Speaking Of Death The difference between not fearing death, and not really living.


A good friend remarked recently that death or dying came up frequently in our family’s conversations. His comment was more a good-natured jab, I think, as we were all enjoying funny thoughts and stories, joking around.

But I have thought about that since. I wondered if we perhaps give death—one of God’s enemies, defeated by Jesus on the cross1—too much air-time in our daily conversations and thoughts?

I do not imagine us to be morbid, by any definition. But neither do we fear or avoid the biological fact that each of us will expire at some point in the unknown future. The passing of our good friends, family, and friends of friends is, of course, a constant reminder of that fact of life, just as it is for you.

One reason we can so confidently discuss our own deaths without fear is that we are confident in what lies beyond. When we die we are with him in paradise2; to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord3; this world is not our home4. All of those truths (and more) assure our hearts that death is nothing to be feared, rather it will be a welcome door to our true, eternal home.

On the other hand, while it is right to so fully trust God with our souls that we do not too tightly grasp this life, a point can be made that too much focus on the next life will cause us to miss where we are right now. Where God has placed you, and is with you, right now.

We just released a new song last month. (My wife and I are musicians, working on a new album.) The song is called This Journey. I sometimes wonder if people will interpret the lyric of this song incorrectly.

“All along this path of life is where the real treasures are”

I know that our true home—that goal toward which Paul reminded us we press forward, our whole lives—is heaven, eternity with God and his people. I know that. That is the “real treasure”. What I hope to inspire with the words (and music) of that song is a renewed joy in sensing, seeing where God is right now, right here, right where we are. In the beauty of the things he has made, in the people whom he has surrounded us with, in the very fact that we are breathing, our hearts beating.

There are two extremes. One focuses entirely on the eternal and misses the present, while the other focuses entirely on the present (which will pass away, just as we will) and misses the eternal. I think there is a balance found between the two, where God is with us all along our journey.

A quick, related aside:

There is a man we know from our college days at Cincinnati Bible College (now Cincinnati Christian University) who has battled physical ailments for quite a while now. His name is Rod. Rod is always smiling, always loving other people (like, beyond-your-imagination loving), that’s just who he is. I happened to catch a Facebook post of his (actually posted by another on his behalf) that was essentially a good-bye to all his friends. It seemed his body was most likely ready to give out, and he would be home with Jesus soon. He wrote that he was not afraid, but would also be glad to stay, much like Paul in his letter to the Philippian church.

The short version of the rest of Rod’s story—which, as far as I can understand, is amazing—is that God has brought him through that! For now, he has much (or all?) of his health back. He is grateful to God for more time to serve him here, with the people he loves.

And this is my point. While we can be fully, confidently, supremely unafraid of death because Jesus has overcome that, and death is not our end… there is still an amazing joy (even in hard times) of waking up to a new day God has given us here, now.

I’m sure that when I die, whenever, however that will come to me, there are seven people in this home who will miss me. (They seem to be rather fond of me.) There are others, too, I know. (Hi Mom and Dad!) But my hope is that I can, do, and will live my life in such a way that it is fully known that I will be where I am made to be, and any sadness will only last for a short time. And, mostly, that all would know I lived my life to its full, with and in Jesus.5

It may be after I pass a hundred years in this body, or it may be next week. We can’t know, and I understand that is what can cause us to fear. But if our trust, our hope, our life is in Jesus, we have nothing to fear.

And we will also truly live here. And forever.

Fading Away


Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world. And this world is fading away, along with everything it craves. But if you do the will of God, you will live forever.

I read those lines from 1 John again this morning with my two oldest sons. When we finished, I went back and read them aloud again. Then we discussed.

“This is important,” I said.

It wasn’t about keeping them from sinful behavior, though. Of course, I hope that they can avoid as much hurt caused by sin as possible—unless God allows that for their own greater benefit. I can not know or understand such things.

What is important is what I made bold above: And this world is fading away, along with everything it craves.

Everything is fading away. I see reminders of that everywhere. Everywhere.

Jim Kelly, the icon of toughness for the Buffalo Bills and the entire western half of New York State is in a very weakened state, in a hospital in NYC, hoping to battle back cancer… again. Our friend, Scott Shimp continues to fight his stage four cancer, which doctors say is incurable, but he (knowing the Great Healer) says otherwise. My Mom is recovering from painful surgery that revealed more damage than they had anticipated. She’s OK, but in much pain. (She often is.)

Other friends are dealing with cancers (new and recurring), death of spouses, and we also know of a little four-year-old boy who is fighting a disease far too early in his life on this earth.

This world is fading away along with all that it craves (1 John)

There is good news in that, especially for all who are fighting, clawing, battling against the brokenness of this temporary, fading reality. We know it is temporary. We are pilgrims, passing through. But it is also all too real. The hurt, pain, distress, fear

We know that he casts out fear. There are dozens and dozens (hundreds?) of reminders of this in the words of scripture. Do not fear. Trust. Rest.

But while we traverse this temporary, fading existence… the darkness can feel too great, too overwhelming. Too often.

When our hearts are affixed to that which fades, our hearts will fade with it.

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

Jesus reminded us of this. He knew we needed to remember it. This is important.

Fix our eyes on Jesus. Treasure that which lasts. This world, the physical pleasures—even those that are good, wholesome, godly—and even our own bodies are only temporary. Fading. But Jesus is not. He is eternal life. And to know him, is how we taste and experience that Life. (John 17:3)

This is important.

I don’t know what you are facing, but I am sure it’s something. Whether you’re feeling at peace with it, or raging against the injustice of whatever it may be, or the feeling of loneliness as you wage weary war against this enemy mostly unknown to even your closest friends…

Remember what is important. If you’re reading this, you have been given life today. For right now. We can not hold on to anything here. Nothing!

Only his kingdom, and his righteousness (not ours!) and only abiding in and enjoying fellowship with the Son.

And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.

Remember what is important. Please. And by God’s glorious grace, let’s walk in his brilliant light, with joy, each day he gives us in this fading world, with great, eager hope of the world that is to come.


Footnote: I began this post early today, and wrote out bits and pieces throughout my work day. Around 3:00 pm, my Twitter app exploded with the news of the death of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., founder and only owner of the Buffalo Bills. (Whom you likely know I avidly follow.) It was a sort of confirmation of the certainty of the fade of this world, everything being temporary. We know death is the period at the end of our sentence, and we are constantly reminded of its reality. And yet, we have hope. Jesus defeated death. I’m so glad he did.

[ThisDay] Life Suddenly Changed

You never know what a day is going to bring. We don’t even know if we’ll see the next day! Life unfolds before us—good and bad, joy and sorrow—without our permission, and usually without much influence from us at all. January twenty-eight of two thousand eleven was one of those days for us. Some new, good friends—our kids had almost instantly taken to them as adopted grandparents—had their world dramatically altered in a moment by a sudden, unexpected death. The ripples from this sudden absence of one changed our life that day, too. Remember to cherish those you love today, and hopefully also know and enjoy that you are cherished by someone(s), too. We never know what the next moment will bring.

Life Suddenly Changed

January 28th, 2011

pacific-sunsetA friend of ours passed away this morning. It was very unexpected, apparently very sudden (though I do not fully know the details) and… it just feels very final.

I have not known this friend very long. We met his daughter and her family a little more than a year ago when they moved to our town. They home school their children and had met some mutual home schooling friends who introduced us and we pretty quickly became good friends. Her parents moved to town shortly after her dad had a massive heart attack (about one year ago) to live in the apartment attached to their house. It was all very God-arranged.

We met Wayne & his wife shortly after they moved to town and, likely due to our good friendship with their daughter and family, they quickly became our good friends too. They were equally quickly “adopted” by our kids as their third set of grandparents. (Really! There was even a signed certificate created by our kids!) 🙂 They graciously offered an open invitation to us to watch our kids any time Jen and I needed to get out for some no-kids time. (And we have taken them up on that invite several times!)

The first time I met Wayne, I realized we had a shared love of words. Both reading and writing. Wayne has been far more prolific than I in both departments, to be sure. I am currently reading a book he recommended, and I had been talking with him about helping him publish some of his books. I hope to still do that for him.

It’s been a strange day. Death has not touched me much in life. Presently, I can only think of two people who were really close to me who have died. My Mom’s dad died when I was 12 or 13. I remember that, and remember thinking, “Wow… that’s weird.” But I didn’t realize till later that reaction was due (at least in part) to my Mom’s relationship with him—I had only been with him a handful of times. The other person is my wife’s brother, Jeff. My brother-in-law for only about a year. He died just before our first son Ian was born. (I remember it was really hard. Really shocking. Very sad.) That’s the reason that Ian bears his name. (Ian Jeffrey Campbell).

Otherwise, death has always seemed to be a couple relationships away from me.

But I know Wayne. He is my friend. I already miss him.

I was processing all of this with another friend in an online conversation when I said, “Life just changed suddenly.” I didn’t mean it to be profound, but the more I thought of it, the more I realized it was true. Life—my life—is now different, and quite suddenly so.

Now, I’m sure I don’t hurt nearly as much as our friends who lost a dad, a husband, a grandpa … and we will be asking God to fill the large void they now (suddenly) have in their lives. He can and I know he will…

But there is a hole. There is an absence. Life… is different.

Each of us is so much more impactful than we admit. (Or perhaps we really don’t realize, or understand it.) Every person we know, every place we go, everything we do … is part of the “fabric” of the lives of all those around us. So, the closer we are, the more time we spend with people, the more the void is felt. But all of us feel the absence. All of us.

So I will (and already do) miss him.

Although I am not as naive as to think that death would never touch me, it still nearly always comes as a shock. We are such hardy, fragile creatures. One moment it’s incredible what we can come through, and the next moment we can be gone within that moment. We just never know.

What that means—since we know that—is that each moment we have is precious. We can very easily get to thinking otherwise. Life’s daily details overtake (perhaps overwhelm) our conscious thoughts. But we just never know when we won’t have the people we love with us anymore. All we know is that we have them—we are with them—now.

Please take a moment today, after you read this, and remind the people around you how much they mean to you. Take a second to encourage some of the greatness you see in them. Maybe take more than a second. We can’t live everyday worried that we are going to lose those we love, but, we can certainly remember to let them know what they mean to us as often as possible.

I’m glad to have known Wayne Leavitt. I hope to see him again one day.

Until then, while I am still here, I am now reminded to enjoy the moments I have with the people whose lives God has intertwined with mine, and to let them know how glad I am that he has.

I hope you will do the same.


No Guarantees

My Taylor GuitarToday is a musical post.

In a former life, I was a musician. It’s true! I broke out the recording gear for this song, and when my youngest two children discovered its presence in my office they were pleasantly astounded. I confessed to them that their mom & dad used to be something akin to rockstars. This made them giggle and smile even more. They’re fun.

This type of post will be rare here. I just recently rediscovered this song, penned last October, and really wanted to share it here. The audio is just me and a guitar (with a tiny bit of reverb in GarageBand) … but it should help get the point across.


No Guarantees

©2012 Greg Campbell

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

There are no guarantees in this world

We can not manipulate it
Though we often try to fake it

We are not the ones who made it
But maybe we made it …This way

Don’t try to anticipate it
We never see clearly up ahead

Today has enough trouble of its own
No need to add on tomorrow’s or yesterday’s
We have no guarantee of our next breath
Let alone a day, let alone a day

We have no guarantee that we’ll not know pain
It’s almost certainty that there’ll be some today

It seems my dreams nev’r come true

The more I hope for it, seems
The less hope there is

I see everything so clearly
But clearly, I just can’t see

Why things go so poorly
What have you got against me?

I may fail at everything, and I may never be loved
My life may crumble around me … there are no guarantees

To listen to and purchase Greg & Jen’s music, please visit http://basicmusic.bandcamp.com.

Letters To God

The reviews of Letters To God are either glowing, or not kind. And, I can see where most of them are coming from.

In some ways this movie was pretty hokey. Some of the acting was bad. Some of the story was a tad unbelievable. Some of the “Christian” part seemed a bit too forced.

But I’ve seen some bad Christian movies. (There’s one with Mr. T in it, that is really only watchable because it’s funny to see and hear Mr. T say he needs to get his guns to go take down the “Antichrist”…) And, don’t forget the Left Behind movies…

But somehow this one was just different.

Cheesy, yes. Hokey, yes. Christian, yes. But there was not a dry eye in our living room. All seven of us, down to even three-year-old Emma connected with the emotional messages in this movie. And we loved it.

First, the “Christian” part was fairly authentic, and not “churchy”. (Meaning, a major portion of the film was not set inside a church building, or at church functions. Those moments were rare in this movie.) The story unfolds in the setting of “real life”. I think the movie makers wanted to keep this film accessible to the widest age range possible, so some of the more “real” stuff is toned down a bit (which leads some reviewers to say it’s less “real”) but there were good discussions on many parts of the movie amongst the three decades of ages covered by our family in the room that night. (Ages 3, 5, 7, 10, 13, and 37!)

Without giving the ending away (though, since it’s based on a true story, you already know “the ending” going into the movie…) the very real, very authentic, deep trust that an 8-year-old boy lives daily in his God is so infectious that an entire town (it seems) is affected, even changed.

The best part for me was that everything this boy (sick from cancer and the treatments he underwent to try to cure it) was only focused on other people. On top of his sickness, his Dad had died not long before he got sick! And still he only thought of his brother, his Mom, his best friend, his neighbors, the new mailman (who has a world of his own hurt) …

Do you remember that I recently was talking with our teenager about what (generally) distinguishes heroes from villains? Well that clearly stood out in this movie again, too (though there weren’t really many “villains”). The clear hero of this story is Tyler, the boy who could so easily not care one bit about anyone else. He only thinks about everyone else.

It’s because his focus is on God, and not on himself, good or bad.

We really do recommend this movie. If you just hate anything that might present life with Jesus as a reality or a real possibility, then you probably won’t much like this video. But, if you love feel-good, family-friendly, make-you-cry, “heart-warming” stories that spawn multiple further discussions…

Letters To God is for you, too.

And Life Moves On

Yesterday was full. I had a ton of work to do, I had bills to manage (and even more I needed to figure out how to manage), I had plans to attend to, people to meet up with, and even books I was trying to read.

My list of things to do was long, and the crossing off of some items seemed unequally balanced with the adding of others.

There wasn’t really a frantic pace to the day, just classic multi-tasking. A little of this, a little of that. Spinning several plates at once.

Around noon I decided to take a brisk walk to the bank—just around the corner from our house—to make a deposit to our account. I quickly put on my shoes and coat and headed out the door.

The flashing lights were the first thing I saw.

At the end of the road, at the main intersection in town, I saw the familiar red and blue cycling lights of a police car. As I studied the scene I noted that the car was “parked” at a 45º angle in the center of the intersection, but there did not appear to be any other vehicles out of place; just a line east and west, and a line to the south. Odd… I thought, and continued to assess the situation as my steady stride brought me closer.

Then I saw that a line of cars from the north were all turning to the east. Included in this stream of vehicles were a few more police cars with their lights also flashing. (But no sirens to be heard.)

A funeral… I realized, And apparently for someone in some sort of service due to the number of police cars involved.

Around the corner, heading the same direction as the train of vehicles before me, I spotted an enormous flag flying directly over the center of Main St. It was suspended over the road by four ladder trucks. Four trucks… from four different towns… Who was this guy?

I proceeded to my destination, and completed my transaction using the automated teller machine. Knowing that we live in a small town, I guessed that the tellers inside would know what was going on this day, so I entered the bank to find out.

“The funeral for Mike Murphy,” I was told. “Mike Murphy?” I asked, not sure why they said his name as though I should have known him.

“Murphy’s funeral home?” one teller clarified, “He was only 41 years old…”

We all took a moment then to reflect on the obvious sadness of this day for those that knew him. I’m not sure if any of the three ladies in the bank knew him personally, or his family, but regardless, we all knew it was indeed a sad day.

It struck me as I walked back past the fire trucks, now lowering their ladders and removing the flag that had honored the premature passing of this man only a few years older than I am, that this day was going so differently for them than it was for me. I thought of his family. I thought of my family. I thought of me.

I thought of what I’d been doing this day, and how important it seemed—maybe you can even still say that it is important, on some level—and how irrelevant such things are to his family and close friends today.

It fascinated me how life just moves on.

While they hurt, and grieve, and wonder, and ache, and just process the events of the past week… others—like me—are nearly oblivious, dutifully carrying on with the mundane tasks of daily life.

Life just moves on.

It’s surprising to me the flippancy and depth that those words carry simultaneously. On one hand, it seems as though there is little thought given to the untimely death of a fellow human being; a neighbor. On the other hand, the reality of the relentless procession of time is incredibly obvious as the world continues its endless motion around these people who are mourning.

Oblivious. Ignorant. Uncaring. Unaware.

The questions of the hurting, unheard by the rest who are likely dealing with their own individual hurts, or at best, enjoying a momentary respite from the cruelty of this broken world.

If that were the end—a brief, insignificant, mostly unnoticed moment to recognize a life created in God’s image… that would be pretty sad. Meaningless.

The amazing truth is, we are not unnoticed. (At least, not by the circles of people God has placed us within.) We have great impact upon the people we walk next to—not necessarily measuring by the standards of this world. Our family, our close friends, even mere acquaintances. Even if we only have one passing interaction with someone. We can have an impact.

Mike even touched my life today—though I never knew him. A moment I only noticed by coincidental timing caused me to reflect on the daily doings of my life; our lives.

We are not insignificant. Quite the opposite. Our lives have purpose, meaning.

And we are not without hope. Though each of us has a terminal disease from birth, we can live each day we get to its fullest when we recognize and find our life in Life’s Creator. I don’t know if Mr. Murphy lived that way or not, since I never met him. But you and I can.

And I hope you do.

That… is not insignificant.

Live. Now.

More sad news has come this week. Last week we learned of the very sudden, unexpected death of a friend of ours, and have spent the week since praying for and grieving with his family. Today we will join his family as they bury him. Then this week we got a similar call from our very good friends who learned that their cousin had some extremely serious complications during child birth and was in really bad shape. In fact, they were already declaring her “brain dead” and didn’t seem to have much hope to ever revive her.

The next night, we learned that she had in fact passed away.

This was a mom in her early thirties, with a 6-year-old girl, and a newborn baby girl. That’s not supposed to happen. We live in America. We live in the 21st century. We can handle things like a c-section birth, right?

Sadly, we are too often reminded that we are not in control of life.

So today her family is grieving. Her boyfriend, the father of the newborn, is torn apart inside, I’m sure. The joy of your first child is unbelievable, but to lose the woman you love (I am told they had plans to be married after the baby was born) at the same time… excruciating. And her parents. They are now mourning the loss of their daughter, instead of enjoying holding a new granddaughter. (I just can’t imagine…) And there are siblings, cousins (our friends), aunts, uncles, grandparents … all feeling the deep, sudden, tragic sting of this loss.

Later this week I spoke with a friend who traveled half-way around the world to be with her sister who is about to lose her boyfriend to a disease they just discovered he had, and her sister and their infant son are also facing potentially serious health issues. The same day I spoke with some friend who have been dealing with very difficult issues surrounding two teenage boys they brought into their family about four years ago. They’ve been their mom and dad for those years now, giving them a home, a place to be loved… but there’s a lot of rebellion in the boys’ hearts. The oldest of the two has left to be on his own, and the youngest is dealing with some pretty serious issues in life … our friends are tired and weary.

And I feel it all. I feel for all of these friends, some of whom are really more like family, who are dealing directly with hurt or closely surrounded by it. A few thoughts come to mind:

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted. – Matt 5:4 (NIV)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds – James 1:2

I’ve had enough thoughts on both of these short verses lately to fill many pages of writing. In fact, I don’t think I’ll deal with the line from James much right now, other than to say I’ve wondered if James was including sadness and/or loss as a “trial”? I’ve always thought so, but these last two weeks I’ve wondered if he didn’t mean to imply that kind of “trial”…

But mourning. There’s plenty of that going on. And any who’ve read that verse (and the surrounding ones) have wondered at the backward picture that Jesus paints of the way God sees life. We’re blessed if we mourn? If we’re meek? If we’re poor in spirit? If we’re persecuted?? Those don’t fit our definition of “blessed”, do they?

Jen told me that she had been thinking about those words, too, and had seen one way it was a blessing. In the midst of grieving and mourning, all of the unimportant is instantly gone, and the only thing that matters is the real. The true things of life. Generally, that’s only our relationships with those who are close to us, and being with them. Our memories of the one we’ve lost. It’s not (usually) any of the things that just recently before had dominated our daily and weekly schedules. Somehow events which cause us to mourn bring us closer to real life than we usually let ourselves be.

That is not to say that hurt or loss are in themselves good. They are not. (At least in my estimation.) But they are part of real life, much more so (usually) than many of our daily activities.

It’s hard to remain there—and no one would want to remain there, in such a painful place—but somehow I think we can. Time heals the wounds we have, even if there are deep scars remaining. Somehow if we could only capture the connection we have with what is important in these moments, perhaps we could really live.

That’s all I’ve been thinking. I mean, I’ve been thinking of many things, but they all seem to have a central theme. That is to live. And to live now. Be where you are. Remember to enjoy the important things and put off the distractions. Now, we all have things we have to do, but I’d say those should frequently be reevaluated, and measured by what we know in these times to have real value. Not that there can’t be “diversions” at times, but even the word itself implies what they are: diversions from reality.

After all of this sadness—perhaps more descriptively, on top of all this sadness—I am feeling very weary. I’ve heard that in my friends tones as well. (If not specifically in their words.) Yesterday I was really feeling it, and in a moment of clarity I was reminded of the oft-quoted words of Jesus:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Matt. 11:28 (NIV)

The really cool part was that it seemed like Jesus himself was saying it to me. So I just took a moment to breathe, and remember that even in all of my caring for my friends I can’t do anything about it really … only he can. So I brought the heaviness to him, and asked him for rest. And then I asked the same for all whom I have been lifting up to him these past couple weeks.

He is life. He said so—”I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life“. Not his teachings or someone else’s interpretations of him. Not anything else. Jesus. He is the life. (John 17:3 says, “And this is eternal life: To know the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent.”) It’s so simple, but so often missed or forgotten. He is our life source. When we are connected to him (John 15), we can know and live real life.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:10

The reminder at these times is to know what matters and find life in that. Jesus made all that is, and all was made for him (Colossians 1) … he is life. Then God made us in his image. There’s nothing more important than the people God has put into your life, and whose lives you’ve been put into. Don’t wait for the moment when they are gone (or you are gone) to live life to its full with them. We have been reminded all too clearly that we really have no guarantee of our next moment.

But we do have now. So please, live. Now.