High things, anti knowledge of God

Acrocorinth_And_Temple_of_Apollo

Acrocorinth mountain fortress (one Temple of Aphrodite was located there), with the Temple of Apollo below. Both were in ruins at the time of Paul’s visits.

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (II Cor. 10:5)

Paul was quite familiar with “high things” in Corinth, high places such as the walled summit of Acrocorinth as well as the various temples to gods like Aphrodite, Apollo and Poseidon. Their worshipers sought love, peace, and protection with many forms of worship, including temple prostitution.

Worshipers sought success in life, whether it was good weather and good crops for farmers, safety in sailing the seas, excellent sales for merchants, the right mate, healthy children, good government, peace and calm, freedom from war.

Whatever the need, there was a temple to that god. Right worshiping, right offerings, right behavior – those were sure to produce right results. Right? Maybe not.

For “high things” Paul used the Greek word  hýpsoma, meaning an elevated place, height or high thing. Specifically it referred to an elevated structure, a barrier, rampart, or bulwark, high things such as walls built for protection around cities, temples, or castles. They were barricades to keep people out.

Only one other New Testament verse uses this word and there it is translated height: “Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

Temples made with hands were everywhere in Corinth, just as in Athens, Rome, and Ephesus. Operating these temples was big business in this prosperous Roman colony. Who did this foreigner think he was, saying they were fakes? False? Phony?

Paul preached “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.” (Acts 17:24) Persecution was the inevitable result for Paul and the new Christians, then as it is today. Truth isn’t popular when it comes to big business, big money from immoral worship.

Everyone I know wants love, peace, protection and provision, including me. And they are indeed available, but not from false believing, not from false gods or false worship. Believing the wrong things puts up a barricade to experiencing and knowing the true God, his love, mercy, forgiveness, grace and power.

Paul warned about those wrong “high things” everywhere he went, including Corinth.

corinthThe following is from PBS (In the footsteps of Peter and Paul) about the city of Corinth and Paul’s visits there: http://www.pbs.org/empires/peterandpaul/footsteps/footsteps_6_1.html

“After this he went to Corinth. Here he met a Jew named Aquila, who, with his wife Priscilla, had come from Italy recently because Claudius had ordered that all Jews leave Rome.”

“Paul approached them and, because they were of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked with them. They were tentmakers. He also engaged in discussions in the synagogue each Sabbath, attempting to win over both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18.1-4, 11)

Paul could have approached Corinth from Athens by land or by sea. After settling in, he spent his days in Corinth plying his trade and preaching in the synagogues with his hosts Aquila and Priscilla. The couple had left Rome with the Jews expelled by the emperor Claudius, and like Paul they were tentmakers. The tents they made or repaired would have been in demand for soldiers, travelers, and market stalls. Large, heavy and colorful, the tents were usually made from leather and heavy canvases.

The rhythm of city life in the Mediterranean would have found Paul at work from early morning until midday, leaving off work in the hot hours of the afternoon, and resuming later in the day. For eighteen months he built his community in Corinth, and he would return to Corinth more than once over the next years. When he left, he was joined by his friends Priscilla and Aquila. Paul was headed back to Antioch, but the couple would stay in Ephesus, and found a fledgling Jesus community there.

Located on the south side of the isthmus connecting the Peloponnese to the mainland, at the foot of a mountain fortress, Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. A great lighthouse and Temple to Poseidon guided ships into the harbors, to fill the city markets and the warehouses down on the wharves with merchandise from the around the empire and beyond — spices from India, silk from China, linen from Tarsus, local Corinthian marble and variegated marble from Turkey, Greece, and North Africa, timber from Italy, and wine and olive oil, fruits and vegetables from fertile fields of Corinth.

Ships were dragged across the isthmus on a road called the diolkos, and in 67, Nero would begin to build a canal — using the labor of 6,000 Jewish prisoners from Judea — though it was never finished in antiquity. The city had made a remarkable comeback after its total destruction at the hands of the Romans in 146 BCE. The entire city had been razed-its people killed or enslaved.

Julius Caesar revived the city as a colony in 44 BCE, and by the mid-first century CE, Corinth had the largest population in Greece, a population that would swell with visiting sailors and merchants to the ports, and tourists attending the festivals of athletic games. Corinth served the nearby Isthmian games, an ancient international athletic festival held every two years. Dedicated to Poseidon, the victor’s prize was a crown of wild celery. Contests included chariot and foot races, and literary contests.

The games were revived in the Roman period, and added to with games in honor of Caesar. Two days journey from Corinth was the city of Epidauros, which had one of the most important sanctuaries to Asklepios, the god of healing. Pilgrims would come from around the empire in hopes of healing.

Because of its great wealth and transitory population, Corinth had a reputation for luxury, and uninhibited pleasures. This reputation was further bolstered by the city’s association with Aphrodite — her image appeared on the city’s coinage, and Corinth had at least three temples to the goddess of love, including one on the very high summit of Acrocorinth, where she held a shield before her like a mirror.

In addition, the harbors had their own temples to the goddess of love. In pre-Roman times, one temple of Aphrodite was served by temple prostitutes, and, though modern scholars debate whether ritual prostitution had ceased by the time of Paul’s arrival, there is little doubt that prostitution would have thrived. Brothels have been excavated in several Roman cities, including Pompeii and Ephesus.

But Aphrodite was important to the city in other ways, too. Born out of the sea, she could protect the sailors and ships on which the city’s economy depended. And Julius Caesar, the city’s colonial patron, claimed descent from Venus, the Roman form of Aphrodite.

The new city of Corinth is located east of the ancient city. A canal was finally built through the isthmus in the late 19th century, but sections of the diolkos are still visible. The excavations at ancient Corinth give some idea of the city’s former prominence; a Temple to Apollo has standing columns, and some streets and market shops can evoke the flavor of the trade city.

Along one side of the Forum is a bema – a platform from which Roman officials would address the public. Here the governor may have refused to arrest Paul. There is a museum onsite.

The mountain fortress Acrocorinth still looms over the site, and the view from the summit is well worth the hike. Also on the summit are ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite, among others.

The fortifications on the mountain are, in the main, much later than the Roman period, but indicate the continued strategic importance of the site for centuries. The harbor town of Cenchreae is largely underwater, but warehouses and a sanctuary of Isis are visible.

Nearby Isthmia, site of the biannual athletic contests, has a museum and remains of the stadium, city walls, and the sanctuary of Poseidon. In Epidaurus, the sanctuary of Asklepius is undergoing excavation and some restoration. The well-preserved theater at Epidaurus presents live theater in the summer.

For more, also see http://www.padfield.com/2005/corinth.html

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Play it by ear

Or how I learned to play the piano by ear – I didn’t.

My daddy’s oldest sister, Aunt Myrtle, sponsored my piano lessons as a little girl. She had been a pianist for silent movies in the early 1900’s and loved any and all types of music. I dearly loved to hear her play, especially sitting close to watch her nimble fingers. Runs up and down the keyboard, crashing chords or delicate trills, it was all thrilling to me!

Myrtle still played for her own family, friends, and her own enjoyment too. Occasionally she accompanied someone who sang a classical-type solo at church, especially near Easter or Christmas time.

Mrs.WescottOh, how I wanted to play like Myrtle! And so, Myrtie Berry Wescott, a classical piano teacher, was chosen to instruct me. During the regular school year I would go to her house twice a week after school where for fifteen minutes per lesson she drilled me in music theory, scales, finger exercises, proper hand position, and practice, practice, practice!

I can still see her baton at the ready, threatening (but never actually rapping) the knuckles when your hands were being lazy, i.e. not properly lifted, fingers curled to strike – not mash – the keys.

Ms. Wescott was a stickler for playing music exactly it as written. She didn’t like her students playing anything she hadn’t approved… which meant no hymns, no sheet music, no “silly little ditties” such as Chopsticks, Three Blind Mice, or She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes.

In her studio, only classical composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Chopin were used for memory work, especially end-of-year recital pieces. Difficulty increased, of course, as the years went on. Imagine playing 13 notes per measure with the right hand, to 12 notes per measure with the left hand. One of the Russian composers, my mind has kindly and lovingly blanked out that name and that piece – but I did learn to play it to her satisfaction, when I was about 15.

Well, while classical piano study was school-year work, summers were wonderfully filled with big band music, movie sound tracks, Hits of the 50’s etc., folk music, hymns and choruses, books and sheet music purchased by my parents as rewards for good work for my violinist brother and me.

I learned a great deal studying with Ms. Wescott. But what I didn’t learn was how to transpose keys. Whoever heard of changing the key on a Beethoven piece? Unnecessary! Unthought of! Unallowed.

Well, my lessons with her were completed when I was 16. After a few summer months of organ keyboard instruction sponsored by my church, I began playing the organ for Sunday services. (They had an excellent pianist but a fine organ with nobody to play it, until I came along.)

All went well for quite a while, until I joined Christian Assembly Church in the 1970’s and began playing the organ for services there.

The choir leader would sometimes say, “This hymn is pitched too high, let’s lower it a couple of steps.” I just looked at him in dismay – I had no idea how to do that. But the pianist did, so she would play and I would just sit there, feeling like a dummy.

After a few times like that I was disheartened. I loved playing. I loved the hymns, the gospel songs, the Easter and Christmas cantatas, all the praise and worship music. If it was written on paper, I could play it. If it wasn’t, I couldn’t.

It really bothered me. If I knew about the change of key in advance, I could write out the notes and practice at home and then things would go fine. But those occasions were rare. My heart almost grieved, not being able to play everything they needed. Should I resign as church organist and let them find someone who could do it? I was debating with myself.

One night I prayed about it – and woke up the next morning able to play by ear, in any key. (Only Christian music, oddly enough; anything else I still have to memorize as always.) It was amazing.

Not long afterward, a gospel quartet came for a special service one Sunday night. All their songs were lively and upbeat pieces they had written and as none of them played instruments, they sang with accompaniment tapes.

Then the pastor asked them to sing something slower, softer, more worshipful while people came forward for a time of prayer. Unfortunately none of their tapes contained that kind of music. One of them looked over at me and said, if we begin, can you just follow along? My heart pounded but I said, I’ll try.

And I did. Every song, even though none were familiar; they were all original pieces they themselves had composed. They sang and I played for over 30 minutes. No-one but me knew what a miracle that was, but it was.

Transposing choir numbers was no longer a problem. I just heard the melody and harmony in my head, found the key they needed and played.

Since that day I have played the piano in many places, sometimes with written music but more often without. Sometimes song leaders rotated from tenor to bass (Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship), or from soprano to alto (Women’s Aglow). I found that I could follow the leader in whatever key they needed. Our own church where I have played piano for many years uses chord charts, because the other musicians don’t read music. No problem.

So, whenever people ask me how I learned to play by ear, I just smile and say, I didn’t. Let me tell you about a miracle – did you know the Holy Spirit can play the piano?

 

It’s time for urgent worship

SoldiersFieryPraise and worship are not the same thing.

Praise is telling God how you feel about him and what he’s done for you, how wonderful he is and how grateful you are, all wrapped up in a song somebody else wrote.

Worship is deeper, more intimate, more personal. It’s like singing a love song to the object of your adoration.

Of course, you’re still using a song somebody else wrote. And when you’re through praising God and worshiping, you give money to the church, hear a sermon from the preacher, request prayer if you need it, then go home.

That’s what I thought for years, until I researched original language for myself.

The English word worship comes from the old root word “worth-ship.” How much someone is worth, in respect, honor, position, wealth.

The New Testament Greek word carries a similar idea, but is used of a servant’s attitude towards his master – not exclaiming how great he thinks his master is, but being in submission, reverent, waiting for the master’s instructions.

The servant doesn’t inform the master of his own plans for the day. He doesn’t have any plans of his own. He doesn’t do anything until his master tells him what to do.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well something about the future. He said, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)

Just physically singing in a church service is not what he meant.

I still worship with songs other people wrote, but sometimes it’s not songs at all, it’s paragraphs, sentences or phrases, sometimes just feelings. Whatever it is, it’s not complete unless followed by listening for the Master’s instructions.

Recently the Holy Spirit said to me, It’s time for urgent worship.

What does that mean, I asked? What is it, and why is it time?

True worship begins with focused attention, he said. Not contaminated with distractions like other people singing. Not drowned out by the static of worry over what is going on in your life, your own thoughts.

True worship is hard, I had to acknowledge. I wasn’t very good at it. Trying to concentrate doesn’t wipe out all the distractions. My elbows hurt. My fingers seem stiff. Time for Tylenol?

I find my mind wandering, thinking about the people I love and their troubles. Concerned about the state of the world.

Worship too easily transitions over to praying for something. Praying is not bad in itself, but it’s not focusing on the worth-ship of God and listening to his voice, his instructions.

Without the critical element of true worship, I may not hear his instructions instantly or clearly enough to respond with confidence when he needs me to.

I was worried that I just can’t do it, no matter how hard I try. Then he reminded me of how I learned to play the piano, how I learned to type: practice.

Practice urgent worship. Focus on the Master and he will strip away all your unnecessary distractions. Don’t worry that you’re not perfect, just practice.

Okay, I said.

But why? I wasn’t sure if he would tell me, but he did.

Because a day is coming when he will speak a critical word. We must be able to recognize his voice and respond, perhaps in an instant.

Urgent worship will prepare his people to hear him clearly, when that day comes.

Originally published in 2010. That day may be sooner than we think.