An Act of Faith Became a Legacy: Our Provost, Doug Matthews
The very mention of the name of Esther directs most believers to this oft quoted and climatic passage most illustrative of a comforting Divine Providence and loving guidance amidst great risk: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) Anyone with a normal emotional constitution would have been overwhelmed when trying to discern God’s will in Esther’s context: an alien in a foreign land, paraded before the pagan king, a forced marriage, and making historic and painful decisions that would determine the life or death and future of her family and her people—not to mention her own life. Clearly the discerning principle that guided Esther to literally turn the pages of redemptive history was profoundly simple: “Seek first the kingdom of God . . . .”
Most of us live our lives without drama of such a magnitude, while also serving the same God who leads us with similar grace and wisdom as we advance His kingdom. This “kingdom first” wisdom often comes in ways that surprise us, or seems painfully slow, but we have this promise: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)
In 2012 my wife, Carol, and I sensed that the hand of Providence was pointing in the direction of Asbury Seminary. We were serving in the great state of OH-IO, well compensated for flexible 9 and 10 month academic contracts, and joyfully engaged in teaching. Our parents and families were only hours away, and our ministry with students was most rewarding. An executive search firm contacted me about the Asbury Provost (and Vice President of Academic Affairs) position, apparently because of one or more nominations. I was not looking for a position, and my candid response after reading the job description was to respond with “I’m honored, but I may not be the right person based on some of the criteria.”
The “headhunter” said he would check with the Presidential search team and circle back. It was suggested that I keep my name “in the hat.” One thing led to another in the search process, and one of the search team members remembered listening to my radio program years prior. Surprisingly, at least to Carol and me, as the search process progressed, it appeared that I was likely the top candidate.
It seemed prudent to have “the conversation” with my aging parents, as we spent much time with them, and they swung by our house often on the way to the largest Amish settlement in the world. This was a tough conversation that night in their basement, and we were torn on many levels as the personal motivation to stay—both families close, flexible contracts, rewarding ministry, etc.—was compelling, but the opportunity for kingdom advance was most evident. We needed wisdom.
Then my father, who was pretty quiet, interrupted. “Asbury? Asbury Theological Seminary?” “Yes,” I responded. “I just received a letter about that,” and Dad rushed up the stairs. We didn’t know what to think. Had the search team sent a letter to my parents inquiring about my character? Since I grew up on the wrong side of the spiritual tracks that was somewhat worrisome. Did someone let the cat out of the bag?
My Dad quickly returned and produced a letter and a picture. He said that his brother, who had died many years ago, had a daughter living in another state. She had just been going through boxes and found this “old picture,” and wondered if my father might want it.
The picture was from 1923. The five men on the balancing rock near Chattanooga Tennessee were United Methodist ministers from Illinois. The second minister from the left was Sam Matthews, my grandfather. There were many Methodist schools, many closer than Kentucky, but they were raising money to support the launching of a “whole Bible for the whole world” seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. My father said he had not seen that picture for nearly 45 years. The name of the new Seminary was Asbury Theological Seminary. My father, an incredible statistician, had trained me in probabilities. Carol and I sensed that this might well be the “Asbury” wisdom we had been asking for, and the very principle of discernment that led Esther to put it all on the line: “Seek first the kingdom of God . . . .”
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