Chapel Service Remarks to Spring 2009 Graduates of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – J. Dalton Havard School of Theology – Houston, Texas

Introduce Jvon Woods

Please welcome my close personal friend, my partner in ministry and my worship leader, Jvon Woods. I could say that Jvon plays the piano like Liberace and sings like Ray Charles, and that would be true. But, I’d rather tell you how he is a godly and humble man who is continually seeking the Lord.

My Seminary Experience

I came to Southwestern Seminary in the fall of 1999. I’ve been here for 10 years. I started at the HBU campus. I remember feeling so unworthy when I began classes in 1999. First of all, I did not think the seminary would even let me in. I was sure they would find something in my pre-Christian past that would keep me out. But, somehow, miracle of miracles, my application was approved. Second, mine was a 124 hour program. I brought 15 hours from community college and earned the rest here. At times it seemed like I would not make it. I thought about giving up, especially when my sweet wife, Stephanie, was bedridden those first 6 years.

There were two people who encouraged me to go to seminary, Dr. Stuart Sheehan and Professor Mike Duke. Stuart was the worship leader of my home church. He was my mentor through the one year I took to make the decision to enter the ministry. I appreciate his good council and his words of encouragement. Mike Duke was a friend and professor at HBU. He was the one who told me that a college drop-out could actually go to seminary and complete an undergraduate program in theology while studying alongside MDiv students. I thought it was a long shot, but Mike was right. It could be done. Mike is dead now, but I spoke to his wife last week and told her I was graduating soon, and that her husband had been a big part of my decision to enter seminary. I am grateful to these men for their encouragement and confidence in me.

I was not sure how to view a seminary experience. What would I learn? How would it change me? Would I make it to the finish line? Well, I learned a lot. For one thing, I learned that you cannot write a 15-page paper for the implacable Dr. Ben Phillips on Augustine’s Confessions the night before it’s due. I learned that you can keep up with the reading assignment schedule of the ever-watchful and always genuine Professor Mullins, if you begin your readings a semester in advance. I learned that final exam days are never a total loss if your course schedule includes the preposterous and sublime Dr. Doug Wood and his famous end of semester classroom buffet! I learned that the kind, gentle and gracious Dr. Paul Chen could make those nasty old Philistines seem pretty interesting. I learned how to love and lead and pastor my church from the humble but powerful Dr. Bob Overton. I learned about the importance of longevity and commitment in ministry from the unstoppable Dr. John Bisagno. I learned how to study and properly interpret Scripture from the unflappable Dr. John Laing.

I learned how to prepare and preach an expository sermon from the genuine and forthright Dr. Denny Autrey, who is always there to help keep my pride in check. One day in expository preaching he told me my sermons were too long. I argued that John Mac Arthur preaches for an hour every week. Deadpan, Dr. Autrey replied, “You’re no John Mac Arthur.” He was right, but I’m aiming high.

I learned that a seminary education puts you into an academic environment where your beliefs will be challenged by learned men who rightly divide the word of truth. I learned to submit to their leadership and their authority and their correction. I appreciated their godliness and benefitted from their example. I thank each of them for instilling in me the desire to “study to show myself approved, a workman that need not be ashamed.” I thank them all for showing me that through diligence and God’s grace, I could do more, much more than I ever thought possible. At 46 years of age, I regard my seminary training as the greatest aid in ministry and my highest personal achievement. Thank you, gentlemen, for investing in me and putting up with me and praying for me and teaching me the truth.

When Dr. Bill Vinson opened our orientation meeting in Fort Worth back in 1999, he said “Some of you are here for a credential. But, I challenge you not to waste your time in seminary. Seek the education. You control how many courses you take. Don’t get in a hurry. Make an A in every class.” Well, I didn’t make an A in every class, but I took his advice seriously and came close. I confess that I came to seminary looking for a credential. But, I leave having gained a precious, hard earned and useful education. I also leave with many friends, confidants, accountability partners, and co-laborers in Christ. I will miss each of you. Don’t give up. Hang in there. Keep going. The end is in sight. Remember, the longest journey begins with the first step. You can do it. PRESS ON!

I would like to leave you with this passage from Philippians 3:7-14

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Thank you.

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