Wednesday, 19 November 2008

"Christianity Is Christ"

Orange Standard Article 3 ~ November 2008

"He who is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30)

The text is the reminder that the Christian faith is centralised and finalised in the Person of Jesus Christ, who He is and what He said and did is the Good News - "The Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." It is also the unequivocal claim that faith in Christ makes demands on the Christian.

Is is never easy to be a believer and to live by the standards of belief and behaviour that entails. And Jesus stated His terms of reference in the Sermon on the Mount, where he spells out what is required of those who would be His disciples. The first step in response to his call on people was taken by the men confronted by Him at their work and that affected them totally and permanently, Peter, Andrew, James and John, fishermen, and Matthew the inspector of taxes. The others who were to turn to Him had that first step to take. It was always a personal decision. The attractiveness of Jesus is exemplified in these positive responses to Him but the very large number who heard Him speak and were amazed by His healings and the magnetism He emitted through His personality and humanity did not attach themselves to Him.

They liked and admired Him, even saw Him as a potential political leader but they refused to do so as these others did. How he was seen and the way He was treated has been that familiar in all the ages since "the days of His flesh." The reasons for this could be, the same negativity, unwillingness to meet and accept the demands of the Christian faith on those who embrace it and what that entails for character and conduct.

But life is decisions - this or that, here or there, right or wrong. We have to decide on how we live and how we value life. This is the reality clearly enunciated and confronted by religion.

There is no neutrality when it comes to the claims of Jesus Christ on the allegiance of people. The ultimate question to be faced is "what think ye of Christ?" To go his way will be seen in the character and conduct of the committed person.

Nothing should be more apparent than the levels set in the life of the Christian. On the matter, the decision for Christ, there is the quotation:

"Conversion is the natural response of an internal impulse to an external appeal."

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

Friday, 10 October 2008

Be Thankful: Response To Kindness


"Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine." (Luke 17:1-19)

One of the least pleasing features in human relations is the reluctance of people to be grateful for a kindness done them. They find it hard to say thanks even when they know the word should be said and at once. A feature writer has a question in a press interview "Are you a giver or a taker?" The answers are often inconclusive but always there is the sense that to be a giver is the preferable and proper response.


We know some who are generous in their treatment of others and those who take generosity for granted.

The incident we have here, the curing of the ten lepers and the and the ingratitude of nine is an apt illustration of an ingratitude ingrained in such behaviour. And the one who came back to speak his gratitude was a despised Samaritan. While the men of the story are described, ingratitude is not a characteristic more marked in race, sex, age, friendship or relationship. It is a trait of our humanity.

Jews cited Joseph and Absolam as good and bad examples of how children should treat their parents. The one respected Jacob his father; the other broke his father's David's heart. They would show them where Absolam dishonoured his father, spat their contempt at the spot, and then tell them of Joseph.

We have Jesus as our example, for He respected his parents and when his mother was widowed he took the care of mother and family. His brothers were among Jesus' most faithful followers and one of them, came to be called James the Just. He was chairman of the first even Christian Council as head of the Church at Jerusalem. Tradition has it that he was killed by the Scribes and Pharisees and that he was the author of the General Epistle of James.

His closeness to Jesus is evident in the epistle for its basic teaching is similar to that of the sermon on the Mount, and its emphasis on behaviour with the premise, the test of a real faith in God is that it shows in an appropriate way of life.

A kindness has no expectations of a response when it is often a spontaneous act to help someone. To be kind is to recognise the value of human relationships, that living is sharing. But to live is to know that there are always the opposites - good and bad, kindness and unkindness. In our media enlightened age we are well acquainted with both, though the imbalance, bad news is news, means that we are horrified by much of what we see and hear of the depravity of humanity. And then piercing the gloom of depression and despair is the evidence that the good are everywhere bringing succour to the suffering, food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, shelter to the homeless and hope to the hopeless.

The Christian ethic with its concentration on the virtues of decency, honesty, generosity and sympathy remains for many the basis for a good society. It is necessary then for all who respect such values to set an example in a society which for many has levels far below what is needed to ensure that its citizens treat each other with the respect which is essential if people are to live safely together in an environment, peaceful, prosperous and pleasurable for all its people.

A Utopian dream, may be a critics response to this scenario, but it is the philosophy for living which is a solid foundation on which to build and it involves everyone in contributing to the well being of their country from the beginning to the end of their stay in it.

We have reason to be thankful that, we live where, whatever our problems, they could be minimal to those in so many other places. Most of us have the capacity to be givers to those whose circumstances compel them to be takers. That is the way for us to change their lot to a happier one.

We have to learn to turn all good gifts to good purposes; to use goods and benefits to enable us to be givers; to do good and to distribute, for with such sacrifice God is well pleased.

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

We Will Weather The Storm

Orange Standard ~ Article 4 ~ October 2008

We may have more than a little sympathy with those who complain, as we did, about the awful summer of 2008. Our situations were not equal though, for some suffered the horrors of flooding. They elicit from the fortunate to have avoided that calamity, the ravages of nature, and too often the inadequacies of planners to foresee recurring problems, relief and pity.
But if the weather was fearsome for some, and frustrating for most of us, the political scene remains in a like state of complaint and uncertainty. The government, with Gordon Brown, the target for an economy so ineffective in the struggle against the rising costs of even the bare necessities of life, is under attack by workers in the staple industries, with strikes threatened by Trade Unions and their members.

The imbalances with wages, salaries and rewards, employees and employers, with their extravagantly rewarded chiefs make an administration look ridiculous for its parsimony where the people are concerned with their claimant needs, and its liberality in what to most of us is totally unjustified, so that angry protests are to be expected and in wrap available to protesters. The anomalies, so numerous, produce multiple questions, and a few like, how is it possible to produce ten billion for a useless computer system and not enough to provide the means to help to combat the criminality that frightens and victimises so many law-abiding citizens? And half a billion on preparations for the Olympics when such money could be well used in life improving objectives for needy and suffering people. The complaints are endless, and the effects of wrong thinking disastrous, with the most vulnerable receiving least attention. Priorities are wrong and until they are righted there can be no even limited satisfaction, with government and country in its present state. We must hope and expect better ways and days ahead of us.

The unrest of today makes us compare like restlessness of other days which brought about a change of leadership and government. The trade unions appear to have no desire for that result, for Cameron and the Tories are not wanted by them; Labour is a philosophy they share and support.

What we hope for expeditiously is a more satisfying and less worrying life, for we need the stability absent presently from the U.K. What pertains in the Union is ever applicable to us, for whole devolved government allows us to make decisions for ourselves. We are governed largely, sometimes totally, by what goes at Westminster.

That requires us to evaluate the present state of our Stormont administration. Whatever the work done, the impression is of an Assembly which is confrontational because the D.U.P. and S.F. find their dissimilar philosophies make coexistence in power very awkward. How to have the ruling parties work together is the question, and while there are instances of consent and approval of cross party decisions, though they are not unimportant to those affected by them, big issues remain unresolved.

In spite of the gloom of such a summer, weather wise we are happy that the public demonstrations and appearance of the Institution and the Loyal Orders were pleasurable occasions with very little adverse comment from any quarter. We wanted it that way, for we know the value of the earned approval of the people at large. Our usual citizens, of course, will not pay compliment in a society shot through with irrational stances, dogmatic and liberal attitudes vying for attention, and where reactions are always predictable.
It means that the Order must constantly be making positive claims that show how good is its actual and potential contribution to this society.

We believe our most worthwhile one is by our concentration on the Christian faith and the ethical and political values founded on it. They are essentials in a usually secularly orientated environment, where the faith is undervalued, and society is weakened by the loss of what sustained and strengthened it in other and better days. When the good influence of the faith is absent the loss is filled with bad influences that we must fight against if we are to think and act consonant with our beliefs.

Our hope for the future of the country must be in the recognition, and adoption, of Christian values for they only will serve us well.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Dare To Be A Daniel


Orange Standard ~ Article 3 ~ September 2008

One of the better known Old Testament books is "Daniel" with its stories of the burning fiery furnace, lion's den and the mysterious writing on the wall.
Daniel tells of the experiences of four men - Daniel, of noble birth, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego - Jewish captives in the reigns of four kings or regents of Babylon; Nebuchadnezzer, Darius, Cyrus and Balshazzar.

There are dreams and their answers, the kings and Daniel, and miraculous escapes from the near death of the four of them. The characters and events make for a thrilling tale which is told skilfully and dramatically. Jesus valued the book highly.

The story of Daniel and the three, told in the book of his name had a particular purpose - to steady the hearts and minds of those patriotic Jews who were at the time of writing, suffering fearsome persecution for their faith. It describes the courage, loyalty and devotion of the men to a cause, faith in God, which meant to them more than life itself.

Daniel came out of the crucible of suffering to encourage the Jews to stand firm in the defence of their faith. It is not only a tale of brave men, their incredible experiences and rescues from death by divine intervention but of men whose faith in God meant everything to them.

It is the reminder too, that where there is faith in God there is also the alternative way of life in which people find satisfaction only in what they can see, feel and taste. Their concentration is on the everyday things of life, its joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains, gains and losses, so that they have no time for "deeper things".

We are faced, constantly, with the questions - am I responsive to the inward voices of the soul, to take them as the whispers of God to me? Or shall I value more the tangible things around me?

The choice is between the spiritual and the material and for some the middle way when effort is made to be both and it is a matter of priority. For the Christian that should be God first.

When Christians are faced with decisions they have inspiration and encouragement from their faith in Christ.

St Paul described it, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me".

Daniel and his friends stood firm for their faith and they came through horrific experiences by the help of God. There are times when people must take a stand for principles important to them, when to question emotions and motives can be difficult for someone who wants to think and do what is right. There has to be the listening to the voice of conscience. It is the guarding of truth. Daniel and the others chose the way they should go, deliberately and determinedly. They had no doubt about what they had to do and they did it. Their dependence was on God, and they were willing to accept what that meant for them. They were in His hands whatever happened, confident that He would be with them.

When Martin Luther was taking his stand for the Reformation of the Church an official came from Rome to ask him to say or do nothing that would hurt the church. The messenger spoke of the strength of those who would be against him and the dire consequences of his disobedience if he refused to do as he was asked. The question to Luther was, "where will you be then, in the face of all these?"

There as now, replied Luther, "in the hands of God".

We are reminded of the words of Minnie Louise Haskins:-And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year."Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown".And he replied:"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way".

The secret for successful living for the Christian is to have the certainty of the divine presence all the time.

J.B. Phillips had that conviction:-
God is the great reality.His resources are available and endless,His promises are real and glorious beyond our wildest dreams.

He added:-
In Christ …death can be safely ignored and Heaven confidently welcomed.


Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Potential Of Preaching - Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long


The Potential Of Preaching

Orange Standard, Article 3 ~ August 2008

"Jesus … came preaching." He said, "To this end was I born, and for this I came into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." Mark 1:14, John 18:37

Jesus the preacher convinced men, who were to be His disciples, of God's plan for the world and Him in it and they became preachers too.

Preaching was the means used to make the Christian faith known.


"With preaching Christianity stands or falls because it is the declaration of a Gospel …. It is the Gospel prolonging and declaring itself". P.T. Forsyth


It has been defined as "The preaching of a person to a person about a Person."

The underlying theme of the preacher is the Person and presence of Jesus Christ. While that is constant and invariable much depends on how the preacher applies it and its relevance to people today.

"His material is the everlasting Gospel, his tools are his full powers of thought and imagination. His object to convey to other minds and imaginations the glory and beauty of that which he is seeking to portray." F.W. Dillistone

The preaching should be in words and thought forms that make clear what is meant and nothing else, plain and direct, clear and unambiguous. It was a plaintive cry to the preacher,

"Save us from the meaningless pious phrase: avoid the unessential and unnecessary."

The preacher must believe in the truth of what he says, and with total conviction if he is to persuade others to believe.

Jesus the preacher used words, incidents and illustrations familiar to the people. He could never resist the appeal of need, and had such a power, a magnetism that the people heard them gladly.

Paul the preacher "was completely absorbed in preaching the message, showing the Jews as clearly as he could, that Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 18:5). This was at Corinth. He told the elders at Ephesus, "I have never shrunk from declaring to you, the complete will of God" (Acts 20:27). Writing to Timothy he said: "I urge you … preach the word of God. Never lose your sense of urgency. Prove, correct and encourage using the utmost patience in your teaching."

The admonition on Timothy remains one to be taken to heart by preachers and the advice is apt and necessary still.

J.S. Stewart, an accredited authority on preaching, had this to say to preachers: "Preach the resurrection as the one fact above all others which vitally concerns, not only the life of the individual Christian, but the entire human scene and the destiny of the race."

The individual was the constant concern of Jesus. His way of reaching and teaching people has been described as "the one with the few, Jesus and His disciples; the one with the many, Jesus and the crowds who gathered to hear Him; and the one with the other, Jesus and His conversations with those He met one by one." There is a particular attraction in these meetings and they emphasise the value of person to person contact in Christian work and witness.

Bishop MacNeice wrote in Belfast's "Hungry Thirties" "It is the business of the Church to bear witness to the sacredness of human personality, and to say with plainness that any system which can produce a great wealth, but which cannot use it so as to prevent great destitution stands condemned by conscience and by reason."

The Christian faith is at its best when it is most personal and practical. This is to contend that the preacher and the church, representing the caring Christ, has something to say on everything that matters to people.

We are told of great preachers of the past often with the regret that their like are not around now. That contention is contested, and reasons given for questioning comparisons, past and present. One of them is the difference in attitudes to preaching from when it was an attraction and the preacher, the educated man whose words were worthy of attention, reflection and action. Now there are many educated men and women anxious to voice their views on religion and to show their superior knowledge in every other subject that is of interest to people.
The church and its preachers are not influential in the way they were, for in this increasingly secular society many are so affected by its many attractions that the church has no place in their thinking.

The preacher needs a congregation but church attendance is no longer the practice of many whose parents and grandparents were regular churchgoers. Churches that have retained their strength are reducing in numbers so that attendances are smaller with the effects they have on the church and its purpose in the community.

In spite of their losses the churches continue to represent the beliefs, attitudes and responses of most of our people, and some who are neither believers nor committed to their philosophical and ethical stances on the meaning and purpose of life.

The preacher is still being heard as one who makes a useful contribution to our thinking and living. There were always preachers whose concentration and commitment was on the Person and place of Christ, and they preached with such certainty in the truth of what they said that people heard them turned to Christ and pledged their lives to Him . There are preachers whose ministries have that purpose and effect. They see it as their calling to persuade people to make that response to their preaching for they believe it is not preaching which is not preaching for a verdict.

There remains that effectiveness of preaching even if it is less obvious than formerly so that its future is not in dispute though it necessitates continuous evaluation.

The tasks of the preacher is to bring people to faith in Christ; to build up believers in their faith and to encourage them to so present its values and benefits to others that they, too, feel the necessity to turn to Christ.

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

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