleans Seminary. Her husband earned his degree previously.
Kelley focused on the first five verses of Psalm 103 in his commencement message May 17. Leavell College, the seminary's undergraduate program, held its commencement May 16.
Kelley first pointed out what it means to "bless" the Lord.
"When we talk about blessing the Lord, we are in effect giving Him our irrevocable faith ...," Kelley said, "that irrevocable faith that you're in the grip of an almighty God who will move heaven and earth to care for you and who will empower you for all He calls you to do."
Psalm 103 also tells of "benefits" God offers to His followers that should move them to "bless the LORD." The first is that He "forgives all your iniquity."
"Every mistake you've made, every stumble you've had, every disappointment, every frustration, every sin before God, every sin against your fellow people -- God takes all of our iniquity," Kelley said. "And what does he do with" iniquity?
Referencing the psalmist's claim that God removes sin as far as the east is from the west, Kelley said, "It is completely, totally separated from you in a manner that can never be rejoined to your life. I call that a benefit."
A second benefit is that God "heals all your diseases." Kelley said this benefit, obviously, can be divided into healing in the present and healing in eternity.
"Some experience the miracle now. Some will wait until that day when Jesus Himself will wipe away every tear from your eyes and say, 'Lay that burden down,'" he said.
Kelley reminded graduates that the Apostle Paul prayed repeatedly for God to remove his unnamed infirmity, yet God did not.
"Paul's response was, 'Therefore I will glory in my weakness, because it is then that God makes me strong,'" Kelley said.
God, thirdly, deserves blessing because He "redeems your life from the pit." Kelley compared contemporary disasters, hardships and challenges to the pit in Psalm 103:4. Whether economic challenges, disappointment, personal failure or loss, God has the power to lift His children from the pit, Kelley said.
"There are no unchangeable circumstances for the child of God. There is no life that cannot be changed, there is no circumstance that cannot be redeemed," Kelley said. "He redeems our life from the pit."
A fourth benefit puts a spin on a familiar scriptural image: the crown.
"He crowns us with steadfast love and tender mercy -- now that's a crown!" Kelley said. "What a beautiful image of a God who pours out His love upon us and then uses His mercy to minister to us, always giving us what we do not deserve."
"God does not treat us the way our faculty has treated you as our students," he said. "They gave you the grade you earned. God gives you mercy you do not deserve. Isn't it nice to know that mercy wins?"
The last benefit found in Psalm 103 is that God "satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."
"God does so much good in your life. He keeps you young," Kelley said.
Kelley described his late mother's 90th birthday party as an illustration of youthful energy being renewed.
"I watched my 90-year-old mother get younger before my eyes because of the joy and the goodness of that day," he said. "This is what God does. He does so much goodness in our lives that it keeps our souls young and fresh. Oh the gift of a young soul in an old life. That is what the gift of the goodness God does all our days."
Some days are easier than others, Kelley admitted. But he challenged the graduates to bless God every day.
Frank Michael McCormack writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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