Monday, April 21, 2014

Leithart: Lightning, thunder, hail, and the crumbling of the barrier

Peter Leithart on Revelation's unfolding narrative of God's throne breaking down the barrier between heaven and earth:
God’s throne in heaven, like Sinai, flashes with lightning, crashes with thunder (Revelation 4:5). Those throne phenomena are repeated at crucial seams in the book of Revelation, with additions.

After the seventh seal, an angel throws fire to earth, which reproduces the heavenly throne on earth (8:5)—thunder, sounds, lightning, with the appropriate addition of an earthquake.

After the seventh trumpet, the same phenomena appear in heaven (11:19), this time with a hailstorm added.

The scene comes to a climax after the seventh bowl (16:18-21). but this time the earthquake is unprecedented and the hailstones are 100 pounds apiece.

There’s an intensification of the throne phenomena here, but something more. The throne moves from heaven to earth, and as it does it shakes earth. But as it moves, it also brings hail. As James Jordan has suggested, hailstones are, cosmologically, fragments of the firmament. As the throne descends, the barrier between heaven and earth cracks and crumbles.

When it’s all said and done, the heavenly city descends. It can get all the way to earth because the firmament boundary has already been opened. By the end of Revelation, you don’t need doors in the sky to get to heaven, because the walls of heaven have been broken down and heaven has come to earth.

N.T. Wright: Stop trivializing Easter

A gem by N.T. Wright, written a few years back but still quite timely.
The historian must explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite His execution (He hadn't defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape that it did. The only explanation that will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians insisted upon - He really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just reanimated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.

Let's be clear: the stories are not about someone coming back into the present mode of life. They are about someone going on into a new sort of existence, still emphatically bodily, if anything, more so. When St Paul speaks of a “spiritual” resurrection body, he doesn't mean “non-material”, like a ghost. “Spiritual” is the sort of Greek word that tells you,not what something is made of, but what is animating it. The risen Jesus had a physical body animated by God's life-giving Spirit. Yes, says St Paul, that same Spirit is at work in us, and will have the same effect - and in the whole world.

Now, suddenly, the real meaning of Easter comes into view, as well as the real reason why it has been trivialised and sidelined. Easter is about a new creation that has already begun. God is remaking His world, challenging all the other powers that think that is their job. The rich, wise order of creation and its glorious, abundant beauty are reaffirmed on the other side of the thing that always threatens justice and beauty - death. Christianity's critics have always sneered that nothing has changed. But everything has. The world is a different place.

Easter has been sidelined because this message doesn't fit our prevailing world view. For at least 200 years the West has lived on the dream that we can bring justice and beauty to the world all by ourselves.

The split between God and the “real” world has produced a public life that lurches between anarchy and tyranny, and an aesthetic that swings dramatically between sentimentalism and brutalism. But we still want to do things our own way, even though we laugh at politicians who claim to be saving the world, and artists who claim “inspiration” when they put cows in formaldehyde.

The world wants to hush up the real meaning of Easter. Death is the final weapon of the tyrant or, for that matter, the anarchist, and resurrection indicates that this weapon doesn't have the last word. When the Church begins to work with Easter energy on the twin tasks of justice and beauty, we may find that it can face down the sneers of sceptics, and speak once more of Jesus in a way that will be heard.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Message from Bishop Mark Lawrence

As a parish priest I remember telling parishioners, on more than one occasion, "When death comes into your home he brings a lot of unwanted relatives with him." I do not mean relatives or in-laws who may come from out of town for the funeral. The relatives of death to which I refer are grief, fear, loneliness, guilt, shame, anger, depression, even anxiety. Once these come under the roof of your house it is difficult to show them the door. They tend to take up residence, over staying their welcome. Just this morning I read the story of Clint Hill, the secret service agent assigned to Jackie Kennedy during the days some refer to as Camelot. With poignant grief he recalled her words that day almost fifty years ago as the President's wounded head lay in her lap like a modern Pieta, "They shot his head off. Oh Jack, what have they done?"

I've been listening to Dr. Billy Graham's recent book Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well. He is no stranger to moments of national grief, like the one Clint Hill witnessed so painfully. At age 93 he has seen firsthand more than a little of our country's sorrow. Yet grief when it is personal strikes even deeper. In recounting the death of his beloved wife and best friend for almost sixty-four years, Ruth Bell Graham, he writes, "Although I rejoice that her struggles with weakness and pain have all come to an end, I still feel as if a part of me has been ripped out, and I miss her far more than I ever could have imagined." "Death", he goes on to say, quite accurately, "is always an intruder even when it is expected." Frankly, if there is no answer to death there is no answer to our most abiding enemy and all those blood relatives he brings with him. This, as you might imagine, brings me to Easter. I am happy to recall it. The apostle affirms, "Our Saviour Jesus Christ has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel." (2 Timothy 1:10 NEB)

Easter unflinchingly confronts our enemies, death and sin that would lock us in a self-justifying bondage, and plague our lives from start to finish. Christ's death, however, is God's No to sin. In the cross God reveals his hatred of sin as Christ dies to destroy it; and shows his love for sinners as he dies to free us of it. In Christ's resurrection God speaks his Yes to life and human freedom, breaking the power of death. Donald Coggan, a former Archbishop of Canterbury put it well: "You may not like it. You may ignore it. You may deny it. But this is it. Take away the Cross and Resurrection from Christianity and you have a poor lifeless and maimed thing left..." And we must also say a dead religion dreadfully inadequate for our needs. Archbishop Coggan was right. We need to keep the Cross and Resurrection central. They tell us of God's No, to death, and the fear that is death's power; No, to sin and its tyranny of our lives; No, to fear that cripples us from living the dance of life freely; No, to the shame we don't deserve and grace for the shame we do; No, to the loneliness that dogs our steps for the Risen One is with us always. Let me say again. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Great Yes of God. It has left us an empty tomb and an open door. It will in God's good time and grace sweep our lives clean of death and the unwanted relatives it brings into our homes. Even this Sunday as we say the words, "Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia." the joy of Easter may escort some these out the door. We can then live our lives in Christ, with Christ and for Christ freely, and for his sake for a hurting and broken world.

May the Peace of the Risen Christ be always with you,

--(The Rt Rev.) Mark Lawrence is Bishop of South Carolina

GAFCON Easter Message 2014

Easter Message to the Faithful of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and friends
from Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya
and Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council

17th April 2014

‘If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God’ Colossians 3:1

My dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings in the precious name of our Risen Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!

What a wonderful truth we celebrate at Easter! The bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead assures us that our sins are atoned for and death is defeated. This is the reason we can be confident that despite failure, frustration and the things that perplex us, God’s saving purposes will certainly be fulfilled. The Risen Christ is already seated in triumph and glory at the Father’s right hand and we are already raised to new life in him, so we can be sure that the Church of God, which we too often see undermined from the inside by false teaching and attacked from the outside by persecution, will one day be wonderfully revealed as the great Church victorious.

So with joyful confidence we confess that Jesus is Lord and this gives our lives a new horizon. We ‘seek the things that are above’, not ignoring the world, but being those who live under Christ’s Lordship in the world. I was reminded of how transformative it can be to live for the Lordship of Christ when I shared fellowship last week with my brother GAFCON Primate, Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje, on the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Out of terrible trauma, this is a nation that has experienced the power of the resurrection as people have been willing to submit to Jesus as Lord in repentance and costly forgiveness.

This is why confessions of faith, whether they are the ancient catholic creeds or later statements such as the Church of England’s Thirty-nine articles cannot be seen just as historical documents to be reinterpreted as we wish. In many countries, Anglican Churches are a significant voice in national life and we have a special responsibility to make sure that we confess Jesus as Lord with clarity and courage. It was for this reason that we produced the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration in 2008. Confessing Churches make a life-changing stand on the truth God has revealed. They proclaim the gospel, promote true godliness and should not be afraid to challenge the complacency of leaders who claim their nations are Christian while at the same time promoting laws and tolerating practices that are contrary to Christian belief.

To be truly an Easter people means being a people who joyfully confess the risen Christ as Lord. We experienced the richness of this fellowship as we met last year in Nairobi and now the GAFCON Primates are gathering for the first time since GAFCON 2013 to take counsel together. Please pray for us as we meet in London next week, for the sake of the Anglican Communion and for the blessing of the nations.

Finally, let us remember that for an increasing number of our brothers and sisters that confessing Christ is becoming as costly as it was for the early Christian martyrs who had to choose between Jesus as Lord or Caesar as Lord. As a global fellowship of confessing Anglicans, let us commit to pray for them, to stand with them and not compromise the truth for which they and martyrs through the ages have laid down their lives in love for Him who is the Resurrection and the Life.

He is risen! He is RISEN!

This is probably the first cinematic depiction of the resurrection in color: DeMille's original 1927 version of King of Kings. Typical of the silent era, the acting is overdone, while the resurrection itself is a bit understated. Jesus walks out of the tomb as if nothing else happened. Nevertheless, a very moving portrayal of the most glorious morning in history.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good news on Good Friday: TEC loses another round in court

From the Diocese of Fort Worth:
First came the ruling against TEC in the direct appeal we brought to the Texas Supreme Court, issued on August 30. Second came the denial of TEC’s request for the court to rehear (or reconsider) that ruling. And now comes their third loss, on April 17. The high court has denied TEC’s motion to recall the mandate it sent to the trial court, which would have “stayed the proceedings” (stopped the legal process in Texas) while they try to get a review of our case from the U.S Supreme Court. Apparently the state Justices agreed with our attorneys that it is highly unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will review the case at this stage. Nonetheless, TEC has until June 19 to seek review at the national level. 
The next step in the litigation here in Fort Worth is a hearing at 9 a.m. on Thursday, April 24, in the courtroom of Judge John Chupp, where we have requested that he set aside the supersedeas order and refund to the Diocese the $100,000 cash bond we posted two years ago in order to maintain possession of our property. With his original decision having now been reversed by the Texas Supreme Court, there are no legal grounds for the order to remain in effect. 
In addition, attorneys for the Diocese are completing new pleadings and a revised motion for summary judgment, which should be filed with the 141st district court sometime next month. 
Once again, it is time for the TEC lawyers to come clean with their clients about their prospects in this case and to stop filing more and more unnecessary legal motions that only delay the process. Without a significant benefactor paying all their legal fees, the small little group calling itself “the local Episcopal parties” could never have taken matters this far. It is prudent for them to cut their losses and move on. 
Thank you for your continued prayers and support. Let us give thanks to the Lord for his goodness and grace as we fight this spiritual battle that has been thrust upon us.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth

It's Friday . . . but Sunday's comin'

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Liberty University's "World Vision problem"

You can file this one under "You can't make this stuff up (but you wish it were)." Apparently, Liberty University has entered into a partnership with known spiritual charlatan Benny Hinn.
Liberty University has a World Vision problem.

Until World Vision announced and quickly reversed its policy on same-gender marriage, most of its donors probably thought they were giving money to help feed and evangelize poor children and families all around the world. While World Vision lost donors because of its betrayal of orthodox Christian doctrine, the furor created by the decision focused attention on what World Vision actually did–and didn’t do–with its donors’ money. Donors learned that their money didn’t actually go to the child pictured on the refrigerator (but to the child’s village), nor did World Vision always share the gospel as a part of its outreach. While people have been grieving the fact that thousands of children have lost sponsorships, we don’t know how much of that has been offset by donors redirecting their philanthropy to denominationally based efforts that promise to more effectively take the gospel to the people who need to hear it.

The World Vision public relations crisis had three related components:

We discovered that World Vision was willing to reject clear biblical teaching. 
We discovered that World Vision isn’t actually a gospel-preaching missions organization. 
We discovered that our own churches and denominations do a better job than we thought. 
Last week, we learned that Liberty University, America’s largest Christian college, had engaged in a partnership with Benny Hinn that would permit students to watch 10 hours of video, take an easy quiz, and qualify for ordination through Hinn’s World Healing Fellowship. The news spread quickly through blogs and Twitter, and Liberty, realizing they had an unfolding public relations disaster on its hands, released a statement that asserted that they and Hinn were not in partnership.

Not only does the statement appear to be false (keep reading), but the attention that this story is bound to create is going to cling to Liberty in unflattering ways as parents of college-aged teens start to discover just what has been happening at the nice little Baptist school tucked away in the Virginia mountains. It’s not just the Benny Hinn affiliation that will damage Liberty, it’s the discovery that Liberty has made something of a habit of consorting with cultists and charlatans over the last few decades. We’ll return to the interesting histories of Hinn’s Liberty friends, but first we’ll examine Liberty’s denial that it is in a partnership with Hinn.
Keep reading, and weep.