My pastor, Billy James, gave me some advice at age fourteen that has been helpful to me as a student and a pastor. One piece of advice was, “If you are being called in to ministry, it isn’t when you finish high school, college, or seminary or you are called to a church, God is calling you now, and you need to figure out what that means.”
He also told me, “do not get married until you finish your first four years of college. If you can help it, wait until you have finished seminary, and by any means, do not have kids until you have completed.” It is important to note Brother Billy was a second career/calling minister and had three children and was commuting over 100 miles one way at the time to Seminary. I now have a much greater appreciation for that than I ever could at the time.
As it turned out however, seven years ago today, I graduated New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with an Master of Divinity ONE WEEK before I was married.
Looking back seven years I am tremendously thankful for God’s grace in not only putting me at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary but allowing me to thrive, make friends, and find a wife – all of which will continue until and in some ways even after I’ve reached eternity in one way or the other.
My road to New Orleans was not easy. There is a longer story, but after heartbreak, a hurricane, a Holocaust class and general disillusionment of being a senior in college I ended up on a friend’s couch for the summer and was headed to a moderate to liberal Divinity School. God completely redirected that whole thing and sent me to New Orleans. I was privileged that summer to serve as a part time youth minister/associate pastor alongside a man who goes by “Brother Fudd.” That time I treasure and Brother Terry Floyd still means the world to me.
Fudd and I met because we had both gone to hear my former pastor do a preaching workshop on preaching from the Old Testament sponsored by Mississippi Baptists. Time and words would fail me to recount all the reasons I am thankful for Dr. Wayne VanHorn but it includes him re-memorizing key passages of scripture with a high school student and continuing to lovingly give indelible advice and encouragement even until the present day.
When I walked across the stage to receive a Master of Divinity in Biblical Languages, I did so debt free. There are many avenues for which I am thankful that came together for this, but I know it is all because of God’s grace. One way was the First Baptist Columbia (MS) Foundation that gave a partial and very helpful scholarship, another was the Lord having given me a job at the campus LifeWay store. Another was the Cooperative Program. That’s right, I know the bulk of my education was made possible by faithful little ladies in small churches like ours who pulled out their coin purses and fixed incomes and faithfully gave to their weekly offering, a portion of which goes on to help SBC students’ tuition at our seminaries. Now, as a pastor, I am privileged to give back my education to the churches.
Dr. VanHorn told me I would have the opportunity for a great education at NOBTS. That advice was key. Choosing classes and professors that challenge and strengthen you are a key ingredient to a full course of Seminary. I also am thankful for the season in my life God sent me. I would work all day or afternoon on a paper in the library and be packing up to go back to the dorm room or out for beignets, and see a man come in with a back pack, pull out his computer, a large cup of coffee and some books and realize – he has just put his kids to bed and is getting started on what I just finished. Teary eyed on those occasions, I only wanted to work harder to not take for granted what God had given me, and I know that man would probably think the same.
Time would fail me to recount my thankfulness for the mentorship and friendship of all of my professors, but I am particularly thankful for the investment and encouragement of Tony Merida, Walter Brown, Rex Butler, and Bill Warren who further forged my love for preaching, Biblical Languages and Church History.
I am thankful for our seminaries, and in particular today New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. To God alone be the glory.