I do like getting thoughtful cards and gifts. One of my pet hates is receiving a Christmas card which has the name of the sender printed inside and which comes in an envelope with a typed address label. I fail to see the point in sending such a missive.
That being the case it was lovely to receive from the folk in the office here a very thoughtful birthday present. The gift came, as you can see, in a very plain brown box. Iveta made the presentation and gave the speech. She referred to an impression of the Army in Latvia which I had shared after my first visit here back in November, and which was recorded in one of my earliest blogs. I wrote then:
‘In the Bible, the prophet Isaiah talks about ‘beauty for ashes’. What has struck me in the centres I have visited is that they are places of warmth, sometimes quite literally, and welcome, good food and refuge. A place where people, some of whom have very little, find the beauty and love which characterises the God who motivates the leaders who serve them. These leaders, officers for the most part, are real evangelists and servants. Most of them have a personal story of the way the Gospel of Christ has transformed their lives from atheism or addiction, so they feel an urgency and impatience to share it.’
…so, the plain cardboard box represents the monochrome, almost dull environment in which some of our corps/churches operate….and the gift inside represented the colour, vibrancy warmth and love found inside the doors of many of our halls. A nice touch, eh?…..here’s the colourful gift that was inside the box.
This idea of beauty keeps coming back to me. Only this morning in our office the Bible Reading was, interestingly, this one from Isaiah, and one of the first words I have learnt in Latvian (learning Latvian is a blog on its own!!) is the word ‘skaists‘, meaning beautiful. I am beginning to see how beautiful Riga is now that the summer is here, and the young women are emerging, colourful and elegant, from their dark, heavy winter clothes, a bit like butterflies emerging from their cocoons, if that doesn’t sound too obvious and ‘naff’ a comparison.
Then yesterday, here at Riga 1 Salvation Army corps I preached on the story from the Bible about Peter and John offering healing in the name of Jesus to a man who was sitting at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. The thought that struck me was that, being lame, he was unable to enter the Gate but was sentenced to living outside it, cut off from the beauty of God’s presence. I’m personally trying to work through the challenge I gave the congregation; what is my equivalent of being ‘lame’? What is it that prevents me seeing and experiencing the full beauty of God’s presence?
I love the way the story finishes. The picture of a grown man leaping about all over the place for sheer joy – perhaps because, in his spirit, he’d entered ‘the Beautiful Gate’.
Finally for now, Aivis, whose lovely photos are already featured on this blog, has captured the beauty of joy in the face of this rather cheeky-looking boy, taken at a children’s camp here in Latvia.