Saturday, May 28, 2016

Grace Alone - Norwegian Territorial Band speaks to us


We can all sympathise with that Scottish divine whose efforts were questioned just before he ascended his pulpit steps. He was so upset by the remarks made that he could scarcely concentrate and he questioned himself as to what else he might do as he preached, almost convinced by his critics' words. How blessed he was to be sent God's assurance in a little boy who spoke to him afterwards and asked if he too might be like the one he had just listened to, if he studied and worked hard. That little lad, Robert Moffat, won thousands to Christ. Who therefore can ever measure the worth of the ministry of that faithful old servant? Maybe we lack even that little boy in our fellowship. Only in Christ may we find our reassurance that what we do is his will and not our own misguided desires. Sometimes it is just seeing a man of God's persistent confidence in God's promises that will cause the necessary change in a people. However God does it, be certain, somewhere, somehow, something will begin to happen. We know not where it will come from, or when it will come, but his Spirit's presence will be made manifest and God will vindicate his servant. He will honour those who honour him.
In the meantime, in the darkness and in the desert we learn to be sustained by him and him alone, so that we can join with Habakkuk: `Even though the fig-trees have no fruit. and no grapes grow on the vines, even though the olive-crop fails and the fields produce no corn, even though the sheep all die and the cattle-stalls are empty, l will still be joyful and glad, because the Lord God is my saviour, The Lord gives me strength. He makes me sure-footed as a deer, and keeps me safe on the mountains' (3:17-19). There is no contradiction between our joy in God's salvation given to us through Jesus and a heavy heart of sorrow at the sight of those of our people who lack this treasure. Jeremiah shares his grief for his people, May my eyes flow with tears day and night, may I never stop weeping, for my people are deeply wounded and are badly hurt. When I go out into the fields, I see the bodies of men killed in war; when I go into the towns, I see people starving to death. Prophets and priests carry on their work, but they don't know what they are doing' (14:17, 18). We see Jeremiah not only sorrowful about his suffering people, but also because his fellow-prophets and priests fail to see what he sees, and for all their qualifications, really don't know what they are doing. How lonely our ministry can be! Some imes we long for peers or a leader who will understand what we see and hear, only to be broken-hearted with disappointment. Yet Christ never disappoints, and there comes a dawn in the darkness. If ever you have been up and about in the early hours and have been watching the sky, you will know the experience I am sure when, before dawn breaks, or there is any real change that can be measured, you are certain that the colour of the sky has changed. You doubt for a while; you wonder whether your eyes are playing tricks or whether you are imagining things, but the sky grows brighter and you begin to see things more clearly and then the sun rises and dominates. So it is as a corps begins to warm. The Spirit informs you; you sense it before you see it. Anticipation and certainty develop in your heart for no apparent reason, and then little things begin: little things that bear great significance. Someone buys a Bible who never showed interest in reading it before. Deeper spiritual questions come when visiting the homes of soldiers; an offer for further service is made; a person finds Christ (always a miracle, but more so for this barren place); a wife requests to retake the vows of soldiership; someone who has made life continuously hard wants to see you, and you brace yourself for trouble, but then share in his tears of remorse and regret, for God has melted his heart. Barriers begin to come down, joy begins to pervade the fellowship, anticipation precedes worship, and God shows his growing pleasure with some remarkable blessings and signs of his power and presence.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Flames begin to flicker

'MY dear children! Once again, just like a mother in childbirth, I feel the same kind of pain for you until Christ's nature is formed in you says Paul (Galatians 4:19).

When we live in the Spirit, in communion with Christ, he lifts our burdens and gives us his rest, but we also share his yoke, his yearning, his grief for his children. When we are one with Christ it is no longer what is done to us that causes us the greater grief, but what is done to Christ. We see our situation and the people that God has entrusted to us through his eyes. Our longing is for them to be in receipt of what possesses us; like Jesus, we pray, 'Father! You have given them to me, and I want them to be with me where I am .. (John 17:24).

That longing has to be for the dead and the living in the fellowship; the aggressive and the passive; the oppressors and their victims; the wolves and the sheep. I believe that it is Corrie ten Boom, in her book The Hiding Place, who tells of a woman prisoner in Ravensbruck being mercilessly beaten by a sadistic wardress and the profound effect that the words 'poor woman' had upon her when she realised that her sister Betsie was looking at the thug doing the beating as she spoke,not at the victim.
It is easy to love those who suffer but much harder to share with Christ in his prayer, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do', having the perpetrators of such sufferings in mind. We are urged in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to 'encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone' (my italics), and many will try our patience; in fact, unless his Spirit reigns within we will not possess the limitless patience required.

It is so easy to meet assertion with assertion, agression with agression, and use the argument that our response was justified because of the injustice of the instigator. The world controls force by meeting it with an even greater force whereby fear prevents conflict. This is not the way of Christ. He does not want a man merely to alter his actions. He desires a change of heart.

`Do not try to rule over those who have been put in your care, but be examples to the flock,' says I Peter 5:3. Self-restraint, meekness, will always be misread as weakness by those without eyes to see. They will say, 'He doesn't because he can't', or 'He's afraid', or 'He's blind to what we are about', and time and time again we will be hurt by such blind foolishness and arrogance. We will run into the closet with our broken heart. and wounds and disappointments and there receive that mysterious healing balm that only his Spirit can give.

James Hudson Taylor speaks of being bitterly disappointed by someone. 'As soon as he was gone I had to seek my little sanctum and pour out my heart before the Lord for sonic time before calmness, and then more calmness, thankfulness and joy were restored. I felt that God had his own way, and was not going to fail me.'
It is in the closet, the little sanctum, we first seek his will, and then, having fulfilled it, return for reassurance and the dressing of the wounds received in obeying him. It is there we are equipped to do what needs to be done and shown the way in which he would have us do it. No ends ever justify a means that is unchristlike in its spirit. Sometimes he will lead us to do something that appears to be foolish on the face of it; maybe we are led to close down part of the programme because there is no leader for it and in his economy it is, at present, unnecessary. We may then be judged by our accusers as being a party to those who are lazy and avoid doing things they don't like doing.

Maybe finances are on a knife-edge, but he burdens us not to persist with some of our hours of labour in this direction and to trust him for any short fail. After much inner battle we concede only to be questioned by our soldiers and even our immediate superior, 'perhaps neither of whom seem to understand what we are about. Perhaps after months of labour and prayer there is still nothing visible that has changed, that can be included in any statistical returns. Perhaps our weekly platform teaching and outpouring is scorned and ridiculed.


All Scripture references are from GNR.

MORDECAI, living in retirement in the UK

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Come Meet Jesus Part Two


From the chapter: The Butierka Prison Engagement (A Return to Russia with Flags Unfurled)

Text Box: 306 THE OFFICERThe Salvationist (all Christians) must go on loving even if our love is rejected.  We must go on loving until our love is understood and then accepted.

General Frederick Coutts's words in the celebration held in New York's Cathedral of St John the Divine in October 1965, as the Army celebrated 100 years of Godly service ‘round the world’ echoed the Old Testament words that: 'We who were not a people, have been made a people.' 

An editorial article in The Officer magazine published the same summer states that: 'William Booth's cry for arms long enough to reach the rich on the one hand and the poor on the other has been gloriously achieved in the Army.' We had arrived. But inherent in any such senti­ment is the danger of complacency, of resting on laurels, of delegating responsibility to others…. In the years since we celebrated our arrival I wonder if indeed the reach of our arms and the breadth of our devotion to the most vulnerable, the forgotten hasn't also changed; if we haven't somehow also come to accept the situation of society’s abandoned masses as the status quo. I don't mean we're not doing anything, but are we doing enough, or as much as we ought by God’s unchanging mandate?

John Stott, in his book Understanding Christ, pays great tribute to us in quoting from The General Next to God, He relates Booth's staunch discipline and expectation of his soldiers, and how Salvationists dedicating their children in SA worship services: 'must be willing that the child should . . . spend all its life where God should choose to send it, that it should be despised, hated, cursed, beaten, kicked, imprisoned or killed for Christ's sake.' But that was a century and a half ago, we say, and times have changed. That was before we arrived; it was during the time our newly-formed church was being persecuted. Is it that the church is less persecuted today, or as John Stott says, 'simply ignored'? Is it that we are not different enough from the world, willing enough to speak up, to speak out, and to act out what God still calls us to do? Are our arms still wrapped around the poor, the vulnerable, the despised?

Our message must be clearly seen as being different from the answer given by the social scientist, where `technique is all', Our hope is one that offers purity to the dirtiest, hope for the worst fallen, and a vision swept clear of human prejudice and folly. And as that hope is shared it also offers a living testimony to the critics.

The crucifixion reminds me that Christ died for the world, yet it was for me. And in his dying for me, he not only offered salvation but also called me to service. Reginald Thomas in his book To Know God's

Way, says: 'Jesus comes to ask something, as well as to give some­thing; and (we must) understand that sacrifice, denial, and even a cross are essential parts of the Christian vocabulary, just as much as rest, joy, pardon and peace. You have to know that you will not always be fascinated by our Lord, for there is part of his gospel to which you might not be so anxious to turn.' We claim a salvation and experience that makes us complete in him. Can it be said we are complete when the pattern of our behaviour shuns the experience for which he came? Are we truly walking in his Spirit when we sidestep the very ones he names as himself?

David Watson shares the insight of an Indian Christian in his I Believe in Evangelism: 'People are no longer converted to a doctrine. They can only be attracted to a way of life they see as a practical alternative to the values and assumptions of our competitive, alienated, materialistic society. We have been presenting Christianity (the system) and not Christ the person. . . We have to present to the world a living Christ, fresh, always life-giving and nourishing. . . •
In this charismatic age we need to be reminded that the charisma, the charm of our loving Saviour was not found in his solitude or absent union with his Father; it was in his joining and sharing with the oppressed, the alienated, and those living without hope. P. T. Forsyth says that we are 'potential Christs' in the sense that Christ grows in us and rouses our faith to action.
He is our example: we are not to live isolated from the world's suffering in some monastic fashion of seeking participation with deity. We must not let our love for God cause us to neglect our duty to love the poor. If we love God we must also love our neighbour. Our gospel compels us to live completely, which is to communicate a gospel which corresponds to people's felt needs. And in doing so we need to cry loudly the public shame in which we share for not having done more.

While many in the modern, sophisticated, western  world question whether the plight of the vulnerable is the result of the politician's inability to mobilise, or the result of social scientists' inability to programme, it is no less the Christian's shame for not recalling the words 'As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me' (Matthew 25:40, RSV).

Christians must also assume the additional responsibility to cry out loudly about all blatant social injustice we meet, and we meet a great deal of it. Offering Christian hope, as worthy as that is, while remaining silent on the cause of injustice is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called 'cheap grace'. God seeks both the salvation of the individual and the healing of his total creation. We must seek it out so that God can 'execute righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed'.

Elton Trueblood warns that 'one of the insidious dangers of any religion is spiritualism', and indeed many demonstrate a satisfaction with a sense of arrival, becoming 'satisfied with what goes on in a place of worship with no real worry about poverty adjacent to humiliation….' He was puzzled and bewildered.

One day, while riding listlessly on the city's outskirts, he saw a figure coming toward him. He halted and saw that it was a leper. He knew immediately that this was a challenge to would have found in the Crusades, but as one would challenge who knew the hearts of men. He knew he would never have shrunk from the banners, spears, or attacks of Perugia. But here Francis saw his fear walking toward him, coming to meet him face to face. For once, `his soul must have stood still'. Then, as if knowing nothing of fear, he sprang from his horse and rushed on the leper and threw his arms around him. It was the beginning of a lifetime vocation of ministry among lepers. To the man he gave what money he could, remounted his horse and rode on. Francis, sensing the need to catch a final glimpse of the leper, turned, as he rode, to see him once more, but he could see no figure on the road.

Come, meet the vulnerable, come visit the prisoners. Come, Jesus waits among them.

Sven-Erik Ljungholm PhD

Sven & Kathie 1992 Moscow

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Come meet Jesus Part One

July 1987



`Since . . . we know what it is to fear the Lord we try to persuade men. . . . For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all ... that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again' (2 Corinthians 5:11,14,15 NIV)

“THIS issue of The Officer contains a number of references to what may be regarded as the proper function of Salvation Army officers. The topics discussed have relevance to us all in whatever capacity we are currently engaged. However, a more vital issue is the motivation which prompted us to offer for service in the first instance. From that, there must follow the challenging question: has the purity of our motives been maintained?...,,

Paul declared that he was called to the work of proclaiming the gospel and he used the term 'ambassador' to describe the task in which he and his companions were engaged (2 Corinthians 5:20, 21). The apostle spoke of two motives for his mission: the fear of the Lord (v 11), and Christ's love (v 14). At first sight the two ideas may seem to be contradictory but they are, in fact, causally related. God begins with mercy—an expression of his love—but such love has no real meaning without the accountability of the beloved. Love does not preclude judgment but rather requires it.

There can be little doubt that Paul had judgment very much in mind when he wrote: 'Since …we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men' (v 11)….

What part does this sense of compulsion and accountability play in our ministry as officers? There are many (but by no means all) who testify to a reluctance regarding their call to officership. 'Had there been any other way' they claim, 'we would have found it'. 'But peace of mind can only be found in obedience to the divine call' they continue. Those among us who were not so reluctant would surely confess that certain divine constraints are upon them to pursue their ministry.

If that is fear of the Lord, it is not intended to be a negative, unhealthy fear. It should provide impetus for our work—the desire to go out and try to persuade others of the claims of Christ.

We should also recognise that the Hebrew concept of the fear of the Lord carried overtones of reverence and awe and it is unlikely that Paul would use the phrase without having those ideas in his mind.
True reverence seeks to act in a manner which is worthy of the one revered. Thus the fear of which the apostle wrote ceases to be a negative concept. This is in sharp contrast to our modern understanding of fear—an experience which can bring paralysis.

Such negative attitudes can have devastating effects on our ministry. The sense of reluctance may be the natural response of many when the first battles of obedience are fought, and fear of the consequences of resistance to the will of God may provide the initial motivation to respond. However, unless the initial fear develops into a healthy reverence for God, reluctance can become resentment and the whole of our ministry then becomes coloured by negative attitudes which paralyse rather than motivate our service.

This brings us to a consideration of the second of the motives listed by Paul. What he had experienced of Christ's love gave urgency to his work. Paul had a profound understanding of divine love as we see from such passages as Romans 5:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 13. The evidence of that love is the sacrifice of Jesus and the apostle brings this into sharp focus in 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15: Tor Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all „ that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.'

This compelling power of love caused Paul to reach out in two directions. First, to the source of love—to God in haps we need to remind ourselves that Paul was not a convert from paganism. He had shown the utmost devotion to the Jewish faith and had proved quite fanatical in protecting that faith from any threat. He would probably have claimed that he loved God, but there is no evidence that his love extended beyond his narrow pharisaic dogmatism. His encounter with the risen Christ transformed him and his attitudes. He saw God not in narrow legalistic terms but as One who had reached out to men through the saving work of Jesus. This was love in action and Paul was caught up in devotion to Christ. No wonder he exclaimed, 'Christ's love compels us' (v 14).

Is this the love that compels us? Devotion to an idea or dedication to the movement to which we belong will prove an inadequate substitute for the motivating and sustaining power of Christ's love. We may be quite fanatical in our devotion to a cause, labour to the point of becoming a workaholic, but without a loving response to the love of Christ we are nothing.

The second direction in which Paul's love found expression was towards those who were the objects of Christ's love—those for whom Christ died. This impelled him to be involved in mission. 'God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ. . . And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors' (vv 19, 20).
Can we speak about the power of love without seeking the well­being of the beloved?

It must be admitted that some people are easier to love than others and it would be wrong to pretend that it is always easy to reach out to others in love. Some people are repulsive in manner and/or appearance; others reject all our efforts to minister to them. Most of us know to our cost that such rejection is not restricted to the drop­outs of society or the unconverted. We meet resistance amongst our own soldiers and congregations and it is often these people who test our endurance to the limits.

But it is impossible for us to discharge our responsibilities and fulfill our mission without a love which seeks the well-being of the beloved. This is the very nature of the God who has called us to his service. He goes on loving even when we reject his love…..”

Editorial Comment

End Part One

My article follows in Part Two
Sven-Erik Ljungholm PhD

Friday, May 20, 2016

Parents of a Transgender Daughter PART TWO -Conclusion

Part Two - Conclusion

We learned:
‪1. We learned that acceptance was a harder road…but we were up for the challenge. We know we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”

‪2. We learned we could find peace in a new normal.

‪3. We learned perfect families don’t exist. “You have the perfect family…a boy and a girl…and the boy is older,” someone once said. In their patriarchal world, this may be a good thing…but it hardly matters. Our family is what it is…and we love each other.

‪4. We learned that our families of origin are more gracious that we thought they might be. After she came out to the rest of the extended family, we saw them offer continued love and grace to our child. We should have known that would be the case…for they have shown grace to us throughout our lives.

‪5. We learned we will never fully understand what our daughter is going through. We are cis-gendered. Our brains match our bodies. Hers does not. But we learned we could have empathy.

‪6. We learned that all people deserve love and respect, and all people deserve to be at “God’s table” …and not under it. We should never equate people with “dogs.” Matthew 15:27. Jesus welcomes all to His table…and offers a feast of food, friendship, and faith to each one.

‪7. We learned that gender identity and expression is a painful experience for a person who is transgender. It isn’t something that they choose to be hip or cool. And we need not make their life more painful. In fact, the Christian would make their path smoother and their load lighter by living out the love found in 1 Corinthians 13 and taught in the Sermon on the Mount. We choose to practice this basic Christian ideal.

‪8. We learned personality is not gender-related. She is the same as he was. She is just as creative, messy, and funny as he ever was. She is computer-savvy and still a passionate baseball fan—just like he was.

‪9. We learned that the brain is still the great mystery of the human body. A mass of grey, gelatinous tissue; it controls the whole of the body. It is the holy of holy of the human, if you will. And all aspects of brain function, chemistry, and its final output in thought and feeling is still a great mystery.

‪10. We learned to interpret the traditional homosexual Bible passages through the interpretive lens of the ministry of the grace of Jesus. The same Jesus who loved tax collectors, women, lepers, and the foreigner…would also love the LGBT community today. By following Jesus’ example in this, we realize that we will likely be criticized the same way He was. “Why do you eat with publicans and sinners?” To that question, we will give Jesus’ answer.

SDA Elder O. Kris and Mrs. Debbie Widmer

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Parents of a Transgender Daughter PART ONE OF TWO

An Adventist pastor and his wife (a nurse), who are parents of a transgender daughter recently wrote an open letter to other parents of LGBT+ children. It's been eliciting incredible responses and has been seen almost 20,000 times just from our SGA FB page. This is the power of people within a close community (which all of Adventism is) opening up and sharing. Suddenly the "thems" become "us", and we realize those we might have been talking about or making assumptions about are right next to us at the table of fellowship, or even speaking from the pulpit. We're incredibly grateful to Pastor Kris and Debbie Widmer for their courage to speak up and commitment to love. Parents of LGBT+ children in the church often feel incredibly isolated, marginalized, and shamed also. They often go into a "second closet" as the Widmers describe, so please consider sharing this letter with your network. You never know who really might need to know they aren't alone.

Here's their letter:
Recently and ongoingly (Kris is a poet and wordsmith so occasionally he forges odd words), transgender people have been in the news. The world and national news and the internal news that Adventists hear through their social media and other communication channels.

Transgender people have been in our personal news lately as well. We have been asked to share our experience as parents of an MTF transgender daughter. We have known about this reality in our lives for the past four years.

In this open letter, we write a listing of a few of our decisions and learnings. Perhaps they will be helpful to others who also walk the path of parenthood with an LGBT child of any age.

We decided:
‪1. We decided to listen. When our son came out to us, he asked us to listen to a 10-page letter he wrote and read to us sobbing. We listened then held her close.

‪2. We decided to grieve. The fact is we had “lost” a son. We didn’t announce it in church and there was no funeral—but our son had “died.” Accepting this loss prepared the way for our acceptance of the new reality…so we could accept the daughter he told us she was.

‪3. We decided we had been placed in a “second closet” when she came out. At first, we didn’t talk about “it.” To complicate matters, we are a pastoral family. Who should we talk to? How would we answer the question, “How is your son?” Closets are protective…but they are dark and unhealthy places to live. So, we decided to open the door to our closet…swallow hard…and talk about “it” appropriately to others.

‪4. We decided to educate ourselves through reading. We searched the internet for information. We read books. We read other people’s testimonies. We adopted an open mind on the topic and read to learn…not to confirm preconceived opinions or longstanding traditions.

‪5. We decided we are still a family. We decided God was calling us to live out the deepest depth of parental love. “Can a mother forget her nursing child…Yes, they can.” Isaiah 49:15. Could we? Yes. Should we? No! We decided we would never emotionally or physically abandon the person that carries our genes…regardless of her gender identity or presentation, regardless of her name, clothing, hair color, piercings or tattoos. She’s stuck with us. We’re her parents. We’re stuck with her. She is our child.

‪6. We decided to stay in family fellowship. This wasn’t a hard decision…but it had to be intentional. We continue to claim her as our flesh and blood…and we still want to do things together, now in adulthood. Her master’s degree graduation happened six months after she came out. Of course, we were there. And there are holidays to enjoy, ball games to attend, dinners out together. Her sister sibling is getting married. She is included. Period.

‪7. We decided to continue to be parentally physically affectionate. The experts say a person needs 12 hugs a day. She probably isn’t getting that, given the fact that she’s single and transgender…so we are committed to hugging her in greeting and parting…and other times in between.

‪8. We decided to believe her story and experience. Rather than discounting her perspective on her thoughts about herself, we choose to take her word for it. We believe you, girl.

‪9. We decided to use feminine pronouns and her female name. (The name she settled on was actually suggested by her mother!) We did this out of respect for her as a person and also to communicate love and acceptance. To do otherwise, to insist on using his old name and calling him “he” may have resulted in pushing her away.

‪10. We decided to put ourselves in her place. What would we want from our family were we in her situation? We feel the Golden Rule applies here. We decided to model God’s grace…taught in The Prodigal Son (Luke 15). We choose to NOT give her what some felt she deserved (rejection)…but what she needed (inclusion).

‪11. We decided that we are not alone. So we sought others for peer support and counseling. We heard from caring friends and family—some ahead and some behind us in a similar life journey. Out of these emails, conversations, and meals out…we found that we were “normal” in our feelings and thoughts. We found other Adventist parents who found the grace to love their children, too.

‪12. We decided to take a break from ministry. We took a sabbatical, and the time away from the daily grind of work gave us schedule space to deal with thoughts and emotions.

‪13. We decided to have a key heart-to-heart talk with our children… individually alone and then together. This was a turning point in our family dynamics, and no one could do it but the two of us. We…mom and dad…did it together. It was transformative.

‪14. We decided to keep praying with and for her. God is not dead…and the Divine is still at work…in our lives and her life. We lift her up in prayer daily, and when she leaves our presence, she joins us in a family prayer circle.

‪15. We decided to stop asking God to change her back into a him…and began asking God to change us. God has been answering those prayers.

‪16. We decided talking about our family was healthy. We talk about our own feelings and our daughter in appropriate ways with people we can trust. We have slowly moved from silence to advocacy for others in the LGBT community, offering love and care where we can.

‪17. We decided that we would stop blaming ourselves. We know it’s not our fault as parents that our child has these thoughts about herself. We didn’t cause this. The jury is still out on causative factors (a choice of nurture or a condition of nature?), so we have decided to blame the reality of humanity’s fall instead.

‪18. We decided to get acquainted with her friends…other members of the LGBT community. This includes attending worships, parties, and outings. Even a pizza night. You know…normal human kindness kinds of interactions.

SDA Elder O. Kris and Mrs. Debbie Widmer

End Part One of Two