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July 2009

Dear brethren,

I know you are writing anxiously to read more of my comments on sundry subjects, so with this letter you can relieve some of your anxiety. Ha! Here goes.

Images

From childhood on, all of us have images of how our lives should be or we want them to be. These images motivate us and our happiness is related to how well we measure up to those images. Unfortunately our images tend to be perfect and our lives are not perfect. Therefore we are never one hundred percent happy. Sometimes when the gap becomes too great and our personal world caves in, that person seeks to end this life and such is the earthly end of too many troubled souls.

Just as images of perfection can cause problems in people’s personal lives, so can images of the perfect church cause much evil and sin among the believers in God’s community. Brethren see their image of God’s community based upon their human interpretation and understanding of the scriptures as the perfect image or the right way, then they attempt to forcefully coerce those who dispute aspects of that image to change and conform. To realize their goal they frequently resort to name-calling, condemning, and unjustly excluding. They see brethren who disagree as flawed in one way or another in comparison to their utopian image based upon their opinions, and instead of brethren enjoying freedom in Christ characterized by forbearance, love, and understanding they advocate and manifest measures of totalitarianism which results in division after division.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is an essential part of any relationship, especially from the Christian perspective. What friendship at one time or another does not necessitate some forgiveness? What marriage at one time or another does not necessitate forgiveness? What family relationship, physical and/or spiritual does not necessitate some forgiveness at one time or another? Most importantly, we cannot be in fellowship with God without His forgiveness and be in His good standing unless we follow suit with our fellow man (Matthew 6:14, 15).

When we are forgiven by God, and when we forgive, we experience the divine. We experience God’s heart. We enjoy and taste some of his love and mercy. We have a relationship with Him and better relationships with our fellow man.

These thoughts are some that came to mind when I read of Marghanita Laski who was a secular humanist and wrote novels for a living. She died in 1988, but not long before she died she was interviewed on television and caught everybody by surprise with a very candid thought. She said about Christians: “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.”

What a sad and tragic perspective. She did have somebody to forgive her, yet instead of accepting His forgiveness she spent much of her life denying and rebelling against Him. Her rational, secular view of the world led her to live as if a personal God did not exist, but as she faced “crossing the bar” maybe she was beginning to realize that this view doesn’t make as much sense as the number of things that point to a God who created and supports the earth by His power and seeks a relationship with man who was created in His image.

For What It’s Worth

In my reading I recently ran across this interesting piece of information. Typically we picture Jesus as carrying a complete Latin cross to Golgetha upon which he was crucified, but the article I was reading said it was probably a Tau cross and Jesus probably carried only the horizontal piece which weighed about a hundred pounds.

The Tau cross is like a capital T. The horizontal beam (patibulum) was way at the top of the upright piece (stipes), whereas the crossarm on the Latin cross is a third or so down the vertical beam. I understand it gets its name from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) in which the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet (tau) was transcribed as a “T” in Greek.

I’m told that the Romans used the Tau cross to crucify. The stipes was already fixed in the ground, often permanently, in groves were constant executions took place and the condemned person was forced to carry the patibulum to the place of execution. The person to be executed was called the “patibulatus”.

Further I’m told that it was in the ninth century that Christian leaders in a controversial decision adopted the Latin cross as a symbol of Christianity. The controversy centered around the idea that the Latin cross was said to originally have been a pagan emblem representing the four winds: north, south, east, and west. The leaders were said to have preferred this to the Tau cross which was a symbol of the death of criminals. St. Francis of Assisi chose theTau cross as his pledge of fidelity to Christ and to serve the least, the leper and outcast of his day.

The shape of Christ’s cross, whether it was Latin or Tau isn’t that important. It’s what he did for us on the cross. Nevertheless, if what I wrote above is true, it shows how we can have a misconception or wrong picture of a tradition. At least I did for almost seventy years. We tend to do this with some of our church traditions. We read into history pictures of the early Christians doing things as we practice them today. We do this particularly with regard to what we erroneously call “the worship” assembly. Our assemblies tend to be formal, organized, perfunctory gatherings with an emphasis upon detailed duties and strict protocol, whereas the assemblies of the first Christians were probably more emotional and spontaneous with an emphasis upon edification and encouragement of one another in response to a gracious, loving God rather than appeasing a legalistic God who is looking for us to do something wrong so He can condemn us.

So much for this month’s comments. Maybe I’ve raised your anxiety rather than lowering it. That’s not necessarily bad.

In Him,

J. James Albert

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