Sam and the Lizard

From spring through fall we tend to see a lot of lizards round our neck of the woods. They enjoy climbing up the outside of the doors, and some even make it inside the house, providing a great source of entertainment for the cats. And for the humans too, especially since the cats don’t seem to understand that as long as the lizard stays outside on the screen in front of the door, there’s no way on God’s green earth they will ever catch it. Case in point:

SamLizard_1_smSam sees the lizard. He sits waiting, tail swatting the air, heart thumping, ready to pounce… timing his moment… waiting… waiting… waiting…

SamLizard_2_sm

Crap he got away!

What’s Missing from This Blog…?

Pictures of cats, of course! It seems everyone posts cat pictures at some point in the life of their blog–some at many points. I don’t think I’ve posted one in the three years this blog’s been active.

And then, the other day, my youngest children gave Sam, the newest feline addition to our household, a bath. He’s just a kitten so this was either going to be a cool novelty, or the stuff of nightmares. What do you think: cats and water?

SamBathed_sm

Is that Sam’s opinion of the bath, his opinion of me taking a picture of him with his ginger fur all mussed up, or both?

Your guess and appropriate captions welcome!

Who Review: Mummy on the Orient Express

DoctorWho_MummyOnTheOrientExpressIt seems Clara has calmed down since the end of the last episode and has told the Doctor she’s done traveling with him. But she doesn’t want to end their time together on a sour note, so she agrees to “one last hurrah.” For her final TARDIS journey, the Doctor takes Clara for a trip on the Orient Express–not the original, but an exact replica that flies passengers through space. Clara’s hopes for a peaceful ride are dashed when people start dropping dead. There’s talk of an ancient superstition: a mummy who can only be seen by the person he’s about to kill, and once they see him, they only have sixty-six seconds to live. The Doctor’s interest is piqued, and then made mandatory by the train-ship’s computer, Gus. He has assembled the best minds around to work out how to capture this creature, and they need to hurry up before it kills them all…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Despite some minor quibbles, this was another excellent Who episode. The BBC always does a great job with period drama, so recreating the 1920s vibe was a no-brainer that they pulled off with style. There’s so much in this episode to call out for praise: the performances by all the main characters (Frank Skinner is relatively unknown here the US–okay, I’ve been here over 20 years and I’d never heard of him–but he was a great side-kick to the Doctor), the design of the train-ship, showing the 66-second count-down on screen to amp-up the drama, and the mummy himself, which was another triumph of design and execution. I loved that the Doctor used the period cigarette case to hold jelly babies. And I really hoped someone (preferably the Doctor) would say “are you my mummy?”–and I wasn’t disappointed. That’s the third time the line’s been used (see “The Empty Child” and “The Poison Sky” for the previous two), and it never gets old!

While I’ve liked Capaldi’s tougher-gruffer Doctor, I was beginning to wonder if maybe it was going too far. The First Doctor was a crotchety old man, but he had a heart and he wasn’t above showing how much he really cared for his companions. In this episode, the Doctor seemed to show his compassion in taking a risk that could have cost him his life at the expense of someone else. We need to see that even from this dark Doctor, just to remind us that the other Doctors are all in there too.

The minor quibbles? First, yet again, we have a monster that’s not really a monster–he’s just an ancient soldier trapped into thinking he’s still fighting a war, waiting for the enemy to declare surrender. When the Doctor figures this out, he cries “I surrender” at the last minute, and the mummy salutes and dies. All very nice and heart-warming, but a bit anticlimactic. This “misunderstood bad-guy” theme seems to be popular this season, and it’s all a bit too postmodern for my taste. Even the Dalek in the second story was a “good” Dalek! Maybe it’s a symptom of the culture, but what happened to the classic “good vs. evil” confrontations? I’m reminded of the Second Doctor’s speech in “The Moonbase”: ” There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.” I think we’re losing sight of that with these stories. Right now, the Twelfth Doctor would say: ” There are some corners of the universe which contain beings that have very different values than us. Beings which appear to act against our preconceptions of what’s right and wrong. They must be understood.” That might go down well in certain parts of modern society, but, frankly, it doesn’t make for consistently good drama.

Other quibbles? Clara’s domestics, and the part-time TARDIS traveling… still happening… say no more…

So what’s up with Danny and Clara now? That call at the end was an interesting development. Danny was checking in to make sure Clara was okay and “that was it.” She gets off the phone and tells the Doctor Danny’s okay with them traveling together, and she doesn’t really want to end her time with him. So, after lying to Danny about the Doctor, she finally told him the truth, and, last week, kept her word by telling Danny when the Doctor pushed her too far. Now, she has lied to Danny about being done with the Doctor, and lied to the Doctor that Danny’s okay with things. Further, since when was her traveling with the Doctor up to Danny? It was Clara who wanted to call it quits, so why does she say it’s okay to carry on because Danny said so? As I’ve said before, I think something’s up with Danny–he’s not all that he appears to be. He’s been passive-aggressively trying to drive a wedge between Clara and the Doctor. Maybe Clara’s becoming wise to that and is choosing sides? And the Doctor seems blissfully ignorant of this whole situation, but is he really?

Your turn! What did you love and/or hate about this episode? Were you heart-warmed or disappointed by the resolution? Do you want more evil baddies or are you happy with the misunderstood foes? And what do you think’s going on with Danny? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 3:4-6

4 “But you have a few names in Sardis that have not defiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white [garments], for they are worthy. 5 The one who overcomes in this way will be clothed in white garments and I shall by no means wipe his name out of the Book of Life, and I shall confess his name before my Father and before His angels. 6 The one having an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Last Sunday we ran out of time in our study of Christ’s letter to the church in Sardis and only got through the first three verses. Rather than hurry to the end, we decided to finish up this week. And it’s just as well we did since our discussion of these last three verses took up all our time.

We started with a brief re-cap of the situation in Sardis. This is a church with a “name,” or reputation for being alive–an active church with a lot going on. But in Christ’s estimation, it’s a dead church. They’ve lost sight of the gospel message that was given to them, and all the life-giving truths that had been proclaimed to them. The church in Sardis had become worldly, compromising with the pagan culture in order to “get along” and not cause trouble, rather than being bold in their proclamation of Christ. Jesus calls on the church to remember these foundational truths, hold on to them, and repent.

But there is hope for the church: a small group that haven’t compromised and are remaining faithful to Christ. These “have not defiled their garments”–i.e., they haven’t participated in the sin of the rest of the church. Revelation 14:4 uses similar language speaking of the 144,000 who have not “defiled” themselves “with women.” This is a pretty explicit reference to adultery, and/or some form of sexual misconduct, and while that might be true of the Sardis church, I think the general spiritual adultery of which the church is clearly guilty is more significant. Indeed, one could say that any physical adultery going on would have its foundation in a prior spiritual adultery. In order to so easily and consistently forsake the way of life to which Christ calls us, one must first forsake the lordship of Christ.

Thankfully for the Sardis church, there are some who remain “pure.” We noted how Christ refers to these people as “names,” and contrasted this with the “name” the rest of the church claimed to have. The church may have a glowing reputation in the world, but before Christ the church is dead, except for these few. They have a reputation, and its one that earns the Lord’s commendation. They will “walk” with Christ in “white garments.” White is symbolic of righteousness and purity, and, as we see in Revelation 7, the robes of the righteous are white because they have been “washed in the blood of the Lamb.” It is the blood of Christ sacrificed for them that purifies them, not their own works or anything within them. However, having been dressed in white robes, they are to walk as those worthy of the robes. And they are, in part because their willingness to suffer for Christ shows that they are, indeed, truly his. Revelation 5:9 says that Jesus is “worthy” because he was slain. The persecution he endured on behalf of his people demonstrated his worthiness. And in a similar way, the persecution these Christians suffer demonstrate their worthiness to wear white robes and walk with the Lord (see also Revelation 6:9-11).

In verse 5, Christ delivers three promises to those who overcome:

  1. They shall be clothed in white garments. The verb in Greek could be translated as either passive or “middle”–either “they shall be clothed,” or “they shall clothe themselves” (note: the “middle” voice isn’t always reflexive, but it would be in this context). While the second option is a legitimate translation, it flies in the face of everything we’ve been told to this point (both in Revelation and the rest of the New Testament) regarding Christ as the author of our faith, and the fact that it is his work, not ours, that makes us worthy (e.g. John 6:44; Rev 1:18). To say we clothe ourselves in white would be to say that we are able to make ourselves worthy, which we are not.
  2. Christ will not erase their names from “the Book of Life.” The phrase “Book of Life” is used five times in Revelation (13:8, 17:8, 20:12 and 15, 21:27). We noted that nowhere does it say anything about a future action of Christ writing names in the Book of Life. Names have been written in there, and his promise here is not to add their names, but not to erase them. The clear implication is that their names are already in the Book. They don’t have to do anything to be added–they’re there already. Daniel 7:10 speaks of a book of judgment where the names of the condemned are written. Daniel 12:1 makes reference to a book of the redeemed, which is probably the same as our Book of Life in this verse. Similar books are mentioned in Revelation 20:12-15, one of life for the redeemed, and one of judgment for the condemned. This is important to note since this means that no-one destined for judgment would be written in the Book of Life since there’s a separate book for them, and nowhere does Scripture talk about names being transferred from book to book. If their names couldn’t be erased, why would Christ promise not to erase them? Because, in saying that he will never erase their names, he is telling them firstly that their names are already in the Book of Life, and secondly that their salvation is secure in him. He’s giving them assurance and hope that will sustain them in these extremely difficult times.
  3. Jesus will confess their names before the Father and His angels. This brings to mind Luke 12:8, where Jesus says he will confess those who confess him and deny those who deny him. In the Luke passage, Jesus is telling his disciples not to fear the authorities, and to be bold in their proclamation of him. I think this gives further evidence of the problem in Sardis: the church is ashamed of Christ, and are willing to deny him out of a fear of men. The faithful few are not ashamed of the gospel, and for this reason their names will resound in heaven.

For those that have problems with Christ’s deity, the second and third promises deserve closer attention. If Christ is merely a prophet, or a good man, where did he get authority to say whose name is in the Book of Life? Clearly, if he could (hypothetically) erase a name from that book, the implication is that he is the keeper of the book and the one who controls which names are in there and which are not. And if Jesus is not divine, then why does his confession of names before the Father and the angels matter any more than any other prophet or good man? The fact is, Jesus the God-man, God incarnate, Second Person of the Trinity, holds our salvation in his hands. And for those who think all roads lead to God, notice that it is Christ who declares the names of the righteous before the Father, not Muhammad, or Buddha, or Mary, or anyone else. And it is only by wearing robes made white by his blood that we can be declared righteous and worthy.

“Let him who has an ear let him hear…” The letter finishes with a reminder that this is not just for the church in Sardis. Someone asked whether these letters would have been delivered individually to each of the seven churches. As far as I’m aware, there’s no evidence to suggest that these letters were ever separated from the book of Revelation. In all likelihood, John delivered Revelation in its entirety to each of these seven churches, so they would all have read what Christ says to each of them. Revelation was then copied and transmitted to the rest of the church across the world, where the voice of the Spirit speaking to the churches was clearly heard. Indeed, our discussion of what Christ said to Sardis and how it relates to us today shows how very relevant these words are, even though we are separated from this church by thousands of miles and two thousand years.

Next time: the letter to the church in Philadelphia…

Who Review: Kill the Moon

Courtney Woods, the Coal Hill student who threw up in the TARDIS last episode, needs to feel special. Rather than comply with Clara’s demand that the Doctor tell her she’s special, the Doctor wants to make her special: the first woman on the moon. As one might expect, things don’t go exactly to plan. They arrive in a Space Shuttle about to crash land on the moon in the year 2049. The TARDIS crew survive the crash only to find they’ve inadvertently joined a suicide mission from Earth to destroy the moon. Captain Lundvik, leader of the mission, explains that the future of mankind is under threat from freak tides. Something’s wrong with the moon, and they believe the only way to solve it is to blow it up. But as they investigate, they find the problem is a lot bigger than they expected, and the decision to kill the moon might carry very grave consequences…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

It seems Steven Moffat told episode writer Peter Harness to “Hinchcliffe the s*** out of it for the first half.” Philip Hinchcliffe produced Doctor Who from 1974-1977, a period commonly considered a golden era of the classic series, when episodes pushed the limit on how far they could scare children during Saturday tea-time. Harness certainly took Moffat’s words to heart. The first half of the story had all the creeps and suspense of those classic stories, with the added benefit of better effects and moodier lighting. And the effects were particularly impressive. From turning an already moon-like Lanzarote into a convincing lunar landscape, to the spider-germs that were a combination of CGI and rubber models. Spiders are notoriously hard to recreate, and the effects team out-did themselves with these.

I must also commend the acting on this episode. Capaldi and Coleman put in some of their best Who performances to date, and even young Ellis George who played 15-year-old Courtney did a spectacular job, holding her own among an intimidating list of co-stars. She has a very bright acting future, I’m sure.

And perhaps… perhaps perhaps perhaps the ending to this episode will draw the domestics to a close. I’ve said enough about that over the past couple of reviews, so I’ll leave it there.

The one thing I wasn’t comfortable with was actually quite a major plot point: i.e., that the moon is in fact a giant egg. In terms of the story it worked, and it provided a nice, if unexpected (which isn’t a bad thing), explanation for everything that was happening (as well as a very interesting moral dilemma). I think what caused me discomfort is the fact that Doctor Who usually doesn’t mess with conventional science. Gravity is gravity, the sun is a star, and the Earth is everything we’ve known it to be. Sure, they’ve introduced a twin planet for Earth, which the First Doctor allowed to melt trying to stop a Cyberman invasion. I guess what troubles me is that it goes against one of the show’s original concepts: use the space-time adventure to teach science and history. “The moon is really a giant egg” sort of flies in the face of that. But like Clara’s soap opera non-TARDIS life, it’s not a show-stopper, and certainly didn’t stop me enjoying the episode.

A final thought: Is Moffat messing with our heads? He seemed to be setting us up for Danny to join the TARDIS team, but now the Doctor’s taking Courtney along with Clara. Maybe that’s only for one episode… or maybe not. Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter and first companion was also 15 when we met her. And is Clara leaving, or was she just speaking in anger (as Danny said) and we’ll be seeing her again? I wouldn’t be surprised if Moff’s doing everything he can to put out misinformation and misguide “the Internet” as much as possible. I can understand this. As many leaks and spoilers that have appeared online, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s waging war with the web. So who knows what’s really going on. I guess we’ll just have to keep watching…

What did you think? Were you behind the sofa watching this one? How do you feel about the egg moon? Was this Clara’s last TARDIS trip, or will she and Danny be joining the Doctor again soon? Or would you prefer to see the Doctor and Courtney traveling together instead? I’ve told you my thoughts, now it’s your turn…

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 3:1-3

1 And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: “Thus saith he who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your works, that you have a name [or reputation] that you are alive, yet you are dead. 2 Be awake and strengthen what remains [or those that remain] that is about to die for I have not found your works completed before my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you received and heard, and keep and repent. If, then, you do not wake up, I shall come like a thief, and you certainly won’t know at what hour I shall come against you.”

We started with good intentions of getting through the entire letter to the church in Sardis, but we ran out of time and rather than hurrying through the last three verses, I decided to hold those over to next time. So this is “The Letter to Sardis, Part 1.”

The city of Sardis was an illustrious city about 40 miles south-east of Thyatira, and about 45 miles east of Smyrna. Its fame and prosperity can be attributed, at least to some degree, to the fact that it was situated on a number of important trade routes. While only a couple of temples have been discovered, it is believed there were many more back in the first century, dedicated both to the traditional deities, and to Emperors. There was also a significant Jewish presence in the city, and a large synagogue has been uncovered with inscriptions on the wall that indicate it numbered the wealthy and even city officials among its members. Clearly there were far more non-Christians in Smyrna than Christians, and many of them were rich and influential. I daresay being a Christian in Smyrna was as difficult as in the other churches we’ve read about, not only in terms of persecution, but also in terms of being pressured to deny Christ and conform to the world.

The way Jesus describes himself reminds us of the letter to Ephesus where he is has the seven stars. Chapter 1 tells us these represent the seven angels of the churches. In this passage, Jesus also says he has the seven spirits of God. Back in chapter 1, John addressed the book of Revelation to the seven Asian churches from “the one who is and was and is coming, and from the seven spirits which are before his throne.” In our discussion we recognized that the number “7” signifies completeness or fullness, and that the seven spirits were, therefore representative of the Spirit who empowers the whole church for service. This reminder of the work of the Spirit in the church is something the Sardians (Sardinians…? Sardinites…? Sardines…?!) need. As in 1:20, the seven angels, which Christ holds in his right hand, are symbolic of the fact that Christ is Lord of the church. Not only is he the one who, through the Spirit, empowers the church, but he is the final rule and authority of the church.

Jesus says he has seen the works of the church, and that they have a “name.” Just as the city had a reputation, so did the church. “Name” is a buzz word in this letter, and Jesus plays off of it to make a couple of points. In this instance, the Lord points out that they have made a name for themselves as a church that is “alive”–a reputation the church has bought into. Perhaps it’s a reputation they are proud of. What does it mean, though? From the rest of the letter it seems the church has compromised itself into impotence. Maybe they have a large membership and are very active in doing good and showing love to one another, but have forgotten their calling: to be salt and light in the world. A modern equivalent might be a large church with lots of programs and activities, maybe a large youth group that works in the community, or teams of people that visit the sick and elderly, perhaps even a softball league, which has lost sight of the gospel. Sure, they talk about Jesus and invite people to church, but are they willing to stand with Christ and be known as his when doing so may cost financially, or socially? Are they willing to talk to people about the need to repent of sin and cling to Christ as their only hope of salvation? Or have they become so comfortable in their self-sufficiency that they don’t need Christ, and certainly don’t want to risk ruining everything by being like those “fundamentalists” you hear about on the news.

The Lord of the church tells them that while they are famous for being alive, in actual fact they are dead. This seems a bit harsh–as if he’s saying they’re unbelievers! I think Jesus is using hyperbole, or overstatement here to make a point. The fact he offers a remedy in verses 2 and 3 suggest that he is, indeed, using a stark black-white dichotomy to shake the church up. If Jesus had told them they were merely sick, or struggling, that might not have made the impression he wanted to make. It seems Jesus wants to slap them into alertness and push them out of their comfort. Calling them “dead” might just do the trick.

In verse 2, the Lord tells them what they need to do, and in verse 3 he tells them how to do it. First, they need to wake up and strengthen “what remains.” The Greek term is a neuter plural, “those things that remain,” which could apply to works. Perhaps he’s saying that they need to strengthen what good things they are doing by injecting gospel purpose into them. However, the term could also point to the people within the church (the “few names” in verse 4) who have stayed “pure” and “undefiled”–i.e., they have remained true to the gospel and not contaminated themselves with the world. It’s very possible that Jesus is referring to these people, telling the church they need to affirm and strengthen them, not treat them like an odd little cult group. They should let their kind flourish within the church, especially since they are on the verge of dying out. At the moment, the church’s works are lacking in the sight of God, or they are “incomplete” before God. Only by returning to gospel faithfulness can the church and her works be mature, or “complete” before God.

How can the church wake up, strengthen the dying embers of gospel hope within, and be complete before the Lord? Jesus provides the answer to this in a series of imperatives. The fact that he strings together a series of verbs in this way gives a sense of urgency to his words. They also help to make the message he has for the church succinct and clear:

  • Remember…: a present tense imperative indicating that they need to continually remember.
  • …what you have received…: a perfect tense verb, which says that they received something in the past that has continuing effect into the present–i.e., the gospel message.
  • …and heard…: an aorist verb, so it’s something they heard in the past, maybe letters from Paul, sermons, encouraging words, things of that nature designed to stir their hearts to faithfulness.
  • …and keep…: another present tense imperative, indicating that not only should they continually remember these things, but they should hold on to them daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, because they are words of life.
  • …and repent…: finally, an aorist imperative–they need to repent now. The aorist tense doesn’t make reference to any particular past, present, or future condition–it’s simply an “unbounded” point in time. I think it reminds us that repentance is something we need to do when we recognize sin in our lives, but once we’ve repented, we need to move on. We don’t need to continually repent for that sin (we’ll have plenty more sins to deal with in the future!). It’s been paid for, Christ has forgiven it.

If the church doesn’t heed this warning, Christ says he will come against them like a thief and they most certainly won’t know when that will be (the Greek grammatical construction is one that indicates strong negation). Jesus used the picture of coming like a thief when talking about his Second Coming in Matthew 24:42-44, and also in Revelation 16:15, a verse that has other parallels to this passage. Is he talking here about his Second Coming, or is this a special visitation upon the church in Sardis? Since the other passages use the “thief” imagery in reference to Christ’s Second Coming, and Scripture only speaks of two “comings” of Christ (Bethlehem and the End Times), I think he is warning the church to be prepared for his final return. However, it’s possible that Christ could come against them using the agency of, say, the local authorities. In other words, Christ doesn’t have to come against them personally to fulfill these words, though I’m more convinced this is an “End Times” warning.

But it’s not all bad in the Sardian church… and that’s where we’ll pick up next time.

PS: Speaking of Christians being willing to count the cost of their faith, see this CNN report . Let’s not forget to pray for our persecuted brethren throughout the world. I’m sure the passages we’re studying have particular meaning to them. “To the one who overcomes…”

Who Review: The Caretaker

DoctorWho-TheCaretakerAs the Doctor prepares for his next adventure, he informs Clara that she can’t come with him as he needs to go “deep undercover.” Clara takes this opportunity to get some time in with Danny, especially since Danny’s becoming suspicious about her activities away from school. But Clara’s two worlds are about to collide: the Doctor is posing as a caretaker at Coal Hill School, the school where Clara and Danny are both teachers. How long can Clara keep her time-traveling life from Danny, especially when an alien robot is loose in the school threatening the destruction of everyone on Earth…?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The last time the Doctor went “undercover” he was a sales assistant in a department store (see Season 6’s “Closing Time”). This time around, he’s a caretaker (or “janitor” in the American parlance) and to look the part he has donned the traditional brown coat and he’s carrying a broom. This episode does make much of the comedic situation, especially given the Twelfth Doctor’s inability to act human without looking like an alien trying to act human, and his complete disregard of social skills. It’s hard to pitch comedy correctly for Doctor Who; a certain amount of levity is not inappropriate (and sometimes downright irresistible), but there’s always the danger it can be pushed too far. I think they got it right in this episode. There was enough danger, tension, and drama throughout that the laughs provided some needed relief. I especially liked the Doctor’s reaction when he thought Clara’s boyfriend was the teacher who looked a lot like the Eleventh Doctor.

The opening montage of Clara meeting up with Danny after various escapades in the TARDIS really underscores for me what I don’t like about this setup. I understand what’s happening story-wise, and it’s part of Clara’s arc that she’s living this dual existence that’s going to come to a head in this episode. My issue is that it makes her seem more like the Doctor’s playmate than his companion. They go off on an adventure but he always drops her home in time for tea, or for school, or a date with Danny. You lose the sense of continuity, of a deep friendship forged over years spent traveling together (as with Jamie McCrimmon, Sarah Jane Smith, or Rose Tyler).

As for the Skovox Blitzer, the alien robot bent on destruction, I have to say it felt like a plot device. It was there to provide a threat to the school that would force the Doctor to meet Danny, and give Danny an opportunity to prove himself to the Doctor. The story wasn’t about the Skovox Blitzer. It was about Clara, Danny, and the Doctor. And I suppose that’s okay, but it meant that the majority of the story was about Clara’s near-soap-opera life bouncing between the Doctor and her boyfriend. Again, I suppose that’s okay, but not the stuff of classic Doctor Who.

Finally, the plot thickens with the introduction of “Seb” in the “Afterlife” or “Paradise” or whatever we’re to call it. Despite the names, I’m convinced this isn’t some kind of life-after-death in the traditional sense. Yes, there’s the long white corridor and the light at the end of the tunnel. But I’m sure something else is going on here where these people are being led to believe this is heaven when it’s something very sinister. A cyberman trap still sounds like a good possibility.

Overall, it was an enjoyable episode, but I hope we’ve resolved Clara’s domestic issues and can get back to the Doctor, the TARDIS, and his companion traveling through space and time–the original premise of the show.

What do you think? Did you love the episode or hate it or somewhere in between? Do you like the Clara/Danny/Doctor soap opera, or do you want less of the domestics? And have you revised your theories on “Paradise” after this episode? Share your thoughts in the comments!

National Piano Month: My Contribution

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but it seems September was National Piano Month. Well, today’s the last day, so it’s not too late for me to offer a small contribution. Here’s an improvised arrangement of a popular Beatles tune I recorded on my Casio Privia digital piano. I’m no Keith Jarrett, but I enjoy playing. By the way, this is raw and unedited, so it’s a warts-and-all recording…

[In the event the embedded player isn't working for you, here's a direct link to the mp3 file.]

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 2:18-29

18 And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: “Thus saith the Son of God, he who has eyes as a flame of fire and his feet like burnished bronze. 19 I know your works, even your love and faith and service and steadfastness, and your latter works [are] greater than [your] first ones. 20 But I have against you that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, the one who calls herself a prophetess but she teaches and leads my servants astray to commit fornication and to eat meat sacrificed to idols. 21 But I have given her time in order that she might repent, however she isn’t willing to repent from her fornication. 22 Behold, I will cast her onto a [sick] bed, and those who commit adultery with her to a great tribulation unless they repent from her works. 23 And her children I will put to death by death [or pestilence]. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and hearts, and I shall give to you, to each one, according to your works. 24 But to you I say–to those in Thyatira, as many as do not have this teaching, whichever ones have not known “the deep things of Satan” as they say–I don not cast upon you another burden 25 only that you hold on to what you have until whenever I shall come. 26 And the one who overcomes, even the one who keeps my works to the end, I shall give him authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with an iron rod as [when] earthen vessels are shattered, 28 even as I have received [authority] from my father. Also I shall give to him the morning star. 29 The one having an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The city of Thyatira was about 35 miles inland between Pergamum and Sardis. It’s mentioned in Acts 16 as the home town of Lydia, a seller of purple who was the first European to become a Christian under Paul’s ministry. It’s possible she learned her trade in Thyatira since the dyeing process there was well-known, and the dyers’ guild was very strong. Indeed, Thyatira seemed to have a guild for just about every trade imaginable from tanners and potters to linen workers to slave traders. Membership in one of these guilds was critical for anyone wanting to prosper in a city like Thyatira. These guilds not only gave you contacts, but they gave you recognition and a certain sense of security. However, many of the guilds had their own patron deities, and the members would often gather to worship and celebrate their particular deity. This was seen as part of the membership requirements, something that a faithful Christian would find intolerable. For those Christians unwilling to compromise the gospel and their commitment to Christ, this meant they would be barred from the guilds, something that would cost them dearly both financially, and in terms of their reputation.

So the church in Thyatira faces pressure from without and from within. Not only is there the fiscal and social pressure to conform to the world and give in to the demands of the culture to join in with worshiping their gods, but there was a faction within the church that appeared to teach it was okay to do so. A prominent woman had set herself up in their midst as a prophetess, and, from what we can discern, was leading a portion of the congregation astray with the idea that it was acceptable for Christians to join with the pagans at least in appearance. This was a “deeper” teaching, and one that would have appealed to people feeling the rub of social ostracism and poverty.

To counter this, Christ presents himself to the church in the language of 1:14-15: with fiery eyes and burnished bronze feet. When we studied these verses back in the spring, we noted the link between this description and Daniel 7:9 where the Ancient of Days has a throne that is a “flame of fire,” and Daniel 10:6 where the man is described as having “eyes… as lamps of fire” and his legs “like the gleam of burnished bronze.” In this vision, there is a prophecy that God will bring judgment on Daniel’s enemies. We also see the “fire” theme in Daniel 3 and the story of Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego. While Daniel’s friends are in the fiery furnace, they are protected by a figure described by Nebuchadnezzar’s counselors as being “like a son of God.” These references would serve to remind the church that Christ is both the protector of the saints and the judge of their enemies.

We should note at this point that Christ doesn’t promise the church removal from tribulation and persecution. He assures them of his abiding presence through the fires, and the fact that he will protect the souls of his people, but those who overcome are those who go through the trials and come out the other side with their faith and trust in Christ intact.

Jesus knows the works of the Thyatirans: love, faith, service, endurance–in other words, they have kept themselves true to Christ, and maintained a witness in a hostile, pagan environment, despite pressure to compromise. At least for the most part. It’s worth noting that while these words wouldn’t be true for the whole church, Jesus c0mmends the church as a whole. This could mean either the compromising faction is relatively small, or Jesus doesn’t consider “Jezebel” and her followers truly part of the church. Unlike the Ephesian church, the Thyatirans have not been afraid to be counted as Christ’s, and rather than losing their first love, they have gone from strength to strength since the Lord notes that their “latter works” are greater than their first.

The problem with the church in Thyatira is the woman called “Jezebel” who identifies herself as a prophetess and is leading Christ’s people away into immorality and idolatry. I don’t think we have any reason to doubt that this “Jezebel” was a real person in the church, though I doubt that was her real name. It’s possible Jesus uses this name to protect her identity should the letter fall into hostile hands; the church knows who she is, if only by the use of this name. In 1 Kings 16, we are told that Ahab did the most to provoke the Lord than any of the kings before him, and his wife, Jezebel, was the force behind his wickedness. For all the evil Jezebel did, however, I don’t see a single reference to her actually committing acts of sexual immorality, whether fornication or adultery. The sin that she is most vilified for is leading Israel astray into idolatry and compromise with the pagan neighbors. While I wouldn’t rule out that sexual immorality could be part of the pagan ceremonies in Thyatira, the main concern is spiritual adultery. And if sexual immorality was involved, I think it came about through worldly compromise, not by direct teaching. In other words, if the pagans had a deficient view of marriage and sexual purity, then compromising with the pagans would eventually entail endorsing, if not participating in such things. So “Jezebel” wouldn’t need to lead people directly to sexual immorality, she just needed to encourage them to be more like the pagans, and the rest would follow.

It’s clear to the Lord that “Jezebel” is a false prophetess, but his main concern is that the church isn’t dealing with her. Though the church as a whole is faithful, the leadership is permitting this woman and her followers to remain among them. It would seem the church recognizes her teaching is bad, and while the majority are willing to resist her overtures, they are not willing to cast her out. Why? I can think of four possible reasons:

  1. They don’t think her teaching is that bad, and she’s not really doing a lot of damage. I have my doubts about this given that they could see the harm it was doing to those led astray by her. Maybe they weren’t aware of how serious her teaching was and Christ is here alerting them to it? Again, I can’t imagine a church living in close proximity not knowing what’s going on with a group like that.
  2. This “Jezebel” is a prominent person within the congregation, and maybe even the city. Perhaps she exercises influence that could bring trouble to the church if they do anything to upset her. One possibility is that she’s wealthy and gives generously to the church. If we recall the financial pressure the majority would be under from not participating in the guilds, there would be a serious temptation to curry favor with major donors, regardless of the bad influence they are having within the church.
  3. Perhaps they don’t want to appear “unloving.” Jesus commended the church for their love, and maybe this is not just love for the Lord, but love for one another. If they discipline “Jezebel” and her disciples, they might appear harsh and critical, which may in turn drive people away.
  4. Maybe they fear a church split. Casting these people out would be messy, as church discipline always is, and it may cause others to leave. During a time of persecution, when the church is under a great deal of external pressure, the last thing they need is to add to their problems with in-fighting.

Of course, what they need to realize is that no matter the consequences, the church would be better, stronger, and more spiritually stable without “Jezebel” and her followers. No-one should be above the doctrinal integrity of the church. Faithfulness to Christ should be the first priority of every under-shepherd in Christ’s church, and there should be zero tolerance for anyone who leads God’s people into idolatry and disobedience. Such discipline is not only good for the church, but it is in the best interest of the offender. While the church coddles them, there is no opportunity for repentance. But when the church calls them on their sin, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration can take place. A timely reminder to the 21st century church, as well as to the first century church in Thyatira.

Christ’s response to the “Jezebel” faction is merciful: he gives them time to repent. However, “Jezebel” is unwilling, so Christ says he will “cast her onto a bed.” This is a Hebrew idiom suggesting that Christ will bring suffering upon her (some translations take this into account and render the word for bed as “sick bed”). As for her followers, they will face a “great tribulation” unless they repent from her deeds. I think the nature of this “tribulation” is spelled out in verse 23: they will be “killed by death.” This literal translation of the Greek can be understood as either “they will surely be killed,” or “they will be killed with plague.” Given what we read later in Revelation, the second option is probably the better translation.

What happens to “Jezebel” and her followers stands as a testimony to all the churches that Christ sees “minds and hearts” (literally, “kidneys and hearts” reflecting first century idiom). This phrase in verse 23 refers back to Jeremiah 17:10 where God says, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind ["kidneys" in the Hebrew], to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit from his deeds.” The fact that Jesus claims the same ability as God to read minds and hearts shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Is it possible this “tribulation” they face is a future tribulation period? Whether or not there is a future tribulation period apart from all the other “tribulations” the church goes through, the “tribulation” Jesus speaks of here sounds to me like something that will affect just these people in this church. Christ is going to bring a great tribulation upon the unrepentant followers of “Jezebel.” To suggest this tribulation is one that affects the whole church at some future time would entail saying that “Jezebel” and her followers are not real people but are symbolic of some kind of universal apostasy, and I don’t see warrant for that in the text. As we’ve discussed before, these are real churches in first century Asia Minor undergoing real stress. The people at the church in Thyatira knew “Jezebel” and knew her followers. What Jesus says about them may have broad application to all false prophets and the churches that harbor them, but that doesn’t make the situation any less historical. I think if you were to ask the Christians in Thyatira about a future tribulation, they would say, “Future? What do you think’s happening now?”

As for the rest of the church, the faithful who have not fallen for the teaching of “Jezebel,” of course they need to deal with this false prophetess. But aside from this, he lays “no other burden” upon them but to stay faithful until Christ’s return. This command echoes the words used by the apostles in Acts 15:28 where they resolved to place “no other burden” upon the Gentiles than to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from strangled things, from blood, and from sexual immorality. At least two of these have relevance to the Thyatirans.

Christ describes the faithful as those who haven’t known “the depths of Satan, as they say” or “the so-called depths of Satan.” Given the prevalence of Gnostic teaching which tended to treat the material world with disdain, it’s possible that “Jezebel’s” teaching was a form of Gnosticism that regarded the flesh of no importance, so it didn’t matter what you did with your body, it’s the spirit that matters. I could imagine “Jezebel” justifying compromise with the pagans by teaching “as long as you are right in the spirit, it doesn’t matter what you do with your flesh.” I don’t think she would have referred to this teaching as “the depths of Satan”–that’s not particularly good marketing for a church, unless by that title she meant “the deeper truths regarding Satan” which I suppose is possible. My view is this was the title Jesus gave to her doctrine. She may have thought of her mystical, “prophetic” utterances as “the deep things of God,” but in truth, they are words from the pits of hell.

Is “until I return” a reference to the Second Coming, or are they to expect a visit from the Lord before then? As with the parables of the ten virgins and the thief in the night, the church is to stay faithful to Christ, not knowing exactly when he will return. I think the exhortation to the Thyatirans is the same exhortation Christ would give to us: hold on to the faith you have and don’t compromise with the world so you will be ready for me at my return.

In verses 26 and 27, Jesus quotes Psalm 2 by way of a promise to the overcomer  that he will share in Christ’s reign over the nations. Those that persecute and oppress the church today will one day be subject to Christ and those who remained true to him. The reference to the “morning star” anticipates Revelation 22:16 where Jesus is described as the “bright morning star.” These verses affirm for the church Christ’s Messianic and sovereign rule over all things, and promises the faithful that they will rule with him in his eternal kingdom. Christ received authority from his Father, and now he shares it with his people. Let the one with an ear hear what the Spirit says to the churches–not just the church in Thyatira, but all churches everywhere.

Next time: The church at Sardis…

Who Review: Time Heist

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DoctorWho_TimeHeistWhile Clara gets ready for her second date with Danny, the Doctor tries to persuade her to join him on another trip in the TARDIS. Both plans are scuppered by a telephone call to the Doctor. We skip to the Doctor and Clara sitting at a table with two other people, all holding memory worms. Neither the Doctor nor Clara remember anything from the time the Doctor picked up the phone until that moment. Their two new friends, Psy and Saibra, are similarly oblivious to why they are there. There’s a metal briefcase on the table containing a message from “The Architect”: they are to rob the most secure bank in the universe. And they need to hurry up because they’re in a room in the bank, the guards know they’re there, and they are coming for them…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The Doctor robbing a bank? We know the Doctor has always lived on the edge, but he always operates with the best of intentions. The only way the Doctor would agree to a bank heist would be if there was some really good reason. And throughout the entirety of the episode, we are kept wondering what that reason could possibly be. Perhaps the Doctor isn’t a good man after all..?

In the course of their safe-cracking adventure, the Doctor discovers the two newcomers have ulterior reasons for being there. Psy, a professional bank robber and hacker,  is an augmented human with a computerized brain. He had been in prison where, to protect his loved ones during interrogation, he erased all his memories of them. Memories he would love to get back. Saibra is a mutant human who transforms into an identical copy of everyone she touches–or who touches her. She would love to be cured of this mutation so people wouldn’t be afraid to hold her.

We also meet the newest Doctor Who monster: The Teller. This is a large bulk of a biped with a huge gaping mouth and eyes on the ends of tentacles. The one we encounter is introduced as “the last of its kind.” Ms. Delphox, the head of security, uses this creature’s ability to scan brains and turn them to soup as a means of punishing would-be criminals. Once Ms. Delphox locates the Doctor and his gang, she lets The Teller loose to deal with them.

But, of course, the Doctor is a good man. In a clever piece of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-ness, it turns out the Architect is the Doctor, and he’s sending himself and his three companions on a return trip to the bank in his past, but not to rob it. Rather, their mission is a rescue mission. The Teller isn’t the last of his kind. A female of his species is being kept in a vault as a way of ensuring the creature does the bidding of Ms. Delphox and her superior, Director Karabraxos. This elaborate scheme was the only way to get the creature to the vault and to rescue them both. The memory worms were necessary since the creature detects guilty thoughts. The fact they didn’t know why they were robbing the bank helped keep them alive.

I thought it was a clever story. It’s not easy writing time-twisty tales like this without overlooking some detail or leaving a gaping plot hole. As far as I can tell, the story seems to work well. I’m still not comfortable with all the domestic stuff with Clara, but I griped about Clara’s life outside the TARDIS last time. Suffice to stay, my complaint stands.

All the supporting cast put in great performances, with a special shout-out to Keeley Hawes who played Ms. Delphox. The air of arrogance and sociopathic indifference she gave off suited the character very well. And, again, another great turn by Capaldi. We’re really getting more of a sense of this Doctor, and he is such a contrast to Matt Smith–which is a good thing. Not that I didn’t enjoy Matt’s Doctor, but I like to see a discernible contrast between Doctors (e.g., the First and Second, or the Ninth and Tenth).

Of all the effects in this episode, I thought The Teller was particularly well-realized. Rubber-suit monsters have come a loooong way since I watched Doctor Who as a child. The attention to detail the effects team put into that creature is amazing. In fact, I would say this was even light years ahead of the Slitheen from New Series 1. Though that was nearly ten years ago…!

In all, a good and original piece of Who with moderate scares, but a lot of entertainment value.

What did you think? Did you keep up with the wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-ness? And what about The Teller? Share your thoughts below…

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