Friday, December 30, 2011

IN WITH THE NEW -3-


And that brings me thirdly to the outcome of his appeal. Supposing we do present our bodies to God, what will happen? The answer is in the remarkable contrast of the next verse, "Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." The basic contrast, I think you will agree, is absolutely clear. On the one hand is the fashion of the world which is superficial and changeable, and on the other is the will of God which is profound and unchangeable. So the contrast and the choice between all of this is on the one hand the world's way and on the other, God's way.


Now that option is before us daily. The world presses its claims upon us through the media: through television, through radio, through audio or video cassettes, through newspapers, through movies, through the theater. The world with all its standards and its value system is pressing upon us through the media every day.


But God presses his claims upon us through Christ and through the scriptures in which he has revealed his will, and we have to choose between the way of the world and the will of God.


The world says: get and grab what you can and live for yourself. God says: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."


The world says: give as good as you get; return good for good and evil for evil and tit for tat. God says: "Do not repay evil for evil but overcome evil with good."


The world says: sex is for fun; it's enjoyment without commitment. God says: sex is for love; it's enjoyment within commitment.


The world says: go for the top and the end justifies the means. God says: "Whoever wants to be first among you, let him be the servant of all."


The world says: greatness is measured by achievement. God says: greatness is measured by service.


The world says: you're number one; so live for yourself and look out for yourself; nobody else is going to if you don't. God says: "Seek first my rule and my righteousness, and these things will be added to you."


The world says: stand up for yourself; fight for your rights. God says: "Blessed are the meek; they shall inherit the earth."


And so I could go on and point after point the way of the world and the way of God are at variance and in opposition to one another. My friends, there is no possibility of reaching a compromise, no possibility of negotiating a settlement, or of having the best of both worlds, we've got to choose either to conform to this world and its value system or to conform to the will of God and so become transformed into the image of Christ.


Now as I bring this to a conclusion, I want to urge you not to fudge this issue. Don't try to escape from this choice. Let me bring it to you in five simple steps:


First, thank God for his mercies. Read the scriptures that unfold the story of the mercies of God. Come to the Lord's Supper, if you are a Christian, which portrays and celebrates visibly the mercies of God. Meditate on the unutterable mercy of God who loved us when we deserved only his judgment, and has had mercy upon us. Remember his mercy and thank him.


Secondly, present your bodies to God in response to his mercy. Not your heart only, not your mind, not your life in some ethereal sense, but your body: your hands, eyes. I find it a lovely thing; in fact almost the first thing I do when I awake in the morning, when my alarm clock goes off - is that I swing my legs out of bed and sit on the side of my bed and present my body to God. And I sometimes go from limb to limb, the hands, the lips, the ears, the eyes, the feet, etc. and present my body to God afresh for that day as spiritual worship.


Then thirdly, don't let the world squeeze you into its mold. You probably know that that's the rather dramatic translation of "don't be conformed to this world" in J. B. Phillips' translation of the New Testament. Don't let the world squeeze you into its mold. Be on your guard. It's necessary to read the newspaper, but have you ever thought it's dangerous. It's necessary to watch television and go to the movies to understand what's going on in the world around us, but it's dangerous. Subtly, insidiously, the world can infiltrate into your life and squeeze you into its mold. So we need to be on our guard. The whole value system of the world can permeate our lives if we are not careful. Keep on your guard. Keep up your defenses. Maintain your critical faculties. Read the newspapers. Watch television, but do it critically.


Then fourthly, be transformed according to the will of God. Radically transformed by accepting the standards of God rather than the standards of the world. If you are a Christian, then you already have a renewed mind. That is to say that the Holy Spirit has given you the mind of Christ. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia which means a change of mind. Every Christian has been given a change of mind. The Holy Spirit has given you a new outlook, a new perspective. And with this new mind seek to understand God's will for your life in his word, not only in order that you may discern it, but in order that you may prove it, and endorse it and seek grace to do it.


And then fifthly, remember that God's will, which you will discover in his word, is good, acceptable and perfect. God is not a kind of' ogre who is determined to rob us of everything good in life and everything that makes life worth living. The very opposite is the case. "Christ came , " Paul said, "to give us life, and to give it more abundantly." God's will is not a burden. It is a pleasure. God's will is not alien to our human personality. It fits it perfectly. I venture to say from my own experience, as well as from the scriptures, that God's will is good, and acceptable and perfect. To rebel against the will of God is to rebel against your own highest welfare, whereas to endorse the will of God is to find personal human fulfillment.


So as I conclude, I appeal to you, my brothers and sisters, at the beginning of this new week, in view of the infinite mercies of God, "Come, present your bodies to him as your spiritual worship." Don't go on being conformed to the empty fashions of this world but allow yourself to be transformed as your renewed mind grasps the will of God and seeks to do it. And remember the will of God is good and acceptable and perfect.


So this appeal to present your bodies to God is an appeal that simply cannot be ignored.

IN WITH THE NEW -2-

Biography Dr. John Stott was rector for 25 years of All Souls Church, London, the largest Anglican church in Britain. He is widely known for his university missions, his seminars for pastors and students in the Third World countries, and his continuing service in World Evangelization out of the Lausanne Congress. Dr. Stott is founder and director of the unique London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This Institute has as its primary purpose helping men and women apply the Biblical revelations to our contemporary world. He is a rare combination of pastor, teacher, evangelist and world-renowned author. [Biographical information is correct as of the broadcast date noted above.] [Transcribed from tape and edited for clarity.] _________________


 Firstly then, I want to invite you to consider the ground on which Paul bases his appeal. He does not issue an appeal in a vacuum; he issues his appeal in a precise context. His appeal at the beginning of Romans 12 is in fact the culmination of eleven chapters of close arguments. He says, "I beg you therefore, because of what I have been writing, on the basis of the mercies of God, that you present your bodies." So that phrase "the mercies of God," is a kind of apostolic shorthand for everything that he has written up to this point. He began at the beginning of his letter by speaking of our sin as human beings and our guilt, and our need of the mercy of God. Because all of us, without any exception whatever, Jew and Gentile, educated and illiterate, religious and irreligious, have done what we know to be wrong, we are guilty before God, our conscience tells us so, and we are without excuse. We have known what we ought to have been, what we ought to have done, and we have not done it. And yet God has continued to love us, even when we have continued to rebel against him and to run away, from him. He sent his son into this world to identify with our sin and guilt, and on the cross to bear in his own innocent person the condemnation that we deserved. So if we run to Jesus Christ, put our trust in him, and take refuge in him as our savior, God justifies us. That' is. He accepts us in Christ, he adopts us into his family, he makes us his child, and puts the Holy Spirit within us and begins to transform us into the likeness of Jesus. Then one day God is going even further than that. He is going to regenerate this universe. There is going to be a new heaven and a new earth. The sufferings of this groaning creation are not worth comparison with the glory that is one day going to be revealed. Now all this, and more, is included in that little phrase, "the mercies of God," and is the basis of Paul's appeal that cannot be ignored. So Paul doesn't begin, you see, with an appeal. He begins with an exposition. The characteristic mood of the gospel is not an imperative to do this or that. The characteristic mood of the gospel is an indicative. It tells us of something that God has done in and through Jesus Christ on account of which God appeals to us to respond. Let me ask you: is the reason why our resolutions are so often irresolute, that we have never seen and understood the mercies of God? Or if we have understood them at one point in our lives, we have then come to lose sight of them. There is the basis of Paul's appeal. We must see the mercies of God and then in response to his mercy, we are ready to come to him with our lives. So that brings me secondly from the basis of his appeal to the nature of it. You know what it is: "Present your bodies." Very earthy, isn't it? There are some Christians I know who are really rather embarrassed at the fact that they've got a body at all. They rather wish they hadn't. They wish they could escape out of their body into the pure ether. But God has given us a body and he means us to present it to him. So you notice that the appeal is not to give your heart to God, which is a phrase we sometimes use, but it isn't a very Biblical one as a matter of fact, as if we're thinking of some ethereal or mystic experience. It isn't even to give your life to God because that's a rather abstract idea. It's to give our bodies to God. Malcolm Muggeridge, whose name I know is well known in America as well as in Britain, has sometimes spoken about himself and his old carcass. He's said that he has dragged his old carcass around in the world for too long. Well, I love Malcolm Muggeridge, but I'm not sure we really ought to refer to our bodies as an old carcass, because God has given us our body. So let's think about it for a few minutes. God has given us feet to go places so that we don't have to stay rooted to the same spot all our lives. We can move around and explore the wonderful world that God has made. God has given us hands to create things and to form things, to paint and draw and sculpt, to clean and cook with, to write with, to soothe and caress with. These wonderful versatile things we call our hands. God has given us ears to listen, and mouths to speak. So that even now I'm communicating to you. You are listening with your ears, watching with your eyes, and I am speaking with my mouth. It is a wonderful thing to have a body through which to express our personality and communicate with one another. God has given us eyes to see the marvels of his handiwork, to look into one another's eyes, to see one another, to be able with the eye to smile and express our love with a smile, or express our sense of humor with a twinkle in the eye. How marvelous to have feet, and hands, and ears, and eyes, and lips. Well, we are to present our bodies, to bring all this to God our bodily life to him for his blessing and his direction. It is a living sacrifice, not like the dead sacrifices of the Old Testament, but a living sacrifice, and it is our spiritual worship. Amazing, isn't it, that to present our bodies can be a spiritual worship. The worship God wants is not just something in the heart, it is not just expressed in hymns and canticles through the lips. The worship he wants is the presentation of our bodies to him - to live for him, to serve him in this very corporeal way.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

IN WITH THE NEW Part -1-


I've come to talk ... about Jesus Christ. I wonder why it is—perhaps you have asked yourself this question many times—I wonder why it is that so many of us seem to be such abysmal failures. We mean well. We try hard. We have good intentions. We make good resolutions, whether at the beginning of a year or the beginning of a month, a week, or whatever it may be, but somehow we don't seem able to keep the resolutions we make.
Frankly, the trouble with our resolutions (in the plural) is that we lack resolution (in the singular). Perhaps the best illustration I know from English literature comes in that charming Victorian novel called “Elizabeth and Her German Garden.” Let me quote to you a little bit from it.
Elizabeth says, "I have for some years past left off making good resolutions on New Year's Eve. But I have long since discovered that although the year and the resolutions may be new, I myself am not. And it is worse than useless putting new wine into old bottles."
"But I'm not an old bottle," said Iraeus indignantly.
"And I find," she said, "that resolutions carry me very nicely into the spring. I revise them at the end of each month and strike out the unnecessary ones, and by the end of April, they have been so severely revised that there are none left."
I wonder if that's your experience. It has been mine from time to time. So the question really is how can our resolutions become more resolute. It's easy to make them. How can we keep them? Is there a foundation on which to construct our resolutions that is more solid than our irresolute will?
And it is in answer to that question that I bring you my text, Paul's great letter to the Romans, chapter 12, verses 1 through 13. He says, "I appeal to you, my brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice unto God which is your spiritual worship. Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern and endorse the good and perfect will of God."
I'm persuaded that Paul's appeal, an appeal I'm suggesting cannot be ignored, an appeal he made to the Romans in the 1st Century AD that is just as relevant to us wherever we are today towards the end of the 20th Century. Indeed, Paul's appeal is God's appeal. "God making his appeal through us," as Paul writes in another place.
Let's listen tonight. Let's say with Samuel, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Let's say with Saul of Tarsus, "What do you want me to do, Lord?" And pray that God will speak to us and tell us what he wants us to do.


John Robert Walmsley Stott CBE

 (27 April 1921 – 27 July 2011)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

SINGLE SPOUSE OFFICERSHIP; LATVIA


SSO Sweden & Latvia is one of TSA Territories that adopted the Single Spouse Officer provision. We will be sharing information on the effectiveness of the provision, pro and con, from all of the territories where the provision was endorsed and adopted.
__________________________________________________
LATVIA December 19, 2011  

My name is Aivis Ilsters and I live and minister in Latvia, one of the three Baltic States. I live and work in the capital Riga. I have lived here all my life, apart from two years which I spent in the Soviet Union Army (military) fulfilling my obligatory duty, while our country was still under the USSR.
 
I grew up in a time when there was little information about the God and His Son Jesus Christ – no books, no Bibles and no films. Most of the Churches and congregations that maintained any semblance of religious order did so without buildings. Their buildings were turned into theatres, sports halls, TV studios, museums, clubs, cinemas etc.

To attend church could cause lots of problems, although it was not actually forbidden. Our state church, the Lutheran Church’s only activity was a Sunday service, which were quite formal and attended by a small number of old people who rarely had anything in common with each other. There were lots of horrifying rumors spread about Baptists, for example; and what they got up to, but only a few people had met any Baptists or really knew anything about them. It was forbidden to preach the gospel or tell anyone about God (who the Soviets said did not exist) and most of the best workers in the Kingdom’s field at that time were old people who sowed the seed of Truth in their grandchildren’s hearts.

My parents were not Christians nor were my grandparents, although one of my grandmothers who lived in the countryside went to Church occasionally and had a Bible at home (an old one with old script). While spending summer holidays with my Grandmother I would sometimes wonder what could be written in such a big Book and I remember even trying to read it a few times.

I believed that there was a God, but I did not know Him – did not know THE MESSAGE, I had never heard it. I did not know that I needed to call Him to Save me; I did not know how He had created the world and how sin had broken our fellowship with Him and how Jesus had come to restore our eternal spirits through His death for us. In Soviet times we did not celebrate Christ’s birth, death and resurrection as public holidays.

The messenger of Good News.
God sent me the first messenger when I was studying in Technical College. Tom was my classmate and we became good friends. He was a Christian and he talked to me about God and Jesus. I remember being quite open about The Truth and I almost started to attend his church. After I met him, I promised to myself that I would read the Bible one day.

When I was drafted to serve in the regular military service, my first prayer (which I did not realize at that time was a prayer) was the words of one church chorus. My grandmother gave it to me to take with me to the Army. The words of the chorus were:

 You are the best of friends

Be with me as you always are
In a midst of greed and jealousy
Only you can strengthen me
When the storm of trouble comes
Be my shelter, be my guard
Take a place in me
What you want me, I will be.

I was sent to a country called Uzbekistan (in Asia), which is a country neighboring Afghanistan. At that time the USSR was still involved in a war there and soldiers were being sent to the war zone from our training base. Fortunately, God ended the war and I stayed in Uzbekistan where I served for two years as a military cook (for which I was trained).

I came home from the Army just before our country got back our independence. We had had independence only once before in our history from 1918 until 1940. I returned very depressed. I could not see the meaning of my life and I lived in fear of death. It was Christmas time and as a present from my friend I received a New Testament. This was the same friend – Tom, who had shared his faith with me when we had studied together. I remembered my wish to read the Bible someday and decided this was the day. I started to read the New Testament and as I read it I discovered the Truth – Jesus Christ as the only way to know God and have faith in Him. The more I read, the more I was amazed about the stories and statements that the Bible held. God opened to me His treasures and His truth. I realized how precious it is to know Him and belong to His family of believers. I realized that my sin even involved my ignorance of God’s love and my life without Jesus in it. This was not just a one-day confession, but over a period of time the Spirit worked around and in my life as I got to know and understand the Word of God.

Around this same time the Soviet Union broke apart and the unbelievable became the reality – freedom, the taste of which was long forgotten, was suddenly there. The dream, which many had stopped to dream for a long time was fulfilled by the Power of God and many acknowledged it as His miracle and presence. With the freedom He granted came the revival of the Church and many came to faith in the Living One.

With the freedom that Latvia received, together with the other post-Soviet republics, the door was open for missionaries to come, to live and to work in the fields of hearts and soon there was a flood of missionaries representing different denominations and religions. Some shared the Truth, some who were themselves deceived, deceived others to believe in other gods. I had been a Christian for two years when God put into the hearts of the Navigators from the US to come and live in Latvia. Through them, God worked greatly in my Christian life, causing me to grow and become mature in my relationship with God. Besides Bible their training material was Navigators “Colossians 2:7” Series. During the time they lived here they made “2:7” series available in Latvian language.

Now I am involved in ministry to repeat the process and share with others the same things that were taught to me. “Col. 2:7” Bible study series is the main material I am using in the process.
Many more things I have learnt over the years from co-laboring with my American friends. I have been involved over a period of years with the Church Discipleship Ministries work in Russia. I have traveled on missions to Siberia together with John Sackett, Dick Taylor and Jim Remeur. Through these trips God taught me how I can help Church people to organize small groups to aid them in the process of discipling people.

So now, for six years I have been involved in a small group ministry in various towns all around the country of Latvia. Many of the Churches I am involved with are Lutheran Churches as this is our state religion (church). Experiencing small groups is quite new for many of them and they are excited to get to know more about God in the atmosphere of a small circle of people where everyone can share their experience and also get to know each other and build each other up. My aim is to work together with the pastors of the Churches to start up these small groups – to give advice and help where possible. Sometimes this has meant that I go and lead the groups for some time to model what I am talking about. It is my aim though for other people to take over the leadership of these groups and so I try and work towards this. Over the six years, I have started to see the process multiply as people move to new places and start up groups where they move to.

My vision for the future here is to see this work in small groups growing in the Churches here. After our countries non-Church history, people do not have all the background knowledge of growing up in some sort of Christian environment. This makes the discipling process so vital. I would like to find more people to join me and to train some more people up, but it is quite hard to find those people who are ready and available. I know though that if God wants the work here to grow, he will provide those people.


Aivis Ilsters
SSO Married to the CO; Riga I Corps

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mary’s Song

From the Commanding Officer; Birkenhead, UK
December 2011

Could you imagine Christmas without any carols?  Going through the whole of December without hearing ‘o little town of  Bethlehem’ or singing ‘silent night, holy night’.  Sometimes when I am out collecting as the band is playing carols people will say to me – now I know Christmas is really on its way as they listen to the band playing.
A Christmas season without any carols announcing the birth of a worlds Saviour.  Can you imagine it?  What a tragedy it would be if the first ever had no music to announce the coming of Jesus.

There was though!  Much singing and rejoicing.  The account of his birth would seem unfinished without it and the bible would be incomplete without Mary’s song.

‘My soul glorifies the Lord!’  sings Mary.   These verses in Luke 1 is often referred to as the ‘the Magnificat’ -   it means to Magnify.  ‘my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in Christ my Saviour!’

This is pretty amazing when you think about it.  God has just informed Mary, via an angel, that she is to conceive a child, that will not be born from union with Joseph.  This is going to be the talk of the village – and not in a good way.  This will cause uproar and bring shame to a family.  Because who on earth is going to believe her version of accounts? 
Lets face it – would you of?
I had enough trouble trying to convince my mum and dad that I was way to unwell to go to school when I was a teenager – let anything as big as this!!

But this is no fairytale – this is real and this is hugh.   Yet, although Mary cannot understand how this could be.  Even though Mary perhaps found it difficult to get her head around the question of ‘why me?’  She trusts in her God.  She accepts his will for her life.  And she worships him.  Her soul magnifies the Lord.   She marvels in his bigness, his greatness – his magnificence.  And she sings a beautiful song and advent would be lacking without it.

Listen to it again with a more contempary version  -   (the book of books)


My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

I Am So Blessed!
Through song Mary is saying ‘I am so blessed’.   How incredible is this young woman?   That amidst the obvious complications and consequences of what is happening in her life.  Despite the abrupt and head spinning, change in her life.  Mary feels blessed and is able to praise the greatness of God.

Because don’t you feel at times that praising God is not always easy to do?  You know, when life is not always wonderful, super, couldn’t get any better thank you – sometimes praise of God’s greatness is the furthest things from our thoughts.  Or is that just me??!  There are times when praising God, worshipping God – magnifying the Lord, is difficult to do.

Lets not make any mistake here – Mary is not unfazed by what is happening.  Believe it or not, becoming pregnant and being the mother of  God’s son was not on her list of things to do and be before I am 21!  Mary is not unconcerned as to how this is going to be viewed by others.  Mary is not lacking somewhat in her upper story (she’s not daft!).   But despite how she may personally feel about how her life is now going the pan out she understands enough about the greatness of her God to know how blessed she truly is. 
And rather than shouting out ‘this is too much, too hard, unfair’ she chooses to sing ‘I am so blessed’

She chooses in these moments to not sit with her head in her hands thinking ‘I’m in for it now – big time!’  but to acknowledge in her heart that she is highly favoured, honoured, privileged.  God has made her his choice.
Chosen by God the prophet Jeremiah cries out ‘but I am too young’.  Moses says ‘what about my speech impediment’  When Noah was asked to build a boat you can bet he is thinking ‘How big??’.  When Sheila was called to be an officer, she made sure that God knew that he was the funniest comedian she had ever heard!   But all come to know how privileged it is to be chosen of God.  And Mary delights in this knowledge.  God has made her his choice.  

Mary sings to the Lord realising that she  a ‘nobody’ was a ‘somebody’ in the eyes of her Maker.  She has worth.  She has meaning.  A purpose in Gods great plan.  God is ‘mindful of me’.  This peasant girl in Palestine.  Yet God has placed her on an invisible  pedestal and makes her feel 10 feet tall making feel like no one else could ever make her feel.
Do you feel that way?  Or do you still feel as though your life is of little consequence in the grand scheme of things?
We who are saved – are chosen and our life’s are of great worth in the eyes of our maker.  God has blessed us with his grace – undeserved but so freely given. 
We are so blessed – he is mindful of us and his gaze is upon us and in him we have meaning and purpose.

I Am Humbled!
Through song Mary is saying ‘I am so blessed’  and Mary is also ‘I am humbled’
He could have chose anyone.  A princess in a great palace.  Someone at least of noble birth.   But a peasant girl in Galilee?  I am so humbled!  She sings.

I read this week that in then OT the Hebrew meaning of the word blessing was ‘to kneel’ and I’ve been thinking about that.  When in the presence of God people humbled themselves, they would bow the knee.  In the presence of his greatness they acknowledge their lowly state.  They bless God – bring delight to God by acknowledging who he is and what he means and has done.  They bend the knee in humble adoration as the shepherds and wise men did at his birth.  Mary bowed the knee in humbleBut then I remembered.   He chose Mary above all others.  He chose Bethlehem above all places.  He chose a stable and a feeding trough and he came right down to earth – to us.
And I remembered Jesus on his knees washing his disciples feet  - humbled for a season.
In his grace he has loved us, reached down to us, scooped us up in his arms  and still holds us there.
No wonder Mary couldn’t contain herself and burst forth in song.   ‘I am so blessed’ and ‘I am humbled’

She is blown away at the extent of what God is willing to do in her life and in the life of others – for his mercy extends to all those who fear him from generation to generation.  God will never run dry of grace to pour out in peoples lives.
And God is reaching down to this world with his grace even today with grace that saves sinners and grace that reclaims those that have strayed.  Grace that endures battles.  Grace for every situation in life  ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.

Mary praises God that he is a God for the poor and humble, the needy.  And she praises God that he stoops down and scoops up the lowly and exalts them because of their faith in him.

God loves despite us.  With an undeserved grace.  With a love that came right down to earth, humbled for a season.   He sent his son for the whosoever.   He chose a peasant girl to be his mother and the lowly shepherds of the fields to hear of him and knell before him first of all.

This advent lets make Marys song our own song -  let our souls acknowledge his greatness – his magnificence.   And may our hearts sing – ‘I am so blessed’ and ‘I am humbled’   and with trust let us bow the knee in adoration and with obedience  as Mary did.
 
But how do we equate this with God blessing us?  

Major Sheila Loman
Liverpool Birkenhead Corps

CHRISTMAS CAME EARLY TO SKANGALI AND SEDA


… and so the day of days arrived, There was an air of anticipation and great excitement and that was amongst us, the adults when there wasn’t yet a child in sight!  More presents needed to be wrapped … a few needed to be purchased as we struggled to find some for older children. So off we went for a quick visit to Vermeira...


There was the aroma of baking coming from the kitchen as homemade pizza was being prepared and several special Latvian sliced cakes,The mixture of aromas was wonderful.  The smells and sounds of music and gifts being wrapped provided the perfect Christmas air.




All we needed was snow, but that wasn’t to be this year … well not for us anyway. They may have some by the 25th or even the 7th January, the Orthodox day for celebrating.


Eventually, after dark, we heard the noise of excited children as they began to arrive for their party.  They waited for Sven , Derek and me to mount the stairs before they ventured into what looked like something from a film set and we heard a stifled ‘wow’ as they walked in and very quietly took their seats.  To begin with it was almost as if they were dumbstruck but I’m pleased to say it didn’t last long!




























Games began, excitement as 'pass the parcel' was explained in English and Latvian and the sense of delight when they received a lollipop between each wrapper … but then when they reached the bar of chocolate at the end they were ecstatic.  Interestingly, I noticed those who won the chocolate shared it without any prompting from an adult... a year ago this just would not have happened.


We moved on to the game of oranges under the chin and passed down the line which brought about much hilarity but not quite as much as a balloon being passed over head and then through their legs, followed by musical bumps.  The laughter was wonderful to hear and the broad smiles I think will be etched on our memories for a long time to come.




























Food, glorious food … was wolfed down.  It looked wonderful surrounded by candle holders and night lights that were later sent home to their families as a Christmas gift.  Shiny red apples and sweet small oranges were obviously a real treat as the children took handfuls of them.  As they ate the children watched a DVD of our previous visits over the last three years and loved seeing themselves on the big screen.


The music and the excitement began again until we heard a loud knocking from an outside door … much to the children’s delight and extreme excitement, In walked Santa throwing small gifts and the children leaped in enthusiasm to make sure they didn’t miss out.  But then there was more … much more and the children were encouraged to sit down in their winter wonderland as Santa gave individual gifts to each child, all of these had been donated from friends in the UK and USA.  The photos will tell their own story.


Throughout the evening, we rejoiced, we celebrated, we heard the children give thanks to God for His goodness and we were blessed, blessed beyond measure.




























Major Glad


(supplement - unknown to the Major!)


Last night we hosted a Christmas party for our Latvian children- 40+- dancing, games, singing and a movie highlighting our 8 previous visits... then came SANTA! The children literally jumped for joy!


The children's toys and games were doled out, too slow for some, by Santa (Derek) and the childrens' faces said it all; "thank you American, British and Swedish donors"! All except one...


Natasha, top Sunday School helper/student at the Seda SA outpost, tearfully showed Glad the gift she'd received, and we realized it was intended for someone aged 4 NOT 14! NATASHA IS THE YOUNG LADY ON THE RIGHT,,,








All the gifts were distributed and Natasha had none! Glad gave her a loving hug and said; "Wait, I've got a gift for you I hope you'll like." She removed her favourite gold ear rings, a gift from her father some years ago and said, "I was wearing these in order that I wouldn't lose them and to not forget to bring them tonight; I brought them just for you..." And so that precious gift was re-gifted, a gift that meant so much to Glad because it had been gifted to her by her father.


That is the story of Christmas- God, the Father gifted us with that which was most precious to Him, His son- what precious gift are you re-gifting in love this Christmas?


I know what I'll be shopping for today, golden ear rings!


Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

THE FSAOF MISSION TO LATVIA 3


Today has been a relatively quiet day in Skangali as we waited for the arrival of the Christmas presents for the children.  We had already brought them to Latvia back in August but since then they had been in hiding from curious eyes.






















We received them this afternoon when it was all hands on deck with Sven, Derek and Glad as we looked through what there was, sorted and began to wrap the gifts hoping and praying they will be put into the right hands for each child to get the best enjoyment out of them.  Suddenly we had the arrival of more help that brought about a magical sense to the evening …


This was followed by a most enjoyable time of ‘food, friendship and fellowship’ as we were joined by Captains Sergey and Aizan, and Cadets Dmitri and Ilona for an evening meal in what has become our favourite restaurant in Valmeira; Latvia for that matter.


























Plans were discussed and finalised for tomorrow evening as we ate and hoped that tomorrow night will be a very special and memorable evening for the children of Sakarni and Seda as they join together for a party.


Our prayer is that will have a few hours of joy to lift their thoughts from the misery so many will return to after the festivities are over...


Major Glad Ljungholm on loan to the FSAOF serving in Latvia

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

THE FSAOF MISSION TO LATVIA



Sunday morning found us at the Riga 1 Corps.




This was a first for us as we have usually been to Riga II on a Saturday and at Seda on the Sunday, so this was a really refreshing change.  I was looking forward to worship, this fourth Sunday in advent and I was not disappointed.




As we entered the hall it was warm and welcoming as were the people.  The Christmas décor was stunning in its simplicity.  Candle lights dancing in the draft and there was an air of happiness and expectancy as together we gathered to worship Emmanuel, God with us.




H & S folk would have raised an alarm... 


There was a mixed congregation, English, Welsh, Latvian, Russian and Swedish that I know of.  A very real sense of:




‘They shall come from the east, they shall come from the west and sit down in the Kingdom of God’ and we did just that, young and old alike.  It was encouraging to see a good number of young people, probably the largest part of the congregation who enthusiastically participated in the service.


A contemporary worship group provided the music for us.  This was made up of both uniformed and non uniformed people.  The translator was a non uniformed Salvationist and excellent in her ministry and she reflected what Lieutenant Sarah Ilster was saying to us in English.




Sarah has just been commissioned as a Salvation Army Officer this year and has been a distant learning Cadet coming across to the UK from time to time to help complete her studies.  Sarah is an English, single spouse Officer, married to Alvis who is Latvian and SA soldier.




Alvis works for Navigators, a Christian organization and uses his God given gifts specifically in the area of teaching discipleship and at times lectures at the training college in Riga.  And so together, with their differing gifts they serve God along with their young son.


It was a delight to sit under Sarah’s thought provoking and challenging ministry.  She is an excellent communicator and shared the Gospel message in a simple, expressive way that left us in no doubt how Elizabeth and Mary’s story is relevant to our world, our lives today in 2011


Some of you who read this blog regularly may be interested to know that Sarah has agreed for me to interview her and to share it here in the new year, and hopefully when she is over in the UK she will be able to meet with our ‘Explore’ group  




(those who are exploring Spiritual leadership in Liverpool).  


Today, Monday as we visited the Regional Headquarters an invitation was extended for some of you to come and meet the Army in Latvia, during the summer of 2012.  Watch this space for further details.


Sunday, however brought its own challenges, its own encouragement, its own delights.  Voluntary testimony from young students of what God is doing in their lives.  The enthusiasm and youthfulness of some of the Cadets who joyfully worshiped God and as always the beautiful sight of witnessing people kneeling to pray at the Mercy Seat.


Thank you Riga 1 for welcoming us into your midst.  Thank you Lieutenant Sarah for your ministry to us and may God bless you real good!

Major Glad Ljungholm
Liverpool - DHQ

reporting for the FSAOF

Monday, December 19, 2011

THE BUBBLE!




LEAVING HOME



3 LARGE SUITCASES BEING LOADED BY A VERY LARGE CHAUFFEUR


THE BEATLES WAVE FAREWELL TO US AT JOHN LENNON AIRPORT LIVERPOOL

BAGGAGE COLLECTION ON ARRIVAL; RIGA AIRPORT

LET'S GO!

Day One:  Friday / Saturday

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year … I absolutely believe this and have been singing that line for weeks, I don’t know anymore of the song, but I certainly know the sentiment.  The other day I was driving into the office singing at the top of my voice:


Christmastime, mistletoe and wine,
Children singing Christian rhyme.
With logs on the fire and gifts on the tree
A time to rejoice in the good that we see.


A time for living, a time for believing.
A time for trusting and not deceiving.
Love and laughter and joy ever after
Ours for the taking, just follow the Master.


Christmas time, mistletoe and wine,
Children singing Christian rhyme.
With logs on the fire and gifts on the tree
A time to rejoice in the good that we see.’

And so you can see, I was excited to put it mildly!

Advent, a time of preparation, anticipation, expectancy and I felt all of those things and much, much more as we planned to journey to Latvia to see ‘our kids’ and spend a few days with them to celebrate a 'family' Christmas.

‘I’M SO EXCITED’ … was another line of a song that I continued to sing at the top of my voice.  I think I nearly drove Sven insane …lol!

But how quickly that bubble of excitement, anticipation, expectancy burst.  We, along with Derek Lucas, one of our summer team from Cwmbran, left our home in Liverpool for the John Lennon airport for an afternoon flight, we waited, and waited, and waited until eventually Ryan Air announced our flight had been delayed until 6.00am the next morning.  And so in a nearly eight hour period we had travelled no more than a few miles down the road and we were nowhere near Sweden in order for us to get our connecting flight to Latvia the next day.  My bubble was burst and that sense of excitement was very quickly disappearing and changing into dread at the thought of not making it to Latvia on Saturday.

The alarm went off at 3.00am and so up we got, showered, dressed, had breakfast and headed for the airport. You should have seen the queues  … but having a disabled husband does have its advantages at times and we were directed to the front of the line of anxious people eager to discover if we were going to get out of Liverpool at 6.00am  We were assured we would and as we headed for the departure gate I could feel my bubble beginning to inflate again.  I shouldn’t have allowed it to.

Eventually we arrived in Sweden and had to wait for what seemed like forever and a day for our connecting flight to Latvia, snow was beginning to flurries and I could feel my bubble getting lower and lower.  Before too long it became obvious we were not going to make it in time to join ‘our kids’ at the circus and by this time it seemed like my bubble had well and truly burst.  I even began to wonder if it could be repaired and if I would be able to feel some of that excitement again?

I should not have worried though because the moment I stepped out of our rental car in old town Rigaand walked towards ‘our kids’ waiting outside of McDonalds in Riga, and the children not knowing what they were waiting for; when they caught a glimpse of me walking towards them, they dashed towards me to greet me with hugs as if from long lost friends and immediately my bubble was inflated bigger than my bubble had been before.



"OUR KIDS"- OR BETTER SAID, "THE SEDA VILLAGE CLAN..."



IT COULD JUST AS EASILY BEEN KFC OR BURGER KING- RECONCILIATION IN ITS SIMPLEST FORM

Never had a McDonalds ‘Happy Meal’ looked or tasted so good, as we saw the happy faces on our kids, listened to their happy and excited chatter (even though Derk and I cannot understand the language) realized they had, had an amazing time at the circus and were absolutely on cloud 9 as for most they were out of their village for the very first time and with all of this excitement in one day they could hardly contain themselves and neither could we! Major Glad from THE COMMISSION http://www.sacommission.blogspot.com/

Sven and Glad THE 4TH 'FORMER'S SPONSORED MISSION TRIP TO LATVIA THIS YEAR!








More to come...