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Pastor Glenn McDonald: Open Doors

Just before the 1975 fall semester kicked off at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, the dean was literally on his knees.

William Kerr was praying that Andrew Lincoln, a distinguished British Bible Scholar, could somehow be granted a visa to come teach at GCTS. A mountain of red tape stood in the way.

All of a sudden, the obstacles disappeared.

Lincoln flew across the Atlantic to Boston, where he began a four-year residency that ultimately helped transform a number of his students.

One of them was Timothy Keller, who launched Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan 14 years later. Keller went on to become one of the most impactful church leaders of his generation. On several occasions he acknowledged that Lincoln’s teaching at Gordon-Conwell reshaped the entire direction of his life and ministry.

On July 9, 1989 – during one of his first sermons at Redeemer – Keller looked back on the circumstances that brought the British scholar into his life.

“At the last minute somebody cut through the red tape,” he told his listeners. “He came, and I fell under his influence. Do you know why the red tape was cut?”

It turns out that while William Kerr was on his knees, a student named Mike Ford walked into his office. He asked the dean what he was praying for. Kerr reported his fervent hope that somehow, through some extraordinary circumstance, Andrew Lincoln’s visa might be approved before the start of the school year.

Ford replied that maybe he could help with that. His father, after all, was President Gerald Ford, the current occupant of the White House.

As Tim Keller tells the story, the red tape suddenly vanished. All because one of the president’s kids walked into the dean’s office. And why was Gerald Ford president? It was because Richard Nixon had resigned. And why had Nixon resigned? Because of the Watergate scandal. And how had that scandal been brought to light? It happened when a security guard in the Watergate building noticed that an office door was ajar, when it should have been tightly closed.

Because of God’s providence – his supervision of the myriad details of human history, even the ones that seem utterly trivial – an open door would one day lead to many more open doors.

An unlikely series of events provided the redirection of Tim Keller’s life. Keller’s ministry not only accomplished the birth of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the heart of New York City, but launched a network that at last count has yielded 756 new urban congregations around the world.

Along the way, Keller’s books and sermons have positively impacted countless lives.

Including my own.

God continues to use Tim’s writings to shape my head and my heart, even though I never had the chance to meet him before he left us last spring.

Sometimes, when you come before God in prayer, do you wonder if he’s really listening? Do you struggle to see how he can possibly provide what you need?

It may be, in light of God’s providence, that our most fervent prayers were actually answered years ago.

We just don’t know it yet.

The author of the Bible’s last book describes Jesus as the One “who is holy and true, who holds the key of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (Revelation 3:7).

May God grant that we have eyes to see that he is miraculously opening new doors for us every day in this new year.


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