Saturday, 14 November 2009

Disunity - Unity

Article 3 ~ November 2009

"Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." Jude 3:3 (AV)

"I . . . earnestly appeal to you to put up a real fight for the faith which has been once and for all committed to those who belong to Christ" (JBP)

The General Epistle of Jude with its condemnation of false teachers and plea for loyalty to the truth of the Gospel has the practical purpose to warn against all such and to encourage, persuade Christians to value those who stand firm for the faith and to share with them in the fight against whoever and whatever would threaten its continuance and growth.

It is a singularly appropriate appeal to believers in these contentious times for the faith and the churches, under continuous attacks from materialists, humanists and most militant atheists.

The reality is that within the churches there is unity and disunity and we are constantly made aware that Protestantism is so diversified in theology, ecclesiology and attitudes to evangelism and ecumenism that it cannot be a definitive summation in Christian faith and practice. It is, though, what is taught and believed in Protestant churches to give them a unity in diversity.

The tenets of the faith recited in creeds by those with set liturgies, are the beliefs to which others give assent for the differences are less theological than practical and historical. Any research on denominational origins will find their beginnings, while dissimilar in each case have more to do with personal preference, the dictation of conscience and the choice of church order and discipline.

These aspirations were the causes of separation and alienation.

Time and circumstance has encouraged some to develop good relationship, and to present a better picture of Christianity to the world. Each of the churches would insist however that the primary task is to worship God and to show by word and deed to commitment to Christ. And to claim that the Christian philosophy for life is based on the conviction that people need God, for without Him life is lived in a lesser dimension, that the faith works when people turn to Christ and their lives are changed and enhanced by that decision.

It is the recognised duty of the churches to bring people to that experience and to have and enjoy the benefits.

The faith is always more than a corpus of belief. It is the motivating force in the lives of Christians, true to their commitment to Christ. The contention is that the answers to the ills of the world and the needs of people are to be proud in the Christian faith, that if the country is to be freed of the distresses, the attitudes and lives of people must be changed and centred on character and conduct best exemplified in the Christian way of life with its Christ. Like selflessness and determination to care more for others than oneself to practice that Christian brotherliness that seeks the good of people spiritually, intellectually and physically; to help bring about just legislation and to condemn all that grievously disaffects us - sectarianism, racism and classism among them.

On issues of such consequence there should be unity in the churches for disunity is defeatist and disastrous for the faith.

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Christian And His Fellowman

Article 3 ~ October 2009

Nowhere in the writings of St Paul is there more rational, sensible and sensitive thinking on Christian, and other, attitudes on human relations than in Romans 12: 10-21. With its sentiments expressed in words and phrases with charity and precision, memorable and still applicable, beginning with "Be kindly affectioned one to another: in honour preferring one another not slothful in business . . . serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation . . . given to hospitality", and ending "If thine enemy hunger, feed him, if he thirst, give him to drink . . . Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good."

Principles to be Applied
It was said of a preacher that in his sermons he stated the obvious and then spent time explaining it. One could be excused for feeling that anything added to this passage, by way of interpretation or explanation, would be superfluous, for it speaks so clearly, for itself. There is value, though, in meditating on sentiments so clearly stated by Paul, at his most inspired, putting words to thoughts.

The practical application of these Pauline posed Christian principles would have far-reaching consequences. Paul makes a strong plea for that quality of forgiveness which Jesus exemplified in His speech and conduct; that humility which the early Christians, and the first Christian Martyrs, literalised in their reaction to misunderstanding, violence and persecution.

The evangelising quality and value of this kind of conduct has its illustration in the effect of Stephen's martyrdom on the once grossly intolerant Saul of Tarsus. St. Augustine explained it, "The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen."

To be happy with the happy, and sad with the sad, is to share in the common crises experiences of our fellows. Happiness and grief, gain and loss, are of the warp and woof of life. It comes easier to share joy than sorrow. Many a man in trouble has found that his convivial friends are only dependable when the going is good. Friendship is proved in adversity. Shared tears bind people together as shared laughs never can. And yet, apparent contradiction, it is often easier to say sympathetic words to someone in the dumps than to congratulate the fellow who is scaling the heights.

Envy is a sin which prevents us from being big enough to appreciate the quality and ability of another person. "He is a poor man who can't appreciate another man's brains, or brawn." Envy is the attendant of the empty mind. "There is not a passion so firmly rooted in the human heart than envy." (Sheridan) Here is a proverb, "He that would live clear of envy must lay his finger on his mouth, and keep his hand out of the ink-pot."

We are to live in harmony with one another. Good relations among Christians can be elusive.

Church Tensions
Church tensions are the cause of division and separation. "See how those Christians hate one another" was someone's indictment of some who claimed loyalty to Christ but showed little of his spirit. Nothing is more destructful of Christianity than the antagonisms of Christians.

The most unChrist-like attitudes and actions are sometimes found where lip loyalty to Him is given with noisy enthusiasm or belligerency of the tongue, without depth of spiritual sensitivity and sympathy. The faith which shows in high quality Christian living is not always where it is to be expected.

Pride is the vice of the foot. Nothing is more persistent and pernicious than the sin of pride. The early Church was where master and slave sat down together.

Any form of egotism is to be excluded, whether of an estimate of oneself, that would lead to lack of respect from one's fellows, or any kind of self-seeking that leads to the anti-social vices like contempt for them. "If a proud man could only see how small a vacancy his death would leave, he would think less of the place he occupies in his lifetime."

Our Christianity should be winsome, forgiving, winning; never hard, unbending, repelling.

Revenge not for Men
We are to live in peace with all men, conditionally, "if possible; and so far as you can." Principle must never give way to courtesy. Tolerance can be weakness. Peace is the masterpiece of reason.

Revenge is not to be considered. It is not for us. It is the prerogative of God. Vengeance can break people, kindness can make them.

We are being reminded continually that violence begets violence. There is no solution to our "Northern Ireland Problem" in violent reciprocation. The lawkeeper must not degrade himself to the level of the lawbreaker. Booker Washington, the great black scholar and statesman, who knew about degradation said, "I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him." The way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.

We are saying no more here than that we must do one thing, help our people to see the sense of the Christian attitude to life, and to help them to take God seriously and to meet His demands on them courageously. We need real Christianity to be like Christ!

Friday, 11 September 2009

St Paul And His Partners

Article 3 ~ September 2009

Prominent among the disciples of Jesus named in the Gospels were Peter, Andrew, James, John and Paul.

There were others, men and women whose contributions to the growth and influence of the Christian faith were equally acceptable.

They were those willing, able and available to play lesser roles in the plan Jesus had to bring people to real faith and trust in God and to believe that in Him God was personalised as a man among them.

The leaders were dependent on these others to enable them to meet their joined commitments to Jesus.

The truth inherent here is that God does not only need those who do extraordinary things but all those who do ordinary things extraordinarily well.
This article "Paul and his Partners" illustrates that reality in his life.

There can be no doubt of the very large contribution St Paul made to the progress of the Christian Faith as a teacher, preacher and author. The church's indebtedness to this one man is readily acknowledged, and evidenced in that his thinking, insights and perceptions on the faith, are taken as the true and acceptable beliefs of Christians always and everywhere.

Very many books have been written on the person, worth, work and writings of Paul. They describe him as the pastor, missionary, writer exemplar of Christianity; and tell of the respect he earned from his fellow believers for his total, selfless, committal to Christ. They showed him, by their care for him, in the many experiences of his most active and adventurous life, a devotion that made it possible for him to keep going in spite of the handicaps of ill health, injuries, persecutions and imprisonments.

Paul greatly valued his many friends. He named some of them for their very much appreciated contributions to him in care and concern, and often at considerable cost to themselves. They shared with him in the making of Christians, building up their local churches and living out the faith in their communities.

Among them were those whose ability, commitment, self-sacrificing zeal for the faith made them pastors and leaders of such competence that by them the church of Christ had an amazing growth. There were others, "ordinary Christians", who lived their lives quietly and responsibly in doing what they could for the continuance and development of the church where they were. The situation has similar characteristics then and now.

To recall friends of Paul is an exercise in understanding and appreciation their worth in their several and diverse relations with him.

There is Barnabas, a Levite of Cyprus, who on becoming a Christian gave all he had to the church (Acts 4: 36, 37). Available for service he was sent to Antioch (Acts 11: 19, 24) and thence to Tarsus where he persuaded Paul to go back with him to Antioch. Later the two of them were taken at Lysta to be manifestations of the gods Jupiter and Mercury (Acts 13:3). They were together at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15: 1, 2) and with Silas they visited the churches to advise them of the findings of the council.

Paul and Barnabas disagreed over John Mark whom Barnabas wanted to take with them on a missionary journey. The two went their separate ways in the remaining tours (Acts 15: 36-41). In spite of the break they remained good friends caring for one another (1 Cor 9:6; Gal 2:1, 9:13; Col 4:10; 2Tim 4:11). John Mark, nephew or cousin of Barnabas was probably the boy who followed Jesus to Gethsemane and was injured escaping from there (Mark 14:32). Scholarly, he was called "the interpreter of Peter". His Gospel is largely the dictation of St Peter.

Silas (Acts) Silvanius (Epistles) (2 Cor 1:19; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess1:1) was chosen by Paul to travel with him when he broke with Barnabas. Silas was jailed in Philippi. Later Paul left him and Timothy at Thessalonica while he went on to Athens and his confrontation with the scholars at Mars Hill. Silas and Timothy were in Corinth with Paul and are mentioned in his letters to the church there.

Timothy of mixed race, Greek and Jew, was also with Paul on his second missionary journey. It was on his promptings Paul wrote the letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians. He was with Paul in Corinth when he wrote to the Romans (Acts 20:2; Romans 16:20) and in Troas in his imprisonment there (Col 1:1; Philemon 1) and on the apostle's request in his jail at Rome. Helpful to Paul at Rome were Onesiphorous, an Ephersian Christian (2 Tim 1:16, 19; 4:19) and Onesimus, a runaway slave who on Paul's advice returned to his master Philemon at Colossae with good result to both Christian men, (Philemon) Tychius who accompanied Onesimus had been with Paul when he went to Jerusalem and was described by him as his "beloved brother." It was he who brought the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians.

Not all Paul's friends were equal in ability and quality. There was Demas who had had potential as a Christian (Col 4:14; Philemon 24) but who abandoned the faith (2 Tim 4:10).

There were many more than these that received creditable mention by Paul. These are the reminder of the value of friendship and the beneficial effects it had on Paul always thankful for his friends and himself a good friend. Paul and his partners is the reminder that however important the Christian leader there must be those who are his/her dependable co-workers always at hand when they are needed. He or she and they go forward together in the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord. (read especially 1 Thessalonians).

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Youth For Christ And Christ For Youth

Article 3 ~ August 2009

Christianity began as a young people's movement. The fishermen whom Jesus found by the shores of lovely Galilee, and whom he challenged to be His disciples, leaving their boats and nets for a great avocation and a mighty adventure, were in life's morning time. It was a retinue of youths that the Master gathered to His side. When He and they moved about the villages, and among the cornfields, or under the olive trees, or by the waters of the lake sharing memorable experiences of friendship and service, His mode of addressing them was "lads."

And He was their contemporary. When Isaac Watts was composing his popular hymn, "When I survey the wondrous Cross," he had thought of following that line, not with the words we have "On which the Prince of Glory died," but with these: "Where the young Prince of Glory died." It is a pity that version didn't win its way, for it would have been a constant reminder to us that the Captain of our Salvation had the dew of youth. Ecclesiastes 7:1 "In the days of thy youth"

Youth is the time of generous impulse and eager enthusiasm. Dr. James Stalker wrote: "There is something awe-inspiring in the first glance cast by the young on the world in which they find themselves. It is so clear and unbiased; they distinguish so instantaneously between the right and the wrong, the noble and the base; and they blurt out so frankly what they see. As we grow older, we train ourselves unawares not to see straight or, if we see, we hold our peace. The first open look of young eyes on the condition of the world is one of the principal regenerative forces of humanity."

There is a fund of idealism in life's morning. Caution and calculation come later, as do contempt and cynicism. "Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them." Response to the clarion call of Christ; committal to the high enterprise is never easier than at the threshold of manhood and womanhood. Then should come the challenge to discipleship.

And let it be the living Lord who is held up to youth, the man of action, the Leader depicted in the Gospels who appeals not to our softness but to our strength. Let it not be some anaemic figure, some creature of the theologian's imagination, remote from reality. For it has not always been the real Jesus that men have acknowledged. It was acclaimed as a triumph when the Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity. Was it not rather a sad day for the Church, for to assimilate the celebrated convert she compromised. Was official religion pure ever since? We talk of the faith spreading and conquering Europe. "What Jesus conquered Europe? A conventionalized Jesus as unlike the real one as the floral patterns on wall paper are unlike the flowers of the fields."

Youth hungers for a creed, a cause, a captain. If some worthy passion doesn't grip it then some base frenzy may intoxicate it, some pernicious philosophy may ensnare it in its toils and hold it in the thrall. Douglas Hyde says that where there is a spiritual vacuum Communism rushes in to fill it. There is a void in too many hearts. Help the Saviour to possess those vacant places. He can fill with unparalleled good the empty hands of yearning reached out to life by wistful souls.

It is said that the needs of youth are someone to trust, something to live for, something to belong to, and in the service of Christ and His Church, in the community of those pledged to be strong with His strength, tender with His tenderness, patient with His patience, those needs can be most adequately met.

The choices of youth are fraught with far-reaching consequences. Frank Bullen told how he joined the Cachalot as one of her crew. "Sailors," he said, "are naturally and usually careless about the nature of the articles they sign, their chief anxiety being to get to sea and under somebody's charge. But had I been ever so anxious to know what I was going to sign this time I could not for the language might as well have been Chinese for all I understood of it. However, I signed and passed on, engaged to go I knew not where, in some ship I did not even know the name of, in which I was to receive I did not know how much, or how little, for my labour, nor how long I was going to be away."

Such madness is not a monopoly of mariners. Some are so greedy for life, so avid for experience, that they blunder into a grievous bondage. Indiscretions have to be clearly paid for in a mortgaged future. False steps bring a not easily remedied misery.

Would you embark upon adventures? You can commit yourself to Christ with confidence. His service is perfect freedom. Discipleship has enduring delight. Round that high venture the regrets of life will never gather.

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Orange Standard Article 3 ~ July 2009

" I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jews first, and also to the Greek.
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith, for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness, because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them." Romans 1:16.

St Paul describes his conversion to Christ; the effect it had on him and how as an apostle, witnessing for and writing about Him his whole life had been dedicated to His service. Described as Man in Christ Paul's commitment was the reason for, and the cause of, what happened to him in a life of incredible experiences. He speaks of a few of them - jailed at Phillipi; chased for his life at Thessalonica; smuggled out of Berea; facing the verbal onslaughts of scholars at Athens; refused hearings by Jews and Gentiles in Corinth. In all that happened to him he never doubted his vocation to "preach Christ", to declare the good news that God was in Christ personally reconciling the world unto Himself. To Paul Christ is the answer to the needs of everyone. God in human form He is the saviour and lord of mankind.

Paul lived in another time of religious and political uncertainty. Many people lived fearfully, their uncertainties made worse by their leaders who often spoke in contrary terms to cause bewilderment among them. Paul knew that their problems caused them to echo the words of Seneca who said: "We need a hand let down to lift us up."

Paul told them that Jesus was that hand, the one who would rescue them from their distresses, personal and collective. The good news is that He came to free them from the chains that bound them, preventing them for enjoying the quality of life available to everyone who has faith in God. Salvation is release from the bondage of sin which is defined in the Shorter Catechism of the Presbyterian Church:

"Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God."

Paul spoke of the sin that separates people from God and the faith in the person and work of Christ that would end that estrangement. He lived and died for them so that by His atonement for sin an at-one-ness with God is theirs.

Paul saw the primary characteristics of the Christian as loyalty to Christ and honesty in their dealings with other people. And these were to be real and recognisable qualities in all acquainted with them. The statement of faith must be shown in the character and conduct of the believer.

"Faith is the act of trust by which one being, a sinner, commits himself to another being a saviour". Horace Bushell. But Paul also speaks of the consequences to those who refuse Christ. He uses "Wrath of God" in describing his thinking on how God reacts to those who will not have Him in their lives (cp Romans 1: 16-23)

"Sin is rebellion against God. Arising from their corruption of the human heart, it is the cause of our separation from God, and the reason for us deserving of God's wrath." William Barclay.

To emphasis the love of God is to do what is right and proper for God is love but as one preacher put it:

"The notion of judgement is falling more and more into disuse. It plays hardly any role in the public discussion on the nature of Christianity."

And that elicits the response:

"A Christianity in which judgement has no place is not the religion of Jesus. He showed that sin if persisted in, has consequences for the sinner."

God's wrath is itself an expression of His love. He hates sin for it deprives people of the fullness of life for which they are created.

St Augustine prayed:
"Oh God, you have made us for yourself and we cannot rest until we rest in you".

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Endeavouring To Please God

Orange Standard Article 3 ~ June 2009

'What shall we do to satisfy God?' (John 6:28)

Jesus made people realise the presence and power of God. Whatever the situation or circumstance in which they met up with Him, He told them about God.

All His stories, wise sayings and advice were an encouragement to people to trust in God, to have such a lively faith in God that everything they say, think and do will be governed by their relationship with God.

He called on men to live God-centred lives. He made them so conscious of God that He was called on to answer this kind of question. "How shall we please God?"

"What must we do to satisfy God?" Jesus answered the question, not only in words, but in the way of His life. He showed people how they should live in order to please God. He explained to them what it meant to believe in God.

But first He described God to them in simple terms so that they could know Him and trust Him.

He was speaking to people who believed in God. They had been taught, as all their people had been over many generations, that God is, and life dependent on Him.

But while some of them may have seen God much as Jesus described Him, many of them thought of God as the One who had an interest in them as a nation and who would give them victory over their enemies, success for failure, freedom from the yoke of the conqueror.

Their God knew about war and justice and judgement.

While sometimes they thought of Him as the provider of the manna in the wilderness, and the One in whom their forefathers found comfort in their captivity by the rivers of Babylon, they thought of relationships.

It was Jesus who showed them to God in the tenderest terms. He used a metaphor even more telling than the fine description of Him thought up by the Psalmist when he sang, "The Lord is my shepherd."

To Jesus God is the Father, and closer to people than even the best father can be.

The child who becomes a man may outlive his relationship with his father. Not distaste but distance, intellectual and geographical, can separate one from the other until only relationship remains, without content that means anything to either of them.

A man never outlives his need of God or his dependence on God. The God of Jesus is everything that is good. He wants for man only what is good.

The virtues which elevate man and make him a creature capable of the most admirable qualities - generous, honest, self-sacrificing and self-effacing - are God-given and God-like attributes.

God, as Jesus demonstrated Him, is concerned about man in his needs, aspirations, responsibilities and potentialities. God cares for us!

Jesus had a particularly memorable thing to say about the responsibility and privilege of man. It is to love God and to love his fellow man. The demands of faith in God are never less than these.

The God of Jesus wants only man's good. He is a very different God from the God of many who call themselves religious men and women.

The God of some Christians is a God of judgement who is short on charity and strong on condemnation; short on grace and strong on dogma; more concerned with the rightness of a man's belief than how he acts with his fellow men.

He is very different from the God to whom Jesus introduced men. He was not small like that or vengeful or divisive.

God is like Jesus! Jesus has shown men what are the real values of life and what they should do with their lives.

His example in self-sacrifice, self-giving, is the pattern for all who call themselves Christians, and mean it - all who are really committed to Jesus Christ.

Faith in God is a serious business - not hurtfully serious - just serious demanding all that is worthwhile in the believer. Faith in God is a big thing, not pretty, acrimonious or spiteful, but joy and peace and fellowship with all believers.

The Gospel is good news. We make it good news to others when we live by the standards of Christ, and try to make the kind of world He wants for men to enjoy.

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Joy In The Lord

Orange Standard Article 3 ~ April 2009

“The Lord is my strength who makes my feet nimble as a hind’s and sets me to range
the heights” Habakkuk 3:19

Religion has always suffered from wrong impressions of its true value and usefulness. The most common of these is that it is dreary, dull, and negative m its attitudes to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” Robert Louis Stevenson was surprised, when persuaded to go to a church service, he said:
“I have been to Church and am not depressed”.

Many see religion as a rope, a halter, an impediment and impoverishment of life. They feel sorry for those who ‘’get religion’. But still among them are those, who for their own reasons, allow religion a place in their lives, however fleeting, for they prefer a church wedding; to have their children “christened”; and, the church to be there in their suffering and bereavement.

They manage, in their everyday lives, though, to separate these from what is really essential and purposeful in their lives. But those who are connected and conscientious Christians find in their faith the means to an entirely satisfying, happy and contented, life. They contend that everyone who has had a real Christian experience, a meeting of heart and mind with Christ, will not find life dull, on the contrary they will find, discontentmentand joylessness, a contradiction of the Christian faith a travesty of the truth.

One writer explained:
“When you watch religion at work you find a morality, when you converse with it in thoughtful mood you find a philosophy; but when you touch the heart of religion you find a song.”

The Bible provides an illustration with its psalms and spiritual songs, Christianity has its teaching and preaching to explain itself, and its singing’s, The songs have often been the most effective “Gospel Messengers” in encouraging people to believe what they say and to trust Him of whom they say so much, informatively and memorably.

It has been claimed that the great times of the church were its “singing days” with those who wrote or used songs in their revivalist campaigns, the Wesleys, Moodys, and Booths and the evangelists whose meetings were enhanced by their singers and the singings of the congregations.

Habakkuk, the Old Testament prophet, said what Christians would echo and apply:
“I will be joyful to God because the Lord is my saviour. The Lord gives me strength. He makes me as surefooted as a deer and keeps me safe in the mountains”. (GNB)

Habakkuk was the one prophet-philosopher, a thinker and writer, who described the murmurings and questionings of his own soul. He told of the effects of his knowledge and experiences and communions with God and what the Spirit said to him, in the quiet, for his own sake and for those for whom he felt responsible.

Habakkuk had been pessimistic about life and the society in which he lived and then a religious experience had changed his whole outlook on life to give him hope for the future. He described that life changing experience in the language of his people:
“God has made my feet like the feet of the deer”.

Isiaah described the experience of those whose trust is in God in the often quoted:
“They that wait upon the lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint” (40: 31)

Jesus is the obvious example of that with His inexhaustible vitality; ability to deal with any emergency; undeterred and undefeated in every circumstance. He faced life and its problems clear in mind and buoyant in spirit.

He taught His disciples to treat life that way, and they lived as someone described it:
“ringing, winging and soaring lives.” It was to be said of them by their teaching, preaching,
and living they “turned the world upside down”, To be in fellowship with God is to have that most desirable likeness of spirit and the conviction that where there is faith and hope everything is possible. It was a good wise man who said: “When you think failure you are out of the reach of success”.

God can give us that which is most precious in life. Faith. Hope. Love.

The Christian has the best of things. His hope in God; his love for God and his faith in God. It was Paul who claimed:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Music Is An Extension Of Our Praise

Orange Standard Article 3 ~ March 2009

Have you bought your copy of Canon Long's collected Orange Standard pieces "Think on these things"? This month's article is an extract from the book, which is available at £4.00 plus postage from Schomberg House.

"Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God."
Ephesians 5:19.

Integral to the services of the Christian church is the worship of God, and the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments. Whether the services are formal, liturgical, or spontaneous, extemporary, these are essential to them. Integral, too, to the services of the church are its psalms, hymns, spiritual songs and instrumental music. Varied in form, style, quality and quantity they play a large part in the public worship of Christians. In many churches their role is becoming more and more apparent and significant. There is the recognition that most people have an inbuilt love of music and song that in them their feelings and emotions are most adequately expressed. It is much easier to be with others in music and song than to join them in prayers, sermons and ceremonies in church. This because people often "speak with the head and sing with the heart."

Even those with a minimal interest in religion find it easy to use the church's music and song in the crises of their lives.

They are the natural expression of feelings and emotions; joy and sorrow; hope and expectation; devotion and commitment.

Christian enthusiasm is most readily expressed in music and song; music beyond words and words singable and meaningful. "A song will outlive all sermons in the memory."

There is always need for balance in the services of the church, the parts are dependent on one another, enhancing one another. The blend of prayer and praise, scripture and sermon is necessary when there is devotion to God in worship and a receptive sharing in the learning process by scripture and sermon by the people of God.

Charles Kingsley has a warning for anyone who elevates singing over everything else: "Do not fancy, as too many do, that thou canst praise God by singing hymns to Him in church once a week and disobeying Him all the week long. He asks of thee works as well as words; and more, He asks of works first and words after."

The warning noted there is reason to pay compliment to those whose music and song contributes so much to the deepening of the spiritual lives of believers and for bringing others to faith in Christ. There is reward for the composers and authors whose works receive the highest commendation by constant use. Some of them are well known names whose lives have inspired us for the depth of their commitment to Christ and the variety of their experiences before and after the faith caught hold of them.

They were men and women inspired to say in music and song what was necessary to speak for God to people and people to God. "Glorious the song, when God is the theme."

As we think of the use of music and song we may show preferences, for the quality and quantity is variable in the extreme. Describe it as you will the choices are numerous and yet there is much music and song which have universal approval and frequent use.

The editors and compilers of the 2003 published Church of Ireland hymnbook knew that and while they managed to include many favourites there were omissions which displeased some. They had to make room for new composers and authors whose work merited inclusion. Time will tell as to its durability. What is important is the acceptance that the music and song of the church must reflect the thinking of people in a world of rapid change, the effects of new experiences and discoveries in the many fields of human endeavour, while retaining the fundamentals of the Christian faith described in the music and song of other ages.

It is also the reminder that no age has a monopoly of talent and new people are emerging all the time with words and music applicable to where and how people live.

We have preferences in our choices of what we hear and sing in church. Most of us are likely to agree on the need for clarity, articulation, in sound and voice. We want to easily recognise what is being played or sung. We have sympathy for someone who hoped that God knew what a soloist was singing for he did not.

It must be of the essence of good music and song that there is no need for anyone to complain about its audibility clarity and intelligibility. Having said this we have to add that everyone should be encouraged to sing in the congregation. Most people can sing. Few things are more impressive about church than Christians singing together in response to the psalmist, "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord".

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

"When Success Is Failure"

Orange Standard Article 3 ~ February 2009

Jesus told a parable:
"...a rich man's farmland produced heavy crops ... he said, Soul you have plenty of goods ... Eat, drink and have a good time. But God said to him. You fool this very night you will be asked for your soul. Then who is going to possess all that you have prepared. This is what happens to the man who hoards things for himself and is not rich where God is concerned" (Luke 12: 13-20)

The success story is always interesting! Local boy makes good has its appeal for it excites, stimulates, as it gives hope to the aspirant whose dream of emulating a star in sport, music, art and business is fired up with what they have achieved.

This story of Jesus was of success without a happy ending. The man had his priorities wrong. It is an unusual story for Jesus who was always slow to condemn. He often found reason to treat gently those likely to be treated harshly. He was quick to aid the ill regarded and devalued. He loved children and their distinctive actions and reactions were used to teach necessary lessons to adults.

A man of the people he chose working men to be his disciples and close companions in His ministry. He recognised qualities in them needed to make people aware of the plan and purpose of God for mankind. He set standards for them and valued their successes as His representatives in their work and witness for Him.

Success to them and the man of the parable was very different. He had a bumper harvest and thought of building bigger barns in expectancy of continuing good fortune. He must have impressed others by his hard work and the gain from it. But to God he was a fool and his folly was that he had a wrong view of life and its purpose. He valued it by possessions, and regardless of what he had been taught about God and the much greater benefits that come by faith in Him. He was broadly minded and Soul absent-minded.

His thinking is so much that of the great number of people today that this story has permanence, or continuous relevance.

It is the reason why the Gospel must be preached so that people hear of the provision God has made for them in Jesus Christ, His person and work, and what His life, death and resurrection means for humanity.

There is the thought in a little prayer of St Augustine, "Thou, O God, hast made us for thyself and we cannot rest until we rest in Thee."

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Retired rector’s 40th clerical union paper

Canon Ernest Long read his 40th paper to the Lurgan Clerical Union (LCU) on 4th December, in Donaghcloney church hall, Diocese of Dromore. The LCU is the clerical society for Dromore Diocese. Canon Long’s papers over many years have been on a multiplicity of subjects and many were published in magazines, newspapers, pamphlets and books.

Monday, 16 February 2009

The Legend Of The Wisemen

Orange Standard Article 3 ~ December 2008

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." Matthew 2: 1 and 11.

The most mysterious figures in the Christmas story are the Magi who came, guided by a star, to the stable of the Bethlehem inn just after Jesus was born to see Him in the straw of his crude cradle.

The New Testament writers do not tell us who they were or even how many there were of them. Tradition says that there were three wise men, so called because they were among the most learned of their day. A time when there was an expectancy of the coming of a great king who would bring peace and prosperity to a troubled world. And Judaea was to be the place of his appearing.

Wisemen or kings? According to "The Lost Chronicles of Sufi Abbas", the astrologer of Carmena, the three were kings. Marco Polo found the papers and lost them but he talked of their contents to his daughters Fantina, Bellela and Moreta, and named the kings and described their appearances:

Gaspar of Tarshish, young, tall, straight and black.

Balthazar of Chaldea, middle-aged, medium height and brown.

Melchior of Nubia, old, short, bent and white.

The girls each had her own remembrance and valuation on the Chronicles. Fantina explained that shortly after the kings began their journey led by the star they were in trouble for Gaspar's camel had trod on a viper and died. Young and strong he urged the other two to go on and he would catch up with them. Traveling a short distance the two lost sight of the star. They turned back to link up with Gaspar again and to tell him that the star was gone. He listened and pointed, "But look there it is."

The moral of Fantina's story is that those who follow the star must share with each other their joys and sorrows, privileges and responsibilities. The selfish always lose the heavenly vision.

Bellela told that when the kings rested on their journey they wondered about the one to whom the star was leading them. They agreed that he would be kingly, grand and wise. They disagreed on his appearance; each favoured his own colour for him. They quarrelled and lost sight of the star when they separated to go their own way. Disappointed they came together and the star was there again.

The moral of Bellela's story is that nothing should be allowed to separate people from one another. They need one another, for no one lives by himself alone.

Moreta said that as the kings were different they differed in their expectation of the one they would see at journey's end.

Gaspar looked for a great king and he took with him his tribute of gold, the proper gift for a king.

Balthazar hoped for a god and he brought incense for his worship. Melchior longed for a Saviour who would save him from his sins and his gift was myrrh for him who would sacrifice himself even to death for him.

Myrrh for embalming.

A king! Jesus, the King of Kings, came to reign in the hearts and minds and by the wills and actions of those who committed themselves to Him.

A god! Incense was used by the priest in the worship of the Temple. The Latin word for priest is pontifex, bridge builder. His task was to help people to turn to God. Jesus is the great high priest who brought God and people into a relationship when by their faith in Him they were called the people of God.

A Saviour! Myrrh was used to embalm the bodies of the dead. Holman Hunt's famous painting shows Jesus at the door of the carpenter's shop at Nazareth. He stands arms outstretched and the sunlight casts a shadow on the wall behind him. It is of a cross. Jesus died on the Cross. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin, and live to righteousness: By his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:24.

The moral of Moreta's story of the wisemen is that everyone can get what he needs by his faith in Jesus Christ.

The insights from the three accounts are that people should be unselfish, kind to one another, not self indulgent; they should not let disagreements separate them, for divisions are weakening and defeating; and they can have their every need met in Christ.

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long