Flash Fiction Friday

Here’s this week’s flash fiction. It could stand alone, but if you read last week’s you might see a connection. This one clocks in at 292 words:

The Glock sat heavy in my pocket as I waited in the bright Lebanese sun. Call me naive, but I expected Beirut to be full of men in robes and women in hijabs. If the young native waiting on the tables was anything to go by, I was very wrong. She was dressed in tight fitting jeans and a baggy white shirt. Her long dark hair was tied in a pony tail that swung behind her as glanced between patrons. I didn’t intend to catch her eye, but she smiled in my direction and came over to my table.

“Can I get you something, sir?” she said with only a trace of an accent.

“Perhaps some tea?” I said. Her eyes seemed to take in my face and attire, then after looking over her shoulder, she slid into the chair opposite me.

“Paul Jackson?” she said.

“And you are…?”

“Anan Haddad. Even with the sunglasses, you meet the description I was given. You are expecting me?”

I blinked. It didn’t occur to me that Anan was not a male name. Certainly not the name of a beautiful young woman whose eyes now pleaded with me.

“Tell me you have news of my father. That is why you are meeting me, is it not? They said you will have a message for me.”

I slipped my hand into my pocket and held the Glock. Maybe she is a terrorist. But as she looked at me with trembling lips, my resolve melted.

“We… we want you to know we’re doing everything we can,” I said. She took my hand and squeezed it.

“Thank you, Paul. Thank you so much.”

And that was the last I saw of Anan Haddad.

Peterson saw to that, apparently.

More next week… :)

What’s Up Wednesday

It’s been a while, so in case all my WUW friends thought I’d dropped off the planet I thought I’d catch you up on what’s been happening. Frankly, there’s not a whole lot to report, which is partly why I haven’t joined in the WUW fun of late. But I think I have enough for a post, so here it is. For the uninitiated, What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme run by sister writers Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. For information on how to join in and to see the Linky List of other WUW-ers, visit their blogs.

What I’m Reading

I finished WAR AND PEACE (and even wrote a very brief review for Goodreads). As I’ve said before, I believe the somewhat archaic translation I read from hampered my enjoyment of the story (mine was not the default version pictured on Goodreads). However, some good bits shone through, and it will be worth a re-read at some point in a more modern edition. I also read an ARC of THE STOLEN MOON, the second in Rachel Searles’ middle grade sci-fi adventure trilogy that started with THE LOST PLANET. It was a fun read and a breath of fresh air after W&P (see review HERE). I’m currently reading EVEN, a mystery/thriller by Andrew Grant. Andrew is the younger brother of Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series of novels (one of which was recently made into a movie starring Tom Cruise as Reacher). It’s a good read, and reminds me of Fleming’s James Bond novels in pace, and to an extent style. Grant does a great job of pulling you right into the story and holding your interest both in the plot and the MC. David Trevellyan is “a survivor from the shadowy world of the Royal Naval Intelligence Division,” and in this story he has just finished a job for the British government when his curiosity over a dead body in a New York alley gets him into a heap of trouble with the NYPD and the FBI. So far there’s been some mild profanity, and some violence (which includes a particularly gruesome torture scene that makes the CASINO ROYALE bottomless chair scene look tame). However, the writing and story have me hooked. Trevellyan’s an interesting protagonist too. I may well read more of this series.

What I’m Writing

At the moment I’m keeping my writing short while planning the next novel. I finished a short story that needs some work before it’s ready for showtime, but I’m letting it sit for a little while before I go back to it. If you follow Janet Reid’s blog, you’ll know I recently won one of her writing competitions (see HERE for the article announcing my win, and HERE for the blog post I wrote describing my flash fiction writing process). And if you’ve had an eye on this blog the past few weeks, you’ll know that I’ve started posting flash fiction on Fridays because who can resist a good alliteration?

What Works for Me

In this “between novels” period, I’m catching up on reading and trying to learn from good books. I’m planning a complete change of genre from the last couple of novels, so hopefully my reading over the next few months will get my head into that style, and also alert me to what works, what doesn’t, what’s been done, and where my story might fit. I have a number of story ideas, and the one I choose will be the one for which I have the most passion. The tips I pick up from my reading will help me craft that story into something I would enjoy reading.

What Else Is New

It’s that time of year: birthdays (two of my kids have birthdays in November, and my oldest turns 21 in December), Thanksgiving, and Christmas. A busy and expensive time, but a fun time. My favorite time of year, in fact. I love the atmosphere, the days getting shorter, the autumnal colors, the celebratory feel… and the food, of course. Not really new things, but that’s what else is going on in my life right now.

How are things with you?

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 3:17-22

17 For you say, “I am rich and I have prospered, and I have need of nothing,” but you don’t know that you yourself are the wretched and pitiable and poor and blind and naked one. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold purified from fire so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may be clothed and the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed, and to rub eye salve on your eyes so that you may see. 19 As many as ever I myself love I rebuke and I discipline. Be zealous, therefore, and repent. 20 Behold I stand at the door and I knock. If anyone should hear my voice and should open the door, I will enter in to him and I will dine with him and he with me. 21 The one who overcomes I will give him to sit with me on my throne, as I also have overcome and I have sat down with my Father on His throne. 22 The one who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

This week we finished up Jesus’ letter to the church in Laodicea, the last of the letters to the seven churches. Before I summarize what we discussed, let me just remind you that my translation (above) is deliberately wooden and not the best English. This is because I’m trying to make some of the emphases and sentence constructions of the Greek clearer than they would be had I rendered the passage into “good” English. Hopefully you get the idea of what’s being said. Feel free to follow with your preferred translation.

We already noted that the Laodicean church was in a bad way. Unlike the other six churches, there was nothing for which Jesus could commend the church, whether their love for one another, or their firm opposition to false teaching. It seems the church wasn’t getting anything right. The heart of the issue seems to be cultural compromise and an unwillingness to make a clear stand for Christ and for the gospel. This is why Jesus presents himself at the beginning of the letter as the “Faithful and True Witness”–his willingness to sacrifice even his life to bear testimony to the grace of the Father in the salvation of His people gives us the ultimate exemplar of the Christian life. When the Laodiceans compare their lives to the witness and love for the lost Christ displayed, they fall far, far short. Why do the Laodiceans appear to be so unconcerned with sharing the gospel and proclaiming the lordship of Christ? I think Jesus addresses some of this in verse 17.

The church says, “I am rich and have become prosperous and I need nothing!” Recall from last time the fact that Laodicea was a prosperous city, so much so that when leveled by an earthquake it could refuse Roman assistance and fund its own rebuilding. This attitude of self-reliance based upon financial prosperity is something we can relate to here in the West. And unfortunately, the Laodiceans are not alone in allowing this kind of thinking to permeate the church. It’s also possible that the Laodiceans thought their wealth was a sign of God’s blessing upon them. In other words, God clearly didn’t have a problem with them because He granted them riches. This equating of worldly gain with the blessing of God is not without Scriptural foundation, but it is often abused. God showed his favor to Solomon by making him wealthy (1 Kings 3:10-14), and He blessed Joseph with earthly riches. However, God doesn’t always bless in this way. And why would God bless disobedience? If, as we’ll see in a few verses, He chastens those whom He loves, why would he allow them to sin and not bring discipline upon them? Maybe the wealth of the Laodiceans was given by God not to bless, but to expose their dependence on material possessions and the shallowness of their faith. Again, this speaks volumes to us in the twenty-first century church.

Christ tells them that they are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked”–quite a slap in the face! But the depth of their fall is underscored by the fact Jesus says “You don’t know…” This is perhaps the biggest indictment of the Laodiceans: yes, they are deeply in sin, but what’s worse is that they don’t seem to realize they’re deeply in sin! They have become so immersed in the thinking and attitude of the culture around them, they don’t see how far they have fallen from gospel truth. They can’t see how spiritually poor they are for gazing at their material wealth. By calling them “wretched and pitiable” Jesus strikes a blow to their pride. He then hits them by calling them “poor” despite their full bank accounts (in contrast to the Smyrnans who Jesus described as spiritually rich, although physically poor). They are “blind” for not seeing the foolishness of trading the gospel for the temporal security of wealth. And they are naked, spiritually laid bare before Christ who truly knows their works. (The references to blindness and nakedness would have been particularly meaningful to the Laodiceans. The city was known as a bit of a medical center, famous for an eye salve that was supposed to be quite effective. It also had a thriving garment trade, particularly noted for black woolen garments.)

Despite these harsh words, Christ doesn’t consider the church in Laodicea a lost cause. This should give us comfort. We are quick to judge the pride and hypocrisy of the Laodicean Christians, but we are guilty of as much in our own hearts. We are quick to become prideful and self-reliant. We seek our own solutions before we turn to prayer. And we too often shy away from public proclamations of Christ for fear of offending others. The Lord doesn’t give up on us, either.

In verse 18 we see Christ’s life-line for the Laodiceans: he counsels them to purchase what they need from him. We noted the fact that Christ councels or advises the church–he doesn’t command (though he could). Perhaps the intention here is the same as Paul’s when he urged Philemon to receive Onesimus, the runaway slave, as a brother, not a criminal. He appealed to him based on the fact that, as a Christian, he should know what to do. Here, Christ counsels the Laodiceans because while they have backslidden, they are not lost. The Spirit could still stir their hearts to obedience, and Jesus would sooner let the church (through the Spirit) recognize their sin and turn to him.

Jesus offers to “sell” the Laodiceans purified gold, white garments, and eye salve. The purified, or burnished gold is symbolic of spiritual purity (like Jesus’ “burnished bronze” feet in 1:15). Unlike the worldly gold of which the Laodiceans were so enamored, Jesus’ gold is untainted with sin. By “purchasing” this gold, the Laodiceans would prefer Christ-centeredness over worldliness; true spiritual riches over material prosperity. Like the Smyrnans, they would no longer place their trust in material wealth, but recognize their need for Christ and all that he offers. White garments are a common symbol of righteousness (see The Marriage Supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19, for example). When addressing the church in Sardis, Jesus noted there were a few there who had “unsullied” garments–they had not become polluted by the world, unlike the rest of that church. The Laodiceans need to rid themselves of worldly pollution, and they can do this only by getting their righteousness from Christ. The “shame” of the Laodiceans’ nakedness is a reference to their very obvious sin (even if they don’t see it). There is similar terminology in Ezekiel 16:35-37 with reference to the way the Lord was going to judge Israel’s idolatry. Finally, the “eye salve” from Christ clearly contrasts the eye salve for which Laodicea was famous. The physical salve may bring relief from eye problems, but it does nothing for their spiritual blindness. They need Christ’s “salve” to be able to see their sin, repent, and turn back to him.

No doubt the church would be feeling pretty beaten up by now, so Christ reminds them why he has been so harsh: he chastens and disciplines those he loves. It is his deep, passionate love and concern for his people that drives him to be so blunt. Despite being on the brink of apostasy, the Laodicean church is still his, and Christ is warning them of their situation in order to drive them back to himself. If the opposite of love is apathy rather than hate, Jesus’ emotional words in the previous verses should indicate how much he loves these people, otherwise he wouldn’t say anything and leave them in their sin. And as Christ has shown zeal for his people, so they need to be zealous in their love for the Lord and his gospel. As with the Ephesians, there needs to be a rekindling of that first love, leading to a passion for the Lord that overcomes fear of worldly opinion and the cultural consequences of proclaiming Christ. There also needs to be repentance. The church needs to recognize their sin and turn away from it. Simply being on fire for the Lord isn’t enough; they have to acknowledge they were wrong, and abandon their old compromising ways.

In verse 20 Jesus makes a final appeal to the church to restore that close, intimate fellowship with him. This verse has often been used in evangelistic encounters, but I think the context demonstrates this is not an appropriate use of Revelation 3:20. Jesus is addressing a church, not unbelievers, albeit a church that has been ignoring him, thinking they can go it alone. The Lord wants them to hear him and invite him to the supper table (like the beloved knocking on the bride’s bedroom door in Song of Songs 5:2), possibly a reference to the Lord’s Supper, symbolizing that restoration of the church to close fellowship with her Lord.

As with the other letters, Jesus closes with a promise to the “overcomer”: to share Christ’s throne. Verses 20 and 21 seem to echo Jesus’ teaching in Luke 22:28-30 where he promises those who stay with him a place in his kingdom, a place at the table in his kingdom, and a place on his throne, sitting in judgment. Is this promise something fulfilled at physical death or at the Second Coming? Arguments might be made for both, but that’s not really the point. The promise is more important than the timing as far as the Laodicean church is concerned. Following Christ’s counsel might well be socially ruinous for them. By rejecting the world’s prosperity in favor of honoring Christ, they could lose not only financial support, but also their standing in the community, and all the other benefits they had gained through compromise. This promise reminds them, however, that for all they might lose, what they will gain is far more than they could ever imagine.

Next time, we’ll review the seven letters and perhaps start chapter 4!

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Flash Fiction Friday

Parts of the US are currently experiencing some extremely cold temperatures that certain weather people refer to as a “Polar Abyss.” I think they name it after the trough in the system that’s allowing cold air from Canada to drop south.

Anyway, taking the phrase “Polar Abyss” as my inspiration, I came up with the following 319-word scene:

I thought I was prepared, but nothing could have prepared me for this. The snow crunched under my boots leaving deep footprints. My nose felt raw and the layers of clothing under my polar parka didn’t stop me shivering in the minus 40 degree temperature.

As I crested the hill, I made out the shape of a man in the distance, his dark clothes a vivid contrast against the empty sky and stark white landscape. While he was still a little way off, I heard his voice, muffled slightly by my hood.

“Stop there, Jackson!” he said, his arm raised. Though I couldn’t see clearly, I was under no illusion what was in his hand.

“What now?” I called back.

“A new mission.”

“But the last—?”

“Peterson finished where you left off.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just take ten paces forward.”

I hesitated, then obeyed. The man counted each step, then shouted “stop.” I’m glad he did. Just ahead was a gash in the snow that stretched both ways as far as I could see, and yawned about ten feet wide.

“I don’t understand,” I said to the man. He laughed.

“I call it ‘The Polar Abyss’,” the man said. “On the count of five, you will jump it.”

I started to object, but his gun was still aimed at my chest. On a good day, without all this heavy clothing, I could probably make it. But with my muscles seizing up and carrying this extra load, I had serious doubts.

“Abyss?”

“Yes,” he said. “No-one knows how far down it goes, or what’s at the bottom.”

“But—why?”

“To prove yourself worthy again. On the count of five…”

My heart pounded in my ears.

“One!”

Concentrate. Focus.

“Two!”

I backed up a few steps.

“Three!”

I visualized reaching the other side.

“Four!”

Don’t think about the abyss. Don’t think about the abyss.

“Five!”

I ran. I jumped…

Who Review: Death in Heaven

DoctorWho_DeathInHeaven_smThe Master falls into UNIT hands, and the Doctor wants answers. Why are there Cybermen in the streets of every town in the world? And what’s the Nethersphere? Meanwhile in the Nethersphere, Danny discovers there’s more to the afterlife than he bargained. Indeed, he’s going back to Earth. Same software, but different hardware. An upgrade, you might say. Clara has a near run-in with the Cybermen but is rescued by one that seems to want to keep her alive. But as the Master’s plan unfolds, the Doctor realizes the threat is even greater than he imagined. The dead are rising, upgraded, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop 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!

I have mixed feelings about the finale. The Cybermen returning was interesting, but they’re not the menace they used to be. I don’t know what it is, but there’s not the same sense of dread with the new Cybermen as there was with the old. Maybe its the design? The voice? Or just the stories…? And in this episode, they were completely upstaged by the return of the Master. And the fact the Master chose to use Cybermen for his plan–why? He’s never used them before, and the closest thing he ever came to an alliance with the Cybermen was back in “The Five Doctors.” It all comes across to me as if Moffat wanted to bring back the Cybermen and the Master so he wrote a story for them.

I liked the nod to the Brigadier, though I’m not sure his memory is well-served by the fact he ended up a Cyberman (albeit with black “leader” bars on his helmet–did you notice that? I didn’t at first, but a sharp-eyed friend pointed that out to me).

And we say goodbye to Clara… or do we? I’ve read she’ll be in the Christmas episode. We’ll see, I suppose. As you can guess, with Danny gone I’d like for Clara to make up her mind: is she on the TARDIS crew, or is she going back to life as “normal”–whatever that could be for her?

We also appear to say goodbye to the Master. Or do we? We know the Doctor’s arch enemy has a canny knack of coming back from the dead. But I think Moffat gave him an “out” in this story–at least if my memory serves. As far as I can remember, we saw Danny, Seb, and all those who died in the Nethersphere. The Doctor and Clara never met Seb and never entered the Nethersphere. But the Master did. Assuming I’m not mis-remembering, how was the Master able to be in the Nethersphere? Was this some kind of mental trick that allowed him to be among the dead, or was it his physical existence that was an illusion of some kind? One question I keep hearing is, “How did the Master escape the events of ‘The End of Time’?” As Moff correctly observes, Classic Who was never big on trying to explain how the Master “escaped” each brush with death, so it’s a question that he doesn’t feel like he needs to answer. But maybe he built the answer into this story–he didn’t escape. He’s dead… but sustaining an existence via the Nethersphere. This would mean that Missy isn’t a regeneration, but a stolen body…

One final quibble I have with the story: the way the whole concept of an afterlife, as believed in by millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims (to name but some) is written off as simply part of the Master’s evil scheme to harvest the souls of the dead. My objection is not just because, as a Christian, I take exception to Moffat using the show to patronize my faith. Knowing where Moffat’s coming from philosophically, I can dismiss his musings as part of the Doctor Who fantasy. But there’s the rub: all of a sudden, the fantasy overtakes the drama, and some of the magic of Doctor Who goes with it. The Doctor’s concern with Americans coming in and “praying” also shows an antagonism toward religious faith (and Americans) that is very uncharacteristic of the show, and pulls me out of the story. And as every novelist knows, the last thing you want to do is to remind your audience that this is just a piece of fiction.

To end on a positive, this was a good season. Peter Capaldi demonstrated himself to be a worthy successor, and the performances from everyone were superb. Some stories were better than others, and some concepts were a bit head-scratchy, but on the whole the quality of the story-telling was high. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be back for Christmas, and Season Nine.

That’s enough of my thoughts. What did you think? Love it? Hate it? Meh? The end of Clara’s time? The end of the Master? Share your thoughts!

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 3:14-16

14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “Thus saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning [source] of God’s creation: 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot. 16 Since in this way you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.”

This is the seventh and last of the letters from Christ to seven churches in Asia Minor (via the angel-representatives of those churches). The city of Laodicea was on a plateau in the Lycus River valley on a prominent trade route, south of Hierapolis and west of Colossae, well inland. It was a prosperous city and became a major urban center by the second century AD. Like Philadelphia, Laodicea suffered its share of devastating earthquakes. However, the city was so wealthy that when an earthquake hit in AD 60, they refused imperial assistance, instead rebuilding from their own coffers. [We note in passing that if Laodicea was hit leveled by an earthquake in AD 60, this would argue against a Neronian date for Revelation.] Laodicea was also famous for its garment trade, particularly its exports of black wool garments. However, despite the city’s prosperity, their water supply left much to be desired. There was an aqueduct that carried hot mineral water from Hierapolis that was fresh and cool by the time it reached Colossae. Laodicea was in the middle of this supply, so the water the Laodiceans got was hard and tepid. Barely potable.

The church in Laodicea was connected with the church in Colossae. Paul’s letter to Colossae references the Laodiceans five times, and toward the end the Apostle instructs the Colossians to pass that letter on to the Laodicean church. There was also a large and wealthy Jewish community in Laodicea, evidenced by the large quantity of gold they used to send to Jerusalem up to around 62 BC when the Romans took control of the city and their contributions.

In summary, Laodicea was a prosperous pagan city with lots of money and a healthy garment trade, but a lousy water supply.

As with the other six letters, Jesus introduces himself at the beginning. Unlike the other six letters, he doesn’t use language pulled from the first chapter of the book. While “true and faithful witness” may be an allusion to 1:5 (“the witness, the faithful…”), and “the beginning of God’s creation” relates somewhat to “firstborn of the dead” in that same verse, there isn’t any direct correlation between 3:14 and anything in chapter 1. This clues us in from the get-go that something’s a bit different with this letter. The Lord doesn’t treat his church in the same way in every instance. He knows our situations, and His word speaks to us accordingly.

There may well be a couple of Old Testament passages in the back of these titles Jesus uses. In Isaiah 65:15-16, God pronounces judgment on the nations, but blessings for His people. He is the “God of truth”–He is reliable and doesn’t change. The Lord will do what He said He will do. Also, Isaiah 43:10-12, where God calls Israel to bear witness to His faithfulness. God is the ultimate faithful witness. In the same way, Jesus is true and faithful. He faithfully bore witness to the work of the Father, both in his earthly life and in the present. [Note: if God is “true” and “faithful,” then Jesus is ascribing to himself terms reserved for God.]

Jesus is also the “beginning” or “source” [Greek: archê] of God’s creation. This isn’t so much speaking of Jesus’ preeminence over all creation, but of his role as the one who inaugurates the new creation by his death and resurrection (see again Isaiah 66, and also Colossians 1:15-18). The work of redemption starts with us being made “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), but will continue through to the renewal of all creation–something we’ll get to at the end of Revelation!

Why does Jesus present himself like this to the Laodiceans? He is offering himself to them as the exemplar of what they ought to be: true and faithful witnesses. It’s clear the Laodiceans have failed in this regard. Jesus didn’t sit on the fence, and he wasn’t afraid to proclaim the gospel, even at the expense of his own life. Will the Laodiceans stand up and count themselves among Christ’s new creation, and be a part of the Kingdom he has established? Will they submit to him as their ruler (1:5) or will they be ruled by the powers and authorities of the world? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that the church in Laodicea faced the same kinds of social and political pressures as the other churches: an accusing synagogue, a pagan culture that demanded their conformity, and trade guilds that threatened to restrict their ability to make money and provide for their families if they didn’t participate in the worship and rituals of the guilds. Jesus challenges the Laodiceans to be faithful and true witnesses, not bending to the world for the sake of “peace,” and preaching a “gospel” where God is love and isn’t concerned about sin and obedience. Jesus’ gospel proclamation got him nailed to a cross. He wasn’t afraid to be faithful and true.

According to the pattern of the previous letters, verse 15 is where we would expect the Lord to mention positive things about the church. “I know your works…” followed by something about their love for one another, or their hatred of certain heresies. In all of the six previous epistles, Jesus has commended the churches for something. Here, however, there is nothing of the sort. Laodicea is the only church of the seven which is condemned as a whole by the Lord; there’s not even a good faction within the church!

Jesus says that this church is “neither cold nor hot” and he wishes they were either one or the other. A common interpretation of this is that “hot” and “cold” represents two extremes of a spectrum where “hot” is zealous and on-fire for the Lord, and “cold” is hard and uninterested. But why would Jesus desire any Christian, let alone any church, to be “cold” in this way? He chastised the Ephesians for losing their “first love,” so why would he prefer that for the Laodiceans? In fact, the terms cold [Greek: psuchros] and hot [Greek: zestos] are positive extremes. Remember what we said before about the water supply in Laodicea? The hot water of Hierapolis was know for its medicinal properties. Indeed, I’m sure we can all attest to the soothing power of hot water. On the other extreme, the cold water of Colossae was refreshing, and good to drink. The water in Laodicea, however, was tepid and unsuitable for anything. Indeed, it was bad enough that it could easily induce nausea. Many in the US can relate to this. Americans like their coffee hot, and they like their water with ice cubes. Most would turn their nose up at a glass of warm tap water.

Like the local water, the Laodiceans are lukewarm, or tepid [Greek: chlairos] and they make the Lord sick. He says he is about to spew them, or vomit them out of his mouth. Some translations may prefer to say “spit,” and while that is a legitimate translation of the verb emeô, that’s not the primary meaning of the word. Given the context, the translation “vomit” is not only more graphic, but more accurate. [Note: there is another Greek verb, ptuô, that primarily means “to spit.”] In what way were the Laodiceans “lukewarm”? I think the major clue is the way Christ described himself in verse 14: the Laodiceans have failed in their witness for Christ. The Ephesian church was hauled over the coals for being strong on doctrine but weak in their testimony–indeed, Christ threatened to remove their lampstand (i.e., his presence) as a result. For many of these churches, and especially for this church, compromise had effectively stifled or shut down completely their gospel witness. They have conceded so much to the world around them, they have nothing to offer. Many liberal churches in our day are afflicted with the same problem. In their desire to court favor with the world and not come across as so “offensive” and “exclusive” they have abandoned the very reason why they exist: to be salt and light in a dark and tasteless world.

We ran out of time, so we’ll pick up at verse 17 next time.

Flash Fiction Friday

Happy Friday, everyone! Here’s some flash fiction for you. Just 200 words. I hope you enjoy!

Lines. Some curved, some straight. Some intersecting, some standing alone. Polly squinted her eyes and thought hard. These lines make sense, she knew they must. Big sister Jo used to sit with her and help her decipher the lines and curves. Her heart lifted as she thought of the black marks on the pages and Jo’s voice. Cat. Hat. Pop. Top.

Happy memories.

Something about the first shape seemed familiar. It looked like a half-moon. Jo said this shape could be soft like a slither, or hard like a club. Which was this? Perhaps the next shape would help. It looked like a snake’s tongue, so maybe the first shape was a slither. But what sound did this next one make?

Polly’s eyelids brimmed with tears of frustration, but she swiped them away with her dirty sleeve. There was no alternative; she had to get this right. The bottle of clear liquid could be anything. The shapes on the label could be the difference between life and death. And no-one was coming to help her. Not since the war that left her alone in her broken city. The war that left a seven year old girl to fend for herself.

 

Who Review: Dark Water

DoctorWho_DarkWater_smA car accident claims the life of Danny Pink. Distraught, Clara first asks the Doctor to take her to visit a volcano, and then to take her back in time to save Danny. The Doctor refuses since this would create a paradox, but Clara doesn’t give up. She finds all seven of the TARDIS keys and threatens to throw them all into the volcano unless the Doctor saves Danny. The Doctor refuses, and Clara throws in the last key… only to find that the Doctor has tricked her. They are not at the edge of a volcano and the TARDIS keys are on the floor of the ship. She has been in a trance so the Doctor could observe how far she would go to get Danny. Despite her betrayal, the Doctor offers to take her to find Danny. He has always wondered if there is an afterlife, and this would be a great opportunity to find out. The Doctor plugs Clara into the TARDIS’ telepathic interface, tells her to think about Danny, and to the Doctor’s surprise, the TARDIS sets off. The place they end up is, however, not at all what either of them expected. Something’s not right in Paradise–something that threatens humanity. And the person in charge is not all she seems to be, either!

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!

As I’ve mentioned before, I get a little nervous when Doctor Who appears to tackle topics that could be controversial. But thankfully, it turns out “Paradise” is not at all the afterlife, at least not as Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others might conceive of it. Indeed, this is all a plot to harvest the souls of the dead and transplant them (minus emotions) into “new” bodies. Of course, these bodies are not new to us–they’re cybermen! That aspect of the story was a mild surprise. The promotional pictures (and last week’s trailer) already told us the cybermen would be in the finale, so we figured they’d play a part somewhere. The big surprise–at least to many–was the identity of Missy. Speculation has been rife for over two months as to who this woman is. All is now revealed: Missy is short for Mistress… or The Master, regenerated in female form!

I say this was a surprise to many, but I have to say, I kinda called this one. Not here, I don’t think, but on a Doctor Who blog back in August (see HERE–scroll down to see my comment). With all the fuss over whether the Doctor would regenerate into a woman, I could just imagine Steven Moffat thinking that no-0ne would suspect a female Master. It sounds so preposterous, few would entertain the idea. Which is why I thought that’s what Moff might do. As I mentioned last time, Michelle Gomez’ performance in the trailer did sound a little Rani-ish. But watching her last night, you could see the John-Simm-Master’s mania in the things she says and does: Telling her doctor to “Say something nice!” before killing him. Snogging the Doctor saying it’s part of the “welcome package.” All very 2008/2009 Master.

I’m not sure about other Whovians, but I’m totally on-board with this female Master. The fact that a Time Lord can regenerate into a different gender has often been talked about without objection, but this is the first on-screen evidence of the fact with a known Time Lord. And, as I said, Michelle Gomez did an excellent job conveying enough of the old Master so we’re on somewhat familiar ground, but also giving him her own “Missy” twist.

As for the rest of the episode, I enjoyed it. Clara’s reaction to Danny’s death was, I think, exactly what I would expect. Of course she would call the Doctor. Of course she would want to save the man she loves. The fact that he was on the phone with her at the time of the accident ramped up the heartbreak, too. I’m not sure what this does for my “something’s up with Danny” theory, but this was good storytelling. In the world of Doctor Who, what better, and more believable, way would there be to get us into “Paradise” than trying to find Clara’s dead boyfriend? (I don’t know if Moff intended it or not, but this seems to play a bit on the story of Aeneas visiting his dead father in the underworld; but I don’t think there were any cybermen in Virgil’s story.)

Once the Doctor and Clara arrived in “Paradise” the action slowed down and a lot of the time was spent exploring this world, finding out what’s going on. Some may complain about this, but we need to remember this is the first of a two-part story. One of the advantages of two-parters is you get to do a bit more world building and character development. I expect we’ll see much more action in the next part.

Again, great performances all around. The effects were good, and this was another good Steven Moffat story with lots of drama, tension, and humor (e.g., the Doctor not understanding why anyone would want to use “dark water” in a swimming pool).

I’ve just scratched the surface here and I’m sure there’s a lot more to talk about. What are your thoughts? What did you like? What did you not like? How do you feel about a female Master? Please comment!

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 3:12-13

12 “The one who overcomes I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God and he will never go outside, moreover I will write upon him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God–the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God, and my new name. 13 The one who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

As you can see, we didn’t make it further than the end of the letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. But that’s okay because we had some good discussion, and there were things in these verses worth getting into.

We started with a brief recap of verse 11 to remind us of Jesus’ exhortation to the church. If you recall, this is one of only two churches out of the seven that receive Christ’s unqualified commendation. There isn’t anything he has against these believers, which is significant since they are a small, “weak” church, being persecuted and pressured by society to conform and compromise. Despite this, they are bearing faithful testimony to the Lord and proclaiming the gospel even at the expense of their own comfort, and possibly their lives. Jesus tells them that he is coming “soon” or “quickly.” I don’t think he’s setting out a timetable for his return, but rather encouraging them that the time is short. This may refer to their earthly life, or it may refer to the Second Coming–either way, they just need to hold on to what they have. This situation is not forever, and Christ’s return is sooner now than it was back when Daniel and Ezekiel gave the prophecies of which Revelation is, at least to some extent, a fulfillment. We also talked a little more about what it means for the “crown” to be removed, and the fact that Jesus’ words imply that they already have that crown. How much would our lives be revolutionized if we understood that we don’t try to honor God to earn the crown, but we live our lives with their cycles of sin and repentance and success and failure while wearing the victor’s crown bought for us on Calvary. All our efforts are not to gain what we don’t have, but to glorify the one through whom we have what we could never earn.

We come now to the promise for the one who overcomes (i.e., the believer, the one who endures to the end). We could summarize the promise by saying that they will be in the presence of God for all eternity, but that just scratches the surface of what Jesus says to this struggling band of Christians (and to us). There are three parts to the promise:

  1. They will be made a pillar in God’s temple
  2. They will never leave that temple
  3. They will be inscribed with the name of God, the name of God’s city, and Christ’s “new name”

When we think of a pillar, we think of something that holds up a structure. Sometimes pillars can be ornamental, but often they are used to support roofs or ceilings, and to keep walls in place. In Galatians 2:9, Paul refers to the leaders of the Jerusalem church as “pillars,” and in 1 Timothy 3:15 he calls the church “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” We also think of great leaders in the church past and present (e.g., Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, R. C. Sproul, Tim Keller) as “pillars of the church.” These are men that have exemplified for us the Christian life, and taught us important truths from Scripture. They have been used of God within the church to glorify God and edify the saints, and because of this we consider them a significant part of the church. Here, Christ is saying that the Philadelphian believers–and by implication all believers–are pillars of God’s temple. We are not just for show, but we are integral to the structure of God’s temple. This is metaphorical language (Jesus isn’t saying God has a physical temple in heaven) to show how important we are to the Kingdom of God, even though we may seem small and insignificant. To the God who called us and redeemed us, we are each a vital part of His work, and His worship (which is, after all, the original purpose of a temple).

The promise that they will never go outside seems a bit odd. The Greek is very emphatic: “and outside you will never go outside” as if going outside is something you would never want to do. This may seem like entrapment, but is in, in fact, a great blessing. Christians should never want to be outside of God’s temple, especially since that temple signifies the very presence of God. The believer’s residence is with God for all eternity, and no believer will ever be cast out from God’s presence. It’s possible there’s an allusion here to the “court of the Gentiles” or the “outer court” in Revelation 11:2. This is the place where the unbelievers are, those rejected by God. That is no place for one of God’s own.

Finally we have the various inscriptions. In Revelation 14:1, the name of the Father and the name of the Lamb appear together, so these can be seen as two aspects of the same name, and their meaning here is the same: the believer is claimed by God. We have the name of the Father and the Son upon us, and we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. Again, Jesus’ words are intended to give comfort and encouragement to this struggling church. They are also residents, citizens of God’s city, their eternal, imperishable home (unlike the earthquake-prone city of Philadelphia). Revelation 21 describes the holy city (particularly vv. 2-3 and 22-27) in ways that echo what we read here, which suggests that 3:12 is a foreshadowing of chapter 12. I think these letters serve as a kind of summation of what we’ll see in the rest of Revelation, so this isn’t surprising. The New Jerusalem coming down from God symbolizes the presence of God with His people. Unlike Jerusalem of old, this is not a physical city, but it is the fulfillment of what the physical “city of David” represented. Ezekiel 48:35 names the city of New Jerusalem as “the Lord is there.” It’s also interesting to note that Philadelphia was re-named twice: once after the AD 17 earthquake when it was called “Neo Kaisareia,” and again during the reign of Vespasian when it was given his family name, “Flavia.” So this idea of being given a “new name” was not a novel concept to the Philadelphians.

This picture of God’s temple and the New Jerusalem would be meaningful to a church located in a city that seems to be in a state of constant construction. Unlike the stone edifices honoring mortal men, the redeemed will have open door access to the presence of God. Not only are believers residents of God’s city, but they are stamped with the Lord’s name claiming them as His own, and made an integral part of the temple, the worship center of the Lord.

“The one who has an ear let him hear…” This promise would mean a lot to the church in Philadelphia at that time, but it is also true for all Christians everywhere: in the US, in the UK, in Europe, in Iraq, in China, and throughout the world.

Next time: The letter to the church in Laodicea.

My First Flash! Friday Story

 

OK, I know it’s Monday… let me explain. There’s this blog called Flash! Friday that has been around for a while, but I only just recently stumbled upon it. Some of you may already know of it. For those that don’t, this site is all about flash fiction. Every Friday they post a prompt and challenge readers to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by the prompt (with an additional “Dragon’s Bidding” challenge). The word limit is 150 (with an additional 10 words permitted if necessary). Participants post their stories in the comments on Friday, people comment over the weekend, and then a winner is announced on Monday. Now, as with all such contests, I put my best foot forward but I don’t enter to win–I relish the challenge. So as of writing, I have no idea how well I did, but I was quite pleased with my entry, so I thought I would share it with you, my blog readers.

Without any further ado, therefore, here is my first, untitled, entry for Flash! Friday. The prompt was the following picture:

And the “Dragon’s Bidding” was to include a monk.

I wrote:

“Are you sure about this?” said Kate, gripping Luther’s hand. “What about the radiation?”

“That sign’s just to keep people out.”

“How do you know?”

Luther shifted his feet and let his gaze wander to the sun-crusted desert horizon.

“Luth?”

“The Monk,” he said with a sigh.

“You mean, I blew off the movies with Becka to follow some wack-job blogger’s theory?” Kate threw his hand and turned to leave.

“No, it’s for real. I’ll show you!”

“You go on,” she said. “I’ll wait in the car.”

Luther watched her stomp to his Dad’s red pickup.

The idea of aliens hiding in an old wooden shack sounded stupid. But The Monk used to live in the monastery across the valley. He saw things.

Luther heard the sound of the car radio blaring and sighed. Only one way to settle this. He opened the shack door.

Kate never saw the white flash. Never heard the scream. Never saw Luther again.

 

Go HERE to see the original Flash! Friday entry page. And check out Flash! Friday this coming Friday if you’d like to give it a try!

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