Book Review: Slavery And The Making Of America

Slavery And The Making Of America, by James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton

In reading a book like this, one has to be aware of the fact that the authors almost always bring some sort of biased perspective into what they are writing. Admittedly, this book is far better than some of the screeds I have written on the subject, but even here, there are at least a few ways that the authors try to avoid the obvious implications of the reality that Europeans were a peripheral player in the African slave trade and were highly dependent on local sourcing of slaves. The authors note that this was an immensely traumatic experience, but they are quick to blame the Europeans for their insatiable desire for unpaid labor and try very hard to avoid placing proper responsibility on the African themselves, including trying to deny the parallels that existed between slavery in Africa and slavery under European and American rule. One can sense in this book that the authors are struggling with the implications of historical truth regarding slavery and seek to slant the balance against whites and in favor of blacks–and this is certainly true as well when the authors celebrate black pride but are awkwardly silent about white pride. If this book is better than the average of its kind, it still falls short of genuine justice.

This book is between 200 and 250 pages long, and the pages are large ones, of close to 8 1/2″ x 11″ size. The book is then divided into six chapters. After an introduction, the first chapter discusses the African roots of colonial America (1) by looking at the African society that slaves left behind and that influenced a great deal of American culture, if in indirect and often unacknowledged ways. After that the authors talk about slavery from the American Revolution to the Cotton Kingdom, discussing how while slavery slowly was legislated out of existence in the North, that it became even more entrenched in the south thanks to the accident of the cotton gin (2). After that comes a look at Western Expansion, including the expansion of slavery and the movement of many slaves (and masters), as well as resistance (3). This is followed, unsurprisingly, by a chapter on slave resistance (4), which took place in many forms, again, not all of which were recognized at the time or for long afterward. After this comes a look at the hard-won freedom of blacks during the Civil War (5), in ways that were often forced on unwilling Americans. The book then concludes with a chapter on a discussion of the creation of freedom during and after the war (6), after which there are notes, a chronology, suggestions for further reading, and an index.

Still, if one is going to look at a book that discusses slavery and the making of America, this book does offer at least some valuable entrances into that question. Slavery’s importance in American history is subtle and complex, and far more wide-reaching than is often viewed to be the case. In many ways, the existence of slavery sensitized Americans to issues of liberty. Perhaps without the experience of seeing the freedom denied to people on account of their status colonial Americans would have been less sensitive to the sort of denial of their freedoms that the British sought in seeking to claim an authority over them that was not limited by custom or by consent. Hypocrisy often gives a decidedly fierce edge to the desire to avoid being exploited or avoid having one’s double standards applied to oneself, and that was as true of colonial and antebellum Americans as it is to contemporary progressives. The divine fire of justice seldom rages as hot in those who have no bad faith in their own dealings with others. Those who are in fact decent and just people are far less quick to condemn others to harsh judgment, but those whose judgment against others is tinged with uncomfortable self-loathing find it easy to be intolerant and harsh towards others. This book gives some glimpse as to why that is the case.

Posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

On The Rules Of Dreamland

Shortly before waking up this morning I had a very vivid and interesting dream that involved the preparations for traveling into space and performing a couple of tasks. While I have often had very bizarre dreams over the course of my life, I have also had a great many dreams that are frustratingly mundane and that demonstrate the rather mundane nature of my own personal existence. In this particular dream, though, I thought it would be worthwhile to see how it is that my brain operated in dreams and how the rules of that dream differed greatly from the rules of normal human interaction. I am not sure at all to what extent the rules and structure of these dreams differ from other people, although I would be curious to see how it is that the rules of other’s dreamlands differ from or are similar to my own. This is not a usual sort of examination, I understand.

One of the aspects of my dreams that has often puzzled me and caused a great deal of irritation and frustration is that the primary mode of transportation in my dreams is foot travel. Even when, as was the case this morning, I dream of a particular context that involves some other form of transportation, the dream itself contains people walking. More than that, the dreams themselves are often random walks, where my own character, as it were, tends to remain within a fairly constrained set of paths even if there is a goal to travel at some kind of long distance. For the most part, at least, I do not dream of traveling by planes, boats, cars, or other vehicles, unless that mode of transportation is itself the setting of the dream. I find it odd that in my dreams people do not get in a car and drive the way I do often in reality to go somewhere, but rather walk, and not often in a sensible fashion. In fact, the vast majority of the dreams I remember involve interpersonal situations where people are walking and talking. This is not the most riveting of content, but so it is.

The talking is also of interest here. One of the things that strikes me about my dreams is that the conversations are all face to face conversations. In fact, they seem to mirror the conventions of cartoons, where people who are talking by phone or even by e-mail are often portrayed visually as being face to face even if they are communicating remotely. In my head, during sleepytime at least, conversation tends to be visualized as face to face, even if that makes no logical sense given the distance people are apart from each other. The fact that these conversations are visualized as face to face does not minimize the quirky way the conversations tend to go. Some of the conversations, to be sure, are mundane. But a great many of them are quite frustrating in that people walk in different random paths while trying to maintain in contact and where one random path makes it impossible to meet up where someone else is.

And all of that leads up to one of the more interesting dream rules, and that is the sort of feeling of vague unease that tends to fill many of my dreams. Even when the conversations are themselves filled with sensible statements, there is a sense of frustration about them. For example, one of the aspects of the dream I had this morning which stuck out the most to me was that there were plenty of conversations that I had but there was not a congruence between the conversation and action. In one of the interactions there was a question from one person to another about where one had lunch, but the parties spent the time eating alone before that and walking alone until they happened to meet. The conversation itself indicated friendship, but the actions in the dream spoke of solitude and isolation. And that was a structure of the whole dream. There were conversations about what was going to be done in space, and for what reasons, but the setting of the dream was itself a rather lonely affair, whether my character was in space or being solitary in the crowd of imagined humanity all around. Dream imitates life, I suppose, in at least some ways.

Posted in Musings | Tagged | 2 Comments

Jesus Christ, The Temple, And Passover

[Note: This is the prepared text for a Bible study given to the Portland UCG congregation on Wednesday, February 24, 2021.]

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the temple for the ministry of Jesus Christ as well as for the fate of the early Church of God. It is hard for us to understand how this is the case looking back from nearly 2000 years of history in which there has not been a temple to God in Jerusalem. The Temple was the place where believers gathered three seasons a year for the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Feast of Tabernacles, and it is unsurprising that Jesus Christ should be found to have been in the Temple at all of these places. Even though Jesus’ ministry was mostly based in the area in and around the Sea of Galilee in the northern part of what is now part of the nation of Israel, a substantial portion of the Gospels discusses those occasions where Jesus Christ along with others was present and active within the Temple grounds. The study of Jesus’ actions in the temple and of the relevance of the temple to the early Church of God, and its lessons for us, is a message far beyond the scope of a single Bible study like this one. It is sufficient for today to discuss the relationship between Jesus Christ, the Temple, and Passover, and that we will do.

In discussing this relationship, I think it is important to note at the beginning the scope of this particular discussion. Our main focus today will be on those incidents in the Bible that take place at or around the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread at the Temple during Jesus Christ’s earthly life. It should be noted that this does not even come close to exhausting the many places in the Gospels and in Acts, and elsewhere, where the temple serves as an important context in Jesus Christ’s life and mission. Especially as we reach the end of this study and look at the death of Jesus Christ as our Passover sacrifice, the fact that the temple was the central place of worship where God had set His name is something that will become increasingly important in understanding what Jesus Christ did when He allowed Himself to be put to death despite having no fault to pay the price for our sins.

The first occasion in the Bible that shows Jesus Christ in the temple during the springtime of the year is an incident that occurred when Jesus Christ was twelve years. I have spoken about this particular incident and its relevance before [1], but not to this congregation, and so it is worth discussing this incident and its timing and significance. In understanding the relevance of the temple to this story, it is worthwhile for us to place ourselves in the perspective of the various people involved, namely Jesus Christ, the priests at the temple, and Mary and Joseph, all of whom had very different ideas of what this particular incident meant. We read of this particular incident in Luke 2:41-52. Luke 2:41-52 reads: “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.  And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.  When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.  So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.  Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.  So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”  But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

Let’s start examining this story from the point of view of Jesus’ parents. After the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, they expected to meet up with their preteen son, who they supposed to be in the party of friends, relatives, and neighbors who were returning to Galilee. However, they did not find Him among their party after it had went a day’s journey. They did not, of course, see Him upon making the second day’s journey back to Jerusalem, and it was not until after he had been missing for three days when they saw Him in the temple sitting among the teachers asking questions and listening to them. Anyone who is a parent, or who can imagine how a parent would feel could see that having lost their son for three days would be a terribly anxious experience for Mary and Joseph. We might well imagine that Jesus Christ was a good kid, more or less, not prone to try to run away from home, and while they were no doubt relieved to find him entirely safe and sound, their relief was quickly replaced with puzzlement when He talked about being about His Father’s business, something they did not understand at all, before He returned home with them and was subject to their authority.

We may next look at this particular incident through the eyes of the teachers and leaders of Judah at the temple. If you have ever had the experience teaching young people about the Bible, you may well understand how enjoyable it is to sit with a serious-minded young person and talk about various matters of faith and doctrine and practice to someone who really gets it and who is knowledgeable far beyond their years, as was definitely the case with Jesus Christ. It is easy to imagine how hours and days could go by of teaching and instruction where these teachers were extremely impressed with Jesus Christ and found Him to be a very precocious and smart young whipper-snapper, and one sees no difficulty in these learned and wise men opening up their houses for Him so that He could spend the night and sharing meals with him as the conversation went on and on long into the night, as tends to happen when people talk with each other in deep conversations about spiritual matters.

Jesus’ perspective is the most complex of them all. I do not know how many of you are familiar with the television show Undercover Boss, but it is a series that has run for more than a decade and the premise of the show is that an executive takes a low-paying job within his or her own company to see how it is that the company operates. The entirety of Jesus’ life on earth can be considered to be an extended and the most extreme version possible of Undercover Boss where the Creator and Lord of all Creation stepped away from the kingdom of heaven for a period of more than thirty years to come as a servant of no reputation to see how things were going on among His people on earth. While the teachers appear to have been very impressed with Jesus Christ, we can infer from this passage and its context in the Bible that He was not nearly as impressed with them. As it happens, the age of responsibility, when people could be punished as an adult within Jewish society, occurred at the age of thirteen for boys and at the age of puberty for girls, often assumed at the time to be the age of twelve, and so Jesus’ trip to the temple to test out the leadership of the Jews occurred just before the time when Jesus could be held responsible for some of his statements. His insight and wisdom about the state of the religious establishment of the time can be measured by the fact that this story of Jesus Christ at the temple at the time of the Spring Holy Days is the only story about Jesus that we have in the Bible between his early childhood and the age of thirty. For the next seventeen and a half years after this visit to the temple and these several days of serious and probing conversations about religious matters, the Bible is entirely silent about Jesus Christ and his conduct except to say that He grew in stature with both God and men during this time. In fact, this silence has been so troubling that there are stories of Jesus spending years entirely away from Judah in the remote tin mines of Cornwall, the better to stay alive and stay out of trouble with the corrupt Jewish establishment until Jesus came of age and could begin His ministry at the age of 30.

The second biblical incidents related to the Passover and the temple is the story of the cleansing of the temple told in all four Gospels. The way that the story is told and the placement of that story within the Gospel of John suggest that there may be two such events that occurred one at the beginning and one at the end of Jesus public ministry. Let us therefore turn our attention to John 2:13-25. This is the second half of the chapter of John 2, and it gives some interesting details about what Jesus did in addition to cleansing the temple from the corrupt business that was taking place within it. John 2:13-25 reads: “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.  When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body.  Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”

We noted when we discussed the cleansing of the temple before the Passover where Jesus Christ was crucified this past Sabbath in the sermonette [2] that there were two sorts of ways that the Jewish leadership in charge of the temple behaved corruptly and turned what should have been a house of prayer for all nations into a den of thieves. The first way was that the temple refused to accept the common currency of the land and forced believers at the Temple to change their money into the Temple shekel, which was changed at an official exchange rate that profited the temple and that shortchanged the believer. The second way, which we also see here, was that the priests would not accept the animals brought by the believers to sacrifice, invariably finding some sort of blemish in them, and therefore requiring believers to purchase, at a suitably expensive markup, sacrificial animals that had been raised under the control of those same priests and thus served to profit them. Jesus, though, was having none of it. What Jesus saw in the Temple is something that is not unfamiliar to us when we look at the way that religion has been made into a big business where various churches and ministries make merchandise of the Gospel and seek to profit off of what God has freely given in scripture. And Jesus’ response is instructive to us as well, in that He made a whip of cords, overturned the table where the corrupt business was going on, and drove the various profiteers and their animals out of the temple.

It is important for us to remember that Jesus Christ had authority to act in such a way that we do not. Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, and we are not. He was the being who was worshiped and praised and prayed to in that temple, the one who the temple and all that was within it belonged to, the boss of all of the priests whose corrupt dealings brought His name and His reputation into dishonor and made it a burden for people to seek to obey God in that place. He had every right to overturn tables and drive out those who were making merchandise of His house. Zeal for His father’s house was eating Him up and it is not hard at all to understand why. This particular story is instructive in other ways, though, in that it reminds us of the pitfalls that have always threatened any institution where God seeks to bring believers together. Wherever God seeks to build up institutions to serve His people, be it the family, or ancient Israel, or civil governments in general, or the priesthood of the temple or the ministry within the Church, those institutions have always been preyed upon by those who sought to corrupt those institutions to serving their own selfish interests. Lacking a fear and respect for God and His ways or a heart of service towards His people, these men have sought to turn God’s institutions into ways for them to gratify their own selfish egos and their own greed by acquiring titles to give honor to those without honor, and a high and expensive living that they could not gain any other way through honest means. This is what was going on in the temple, and some of us have seen personally just how such a thing has happened in various churches when those who should have been serving God and His people instead have used the Church to serve themselves. It is hard to believe that God’s feelings about such matters has changed a bit from His feelings expressed here.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jesus was asked for a sign as to the nature of the authority by which He did these things, namely chasing out the corrupt moneychangers and merchandisers within His house. What He said was that He would build up the temple, namely His own body, that was destroyed within three days. The people who heard this comment misunderstood him, of course, to believe that He was speaking about the physical temple building, which would be destroyed and not only not rebuild in three days, but not rebuild for a period of more than nineteen centuries to the present day. It should be remembered, of course, that Jesus Christ spoke on numerous occasions of the three days and three nights as a sign of His authority to determine who had a legitimate place within the temple and who did not. It is worthwhile for us to remember the importance of three days and three nights to an understanding of the timing of the Passover as well as its larger relationship with matters of the Bible and judgment. Let us, for example, turn to Matthew 12:38-42. This passage is perhaps the most familiar one that gives the sign of three days and three nights, and let us note that it parallels what Jesus Christ says in John 2 as we have read above. Matthew 12:38-42 reads: “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.”

It is very telling that Jesus Christ compared Himself and His ministry to that of Jonah. While Jonah is widely viewed as a particularly disobedient prophet, Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient. While Jonah attempted to flee the opposite direction from where He was called to preach, Jesus Christ went where He was commanded even though the stress of it made him sweat blood when reflecting on what it would cost to do so. While Jonah wanted to see Nineveh destroyed and was distraught over its repentance, Jesus Christ longed for the repentance of Jerusalem and the other cities He preached in and was distressed by their persistent unwillingness to repent and avoid the judgment that was coming to them. While Jonah was sent to unbelieving Nineveh and the mighty and arrogant Assyrian empire, Jesus Christ was sent to preach to Jews who were in bondage to Rome and who viewed themselves as believing and obedient to God when they were not. In many ways, Jesus Christ and Jonah were diametrically opposed to each other as prophets, and yet there were some striking similarities as well. For one, both came from the region of Galilee. And for another, both spent three days and three nights in the depths. It is remarkable that Jesus Christ would affirm the historicity of Jonah by pointing to the same sign in His own ministry as being the way that He would demonstrate His authority over death as well as over the religious practices of His time and all time.

Before we leave the account of the cleansing of the temple, let us look again at the account in Matthew, which we read this past Sabbath, in Matthew 21:12-17. Let us bring something to attention that we did not have time to discuss previously that relates to the relationship that Jesus had with the priests. Matthew 21:12-17 reads: “Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.  But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?” Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there.”

It is important for us to remember that the chief priests and scribes were, whether they realized it or not, His servants, and their worship practices were meant to serve Him and bring glory to Him and, related to that, to serve the well-being of others. Their attitude towards the miracles of healing of the blind and of the lame should have been one of rejoicing. They should have celebrated the fact that those who were disabled were being healed. I would think that most of us would celebrate such things, for a variety of motives. And, let us not forget, Jesus Christ was one of the owners of the temple. And yet the attitude of the priests and scribes was not one of praise that healing was taking place on the temple grounds, thus bringing joy to God’s house, but rather irritation that this Jesus fellow was interfering with their turf. The religious leaders of Jesus’ time discussed here were simply unable to understand that the entire earth was God’s turf and that their purpose was to serve Him and not serve themselves, and that was a lesson that they persistently refused to learn. Let us hope that we do not find the lesson to difficult ourselves.

The third incident, or rather set of incidents, related to the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread comes during the course of the Olivet Prophecy. The Mount of Olives is just east of the Old City of Jerusalem, and if you go to this mountain you can look onto the Temple Mount just across the Kidron Valley. While on the Mount of Olives, Jesus had some pointed things to say about the view of the temple by the Jewish leadership of the time. Let us take this up in Matthew 23:16-22. In the midst of his denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus has a lot to say about how important the temple was to Him in ways that we do not often stop to consider in detail. Matthew 23:16-22 reads: ““Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’  Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’  Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?  Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it.  He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it.  And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.”

It is not immediately obvious to many readers why the Scribes and the Pharisees viewed swearing by the gold of the temple as being a more binding than swearing on the temple itself. During the time of Jesus’ ministry the Jewish community was deeply divided, as it often has been, by serious disagreements in terms of authority. The Sadducees were priestly elites in charge of the temple worship, and we have already noted their own corruption and how harshly Jesus Christ viewed this corruption. On the other side of the picture, though, the scribes and Pharisees had for centuries sought to usurp the teaching responsibilities of the priests and Levites for themselves and had sought to secularize the elaborate cleansing rituals of the temple as an ordinary way of life for those who followed their traditions. As is often the case, the Pharisee’s behavior in seeking to encourage all who followed their interpretations and traditions to think of themselves as a priesthood of all believers had the practical effect of diminishing the respect and honor that the temple and altar were held by many Jews. Jesus, though, for all of his intense criticism of the corrupt priestly elite who ruled over the temple establishment, recognized that the temple and its worship system was in place to honor Him, and he notes that those who swear by the altar swear by its sacrifices, and those who swear by the temple swear by it and by God, who dwelled in the temple. For Jesus Christ, there was no getting around the obligations of one’s oaths by making impressive sounding promises with loopholes that negated the performance of those oaths. And it is telling that He uses the temple as a way to make this point plain.

Continuing on in this passage, Jesus Christ brings up the temple again to point out an aspect of biblical history that was also a symbolic prophecy that later came to pass during the time when the temple was about to be destroyed. In Matthew 23:29-36, the temple and its history are used to give a lesson about the violent hostility of the Jewish leadership of the scribes and Pharisees to the prophetic message that He and others had brought to them. Matthew 23:29-36 reads: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.  Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.  Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?  Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

In harsh language that brings to mind John the Baptist’s calling of these same leaders by the same language, associating them with the children of serpents, thus tying them to their father Satan the Devil, Jesus Christ brings up the matter of how it was that one generation of people killed the prophets and the following generations built and adorned fancy tombs for those prophets whom their fathers had killed. This is a strange historical phenomenon, and something we see in our own time when it comes to making historical museums out of slave forts and concentration camps and other places where great violence has taken place, where we preserve the place of historical horrors and try to tell ourselves that we are somehow more moral and decent people than those generations who came before us. Jesus Christ reminded his audience that they were not more righteous than their forefathers, and that the violence that had been committed against the godly for generations would come upon the generation that listened to him and that rejected God’s authority. And so it would be, around 40 years later, when the Jews fought and killed each other over control of the Temple before the Romans destroyed the temple altogether. In light of this prophesied horror, Jesus continues this passage with a lament in verses 37 through 39: ““O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ “

Nor is this the end of Jesus’ discussion of the temple during this particular message. If we continue on to read the first two verses of Matthew 24, we will see that the temple was still on Jesus’ mind, and He still had some pointed things to say about it. Matthew 24:1-2 reads: “Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.  And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”” Here Jesus turns his pointed comments at the temple to the disciples in a way that we ought to be able to recognize for ourselves. Those of us who have traveled to other areas and countries and seen gorgeous buildings can understand the praise that the disciples gave for the beauty and the glory of Herod’s temple. Yet Jesus Christ had just mentioned what would happen to this temple, and He reminded His disciples that this beautiful building would not stand because the wickedness and corruption of those who presided over the temple had brought judgment upon what should have been a house of prayer for all peoples. What Jesus Christ prophesied came to pass, and not one stone of that temple was left to stand on top of another. It would not be for another 1900 years after the temple’s destruction for archaeologists in the big dig to clean off the area around the temple mount so that the glory of the stairwells could be seen, much less the glory of the building itself.

This is the sort of issue that it is easy for many of us to stumble in when it comes to praising the physical glory of buildings and not paying enough attention to the moral spirit of the institutions that build those buildings. There are many people today who are alive and who remember very well the glories of the Ambassador College campuses in Pasadena, Big Sandy, and Bricket Wood. A great deal of effort went into buying mansions and constructing buildings like the Ambassador Auditorium, and into choosing the materials of those buildings as the people who did so sought to glorify God in such a way as would be obvious to others. Yet when that church was led by people who paid no regard to God’s laws, those leaders did not long enjoy the glorious surroundings that they had inherited from those who came before them. As was the case with the temple, an institution that had desired to bring believers in unity with each other under the same roof and under the same authority was broken, leaving believers to be scattered to the four winds. As has repeatedly been the case throughout history, God will not allow institutions that cease to follow His ways to remain united and whole, but whether we are talking about the kingdom of Israel that had risen to glory under David and Solomon, the temple and its worship system, or the Church of God, those institutions that do not serve God and His people will be broken and the people who those institutions sought to bring under their control will be scattered until such a time as institutions can be rebuilt once again under more godly leaders.

The fourth and final set of incidents that connects Jesus Christ’s earthly life and ministry to the temple and its worship system relates to the symbolism of His death. These are passages that should be very familiar to us, but while we will recount these passages and others as we prepare for the Passover, it is worthwhile for us today to focus on those elements of the context of Jesus’ sacrifice insofar as it relates to the temple itself. And there are at least two aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion that bear on the temple and its worship. Both of these occur in Matthew 27. In Matthew 27:3-10, we see the temple as the location of a confrontation between Judas and the priestly leaders who had paid him thirty pieces of silver to betray his Lord and Master. Matthew 27:3-10 reads: “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.”  And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.  Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.””

It is difficult to do justice to the level of hypocrisy that was present among the leaders of the temple who did not believe that it was wrong to pay a man to betray him to the cruel sentence of scourging and then crucifixion but was over-scrupulous about accepting refunds for the wages of evil. Here we see yet again why it was that God did not allow the temple to remain, because the people who ruled over the temple were so bent on evil and so unable to come to grips with God’s disapproval of their corruption that they paid money from the treasury funds of the temple to pay a corrupt traitor in Judas to bring the only innocent Man who has ever lived into their grasp to be put on a series of illegal trials and put to death through political machinations and the cowardice of the Roman governor but yet could not bear to taint the gold of the temple through accepting money back that had been spent for evil purposes. Perhaps if the priests of Jesus’ time had shown as much scrupulous concern for the state of their own spiritual lives or for the judgment on Judah that came about in part because of their wickedness, much would have been different. But as is often the case, God uses the wickedness of corrupt human rulers for His own purposes, including frequently to bring those leaders and the people they lead into judgment.

It is also worthwhile to note an important aspect of symbolism relating to Jesus’ sacrifice that we understand when we combine what the scripture says with what we know from Jewish history and tradition. In Matthew 27:45-50 we see the timing of Jesus’ death and the way in which Jesus’ death in several ways mirrored the plagues that had originally troubled Egypt during the time of the Exodus. Matthew 27:45-50 reads: Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!”  Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.” Let us note, for one, that this scene reminds us of the last two plagues of Egypt, in that the period where Jesus neared death was marked by darkness like the darkness that fell over the land of Egypt when that nation was under judgment. Similarly, the tenth and final plague of Egypt took the firstborn of Egypt, whereas on the Passover of Jesus’ death God gave His firstborn Son to pay the price of sin and death for those who were called and chosen and who walked in obedience to Him.

According to the Mishnah, specifically Pesachim 5, the ninth hour when Jesus Christ gave up His spirit was precisely the time when the lambs were slaughtered for the Passover. We had a recent sermon from Mr. Reeves which discussed the way that the Jewish seder is kept at the end of the fourteenth instead of at the beginning of the fourteenth as the Bible commands, but even where people do not follow God’s instructions, as was the case here, there is still a striking symbolism to be found. While the Pharisees were preparing to celebrate the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, having sacrificed their Passover lambs a day late, the real Passover lamb was being sacrificed in Jerusalem to deliver believers from slavery to sin. It was, unfortunately, a symbolism that appeared to escape many of the people in Jerusalem at the time, but it is a symbolism that we should not fail to keep in mind ourselves.

Finally, we come to one last aspect of symbolism that has often been commented on when we come to the Passover, which we find in Matthew 27:51-53. Matthew 27:51-53 reads: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” For those who know something about the veil in the temple, it divided the holy place, where the priests ministered to God at the altar of incense and the table of showbread, and the most holy place, also known as the Holy of Holies, where the high priest alone was allowed to go once per year on the Day of Atonement after having sacrificed for the sins of himself, his family, and the people of God as a whole. The ripping of the veil from top to bottom was a demonstration that God had removed the veil of separation between God and mankind.

The consequences of this are discussed elsewhere in scripture. Perhaps most eloquently, the lack of separation between God and man and its consequences for our prayer and spiritual life is discussed in Hebrews 4:11-16. After discussing the symbolism of rest in several aspects and affirming the continuing importance of the Sabbath for believers at the beginning of the chapter, the author of Hebrews discusses the result of the lack of separation between God and man for believers in a way that mirrors both the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of intimacy with God. As it is written in Hebrews 4:11-16: “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Here we see that the tearing of the veil between God and man brings us into greater awareness of how we are to be held accountable by God for how we live. This is not always a pleasant matter, as most of us are aware of how we fall short of the divine standard of perfection in our conduct. That said, the passage ends graciously with a reminder that Jesus Christ is sympathetic towards our struggles, having been tempted as we are, without sin, and is available for us to come to Him boldly to obtain mercy and grace, which we all need in such pitiless and graceless times as our own.

It is worth noting here as well that the separation that existed between God and Israel up to the point where the veil was torn was not the choice of God. God had always desired intimacy with believers. He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve and they hid from him after having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. He spoke with Abraham face to face and considered that godly patriarch to be a friend. He wrestled with Jacob, who would not let Him go until he was given a blessing. And He delivered Israel from slavery, fed them and protected them on the long journey to Mount Sinai, and sought to bind them to him in a covenantal marriage. But Exodus 20:18-21 reminds us that Israel did not want to be close to God but wanted Moses (and the priests) to serve as intermediaries between God and themselves to separate themselves from being close to a God whom they viewed with terror. Exodus 20:18-21, right after the ten commandments are given, reads as follows: “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.  Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”  So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.” When the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom, God was telling His people that He would no longer be separate from them, but would come to have an intimate place in their lives through the giving of the Holy Spirit. Though Israel had rejected being close to Him, those who follow God would eventually be brought near to God, both to be held accountable as well as to recognize the passionate love that God has always had for His sons and daughters. But that is a story for another day.

Let us now conclude this study with a summary of what we have discussed about the relationship between Jesus Christ, the Temple, and Passover. We have seen that there are at least four incidents that connect Jesus to the temple during the time of Passover. First, we have Jesus’ undercover visit to the temple as a twelve year old to test the leaders and teachers of Jerusalem shortly before becoming an adult. After that we have the cleansing of the temple, whether there was one of them or two, where Jesus Christ threw out the corrupt merchants and moneychangers who were turning His house of prayer into a den of thieves. Third, we have the Olivet prophecy and its criticism of the way that the temple was viewed by people as being an attractive tourist spot or a place whose gold made an oath mandatory to obey. Finally, we have the corruption of the priests in their unwillingness to accept a refund on the wages of sin, the symbolism of Jesus’ sacrifice in the slaughter of the Passover lambs at the ninth hour, and the tearing of the veil of the temple to bring mankind into an intimate and personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

Throughout this entire journey, we have seen that the temple has been both the place where the worship of God took place, and thus was a place that drew Jesus Christ, His disciples, and many others into the worship system of the time. We have seen that the concentration of believers together as well as their offerings, drew the attention of corrupt authorities who sought to enrich themselves from the godly service that believers engaged in, and that this corruption and wickedness brought divine judgment and eventually the destruction of the temple. The temple thus not only symbolizes the body of Christ and the community of believers, but any institution that seeks to unify believers together under central authority. Where those institutions become corrupt, God acts to break apart that unity among the believers, as sheep naturally scatter in the absence of loving shepherds to guide them. Similarly, Jesus Christ’s role as the perfect and spotless Passover lamb meant that He would be intimately involved in the symbolism of the Passover and that the temple, as the place where God was worshipped at the time, would be an important place as a context for that symbolism. Knowing this, therefore, let us reflect on the course of our own lives, and let us examine ourselves as we approach the coming Passover, making sure that we are not filled with the self-serving and corrupt attitude that filled the leaders of Jesus’ day and that brought judgment upon themselves and the people of Judah as a whole. For, like the people of Jesus’ day, we live in a time of great corruption and evil, and the threat of judgment hangs over us just as it did them. May we be counted worthy to escape that judgment and enter safely into the kingdom of heaven as His resurrected and redeemed sons and daughters.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/01/28/jesus-the-missing-years/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2021/02/21/but-you-have-made-it-a-den-of-thieves/

Posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings, Sermonettes | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Book Review: Wilhelm Ropke

Wilhelm Ropke:  Swiss Localist, Global Economist, by John Zmirak

Recently I made a purchase of a handful of books written by an internet acquaintance of mine [1], and this was the first one of them that I got around to reading.  I must admit that while I have some interest in the Austrian School of Economics [2], that this economist is not one that I had on my radar.  I had the expectation going into the book that it would be a good one but none whatsoever about the character of the book’s subject.  I have to say I was very impressed, though, by the way that the author paints Ropke as being deeply concerned not only with the free market itself, but with the society in which that free market exists, and in the avoidance of concentration of power and wealth in too few hands.  Needless to say, while I did not go into this book knowing much about the author, I definitely have finished the book with a deep interest in knowing a lot more about what he had to say, and that is a success as far as I am concerned as a reader of economics and history.

This book is a short one at about 200 pages.  It begins with acknowledgements and abbreviations and references.  After that the author discusses Ropke as a man for the twenty-first century, showing how his anti-socialist perspective and his concern for the well-being of ordinary people make him a worthwhile economist for contemporaries to be more familiar with (1).  This leads to a discussion of how Ropke’s hostility to the Nazis led him to exile first in Turkey and then in Switzerland (2), where he gave a warning to the people of his time about the war that was coming and the dangers that were resulting from the economic problems faced during the Depression (3).  The author discusses the modern crisis of socialism in various forms as well as the tendency for that which was called capitalism to be crony capitalism with feudalistic holdovers (4).  The defeat of Germany and the enthusiasm of the German conservatives for his economic thinking allowed it to strongly influence Germany’s rise from the ashes (5), and to the establishment of an ideal for a “third way” between the pitiless extremes of many market enthusiasts on the one hand and the utter failures of leftist economics (6).  The book ends with endnotes and an index.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ropke and his world was that in the aftermath of World War I and World War II he refused to cheer on any of the sorts of socialism that were then in favor, opposing the autarchy that was common to versions of National Socialism as well as the protectionist tariffs of the Great Depression as well as the distortions to the well-being of people that came about from Socialism.  Despite being strongly anti-socialist, though, Ropke understood the need for economics to serve the well-being of ordinary people, and this in his mind meant a support for local and community institutions that were able to provide for the general welfare of people, and even the support of the establishment of specialty farming to preserve family farms as an economically competitive endeavor in the face of free global trade and the reduction of trade barriers.  The fact that Ropke’s thinking helped to inspire the West German economic “miracle” that led to German’s current strength and the resolute opposition to inflation is all the more remarkable and makes it all the more worthwhile to know about him and his influence on contemporary economics, despite his general obscurity to many people today.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/07/19/book-review-the-politically-incorrect-guide-to-catholicism/

Posted in Book Reviews, History | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: Talking With Teens About Sexuality

Talking With Teens About Sexuality, by Beth Robinson & Latayne C. Scott

[Note: This book was provided free charge by Bethany House Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

In general, I think it can be said that talking with teenagers about sexuality is awkward. A great deal about adolescence in general is awkward for teenagers and everyone who has to deal with teenagers, and sexuality is something that also tends to be awkward for everyone. And if this has always been true, and there is no reason to think otherwise, talking about sexuality from a godly perspective in the contemporary age is certainly awkward. To the authors’ credit, they do their best at making this a feasible task, but the book seems pretty awkward despite its efforts. This cannot be blamed entirely on the writers or on others who engage in the task of trying to communicate matters of truth about sexuality to young people who have a lot of what they suppose to be knowledge from all kinds of corrupt and unreliable sources, but has to do with the subject and the nature of talking about it in the first place. Insisting on a conversation creates awkwardness, especially because it is not something that comes about naturally, in the moment, where the context and the desire of people to listen and hear is at its highest.

This book is about 200 pages long. The authors begin with a discussion on getting real about the subject of sexuality (1). This is followed by a look at God’s view for sex (2), which is faithful to the biblical intent. Then the authors turn to a discussion of the developmental state of teenagers (3) as well as how teens relate to others (4). After that the authors discuss how it is that one is to talk about the subject of sex (5) as well as the issue of intimacy and boundaries (6). After that comes a discussion about understanding relationships (7) as well as the issue of sexual abuse and violence (8) as well as social media and technology (9) and how these issues affect the way that sexuality is understood and practiced by contemporary youth. After that there is a look at the dangerous effects of pornography on the mind of teen boys and girls (10), the disorienting nature of contemporary sexuality (11), and the understanding of gender issues in the contemporary world (12). The book then ends with unplanned and unexpected matters (13), the balancing act that people have to undertake when they talk about these matters (14), as well as some recommended resources and notes.

What is awkward about talking about sexuality in this book and most cases? Most of the time it is awkward because the conversation is forced on someone by someone else. Any time one wants to talk when one of the other parties does not want to participate, one is setting up awkwardness into the dynamic as a whole. Many young people think that they know things that they in fact do not know, and the fact that they think they know makes them less willing to take the counsel of those people who do know because those people are older, not very cool, and have old-fashioned ideals that are supposedly obsolete in contemporary culture. These are powerful issues, and the authors do address these issues as part of the content of the book. Yet at the same time the authors fail to understand fully how it is that these matters shape how it is that one can indeed have conversations about awkward and uncomfortable matters. How is it that one can set the proper moments as well as demonstrate oneself as an authority on subjects of importance, as well as knowing the way that people may seek knowledge.

Posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Brave

Brave: A Teen Girl’s Guide To Beating Worry And Anxiety, by Sissy Goff

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Admittedly, I am not the intended or even ideal audience to review a book like this one. In reading this book there is something about the author’s approach that bugs me a bit. And a lot of that has to do with the author’s perspective as a therapist who has perhaps a bit too much interest in personality theory and a decided fondness for the contemporary fascination with the amygdala as well as with cognitive behavioral therapy. There is a solid book and certainly very solid material at the base of this book, but its approach is highly puzzling. It does seem as if this book is written to appeal to readers who have a fondness for the language of contemporary therapy. So if that describes you, it is likely that you will have a lot to celebrate about this book. As a reader who would have preferred a more spiritual approach to the music, I have to admit I am a bit disappointed by what this author says sometimes, but I also understand that it springs from the author’s background and interests.

This book is a relatively short one at less than 200 pages. The book begins with a note to the parent who bought this book as well as an introduction to the intended teen female reader of this book and also some things to remember that are also stated as rules for reading, but not very strict rules, obviously. This is followed by three sections. The first section discusses the issue of understanding (I) with a look at words related to fear, worry, and anxiety (1), why the reader suffers from these issues (2), and how this book will help (3). This is followed by a discussion of the author’s attempts to provide help to the reader (II) in body (4), mind (5), and heart (6). After this comes the author’s attempt to give hope to the reader (III) in times of trouble (7), with advice for them to take heart (8), and points, finally, to the way that Jesus has overcome (9), after which the book ends with notes.

Nevertheless, whatever my issues with this book’s approach and its ultimate usefulness to its target audience of teen girls and their parents, there is a lot that this book has of value. A few of the lessons of this book will be particularly useful to readers who struggle with anxiety. For one, the author makes it clear that much of what brings insecurity to young people involves the rather predatory aspects of contemporary culture. To the extent that young people can recognize that we live in a self-absorbed age and not to take it personally, that will be a very good thing. To the extent that young people recognize that adults bear responsibility for their conduct with young people in ways that young people do not, that is also helpful. This book is pretty direct and uncompromising in its language about some of the things that lead teen girls to be particularly anxious, and it is unsparing on those who take advantage of vulnerability and insecurity. I do not know how helpful this book will be to its readers, but it certainly aims very hard to encourage its intended audience.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

But You Have Made It A Den Of Thieves

[Note: This is the prepared text for a sermonette given to the Portland UCG congregation on February 20, 2021.]

I would like to begin today with a thought experiment. Imagine, if you will, that you are part of a mob that stormed Capital Hill, or a government building in Portland or Seattle. Let us say that you viewed the governing authorities as being illegitimate and sought to overturn their symbols of power. What do you think the result of your behavior could be? It does not take any stretch of the imagination to recognize that for this action you could be shot or you could be arrested, and rightly so. Yet nearly 2000 years ago Jesus overturned the tables at the Temple, and he was right in so doing. This presents us with a bit of conundrum. Why is it okay that Jesus Christ overturn the tables at the temple, and why is it not okay that we should be rebellious against corrupt and wicked authorities in our own day and age. What is the difference between what Jesus Christ did in cleansing the Temple and what we do in our own anarchical and rebellious times?

The cleansing of the Temple is recorded in all of the synoptic Gospels, but I would like to begin with the account in the book of Matthew, as it gives us the most complete account of what happened as well as the context of the cleansing of the Temple and how it related to other behavior that Jesus engaged in at the Temple during the time shortly before His last Passover on earth. Let us pick up the account in Matthew 21:12-17. What we see here gives us a different picture of what the cleansing of the temple was than we might originally have in mind. Matthew 21:12-17 reads: “Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.  But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?” Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there.”

Let us also compare this with the account in Mark 11:15-19, which adds a bit of detail as well to what we have already read in Matthew 21. Mark 11:15-19 reads: “So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.  Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching.  When evening had come, He went out of the city.” Let us close the trio of scriptures with Luke 19:45-49, which is the briefest account of the three, but which also adds details that are worthwhile to keep in mind about the context of Jesus cleansing the temple. Luke 19:45-49 reads: “Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” And He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.”

Let us note at the outset that there are strong similarities between the time of Jesus Christ and our own time regarding the corruption and thievery that was going on in the Temple. There were at least two ways that the priests of the temple were turning the house of prayer for all nations into a den of thieves, and the priests themselves were the thieves. First of all, part of the theft the priests engaged in regarded the exchange of money for tithes and offerings given at the temple. While the ordinary currency of believers consisted of the regular denarii and other coins of the day, which typically contained representations of emperors who regarded themselves as divine, and occasionally other heathen deities, such money was viewed as defiling the temple, and so it was that the priests exchanged these heathen coins for the temple shekels, which had no such idolatrous imagery. This was all well and good, except that the priests tampered with the exchange rate so that they profited off of the process. In addition to this, the priests did not view the doves and lambs and goats and rams and bulls that were brought by believers as being sufficiently pure and without blemish to be offered in the Temple to God, and so they would sell to believers animals that did meet their standard of purity and which happened to come from herds and flocks that they themselves owned and controlled. And, as might easily be imagined, these sacrificial animals were sold at a considerable markup from the price of ordinary and common animals, and this also brought significant income to the priests. To put it modern language, the priests were grifters engaged in insider trading in order to profit off of their institutional power of being connected with the temple worship system. This sort of government corruption is, of course, rampant in our own country and around the world in the present evil age.

Yet despite these similarities in that the temple priests as wLetell as our own corrupt authorities, there are considerable differences between the approach of various strains of anarchists and that of Jesus. For one, the cleansing of the temple was not something that was accompanied by violent threats to the priests, however wicked and corrupt they were. Jesus did not throw molotov cocktails or wield weapons to attack the priests or their surrogates. He did overturn their tables and prevent them from selling their wares, and that was that. It should be noted as well that this was no mere one-time publicity stunt, or an act of looting and destruction. Not only did Jesus overturn the tables of corrupt moneychanging and the selling of overpriced sacrificial animals and whatever other wares were being offered in the Temple, but He also taught daily and healed the various sick believers who came to Him for healing. In short, He used the temple for its proper purposes, and that was providing godly service to believers and in accepting the praise and worship of those believers. The fact that this filled the corrupt leaders of the temple priestly establishment with indignation was merely an added bonus.

Let us also note one additional difference between Jesus Christ and ourselves that makes all the difference in the world in the legitimacy of his behavior. When we seek to overturn the corrupt dealings of authorities in our own time, we do so in rebellion against those who are in authority over us. When Jesus, in a less violent fashion, overturned the temple, He came as the authority over the priests. While our elected and appointed leaders exist to serve our well-being and our interests, however poorly they do so, they are still our authorities. The temple, though, was built to honor God, and God in the flesh was there. The tithes and offerings collected in the Temple were for Him. The songs and prayers and incense were offered up to Him. He was the authority figure come to visit how His house was being run by His servants who had been appointed by Him to serve Him and His believers. However little they recognized their boss in the flesh, He was the Lord and God of those who misappropriated the temple institutions to serve their own selfish interests, and He had every right to put them on notice that He was displeased with their corrupt and ungodly service.

At the end of the day, we are left with the realization that God can do much that we cannot simply because God is who He is and we are not, yet. God can receive worship and praise that is unrighteous to be given to mankind. He can see into the hearts and minds of people in a way that we cannot as fleshly and fallible human beings, and with that knowledge He can justly judge and punish others for their unrighteousness in a way that we cannot do with equal fairness and justice. When we seek to rebel against corrupt authorities and express our displeasure at their corruption, we are engaged in the dubious practice of rebellion in so doing. When God punishes and overturns the behavior of wicked and corrupt authorities, He does so as the ultimate authority, to whom all authorities, no matter how highly they view themselves, are accountable to. Let us therefore resolve ourselves not to take the prerogative of God to hold authorities accountable and to punish them justly for their flagrant and unrepentant corruption, and take our appeals for justice to be delivered to their proper place in the heavenly courts above. For God does not view the corruption and evil of our time any more favorably than He did in past times, and what is evil in our world will, eventually, be made right.

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Sermonettes | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Book Review: Raising Spirit-Led Kids

Raising Spirit-Led Kids: Guiding Kids to Walk Naturally In The Supernatural, by Seth Dahl

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Chosen Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book is certainly not the most obvious subject one would think about when it comes to the issue of parenting. We live in a society that is perhaps overly child-focused, but one of the areas about raising families that is not often discussed, and is even less practiced, is how it is that children can be raised with an attitude that encourages a knowledgeable walk in a spiritual manner. There are certainly aspects of this book that will strike many readers as unfamiliar–the author talks about his own religious education in ways that struck this reader at least as somewhat surprising, and as is often the case the writer referred to other writings of his that not all readers are likely to be familiar with. That said, though, that book is deeply enjoyable when one thinks about the author’s view of how it is that children can be come familiar with the supernatural, and indeed to see it as part of the created order, and even how to deal with the reality of both positive and negative spiritual influence in the lives of children.

This book is a relatively short one at a bit more than 150 pages. The book begins with acknowledgements, a foreword by Bill Johnson, and an introduction. The main contents of the book are then divided into four parts. The first part of the book looks at the way that we build a family with God (I) by looking at the house that God builds (1), the way that children should go (2), and the importance of staying a novice–staying humble (3). After that comes a discussion of what it means to be a Spirit-guided parent (II), with chapters on raising godly sons and daughters (4), dreaming with God (5), and helping equip children to tackle spiritual warfare (6). There is then a discussion, unsurprisingly, of Spirit-filled children (III), with a discussion of how children learn God’s way (7), see the spiritual side of life (8), how we exercise our senses (9), how the word becomes flesh (10), and how children are with Jesus Christ (11). The fourth and final part of the book is a conclusion (IV) that discusses how people stay hungry for God (12) and learn how to fight and build (13).

Among the most poignant aspects of this book for me as a reader personally is the way that this book deals with the reality of spiritual warfare in such a way that it helps to encourage the readers–presumably Christian parents, to raise children in such a way that they are equipped to deal thoughtfully with spiritual matters. This book manages to combine both a strong interest in the workings of the Holy Spirit with those who have not yet chosen to commit themselves to God and who are being raised by godly parents in the hope that they will answer the call to believe and follow God, as well as a strong interest in the way that Satan attempts to derail and distract this calling. Even more to the point, the author talks about the way that parents need to live their spiritual lives out and not merely profess a belief system that they do not practice. This book provides some serious conviction about how it is that children learn about spiritual matters, especially in the home, and it is a book that is well worth reading and pondering upon.

Posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: To Sir Phillip, With Love

To Sir Phillip, With Love, by Julia Quinn

When you have read enough books by an author, as I have with Julia Quinn, one sees consistent patterns and approaches in the writing, and sometimes this can be a good thing, and sometimes not. There are at least a few patterns that are present in Quinn’s writing that show themselves in this work and in many of her other novels that irk me a bit, and it is worth commenting on them as they demonstrate opportunities for the author to grow out of her own less than ideal tropes. Most of Quinn’s novels appear to have at their core some element of coercion when it comes to the relationship in question. Here, the coercion comes from Eloise Bridgerton’s four brothers, who coerce her suitor into marrying her by threatening him with intense bodily violence for having put their sister’s reputation at stake, although the brothers themselves had behaved in even more flagrant fashion themselves. The second trope of the author’s that is irritating is that the author seems unable to get two people married without some kind of compromising position that coerces people into marrying, where they later find themselves in love. Unsurprisingly, that is the case here, although the compromising position is more of a self-own as a desperately lonely Eloise, whose friend married her brother and left her alone as a spinster, runs off unannounced to the home of a widower whom she has exchanged letters with, which forms the setup of this particular novel.

This book is about 400 pages long, and the inevitable wedding takes place about two thirds of the way into the book. The setup of this novel and its romance is somewhat interesting, in that Eloise is twenty-eight years old and a spinster and sends a letter to a distant relative by marriage whose wife died of a fever after trying to kill herself. This book has a certain heaviness to it, in that the story has a certain degree of desperation, with a man who has not been with a woman for eight years and has two rambunctious children who do not take to Eloise at all. While Eloise run off without telling her would-be partner, having a plan but suspecting that it would not be approved by her relatives, the result is that Philip and her find themselves to be different than they were in writing, with much more serious issues in communication as well as the problems of dealing with the families of both of these people. Eventually, of course, everything works out well, but there is a lot of drama that takes place and it takes both people learning how to respect and appreciate and perhaps not judge so much on appearances while capitalizing on their physical chemistry.

To the extent that this book is an appealing novel even with the author’s marked limitations in creating compelling and moral regency romances, the appeal is in Sir Phillip himself as a character. Phillip is an appealing figure overall, a person with a marked sense of honor, a strong degree of hostility towards a childhood where his widowed father was immensely cruel and brutal, and a person whose feeling and the expression of that feeling have a wide gulf. While he is certainly a flawed person, especially when it comes to dealing with his needy children, he is a decent and worthy romantic hero in a way that is not a rake. His story, moreover, has a great deal of pathos given the high amount of suffering he has faced over the course of his life as well as his devotion to botany and his fondness for writing letters, in which he is able to give vent to emotions that otherwise remain unexpressed. The author’s striking insight into a type of man who uses writing as a way of expressing what he cannot say is notable and praiseworthy, and if this is not as good a novel as it could have been, it is likely as good a novel as the author can create given her limitations in understanding morality as well as, surprisingly enough, romance. It is puzzling, and more than a little troubling, that her heroines in particular long for passionate romantic love but the author cannot provide a way for people to get together without being forced into matrimony.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Duke And I

The Duke And I, by Julia Quinn

This book is where the Bridgerton saga begins, intriguingly enough with the oldest girl and fourth of the Bridgerton children, of whom there are eight, each of whom has their own novel where they meet and then mate in typical contemporary Regency fashion. This book is somewhere around the seventh book I have read by the author, and it is clear that she has some tropes even beyond the usual Regency ones that she adopts in her literature. While this was by no means a bad novel, and was in fact pretty enjoyable to read for the most part because Simon, the Duke of Hastings and Daphne Bridgerton are generally appealing characters, for the most part, the author’s tropes caused trouble on several occasions. Essentially, the two most troubling aspects of Quinn’s novels are on display here. For one, the author appears to be obsessed with bringing her couples together through compromising incidents. I wish to discuss this more anon, so I will leave it aside for now. The second troubling aspect of the author’s works is one that seems unusual for this genre, and that is the way that she brings about sexual intimacy between the main characters through relationships with a strong degree of coercion. Here, Daphne takes advantage of Simon being drunk to have full intercourse so that she can get pregnant from him despite his extreme aversion to having children because of his traumatic experience with his father’s abuse. Unfortunately, both dubious consent as well as compromising positions appear to be a vital and troubling aspect of Quinn’s romances.

This book is between 350 and 400 pages and discusses the romance between Daphne Bridgerton, the fourth oldest of eight children in a viscount’s family and the eldest daughter, and a close friend of her eldest brother’s, Duke Simon Hastings. At the beginning, this book has the makings of a fake romance setup, where Daphne is bothered by being pushed to receive unsuitable gentlemen to court her and Simon is hostile to the idea of marriage and family because of the scars of a brutal childhood in which his father terrorized him and ultimately rejected him as dead because of his late speech development and problems stammering. While Daphne’s brother Anthony thinks his friend, who had some wild escapades like his own in Oxford, is not honorable enough for his sister, the fake relationship of the two draws approval from nearly everyone else, including the sharp-tongued gossip writer Lady Whistledown until the two are eventually pushed into making their fake relationship real, and then have to deal with the complications of sex and family given Daphne’s longing for children of her own and Simon’s lack of willingness to pass on the Hastings title. Of course, love prevails, but it’s messier than one longs for from such fiction as this.

In reading this book, I was struck by what the author could do to make her writings better. The two main negative aspects of her writing are connected to each other. The driving ahead of courtships by presenting young women of elegance and class in a compromising position demonstrates a lack of moral restraint on the part of the men and women in the author’s imagination. Similarly, the use of coercion as a way of leading to sexual intimacy suggests an inability to understand how it is that relationships can be formed through communication and mutual consent. The lack of restraint on the part of Quinn’s men puts vulnerable gentlewomen in places where their reputation would suffer ruin, which coerces the men into marrying them. In the author’s mind, this sort of balance of coercion may be a fair trade, but it is not really the way that an honorable, to say nothing of a Christian, young man and young woman would engage in conversation and flirtation as a way of gauging interest and spurring forward a match, with any intimacy waiting until marriage. This may be a bit bloodless for the author’s tastes, as she might not understand how any hot-blooded man and woman could restrain their passion before marriage, as she even struggles to have them wait to strip each other and make out until after an engagement has been set. This is lamentable, and a sign of a complete lack of ability to understand and work within moral codes of decency and restraint.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment