Angels Unaware

8617F1BF-3CB1-4B32-87FF-A83770667580A year ago this week I was traveling to South Africa by myself to visit some dear friends and learn about their project overseas. This was my first overseas trip in a decade and I was going it alone. My family and I were somewhat apprehensive as the departing day grew closer. I had been briefed concerning what to say, who not to talk to, etc.

Departure at the airport was bittersweet as my brother dropped me off. I had this moment where I stood still, surveyed the horizon, and determined to dive into the adventure. I was quite proud of my adventurous spirit. The boarding process was smooth as I found my seat and settled in for the first 12-hour flight.

About halfway through the flight I rose from my seat and headed to the restroom. As I walked the isle, I noticed an older gentleman of foreign nationality watching me a little too closely. As I returned to my seat, he stood in the isle blocking my way, and clearly intended to talk. Through his thick accent he asked my name, where I was from, where I was going, and why. Red alarms went off inside my head. Such questions were ones I had been prompted to avoid. I certainly was not providing my destination point and my reasons for travel. I feigned unable to understand his questions, and quickly found the comfort of my seat.

Unfortunately on such a long flight, restroom trips become more frequent as the trip continued. During several other passes to the restroom, the same gentleman attempted conversation. By his last attempt, I was sure he thought me to be quite rude as I was not at all willing to continue any conversation at length. The cold shoulder…I was giving it my best shot.

With great excitement, we arrived in Dubai and waited to exit the plane. As we departed the plane and into the airport, we first had a security checkpoint. A hundred or more passengers went through security check in front of me with no delays. Due to seat placement, I was in one of the last sections of passengers to go through security. I watched the passengers pass security checks without problems, and I assured myself I would pass through without delay.

As my backpack went through the security belt, I was horrified to see and hear red lights and alarms. I cannot quite describe the immediate panic. I had tediously followed the rules precisely because I did not want to be searched in a foreign country while traveling alone! I had memorized my flight itinerary, and subsequently knew I had only 45 minutes before boarding ended for my next flight. The security attendant grabbed my backpack and walked to a corner private room with dark windows. Another security guard asked me to sit down on a bench underneath those large looming windows facing the tarmac, and wait. Wait to see if I would pass security.

As the minutes ticked by, I watched my backpack sit isolated on a table in the darkroom, with no one touching it. I myself sat on the designated bench frozen in fear as I watched the remaining 50 or so passengers pass through security and leave the area for their terminal. After what felt like hours (25 minutes), two attendants entered the dark room and began removing every item from my backpack, piece by piece. They examined each article, swiped each with a wet cloth, and ultimately emptied my belongings onto the table. When nothing was left to remove, the security guards began packing my items back into my bag, zipped it up, and headed my direction. By this time, no passengers remained in the entire security area. I was completely alone.

Without any drama, an attendant handed my backpack over and nonchalantly said thank you as dismissal. I chose not to ask why my backpack had been flagged, but kindly thanked them and made a bee-line for the exit. As I turned the corner for the escalators, two men had evidently been sitting on a bench hidden from site by a partition. As we saw one another, they stood and waited for me. As I neared the men, I was shocked and scared to identify one of the men as the one whom was relentless in his conversation attempts on the plane. He immediately put both of his hands up in front of his chest, as to say no harm here.

I am sure my face was a mixture of apprehension and concern. He removed a business card from his coat and offered it to me as he began talking. He introduced himself as a pastor and his friend as a bishop in a neighboring country. They themselves had met on the plane and realized their commonality under Christ. Then he said something I will never forget. This man claimed when he saw me on the plane, the Spirit spoke to him and said to watch over me. He chuckled as he commented on my coldness on the plane, assuring me I had no need to fear because God told him I was a fellow believer. He beamed. To provide even further assurances, he noted my elusiveness was understandable. The other gentleman finally spoke in broken English, and asked me if I was ok. When neither man saw me come through the checkpoint, they both decided to wait and if necessary, claimed they would have inquired of my whereabouts.

I was stunned, humbled, and overwhelmed by God’s presence in that moment. As a believer for almost thirty years, I know God is always with me. But to have it fleshed out in such an obvious tangible way was almost too much to soak up and fathom. I finally confessed I was a believer and divulged where I was headed. For one of the first times in my life, I wondered if I had just experienced the presence of angels unaware (Hebrews 13:4). Since both men were headed to a different part of Africa, we were not on the same connecting flight. I humbly thanked them for their watch care and headed for my terminal.

Thankfully I made my connecting flight and the rest of the week in South Africa was a trip never to forget. The circumstances surrounding that trip and the difficulties I went through personally to commit to go were considered trivial after that experience with the two men in that airport. God’s presence is always with us and I am grateful for the times He chooses to show us in ways we can never forget. Lord I believe, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).

587DB27C-80C7-42C0-9352-FA9435447ACC

A picture I sent my family in Dubai as proof I was making it! I chose not to share the ordeal until safely in Johannesburg. 

3378D2FA-671E-4182-A70A-DE4F2EED85D9

We studied Islam after the trip and so I brought them a special souvenir to fit the occasion.

558FE072-204D-4EF6-8852-9CA4C61FF8A3

Johannesburg, South Africa.

A PK’s Review of “Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to Harmonization”

inerrancy-and-the-gospels-a-god-centered-approach-to-the-challenges-of-harmonizationI recently read the book, Inerrancy and the Gospels:A God-Centered Approach to Harmonization by Vern Poythress and found the book very insightful. Has anyone ever asked you why there are “discrepancies” in the Bible? Why two gospels record the same event with different details? Truth is, these difficult discrepancies exist and I wanted to know why. Harmonization is he process or method for formulating theories to explain the differences. Vern Sheridan Poythress, a professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, has written a refreshing book outlining theological frameworks for approaching harmonization within the gospels. I particularly enjoyed this book because while examples modeling harmonization with gospel examples lace the text, this book is not simply another book of mere harmonization attempts, but a work calling readers to “revise how we analyze virtually all modern ideas, including ideas about meaning and interpretation” (16).

Summary:

Poythress divides the book into seven parts, each with sub-chapters providing either further explanation of the harmonization principle presented, or examples of harmonization efforts using the discussed principle. Part One: The Challenge of Harmonization acknowledges difficulties in the gospels do exist while affirming biblical inspiration and authority. It is important to note, Poythress requires a presupposed “personalistic worldview” in his dealings with the Gospels (15). Part Two: Principles for Harmonization provides the necessary principles for harmonization. Assuming acceptance of inspiration and authority, Poythress reminds his readers the Gospels are not merely historical accounts and warns against “demanding an artificial precision” (62) in texts where “divine meaning actually precedes the events themselves” (36). Part Three: Attitudes in Harmonization philosophically presents the limitations of human knowledge juxtaposed to the mystery contained in God’s infinity (91). Resting in affirmations of authority and inspiration result in acceptance of the ultimacy and truthfulness of each Gospel account as they were written. The Synoptic Problem, or literary relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke is addressed in Part Four: Special Issues in Harmonization. Part Five: Individual Cases uses the principles discussed up to this point and attempts to handle events such as the cleansing of the temple, the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth, the cursing of the fig tree, and the commissioning of the twelve disciples. Part Six: Reporting Speeches highlights the meaning and intention of the Gospel writers in how they included or excluded detailed material. In establishing the framework for harmonization attempts of the speeches contained in the Gospels, Poythress claims, “Our primary principle is that God is reliable. So all three accounts faithfully represent the events, including what Jesus and his disciples said” (180). Finally, Part Seven: More Cases deals with two specific cases, that of Jairus’s daughter and blind Bartimaeus, using the principles and framework Poythress encourages.

Evaluation:

If the reader presently affirms inerrancy of Scripture, then this book is a great choice for encouragement. While many books covering harmonization principles first validate the inerrancy of Scripture, Poythress begins from a presupposition of inerrancy and therein lays its distinctiveness in its field. “In this book we are going to look at a sampling of these difficulties, with the goal of treating them in harmony with the conviction that the Bible is God’s word” (13).  This approach to Scripture, presupposing the New Testament’s own claims to authority and inerrancy can be somewhat limited in scope and influence. Those whom the Holy Spirit has already provided internal witness for authority and truth can benefit from this approach to harmonization: a process Poythress explains (46). However, convincing the skeptic of logical harmonization possibilities without first arguing for the historical accuracy of the Gospels, might not prove as valuable. Poythress’ presupposition is not to be regarded as an exclusive approach to harmonization as he regularly points to other works dealing with the processes and apologetics involved in affirmation of inerrancy and authority of the Bible (13, 15, 27-30).

Another significant critique concerns the larger influence of presuppositional approaches to apologetics. Attempts at harmonization are an apologetic endeavor and often, those seeking the answers to difficult passages are not working under a biblically authoritative worldview. Poythress does mention the goal of apologetics in harmonization, but only briefly in the broader context of the book. He states,

“Harmonization work in past centuries, including the work of Augustine and Calvin, frequently had an apologetic focus. It aimed to defend the Bible against charges of inconsistency and error. This goal is legitimate since being faithful to God includes trusting what he says. Harmonization efforts could influence both Christian believers and those who do not yet believe. These efforts may help believers overcome doubts, and they may help non-Christians consider seriously the claims of the Christian faith”(47).

Conclusion:

The impact of Poythress’ approach is limited to only those who share a presuppositional affirmation of inerrancy and authority resulting in limited influence. Even so, those limitations do not decrease the book’s value. Approaching the Scriptures as authoritative allows the reader to interpret conflicts in the Gospels with flexibility. The Gospels are foundationally essential for both new believers and veteran Christians. Followers of Christ are called to, “Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have” (1 Pet. 3:15).[1] In order to give an appropriate defense, we as believers need to study the principles of harmonization because like Poythress rightly claims, scripture is ontologically, epistemologically, and ethically definitive (45, 46).


[1] Unless otherwise noted, the English Standard Version will be used.

Return to the Gospel

If you had asked me at the beginning of our pastoral ministry how to spiritually grow into the role of a pastor’s wife, I probably would have rattled off a very practical list of how-to’s: 1) Read books on the subject. 2) Connect with a seasoned minister’s wife and learn by example. 3) Develop a strategic plan for growth. While all of these ideas are noble pursuits and, ones I currently value and participate in, another step continues to speak to my soul: Return to the Gospel. Around half a dozen years ago, my husband Jared preached through a series titled, “The Marks of a Disciple.”  I found myself needing, wanting to repent, to be restored as I listened to the messages. He then preached a similar series a few years ago and I found myself in the same place of repentance and restoration. Recently, when I began contemplating about and praying for growth as a minister’s wife, I knew my first step would be to return to the Gospel.

Have you ever found yourself giving biblical counsel to someone in an area you are miserably failing yourself? I have. And the feeling is devastating. At times, God has allowed me to share some of my own shortcomings with my sisters in Christ who came to me for help, but other times, I have chosen to suffer the hypocrisy privately. Recently, I read a book proposing my hypocrisy and my need to hide my sin are because I have lost my anchor in the truth of the gospel. The Gospel-Centered Life by Thune and Walker writes we “shrink the cross” by either pretending (pretending we are better than we are) or performing (trying to earn God’s approval through our performance).[1] “When we are not firmly rooted in the gospel, we rely on these false sources of righteousness to build our reputation and give us a sense of worth and value.”[2] More than books on the position and role of a pastor’s wife, more than developing a mentoring relationship, and more than a well-formed plan for growth, I want…I need to be rooted firmly in the Gospel. I need to know that my sin, however small in terms of tangible consequences, has left me condemned under the Law. As my husband says, Jesus is the curve-breaker. He is the standard to which we are measured. And more importantly, I am justified through the redemption found in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:24). I can be freed from a dutiful ministerial performance and from the anti-“glass house” pretending. When I am restored in Christ, and recognize the weight of forgiveness extended, I find myself loving others and desiring to minister in a pure way.

So if you have found yourself in the desert, return to the Gospel. Simply knowing we have a duty to minister will not drive us to complete the task. No, “the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). This, my friend, is the Gospel. Let us return to the Gospel.

“Church of Jesus, let us please be men and women who understand the difference between moralism and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s be careful to preach the dos and don’ts of Scripture in the shadow of the cross’s ‘Done!’”[3]

Just a few DWMBC ladies I am honored to serve alongside!

Just a few DWMBC ladies I am honored to serve alongside!


[1]Thune, Robert H. and Will Walker. The Gospel-Centered Life. Greensboro, NC.: World Harvest Mission, 2009, 21.

[2]Ibid, 22.

[3]Chandler, Matt and Jared C. Wilson. The Explicit Gospel. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012, 221.

Tips for Treasuring the Season: Outreach at Christmas? (7)

Image

Jacob as baby Jesus, 2012

I have been looking forward to this tip from the outset! I am the most passionate about the gospel and the manner in which it can be fleshed out at Christmas. Honestly, I feel slightly silly writing a blog about ways to share the gospel at Christmas. I daresay Christ cannot be made more maximally obvious than in His birth. However, our cultural influences have unquestionably diminished the purpose for the celebration. I am greatly saddened by reading blogs written by believers, satirically and quite sarcastically pushing back against the bloggers writing to encourage awareness of consumerist influences dominating the season. The dichotomy they try to create is celebration, cheer, happiness vs. dogmatic religious piety. I think they are simply missing the point. Christmas is a celebration! Moreover, believers are celebrating the end to the quest for eternal life! We have found it in Jesus Christ!! Christians carve out a season to: 1) remember the birth of the Savior; 2) discuss and contemplate the generation we have been placed for His glory; 3) and look forward with anticipate and HOPE for His return! The crescendo of the gospel message intentionally begins now, climaxing at the resurrection on Easter. Believers possess great responsibility and great opportunity to spread the gospel during Christmas. In previous tips, I have already shared a few ways we start the music in our home. We strive to keep Christ central in our conversation through the weekly lighting of the Advent candles, books we daily read that are chosen from our Advent Calendar, etc. My Christmas cards this year will highlight the gospel message above boasting of our family’s successes through the year. Our celebratory traditions are balanced to include age-appropriate events that present the gospel (i.e. A Journey Through Bethlehem, watching The Nativity). My home will be decorated to proclaim Christ’s birth, hopefully sparking rich conversations with our non-believing guests through the season. My heart beats faster just thinking of all the opportunities! We have much to celebrate! I encourage you to fix a cup of coffee or cocoa, grab your calendar, and brainstorm ways you and your family can proclaim and herald the good news we have to share this season. Merry Christmas!

P.S. – I downloaded The Expected One Advent Guide and have been browsing it this past week. I am completely in love with it, theologically and practically! A plus- it is free until December 1st! It contains great resources for daily readings, music for the season, and ideas for family worship. Hope you enjoy!

https://itunes.apple.com/US/app/id736051191?mt=8