The Two Kingdoms

Okay, so I’m an anglophile. 

Everything British attracts me, particularly teas and royalty. I love the ambiance and tasty treats of tea – the whole idea of luxuriating in good food, beautiful surroundings and good conversation. And royalty? I love pomp and circumstance, beautiful clothes and spacious and gorgeous locations. 
Since a royal wedding just occurred between Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle, the subject of kingdoms got me thinking. The kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of God.

What are the new purposes and destiny of Meghan’s life – as that of a royal – compared to the those that might surround me as a daughter of the eternal king? These are a few items that came to mind:
Taking on a New Name and Purpose
Meghan’s title when marrying into the British Royal family became Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Sussex. Meghan's purpose is to participate in social public engagements (charity work), provide service and duty to others and serve as a representative of the Queen.

My title when I accepted Christ and became a "Christian":

I will give him...a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it...I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem….   Revelation 2:17; 3:12

My purpose is to demonstrate Christ’s love, character and attitude towards others and serve as a representative of Jesus Christ.

Dress Code
The Royal Family's dress code is for modesty. Family members should present an image that is clean-cut and presentable at all times, so that they represent their kingdom well. 

My dress code is to be focused on "clothing myself" with character qualities that reflect Christ and his kingdom.

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12

Community Joined
Meghan has become a part of the British royal family and the nation of Britain.

I have become a part of God’s world-wide community of faith.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

Lifestyle Changes
Meghan moved locations, quit her previous profession, left behind her personal social media accounts and joined a new community. She gave up some personal autonomy and personal plans to become part of - and wholly participate in - this new community and its purposes.

As a follower of Jesus, I did not have to move locations or quit my profession. However, joining this community - the Kingdom of God - guides all of my social interactions and relationships. My role as a member of this Kingdom greatly influences my desires and plans as I live out my Christian faith.

Meghan's duty is to honor and support the Queen, who is the focus for Britain's national identity, unity and pride, and who gives the nation a sense of stability and continuity. Meghan will express this support through charity work, appearing at events, traveling to strengthen diplomatic relationships, and connecting with the public.

As a Christian, my duty is to glorify Christ, to honor him. He is the focus of my identity, the church’s unity and through his Spirit, provides stability and continuity with the church throughout all time. I support Jesus and God’s kingdom through living a life of love and service toward others and proclaiming the message of the Gospel.

* * * * 
Meghan and I do share some values in common – we believe that our lives have a bigger purpose than just focusing on our wants and desires. We believe that we can honor our Sovereign and serve others, using our role to bring about good in our world. We believe that we have been chosen to promote the values and principles of our Sovereign.

As I said, I love everything British. But more than loving any country’s culture or values, I love Jesus and believe that his kingdom reigns supreme. I also believe that we, as citizens of that kingdom, are called to live our lives keeping his principles and values in mind. I am honored to be a beloved daughter of the King.

I hope like me, these few examples between Meghan and I have encouraged you in your service to others because of your love for the eternal King. These differences help me remember that my true loyalty lies with his kingdom.

-  Julie

The Garden is Open

We’ve written several times about the evolving vision for a prayer garden called The Lavender Pavilion. Since our move here to Oregon, we’ve slowly been developing this garden on a 1/3-acre strip of our property. (If you want to read the whole story, click “Lavender Pavilion” under the Labels heading on the sidebar).

The centerpiece of the garden is a prayer path (labyrinth) that we completed this summer. Our goal was to use all natural materials and to employ a somewhat classical design. After much research, we chose a 7-circuit, neo-medieval plan, and we laid it out on 40’-diameter circle. To walk into the center and out again is a trip of roughly 1000’.  

We hauled many loads of crushed gravel to use for the base (about 9 tons) and then used four types of rock to create the labyrinth:

** Rainbow rock (2 tons) of various colors, sizes, and shapes line the pathways that lead people to the center.

** Rainbow pebbles fill the open spaces at intersections and add color.

** 5 mini basalt columns in the center catch the eye and point upward to heaven.
** White marble chips surround the basalt columns to create contrast and add beauty.

Laying down the path was quite a task. It’s not easy to place rocks in circles and keep the curves lined up! We had to print out a pattern, create a template, carefully measure and lay out “marker rocks” at key quadrants and intersections, then place everything by hand. (And, of course, continually measure and adjust along the way). 

Afterward, we then installed two non-natural (man-made) items: an arched and open gateway to welcome people in, and a decorative mailbox. The mailbox is one of two in the garden at the moment.

We use these mailboxes for two reasons. First, they are attractive and add a nice design element to the garden. Second, they are a practical – and weatherproof – place to hold information and instructions for those who visit.
We have a second arch and mailbox at the main entrance to the Garden.

When we finished the labyrinth, Julie invited a number of friends over for a time of dedication and prayer.  

There still is much work to be done, because the Lavender Pavilion always will be a work in progress. But it now is officially “open” on Mondays and Thursdays, during daylight hours.

We welcome friends, neighbors and family members to stop by to pray,to reflect, and to take a break from the hurried nature of life.

-       Bruce & Julie

Trips vs. Vacations

Julie and I always have worked hard and played hard. We’ve been “over-functioners” for much of our lives, so it’s been hard for us to take breaks away from work, responsibilities, and the daily routine. And when we have taken breaks, usually they have been “trips”.

In our family, trips are lots of fun, but incredibly busy. For many years we would load up our van, hitch up the tent trailer, and travel many miles camping and seeing the sites. (A short trip for us was 1500 miles. 2500 miles was typical and our longest trip was more than 6000 miles). Most days on these trips would be full of planned activities. A visit to a museum, a bike ride, a kayak or rafting trip, taking in a local play….  All of these things were tremendously enjoyable, but virtually all of them were scheduled.

When we came home after a trip, we were emotionally refreshed, because we had enjoyed time away. Yet often we were physically exhausted because we had been so intensely busy!

A few years ago, all of this began to change. We changed our family lexicon to intentionally distinguish between “trips” and “vacations”. We still take trips, because there are things outside of the daily routine that we want to see and do. But now we also, at times, intentionally take vacations.

Vacations can be as short as one day, but they are times when nothing very specific is scheduled. The goal is rest, renewal, and relaxation.

Earlier this month, our son visited us for two weeks with his family. It was a special time, as these visits always are. Most of this time was like a “trip”: lots of planned activities, but not necessarily a lot of rest (for them or for us). So after they left, Julie and I needed a brief “vacation”.

So I took a Sunday away from church (which also freed me from the time demands of sermon preparation) and we went for a drive. We headed up to Alsee Falls, about an hour away. That was our only “plan”.

We enjoyed a leisurely drive along the forested, twisty, two-lane country road. We had a great walk along the riverbank and experienced the beauty of the small, scenic falls.

On the drive home (via a different route) we encountered signs along the road that pointed out interesting sights, so we made a couple of detours to see what we could see.

In our busy & scheduled lives, we seldom take time for side-trips, so these kinds of experiences feel tremendously freeing. They are so easy to do when we don’t enslave ourselves with self-imposed schedules and deadlines!

We were away from home for most of the day and it felt like so much more. The change of scenery, the quiet and beauty of the forest…the roar of the falls…and the complete freedom from any sort of schedule truly made this a day of “vacation”.

And because of this vacation day, we were refreshed, revitalized, and ready for the week ahead.

-       Bruce

God is Speaking…are We Listening? [Part 2]

Unless we’re really obtuse, it’s pretty hard to miss the invitation to listen to God when He speaks to us in overt way. After all, what took place with Bill (as I described in Part 1) was very direct. I would have been a fool to ignore God’s voice in that moment.

How, though, do we catch what God is doing when He wants to speak to us in more subtle ways?

I learned this lesson during the very first week of the 1 Peter sermon series; the messages that arose from my study retreat after Bill’s prophetic word from God.

During the retreat, I spent hours laying out this series of messages that would take place over several weeks. I figured out texts, titles, and themes. Back at the church, we publicized the series in advance (as we always do) so everyone was in the loop. Our music leaders sometimes use the messages to plan their portion of the service. One of our children’s Sunday School teachers keys her curriculum to my messages. Many of our people like to read the Bible passages during the week to prepare for Sunday. So information was distributed and everyone made their plans.

In the week leading up to the 1st message, I had completed my textual research. I had figured out key points to address, and an outline was developed and placed in the printed program for Sunday.

And then I hit a bump in the road.

As I sat in my study on Saturday, trying to put the finishing touches on Sunday’s message, I kept getting more and more uncomfortable. I had lots of pieces that I could not fit into a coherent whole.

I wrestled with it for a couple of hours, thinking that somehow I was the problem. Thinking that if I could just get my mind in gear, I could nail it down. Thinking that this was my problem, so I needed to solve it.

No progress.

So finally I did what I should have done at the outset: I prayed.

I asked God for some wisdom and insight. I even said something like this: “Lord, are You trying to get my attention? Are You trying to tell me something about this message?”

And the impression came back strongly into my mind: “Yes! Look again at the text with fresh eyes.” As I did, I saw it in a new way. I realized that I could (and should) divide this one message into two. I saw how this would result in two much better sermons. I felt a rush of heat through my body and said out loud, “Is this what You wanted me to see, Lord?”

I did not hear an answer, but there was a sense of conviction that this was the solution I needed.

Yet immediately I thought of all kinds of reasons NOT to proceed.

If I made this change, the entire series would be bumped back a week. It would throw off the schedules of various people. The outline in Sunday’s program would be wrong and useless. I would have to write a new message from scratch! And it already was Saturday afternoon.

These objections – and more – bounced around in my head.

And yet I could not shake this thought: “Are you listening to Me, Bruce?”

How is it possible to “know” things that can’t actually be proven? I never could convince anyone that God was speaking to me in that moment, but I know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that He was.

So I wrote a whole new sermon and changed the schedule around. On Sunday morning, I told the church what had happened and – like me – they were rather amazed.

The two new messages (Week 1 and Week 2 of the series) certainly were an improvement over what I originally had planned, but they were not earthshaking. I found myself wondering why God had wanted me to make this change. Perhaps He simply wanted me to see that I had not been listening to Him closely enough during my study retreat.

That may be true. It also may be true that I heard God perfectly during the retreat…and that He wanted me to hear Him again, in a different way. In other words, I may not have misheard God the first time. He may have wanted to intervene in a dramatic way; prompting me to change the schedule at the last minute in order to make a point.

And I think that’s what happened.

Why? Because – by moving the schedule of messages back one week – we had an amazing moment.

One historical Friday (June 26, 2015) the U.S Supreme Court decided to legalize same-sex marriage. It was, in my view, an exercise of raw judicial power completely divorced from the democratic processes that our country is supposed to follow. It was, and is, a huge blow to a nation that long has understood and embraced the natural view (and biblical view) of marriage as an act which unites one man with one woman. I believed at the time (and continue to believe) that this decision will be a significant step in the erosion of religious liberty…particularly for those of us who follow Jesus Christ.

The decision was announced on Friday. Two days later, my text was 1 Peter 4:12-19…a text perfectly suited to our times. The title I had picked – weeks earlier – was “Don’t get burned by a fiery trial”.  
did not preach about “same-sex marriage”; I spoke about the issues faced by the First Century Christians to whom Peter was writing.

They were experiencing cultural and government harassment. They increasingly felt like outsiders in a secular world that had a growing dislike for men and women of faith. In that environment, they needed to trust more deeply in God...and not expect too much from human government. The parallels to our own day were striking.

At the end of the message, I made a few brief comments, beginning with this statement:

As you know, I plan each sermon series, in a broad way, months in advance. I certainly have no idea what will be going on in the world at the time I actually deliver the message. For example, I did not know that our Supreme Court would rule on same-sex marriage the week that I would be preaching on this passage. But our Heavenly Father knew. I believe He arranged the timing of this, because there is much in this text to guide our response to current events.

I then made some connections between the text and our circumstances. I talked about how we, as followers of Jesus, can respond to our changing world. We can remain faithful to God, and still extend love to our very confused culture. I was able to offer some words of hope and encouragement to our family of believers who were feeling a huge sense of cultural shock that day.

As I walked off the platform, all of a sudden it hit me: this timing would not have taken place without the change in schedule I made back on the first week of the series!

If I had not listened to God…if I had been unwilling to change…our church would have missed out on a key moment when God wanted to offer us a timely word of encouragement.

Once again, I had goose bumps. Once again, I was filled with awe. And I was filled with a growing awareness that God does want to catch our attention at times. He does want to speak to His people.

The key question always is this: when God is speaking…are we listening?

- Bruce