NEW ORLEANS (BP) – “Praise the Lord” every step of the way, Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told graduates at the school’s May 16 commencement.
“Out of all the words you’ve read, all the words you’ve known,” Kelley said. “Out of all the things you’ve experienced in your studies, I want to be sure you leave here with three words: Praise the Lord.”
Kelley noted that praising the Lord on an occasion like graduation is easy. But saying that phrase every day goes beyond happenstance.
“‘Praise the Lord’ is not a sentiment for happy times. ‘Praise the Lord’ is a discipline. It is a matter of seeing, a matter of recognizing,” he said.
“Praise the Lord” hinges on recognizing God for who He is and what He does, Kelley said.
“He is always righteous. He is always loving. He is always powerful. He is always present,” Kelley noted. “Our God is a fantastic and amazing God. James tells us there is no shadow of turning, no variation in Him. He is always Himself.”
And because of that constancy, people can count of Him, he said. God is engaged with the world, and that engagement invites people to know and experience Him, Kelley said. Kelley pointed to 2 Kings 6 in which Elisha the prophet was ministering in Israel and Syria was warring with Israel. Every time the Syrian military would attempt to ambush the Israelites, Elisha the prophet would warn them so the Israelites would avoid the ambush.
Verse 11-12 reads, “And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, ‘Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?’ And one of his servants said, ‘None my lord, O king; but Elisha, that prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.'”
The Syrian king sent horses, chariots and his army to the city where Elisha lived and surrounded it. When Elisha’s servant saw all the Syrian military, he said, “What shall we do?”
But Elisha calmed him, saying, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened. “So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha,” verse 17 reads.
Kelley said, “Seeing is what I’m talking about, so that you know whatever is before you, whatever is going on, God is engaged with you. And it is learning that discipline of praising the Lord and giving honor and glory to His name for what He has done that is so important for us in ministry. This is what we bring to the people we serve: that confidence of knowing on the basis of who God is we can be certain of what He is doing.”
Kelley shared the story of Thomas O. Chisholm, the poet and Christian hymn writer who lived from 1866 to 1960. He became a Christian at age 27 and later served as a vocational minister. After just one year, poor health forced him to leave his place of ministry.
Chisholm then worked in insurance, much of the time confined to working at a desk.
“This is what he wrote toward the end of his life, toward the end of a life that was filled [with] trouble and disappointment and frustration: ‘My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in earlier years, which has followed me on until now. But I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that he has given me many wonderful displays of his providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratitude.’ Wow!” Kelley exclaimed.
The famous hymn Chisholm wrote was “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” which reads in part, “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine and 10,000 beside.”
Kelley recited Psalm 150, which concludes, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”
In all, close to 240 students received degrees ranging from undergraduate and graduate certificates to baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. Leavell College (undergraduate) commencement was held in Leavell Chapel May 15, with New Orleans Baptist Seminary’s commencement following the next day. Among NOBTS graduates was Sungjin Son, the first graduate of the seminary’s Korean doctor of ministry program. And Ai Kyung Ra and her husband Jin Kwon became the second Korean couple at NOBTS to both earn doctor of philosophy degrees.
The NOBTS class also included a father and son. Roy “Thumper” Miller received the doctor of ministry degree and his son, Joshua, received the master of divinity degree.
The graduation ceremony was professor of preaching and pastoral work Jerry Barlow’s last as dean of graduate studies. As of the 2015-2016 academic year, Barlow is moving into a full-time teaching role.
“We’ve witness[ed] your faith, your character and conduct, your perseverance and performance in a very challenging time in your life and in these days,” Barlow said to the graduates.
“Please know, you will always be in our hearts and in our prayers as you give witness to Christ around this world. We’ll miss you and we’ll be here still for you. We’re so proud of you. God bless you.”