Denison Forum – A “true American hero”: The faith of the Southwest Airlines pilot

 

Tammie Jo Shults is now famous as the pilot who landed Flight 1380 after an engine exploded in the air. She guided the plane down after a twenty-thousand-foot drop in six minutes, then walked down the aisle hugging passengers. Passengers described her as having “nerves of steel” and being a “true American hero.”

What you may not know is that she is also a committed Christian.

Shults has led the children’s worship program at First Baptist Church of Boerne, Texas. She has also taught Sunday school for children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, and adults. According to Staci Thompson, a longtime friend and church staff member, the congregation was “impressed” but not “shocked” at Shults’s heroics.

Her courage under fire comes from her training: three decades ago, Shults became one of the first female fighter pilots in the US military. But even more, it comes from her Lord. Thompson says her friend “wants people to know that God was there with her” on Flight 1380 and “that he helped her in getting control of that plane and landing that plane.”

“It was because of him, not her,” Thompson said. “She was just a teammate and a co-captain. He was the captain.” God’s grace was the source of her strength.

Why are stories of grace so appealing to us?

Signals of grace

GQ magazine has placed the Bible on its list of “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.” The more our culture rejects biblical truth, the more it needs biblical truth.

The Colson Center’s John Stonestreet has an article I encourage you to read. It’s on AB 2943, a bill passed by the California Assembly that adds “conversion therapy” to its list of “deceptive business practices” prohibited by state law.

Under the bill, a bookstore could sell Hitler’s Mein Kampf but not a book suggesting that same-gender sexual orientation could or should be altered. David French of the National Review correctly calls this legislation “extraordinarily radical.”

The more bad news we see, the more good news we want to see. But I think there’s something more to the popularity of stories of grace.

Sociologist Peter Berger identified “signals of transcendence” that point us from the temporal to the eternal. Perhaps stories of grace in a world of grief and guilt are such “signals.” They remind us that what matters most in life is that which we cannot earn but only receive.

What do you value most today? I would list my family, friends, and the privilege of this ministry. None were earned—all have been given to me.

All are by grace.

The folly of self-sanctification

In John 10, Jesus described himself as “the door of the sheep” (v. 7), demonstrating that he is the only way to eternal life. But he is also the only way to abundant life: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (v. 10).

“Abundant” translates perisson, a word which can be rendered “extraordinary, above all human means.” The abundant life of Christ is available only from Christ. Nothing we do, no matter how well-intentioned, can do what only God can do.

But we try.

Americans embrace the pioneer spirit, the cultural DNA that rewards hard work, initiative, and self-reliance. Add our fallen desire to be our own god (Genesis 3:5) and our desire to impress others with what we do and have, and you have a recipe for self-sanctification.

But we can no more sanctify ourselves than we can save ourselves. Salvation comes in three tenses: we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. All three depend on the grace of God.

Three reasons to spend time with God

If we cannot sanctify ourselves, why does the Bible call us to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, worship, solitude, meditation, and all the rest?

One: Spiritual disciplines position us to receive what grace intends to give. Just as you had to open this email or web page to read its content, so you must pray and read Scripture to hear God’s voice.

Two: Spiritual disciplines reinforce our need for God. We pray, read Scripture, and worship because we need what only God can provide. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

Three: Spiritual disciplines invite other people to join us in following Jesus. Our Lord often prayed in the presence of his disciples as a model for them to follow (cf. Luke 11:1). Our public expressions of faith encourage others to trust in our Father.

Grace in three tenses

You have been saved by grace. You are being saved by grace. You will be saved by grace.

Conversely, you become more like Jesus by spending more time with Jesus. What will you do today to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18)?

John Piper: “Heaven is too great, hell is too horrible, and eternity is too long that we should putter around on the porch of eternity.”

 

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