Friday, 27 March 2015

Origins of the Cross

       Men have bowed to it, fought for it and even died for it. Revered by Christendom, it has come to symbolise the supreme sacrifice of one perfect man for a grossly imperfect world.

       Even today, despite determined attempts by militant secularists to efface it from schools, council chambers, courts, colleges and other public buildings, the cross remains a powerful image, a rallying point for some 41,000 Christian denominations.

       So it may came as a shock to learn that, according to several respected scholars, Jesus didn’t die on a cross at all. Instead, scriptural accounts indicate that Jesus was impaled upon a single, upright stake. 

       In his Expository Dictionary of New & Old Testament Words, W E Vine distinguishes the Greek word ‘stauros’ (‘stake’ or ‘pale’) as used in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ death, “from the ecclesiastical form of a two beamed cross”.

       This is backed up by The Imperial Bible-Dictionary which says that the word stauros′ “properly signified a stake, an upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung, or which might be used in impaling a piece of ground.......Even amongst the Romans the crux (Latin, from which our cross is derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole.” The Catholic Encyclopaedia also admits that “the cross originally consisted of a simple vertical pole, sharpened at its upper end.”

       Another Greek word used in the gospels to describe the means of Jesus’ execution is xy’lon, which in the Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament is defines as “a piece of timber, a wooden stake.” This is in agreement with the King James Version at Acts 5:30: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree [xy′lon]”, while other versions, including also translate xy′lon as “tree.” At Acts 13:29, The Jerusalem Bible at Acts 13:29 says: “When they had carried out everything that scripture foretells about (Jesus) they took him down from the tree [xy′lon] and buried him.”

Origin of the Cross

       Vine explains that the cross originated from ancient Chaldea where it was used “as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt.”

       By the middle of the 3rd century CE, the early Christian faith had been polluted by unscriptural doctrines, many drawn from pagan beliefs. “In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system pagans were received into the churches....and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ.”

       Much of the blame for this can be laid on Rome’s sun-god worshipping Emperor Constantine who, it was claimed, had a vision of a cross emblazoned on the sun with the words “in hoc vince” (by this conquer) just before an important military victory. As a result, he supposedly became a Christian, but was not baptised until just before his death 25 years later. Questioning his motives, the author of The Non-Christian Cross stated:  “He acted rather as if he were converting Christianity into what he thought most likely to be accepted by his subjects as a catholic [universal] religion, than as if he had been converted to the teachings of Jesus the Nazarene.”

       Interestingly, the image of the cross is not exclusive to churchgoers. The ancient Egyptians had their own version with the handle-shaped ansate - a T shape topped by a circle, while the ‘gamma’ cross venerated by Hindus and Buddhists is more commonly recognised by its Sanskrit name.....


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Miracles: Do they happen today?

       According to a recent article* in the BBC magazine, there are Christians who maintain that, ‘Yes’, miracles really DO happen, a belief which many members of medical and scientific communities would dispute - especially as some religious ministers even claim to have raised people from the dead!

       Such claims inevitably lead to heated arguments with no middle ground and even less tolerance, as people on both sides of the issue remain firmly entrenched in their own particular stance. 

       So who’s right? With anything vaguely religious, particularly from the Judeo-Christian perspective, it’s a good idea to look at the scriptures and do a little digging.

       That miracles were performed in Jesus’ day is for any Christian beyond dispute. Supernatural feats -such as the feeding of the 5,000, calming storms and healing every kind of disability and sickness - demonstrated what God's Kingdom will accomplish when, under Jesus' oversight,it is ruling fully over the earth. Such miracles also offered tangible proof that Jesus was truly the Messiah and had his heavenly Father’s backing.

       Another factor to bear in mind is that not everyone whom Jesus healed demonstrated faith. Think of the disabled man waiting to enter the pool of Bethzatha; the young blind man who didn’t realise he was speaking to Jesus; or the widow of Nain whose son Jesus resurrected. (John 5:1-9; John 9:25; Luke 7:11-17)

       Sadly, even after being healed, some failed to show appreciation for what Jesus had done. Ten lepers were cured on their way to show themselves to the priests, yet only one returned to thank his saviour....a man of another nation! (Luke 17:12-19)
Miracles continued to take place in the first century until the last apostle died.

Jesus himself warned of false prophets who could perform many powerful works, yet he would view them as ‘workers of lawlessness’

      Writing to the Corinthian congregation, Paul clearly stated that such ‘gifts’ as healing and praying in tongues would cease, having played their part in convincing people who held firmly to the Mosaic Law that the new Christian arrangement was the ‘Way’ and had God’s blessing – once this was established there’d be no further need to keep on proving it over and over again. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)

       What about today? If these miraculous gifts are no longer in evidence, why do some Christians insist that spiritual healing – or miracles such as Pope Francis liquidising the blood of a saint in Naples – still take place?  It’s sobering to consider that these may come from sources other than God and Jesus.  Jesus himself warned of false prophets who could perform many powerful works (‘miracles’ JB, NE, TEV) yet he would view them as ‘workers of lawlessness’. (Matthew 7:15-23) Think also of Pharaoh’s magic practising priests in Egypt and their ability to copy the first two miracles performed through Moses. (Exodus 7:22; 8:7)
       There are supernatural forces in the world which may on the surface appear beneficial. However, before submitting to them in the hope of a cure - or a message from God - it would be wise to do some research.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Does Your Teenager Self-Injure? How Can You Help?

Even in the height of summer, Julia preferred long-sleeved, high-necked tops to the snappy, strappy, crops worn by her peers.  The reason? Pus-filled sores which covered her arms and shoulders along with  vivid red scars where Julia’s nails had dug repeatedly into her flesh. Not a pin-prick of uninfected skin remained - due to her incessant picking. 
Excoriation (or Dermatillomania) is just one type of self-injury. Others  - including cutting, bruising, head-banging, burning, scratching, eating disorders, stabbing with sharp objects and hair pulling – are used to create the same effect; temporary relief  from overwhelming feelings, anxiety and stress.

Julia had ‘issues’. Lack of self-esteem, even self-hatred, was certainly one of them, as was a plethora of repressed emotions. But there are several underlying factors: Mental disorders (such as depression), trauma (physical, emotional or sexual abuse), social factors (bullying, conflict within the home, or poor interpersonal skills), and additional stress (exams, bereavement and other distressing events). Whatever the cause, the sufferer may experience intense feelings of anger, hopelessness, an inability to communicate feelings and a complete lack of worth.

A self-injurer is “someone who has found that physical pain can be a cure for emotional pain” (Cutting* by mental health specialist Steven Levenkron)

Self-harmers are usually (though not always) adolescents who, by inflicting pain on themselves, attempt to regain a sense of control, or to break through emotional numbness. Of course, some may wish to manipulate others or it could be a plea for help but, usually, sufferers are ashamed of their compulsion and try to keep it hidden.

If you suspect your teenage son or daughter is self-injuring, what steps can you take to help them?

First of all, don’t blame yourself. Wondering whether faulty parenting has contributed to your child’s condition is a waste of time.  Look instead on how you can positively help him or her to recover.

Communication, of course, is key, and it’s important that, on discovering your teen’s secret, you stay calm. Reacting with horror or disgust will only make matters worse. So don’t yell. Be consoling, supportive and reassuring. Convince your son or daughter that you’re on their side.

Ask the right questions, and leave out the ones that could alienate, such as “How long has THIS been going on, then?!” Nonthreatening questions should encourage the child to express their viewpoint, “I know you find it hard to feel confident at times. What frustrates you the most?” “How can I help you when you’re worried or feeling low?” “What can I do for us to break down any barriers between us?”

So you’ve asked the questions. Now comes the difficult bit: Listen. Without interrupting. Without disagreeing. Without judging.

As adolescents tend to focus on their flaws, be positive. Point out his or her qualities, the ones you genuinely admire them for. Encourage your teen to write three or more things they like about themselves, so getting them to focus on their strengths.

An in-depth, one-to-one with your teen will work wonders. Glad to have got the problem off their chest, he or she will be happy that you’re prepare to share the burden with them, and relieved that they’re no longer alone.

Most of all, your kindness and concern will assure them of your love – which may be all they really wanted all along!