Saturday, November 21, 2015

Selah--Worship--Psalm 42, 43

To be clear, the way I will be using the word Selah within this and coming posts is "to pause and consider". 

The regular usage of this word within the Psalms is what led to my curiosity about Selah, and you can google and Wikipedia it to delve into the many thoughts about its original meaning, but I believe the different things I see and the context in which it is used can be simplified into the above concept.  It is especially interesting that it is used specifically within the context of songs of praise.  As my insightful wife noticed within my last Selah post, it seems geared to push us to pause and consider within the flow of a song.

This brings me to the simple point of my Selah posts both past, present, and future.  In some ways, it seems to me that much like prophecy has two commonly wrong extreme reactions(either to get too caught up in it or to not be willing to engage thinking about it at all because of fears of obsession or divisiveness).  Worship also seems to gravitate towards one of two wrong extremes. 

Either we focus on making it about meaningful content and shun a willingness to tie in the ebb and flow of emotion that comes with music, or we long so much for the powerful emotional swells that we lose sight of the lyrical content that is meant to also play a crucial role.  People point to ridiculous extremes on the other side of these two swings of the pendulum to justify their own overreaction.  They either point to "dead and lifeless" worship and how there seems to be no passion in the people, or they point to the "mindless happy people" smiling but seemingly empty of any real connection with being built up with Biblical concepts beyond a few words repeated again and again. 

Once again, I believe Psalms comes to the rescue to help us with this conundrum with a truly foundational principle for worship and for us in life on the whole.  Did you know that the book of Psalms is actually a collection of five books?  Book one begins with Psalm 1 and ends with Psalm 41.  Book two begins with Psalm 42 and goes through Psalm 72.  I believe that much like Psalms 1 and 2 form a foundation for all following Psalms, Psalms 42 and 43 form a new opening thought that serves as foundational. 
Below is a copy of these Psalms.  Simply scroll past if you want to continue to read, but they are below for reference purposes.

Psalm 42

For the director of music. A maskil[c] of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, my God,
    and plead my cause
    against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
    deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
    Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

The author speaks to his soul.  He instructs his soul, the part of himself that is so tied to, and I suppose is made up of his passions and emotions.  He, on the one hand, acknowledges the thoughts that his soul makes him aware of in both psalms.  In 42, he acknowledges that he longs for God to reveal himself.  He quotes those who would cause him to doubt, BUT then he says ..."I will remember you from the land of Jordan...."  This eventually leads him to chastise his soul...."why so downcast, O my soul?!...."

There is a similar track in 43.  He begins by acknowledging a very real and felt pain, but transitions wilfully to think of and point himself toward the God he has and must again trust in.  It ends the same way, and it serves to emphasize the exact same instruction...."Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."

Please, please note that this is not as simple a process as to skip ahead.  There is a very powerful and natural flow here that is being observed and acknowledged.  David allows his emotions to find a very real and honest expression.  There is no encouragement to be fake.  We are to start with where we are genuinely at with honesty, but neither the soul, the mind, or the will acts alone within these psalms.  They are interwoven and they interact with each other because that is who we are.  That is how God made us.  The soul pushes us to cry out, the will responds with the mind to remind us of TRUTHS.  To bring truthful accounts of things we know about God and times God has delivered us and others in times past.  We are to spend time allowing these truths to seep into our souls and then we challenge our souls to acknowledge not JUST the current state of affairs, but the God in which we trust and the countless times we know He has shown Himself to be the God of love and power who delivers.

In short, passion and truth are not to be enemies, but they can work together when we follow examples like the ones above.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reasons to Believe--Constantine's Convictions

I know it has been awhile since we all heard the back and forth generated by the success of the Dan Brown novels, but The DaVinci Code sold roughly 80 million copies which makes it one of the MOST widely read books EVER written.  A book that successful by publishing standards will continue to have a life of its own influencing people's perceptions about the Bible and Christianity for decades to come.  The question Brown amazingly seems to have inserted into many people's subconscious is, "Did our sacred scriptures or any foundational truth about Christianity get created by some ancient Roman emperor named Constantine??"

I stumbled across some interesting information recently that I cannot help but share in regards to this discussion.

At the time of the rather large brouhaha, one of the primary points being made or insinuated by Brown and others, who wanted to claim other gospels as legitimate, was that the books of the New Testament as we know them today were simply picked out by those in power during the Council of Nicea in 325 during Constantine’s reign. Christian scholars who were aware of the process by which the New Testament had been reached quickly pointed out that this was filled with factual inaccuracies and half truths so as to lead astray large numbers of people who were generally not educated about the subject. Back and forth this went.

"Constantine picked out the stuff in your Bible!" said Brown.

"Nuh, uh!" said the scholars.

"Yuh, huh!" said Brown……and so on and so forth. (The aforementioned conversation never happened as such but is an attempt at humor.)

Anyhoo. The serious point that scholars often made was that the point of contention at the Council had nothing to do with what would be included within AS scripture since this was almost universally agreed upon. The hot button issue at the Council of Nicea was the trinity and how to deal with the deity of Jesus. Why am I bringing this "hot button issue" up?

What is often referred to as the orthodox view about this question has long been to affirm the members of the trinity, especially regarding the deity of Christ, and the departure from this orthodox view is called Arianism. AGAIN, the Council of Nicea AFFIRMED the Trinity and denounced Arianism. This, however, did NOT resolve internal disagreements by many in power, including many bishops in power, and this is where I came across the new information I had previously been unaware of until recently.

Athanasius has long been considered one of the great church fathers (a term reserved for those who are seen as having helped to shepherd the early church by their servant leadership and insights). He played a crucial role in the ongoing debates about Trinity and the deity of Christ. In spite of obviously ending up venerated on the "winning side", initially, Athanasius was run out of the city of Alexandria by none other than Constantine himself because of this Arianism vs. Nicean issue. As a matter of fact, Athanasius, the champion of what became the church doctrine was exiled by no less than four different emperors. Constantine, Constantius II, Julian, AND Valens are the four emperors that exiled Athanasius for various lengths of time.

I think some of you are Bible geeks like me and are genuinely interested, BUT for rest of you who are not so nerdily inclined toward Bible trivia, listen UP! The point that is relevant to my initial connection to the Dan Brown controversy is simple. You can compare the current orthodox view regarding Trinity and the Deity of Christ and understand that the convictions of Constantine had NOTHING to do with ANY thing decided in the momentous Council of Nicea. Constantine’s convictions and the convictions of three other emperors as well as highly influential and politically connected bishops ran completely counter to what became the long standing doctrine of the church. The truth and truths found within the Bible actually are often fought for BY God AGAINST the powers that exist in any given generation. They are eternal. This is just one tiny example of the evidence of HIS ability to guard the integrity of His Word and His words. I hope you will dig into the many, MANY reasons we should have such incredible confidence in the integrity of the Bible and how supernaturally it was established and has been preserved.