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

cemetery

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.

[ThisDay] God Saved Our Bacon

January 25th may not have the most posts from which to select, but it was interestingly challenging to pick the “winner” for this day. First, on this day ten years prior, I wrote about how special Jen is to me. That’s worth sharing again! But also on this 25th day of January I wrote about our Backyard Ice Rink escapades—a great family memory. AND, BEST of ALL… please read the highlighted post in the list of other posts on January 25th at the bottom of this story. It’s kind of amazing! (Remember the point of these repostings was to see if indeed life (or at least, my head) is cyclical? Well… just click that link! For now, though, please enjoy this great story of God—quite literally—saving our bacon!

bacon

God Saved Our Bacon

January 25th, 2009

It’s been a full week. Fuller than usual for some reason. (I’m not sure “fuller” is a word, but, in this case it seems to fit.)

Each day has ended very late, and been full of either lots of one thing, or many different things. But whatever the landscape of the day, each has ended with a very tired Greg’s head.

Yesterday was no exception. Perhaps only in that it was the day this week that I actually felt the most tired. (Tireder?) I got home from a long day of training people at the Apple store, tired, hungry, and ready to eat a (quiet?) dinner with my family.

Oh right… I have five kids ages ten and under… 🙂

So, it wasn’t quiet. It wasn’t even particularly pleasant. (Though the meal was fantastic. Nice job, Jen!) 🙂 I kept feeling more and more tired, more and more badder…

And that’s when God decided to save our bacon.

After finishing my dinner, and as the kids were still complaining, fighting, whining, and pretty much exhibiting every bad behavior known to mankind, a peculiar thought entered my mind: “I should make the kids some really special ice cream sundaes.” (Yep, you read that right.)

I remembered that we had a bucket of vanilla ice cream left over from Ian’s birthday party about a month ago, and even some cool toppings from that day. The kids had been horrible, Jen & I were fried – and not letting the nicest things come out of our mouths – and for some reason, the idea I had was to be ridiculously generous to our little hooligans.

Well, I acted on my strange impulse and got up and lined up four bowls on the table (for the oldest four) and began bringing out all the awesome toppings. Chocolate and strawberry syrups. Maraschino cherries, peanuts, and even coconut flakes. The kids were getting pretty excited!

Finally I grabbed the 5-quart bucket of ice cream and popped off the lid. And that’s where it got interesting.

I dipped the scoop into the bucket with a decent amount of force, as the ice cream promised to be pretty hard having just been removed from the freezer. What met my decent amount of force was a very unexpected, squishy, super-soft blob of almost completely melted ice cream!!! What??! I tested a few other areas, and indeed, the whole thing seemed like it was room temperature!

This was very disturbing, and NOT what I wanted at my then current energy level. But, with a freezer full of meats, veggies, and a few fruits (thanks to the generosity of friends and family, actually) … I knew I had to try and do something to save it.

I am no refigerator repairman, so I really had no idea where to begin. But I poked around, and did notice the fan was not blowing. That has meant in the past that it was frozen over. I pulled out all the contents of the freezer, with “Plan B” being to store them in a giant Rubbermaid container outside that night. When I got the panel off in the back of the freezer, I discovered that it had frozen over. I got out the hairdryer and melted away the ice… and the fan came back on!

After cleaning it out – what better opportunity would I have to do that?? – I put all the food back in, moved the fridge back in place, and in just a couple hours, all was back to normal. (The water dispenser had frozen up as well, but as I type this, the ice maker is back in full swing.)

That night – and again this morning – I was super thankful that God had (I believe) prompted me to first, bring peace and joy to our dinner table and our home with a special treat on an especially bad night, and as a very cool side-effect… he quite literally may have saved our bacon! Who knows when I would have checked the freezer again? Probably not till I saw a pool of water outside of it the next morning.

See, the that’s the cool part of the story. In the middle of an otherwise forgettable evening, God took a very simple (yet strangely generous) idea, and turned it into a rescue effort. And it worked. And he definitely gets the credit.

God really did save our bacon. 🙂

OTHER POSTS from JANUARY 25th

Loss [Memory Lane]

Each Thursday in August we’ll be taking a trip down Memory Lane! I will be posting some of my favorite stories ever published here, part of celebrating ten years of blogging—August 2003 to August 2013. Some posts are taken from books (like today’s) and others have only been published online thus far. You’ll read stories that are funny, stories that are sad, and several heart-warming moments from the life we’ve lived. If you missed any, you can use the series navigation at the end of this post to read more. I invite you to enjoy these moments from the journey with me, too.

Not all memories are “good” memories. Though, as you’ll see from this account of a very tough day in our lives, tough and good can somehow coexist when our loving Father is present. He makes all things beautiful.

Loss

Loss

November 11th, 2004

“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be stripped of everything when I die.
The LORD gave me everything I had,
and the LORD has taken it away.
Praise the name of the LORD!”

Those were the first words – words of worship – immediately following Job’s hearing the news that his children had been killed in a horrible accident. And just before that he had lost much of the wealth that God had blessed him with. An amazing reaction to an extraordinary circumstance. His first thought was to worship the God who had given him life, even in the midst of the demise of the life he had known.

There is a song by songwriter Matt Redman called Blessed Be Your Name. It echoes those lines Job spoke so many years ago,

“You give and take away, you give and take away,
my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name!”

Those words reverberated loudly – even confidently – through my head as we learned that the child we had been eagerly preparing a space for in our family, had stopped developing inside mom’s womb.

“You give and take away… You give and take away…
My heart will choose to say… Lord, blessed be Your name.”

The first moments were just hard. Shocking. Deep sadness. Life hoped for, now lost. And this was not the first time we faced this.

About one week into our tour, there was such a shocking occurence that we thought we had lost the baby. That was on our anniversary. Not the way we wanted to end the day. The drive to the hospital was a little over an hour. Of silence. Of doubting. Of wondering. Of self-pummeling. I felt completely culpable for the loss of this baby’s life. Our lifestyle, my missed chances at reminding Jen to rest, my busyness keeping me from helping Jen with the three kids on the outside. All things were pointing to me being the reason we had lost the baby.

But God was beyond gracious.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were greeted by a friendly nurse who was fairly convinced that the baby was doing just fine. The doctor who followed happened to be at the church we had led in worship the morning prior, and he echoed those sentiments, but they needed to do an ultrasound to make sure.

My heart skipped a beat or two in astonished joy. My soul gasped for air! I can’t describe the feeling of life from death. How the Father must have felt when his son was given breath again! Even knowing the plan ahead of time, his heart must have exploded with joy knowing that not only his son, but all of us who trust in him were given back to him that day!

We went from that place, with images of a dancing baby in our head, and the hope that through a rough 6 or 7 months ahead we would emerge with a miracle baby from God.

“You give and take away…”

Yesterday, following the weekend of God giving wildly to us through his people, we experienced the pain of loss again.

Jen had been experiencing signs of trouble again (we thought) and so we went to the doctor, who put the monitor on Jen’s belly to listen for the heart beat. After about 10 awkward seconds, she said, “Sometimes it’s difficult to find the heartbeat with that machine.”

That had not been our experience, and so we were already thinking the worst.

She turned on the ultrasound equipment, and we began looking at the baby inside. It had grown since the first time, but it was lifeless. No movement. No heartbeat. No life.

No words were said for a time, until the doctor broke the silence, “I’m afraid I have some very bad news…”

My heart sank. It was quite final. The baby was gone. Again.

But this time, the words to that song kept replaying in my head. “You give and take away… my heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name…”

And I meant it. Though I was not necessarily comforted by it just yet.

We discussed the next steps and headed out to the van to go home. The song continued in my head.

When we got to the van, we just sat there in silence. We were both attempting to understand what was happening. To process it. Why would God want to give us a baby for 12 weeks, and then take it home?

There were tears. There was silence. We prayed together. We talked. But the most amazing thing was happening inside my head and heart.

Instead of sadness, there was supreme confidence in God’s love for me. More than just confidence, there was palpable reality. Almost like his hands on my shoulders.

And the song would not leave.

I knew the scripture was from Job, so I looked it up on the computer we had brought with us.

The first thing that stuck out to me was in the NIV translation: “Job got up, tore his robe and shaved his head, then he fell to the group in worship.” His first response was a brief moment of agony and mourning, and then he worshipped. Instead of blaming God for letting this happen, he was compelled to worship him.

That’s where I lost it.

I was too! That’s what I had been feeling the whole time in silence. Strong images and feelings of God’s love and provision for me, for us, were present in my head. I was not conciously thinking of them… they were just there. I was not dwelling on the loss, but rather on things gained from the Giver of all good things.

And that’s exactly what Job experienced.

God’s bigness, his caring, his inividual attention to my life, his unfathomable love — all of that had never been so near to me, so palpable, so REAL.

Words do not do the experience justice, but I really wanted to try. I was astounded by the love God has for, and was showing to ME. I was crying, not out of sadness at our loss as much as out of overwhelming joy and gladness at my Father who loves me.

In a moment, literally less than a second, God also gave me a strong series of images that reminded me of his goodness.

There were three sets of two images. First was the hopsital back in Arkansas. Image one was the deep sadness of losing the baby, and image two was the unspeakable joy of getting that life back! Second was from the weekend just past, where image one was the empty bank account and actually having zero cash being 3000 miles from home with many big bills to pay, and me asking God in a parking lot, “God, what are you going to do??”. The second image connected to that was of the generosity of our Father through his people this weekend, we were given nearly $2000 by people and places that wouldn’t normally be a source of such abundance. The third image was our present circumstance, the final loss of our baby, and attached to that image was a future provision from God that would blow us away with greatness as much as this loss had brought us low.

I had a very specific image, but as I am not claiming to be a prophet, I will guard that image in my heart and will let you know if that does indeed come to fruition. I don’t think God gave me those images for you… but I KNOW he gave them for me.

In less than a second, all of that imagery of God’s attention to our lives came into focus, and I was full-on reminded of his incredible provision and love.

And again, I was brought to tears… not of sadness, but pure, unthinkable joy!

Our God is so good. So, so good.

We are sad, and still dealing with loss. Loss costs us. We won’t know this member of our family until heaven. I see images of families with kids, or even our kids, and I miss the face of the baby we lost. We are definitely hurting.

But there is over all of that, a far greater peace and hope. God made me SO aware of his presence and love in my life today, right now. He is so good that way. And I am not alone in that experience. Which makes it even cooler. Friends today have shared a similar experience, and I believe the reason Job reacted when he did was that God was as overwhelmingly present for him that day as he was for me. And Jobs loss exceeds mine by such a volume as I can’t imagine.

He is so good. Today, yesterday, forever.

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Praise the name of the Lord.

The Water Shoe [Memory Lane]

Continuing the series from the last week of July, we’ll been taking a trip down Memory Lane each Thursday in August! I will be posting some of my favorite stories ever published here. Some were taken from books (like today’s) and others have only been published online thus far. There are some funny, some sad, and some heart-warming moments from the life we’ve lived. If you missed any, you can use the series navigation at the end of this post to read more. I invite you to enjoy them (all) with me, too.

This was one of the most fun lessons in trusting God that we’ve ever seen actually worked out before our own eyes. It was truly incredible to be part of, and, all for only a tiny shoe.

The Water Shoe

October 29th & 30th, 2003

This collection of articles was written “real-time”, not after the fact (until the fact had actually happened) and so we wanted to present them that way, but we have put them together in one chapter calling it The Water Shoe. We still have the water shoe. It only cost us a few dollars at a Wal-Mart somewhere along the way, but it is now priceless for what—for Who—it represents. So, sit back and read the story of the day we found The Water Shoe…

Flowery Prayers

October 29th, 2003

I was humbled again. By my son Ian. I love it when he does that. Really.

We were praying, and sometimes Ian is a bit embarrassed to talk with God in front of people, even Mom and Dad. Tonight he was again, but He decided to.

A bit of background…

We went to the beach tonight after sunset (yes, the water was still quite warm!) and Ian and I were having a bunch of fun jumping waves. On one jump, over a large wave, Ian returned to the ground quite upset, and finally got out of him that he lost his water shoe!!! I spent 10 minutes feeling around for it, and looking around in the moonlit water. No luck. And all I could think about was the trust of Ian for his Dad to find his shoe (that seemed to me to be quite precious to him) and how I could not do it. So I kept thinking that God is in control of oceans. And I kept asking him to help me find it, wash it up on shore, or put it in my hand. Whatever he wanted to do for my son Ian who completely trusts both of his Dads. Well, no shoe, but I kept thinking that we should just come back tomorrow morning… so, I went back to Ian and told him that. And we are going to go back and look for it tomorrow morning.

So, fast forward to tonight, praying before Ian goes to bed. And Ian decides he can pray without getting embarrassed. He simply asked God to “please put the shoe on the beach so we can find it tomorrow. Thanks.” That was so cool.

The part that humbled me was not that. We continued to pray, and this time I was praying for our friend Kayla who is sick in the hospital with pneumonia. I thanked God for being big and powerful and asked him to help in many ways to heal Kayla, and to help Kayla’s Mom have peace as she trusts Him.

Simple. Plain English. That’s how I would talk to my dad, so that’s how I talk to my Dad.

But Ian wanted to pray for Kayla, too. So he did.

“God, we know that you are mighty, and powerful… and we ask you to… get the… to… uh…. (many words) … help the doctors get medicine to help Kayla’s body to get better. So she doesn’t die.”

Notice a difference? I did. Ian was getting all flowery (in his best four-year-old way… because I guess I do. I try hard to just be real with God. Guess I can try even more. I don’t want Ian thinking God is a distant, unapproachable God who only listens if we use the right words.

Thanks Ian for a fresh perspective.

Thanks Dad for Ian.

You are both awesome. (In different ways of course…)

Ian’s Shoe

October 30th, 2003

The Water ShoeJust a quick update on Ian’s shoe…

We got up this morning at 7am, which is like 3 hours before Ian usually gets up! We walked right out the door (Dad and Ian) and headed to the beach. We asked God as we walked to show us where He put the shoe… and we started looking. We probably looked for 30 min or so, up and down the beach where we had lost it. No luck. I finally told Ian, “Why don’t we go home and we’ll come back and see if God wants to give it to us later. Sometimes God likes us to learn to trust Him by waiting.”

So we did. We made it back to the beach around 1:30pm or so with the whole family, and started to look again. We were just having fun, too… but Ian really wanted to find his shoe. He said, “Ask God again, Dad!” I told him, “Yeah, I can’t do anything about this Ian. If God wants to give you your shoe, He will, if not, then we’ll just have to get another one.”

Within one minute I think, Ian had gone up to be with Mom (out of the water) and they started walking down the beach, and there were shouts of excitement… THEY FOUND IT!!! It was just sitting right in the beach wash (which Ian and I had checked at least 4 times earlier today).

Wow. Thanks God. You are the Wave Maker. The Oceans (and the Gulfs) obey your commands. And you love your children so much. We are amazed at God’s abilities and his love for us.

Hope you know that too.

From My Perspective

October 30th, 2003

I just wanted to add some more on the fantastic faith story of Ian’s water shoe. Just some thoughts from my head throughout the whole thing.

Can God Really Do It?

That thought obviously kept going through my head. In a way. You know, I really had no problem believing that God could bring Ian’s shoe out of the water and neatly onto the shore for us… but where my mind betrays me or gets me into trouble is on the “does he want to” side of things. I mean, what does God care about a shoe?

But He Cares About Ian…

But I kept coming back to the fact that it’s not about the shoe. It’s about how much God loves Ian—and even me—in this. He loves it when we come to him believing that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Faith Like A Child.

You know, I actually saw Ian’s simple faith waiver a bit. But it wasn’t as insecure as my wavering. I wonder if God would ever do something big and God-like for me… but Ian didn’t worry about that. He just wondered when it would happen. He knew God would do it. That was so cool. I did too actually. It was honestly some of the most confident I have been in a while, and I just smiled every time I was talking to God cause I really knew He was going to do it.

Moments of Doubt.

There were plenty of moments when I had looked and asked and found nothing where I wanted to just give up. And I would talk to God again and ask Him what should I do… lead me to the shoe. (That rhymed…) I knew that even if God did not come through with the shoe, there would be some awesome story of His provision. I was confident in that.

Celebration!

You know, I honestly thought I would celebrate more. But all I wanted to do was smile and worship God. We sang some, we shouted out “GOD IS AWESOME!” and just had fun. But in the end, we were really expecting Him to do it! We knew he could, and we thought he would. Amazing.

I think that is how God wants us to live. Completely trusting Him, even when it doesn’t make sense, or seem possible. There are so many chances we have in life to trust that God is bigger. Sickness being one of them. Our friend’s daughter is really, really sick. And they love Jesus. A lot. They are in a crisis of belief. Can God fix this? Will he? Does he love us? They know all the answers, but now they have to trust him.

God gave Ian his shoe back today so he will have a reason to trust Him in the future with bigger stuff. Our friends are dealing with a very tough situation right now, where they have to trust God. God has given them plenty of shoes. That is what they are holding on to, and taking comfort in right now—the shoes God has given them.

What are your shoes? Can you think of one? Or several? God gives us little markers along the way where we see Him very clearly working or leading in our lives. And it’s when we look back at those that we can look forward in trust. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Words of wisdom from the book of Hebrews.

Faith requires action. God gives us reasons to trust him (shoes) and then something happens where we have to trust him. That’s when we remember the shoes, and trust that He has another one for us.

Tonight, celebrate Ian’s shoe, and remember yours. And thank God for his amazing love and faithfulness. And trust him. Really trust him.

Life in the Rearview Mirror: Reflections on Life Lived by Greg CampbellThis post is a chapter in the book A Journey Shared: Selected Thoughts on Life from Greg’s Head from GregsHead.net by Greg Campbell, available through Amazon.com. If you’d like to purchase the book, please click the book title in the previous sentence. Thanks for reading, sharing, and feel free to add to the discussion in the comments below, or wherever else you can reach me.

The Bible Tells Me So

Old Bible Cover“Yes, Jesus loves me… The Bible tells me so!”

Perhaps you sang those words just now as you read them because they are indelibly engrained upon your soul from countless repetitions in your early childhood. (And maybe you still sing them regularly with your own kids.)

It’s a great song, and it’s true.

The Bible does tell me that Jesus loves me. In many different ways, through all of the books; this central message reverberates: the God who is made me and loves me and invites me to Life with him.

Sometimes it’s fascinating to me how differently we apparently see and interact with the Bible.

What is the Bible? Is it a reference manual for Christian living? Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth? Those things have definitely been said of this collection of ancient books.

Rather than a Owner’s Guide or User’s Manual, might it be a collection of stories God wanted to tell us … with him as the main character? Does God reveal who he is through the story that weaves its way through dozens of authors over many centuries, even millennia?

Stories seemed to be Jesus favorite vehicle for communicating the meaningful.

How about this one: Is it infallible? Does it ever claim to be? Does it need to be?

I mentioned in my post about heretical thinking earlier this week that sometimes I have even questioned the reasons for inclusion of certain books in the cannon of what we call Scripture. The Catholics have additional books of “Scripture”, as do the Latter-Day Saints. (Though there are certainly differences there as the Catholic apocrypha was from a similar era as the books that are accepted as inspired Scripture while the Book of Mormon and other additional books included by LDS believers are from a later point in history—at least their translation.)

Here’s the thing, though… how much of all that matters?

I have been reading through the Bible, cover-to-cover for a little over a year now. (The slow pace due partly to meandering through various other points in Scripture simultaneously, as well as, of course, many other books. There’s only so much time in a day, you know!) In this current journey through its pages I am reading many familiar verses and stories, as well as many I don’t think I have ever actually read. (Certainly not in their proper context.)

What strikes me the most is the story. Flowing through the entirety of Scripture are small stories and big stories, all telling a larger story.

God so loved the world that before anything ever existed, he knew you intimately, and orchestrated a grand plan to allow us to realize his boundless love for all of mankind—and each individual Image Bearer—and to restore a friendship with him that we didn’t even know was irreparably damaged. (Irreparable from our vantage point.)

Story after story reveals the struggle between we of free will and limited knowledge, understanding, and vision … and he of limitless patience, kindness, mercy—our Father, who dearly loves his children. And we who only barely understand Love, struggle to understand Him—for He is Love.

I am re-learning that Scripture really can not be seen as a giant reference guide of proof texts. And it’s certainly not a how-to manual for bringing judgment upon the world, or even upon yourself.

Nor is it to be venerated or worshipped. It’s a book. (A library, might be more accurate.)

Anything we set up between us and our Creator (including the Bible, “Christian” discipline, and even “church” activities and involvement) can become an idol that ends up keeping us from the full life God intends for us when our eyes (and hearts) are fixed on him.

And one thing I have learned from this tour through the Old Testament: God does not like idolatry!

So we will take verses like:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.—2 Timothy 3:16

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.—2 Peter 1:20-21

And we say that these prove that the Bible is infallible. But do they? Paul is reminding Timothy, his student/disciple that Scripture is useful; I certainly agree there, don’t you? And Peter says that prophets were inspired by God. Again, no argument there.

But I’m not sure God himself (nor the pages of Scripture) claim infallibility nor inerrancy, do they? Perhaps the test of prophecies being that all will be proven true as a proof of the origin of the messages—that being from the Creator God, the God of Israel.

And still, I think I digress. As this topic of conversation is so wont to do.

When we make the Bible (and discussions of these books) about being right or wrong, we just get lost in endless quarrels. So many fractured opinions and vehement discourse to prove one point or another end up making Christians and their church look like it does today: silly.

I will maintain that all of Scripture is useful, even the giant sections that give every messy, gory detail of our own ugliness. Not just the things we proudly label sin like murder, lust, idolatry, rape, incest, greed, deceit and betrayal (and many more) … but our lack of faith in vividly displayed, our repeatedly running to idols and our own strength and knowledge rather than abiding in Father’s Life and Love.

This is why, as Christians, and living in the age we now inhabit, Jesus is the decoder ring. Everything else makes a bit more sense when we start with him.

The book of Hebrews1 says that God spoke in many ways through history, but his final and fullest revelation was through his son, Jesus. And also we learn and see that he is the full representation of God himself. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. God himself, as a man. We don’t get his messages second-hand through angels and/or prophets: he came to us.

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.2

If you’re reading the Bible like a manual, or an reference book—please stop. First, you’re missing out on the bigger, fuller story. You might even be missing out on Jesus:

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.”—John 5:24

It’s so easy to do. I think we all do it. I mean, how magically incredible is this book we call the Bible? Really! Preserved nearly flawlessly over millennia, and with enemies trying to wipe it out: but it is the most ubiquitous book still today.

But the Bible is not our source of life, Jesus is.

And, it’s important to remember that we have a direct connection to Truth in Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit. Remember this?

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.—1 John 2:27

Holy Spirit will teach us everything. It’s always nice to have a tutor. (Especially when the tutor is the finest teacher ever!)

The Bible is a beautiful story, and we can glean so much life through its pages, through the stories told there, and especially the central story told throughout of our God’s ever-present love and care for his people. (That’s all of us, not just those born into the family of Jacob, as they used to imagine.)

It’s not about rules, or doctrine. It’s about Him. I highly recommend reading it like a book, like a story…

And look for the signs of Life as they weave in and out of His story.

God’s story, with us.

Incredible.


For further reading, here’s an article I found a real long time ago: Why "The Bible is our Instruction Manual" is the Worst Metaphor in the History of the World | The Ruthless MonkThe Ruthless Monk.

Also, one last note: For what it’s worth, I really do recommend reading in large chunks. There is certainly a place for detailed, intricate, line-by-line study, but there’s also great treasure to be found in reading through whole books at a time, or at least larger chunks. Then string books together back-to-back over a few days or weeks. When I read Scripture like this, the bigger story is much more evident, and I see God moving in his characteristic, Jesus-shown ways through the whole of history. Different voices, echoing the same story: God loves me.

  1. Hebrews 1-4 Yes… all four chapters! Reading in big chunks gives better context. 🙂
  2. John 14-17 (Again, read the whole thing. Chock full of greatness!)

Beautifully Stained

stainingI wrote a new song recently. Actually, I wrote two. (That was quite odd. Two in one day was a new experience for me.)

To be fair, these songs are not actually yet fully complete. I’m certain that I will tweak them musically as well we lyrically. But for the most part, two near-complete songs were birthed within the span of only a couple hours.

Even more special was the fact that one of the songs reminded me very much of a musician friend of mine, so I sent him the lyric to that song as well as a rough recording (because the melody was partly what reminded me of him), and he responded a while later just to let me know that the email and the song were sent at just the right time—a gift from God to him that day.

Very cool.

After I wrote that first song and sent it to my friend, Paul, I was listening to music and felt an overwhelming overwhelm-ment. (That should be a word, especially with the double Ms…) It was an amazing experience, actually. Quite literally moved by the music that, honestly, wasn’t even that good! 🙂

So I took that as a sign that it was time to play some more music.

And play I did.

Instantly out came another song. This one much more “my” style and feel. And the words were very personal; very meaningful to me. They may not be as much to another reader/listener, but I do believe the picture painted by the words of the chorus—and title of the song—illustrate well the reality of this life: it’s a beautiful mess.

Stains are bad. But stain is also good. (My dad makes beautifully stained furniture.)

Life is full of stains (those are bad) … but the sum of them often creates a beautiful piece of long-lasting, heirloom furniture.

We are beautifully stained—by our Maker, and by life.

A short post today… (and sorry, no music just yet!)

I present, Beautifully Stained

Beautifully Stained

It was the moment you heard the news
The one you’d hoped for was gone
You would never be the same
No matter what would come

It was the moment you saw her face
Something inside you bloomed
This deep assurance within your soul
That she was made for you

These are the moments …

chorus
Live every moment
Embrace both the joy and the pain
Breathe deep and let it all in
Life fully lived is beautifully stained

It was the moment she took her first breath
And when he played his guitar
Happy hearts sang out laughing at play
Togetherness in the air

It was the moment the pain gripped her face
Another tough day with you
Angry tongues loosed their wearied fury
Nothing now you could do

These are the moments …


©2012 Greg Campbell

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.

basicmm radio :: [Faith To Be My Eyes]

I mentioned here earlier that we re-discovered our “basicmm radio” podcast from 2005. One show in particular that I thought might be encouraging to “re-broadcast” featured the song Faith To Be My Eyes.


Have you ever noticed that there are often patterns to life? There appear to be threads of thoughts, themes that weave consistently (if not obviously) through the fabric that is formed by our days.

One of mine is the illusion of control.

I’ve written several times about it here on this website. (This coming Saturday’s From The Archive post will be one selection from that significant number of published articles.)

It’s something I’ve thought about often, talked about with others, written songs about, and as I said, seems to be a consistent theme of revelation that God either has shown, or maybe wants to show me. (Sometimes it feels like if a specific idea or truth is recurrent past a certain understandable number of times that maybe the repetition is a result of one’s own thick skull, no?)

The more life throws at me as I quickly approach my fourth completed decade of life on this planet, the more it is so painfully (literally) obvious to me that we… are… not… in… control.

We’re just not.

We’ve seen it in our own life this past year or more. I’ve seen it. Jen has seen it. Our kids even know it. Certainly our friends know; so many tragic stories around us in the past year and more.

We are not in control.

And so, not knowing what is ahead, we rely on one who has been there, and will be there, and will go through whatever may come with us, beside us, and supporting us. He is for us, so what can be against us? We know these truths. And they make a difference.

But too often we get clouded. By “reality”, or what we perceive as reality. We are tricked by the illusion that our life is meant to be free of pain; free of the bad stuff that happens to other people. We are sometimes even fooled (in my opinion) into thinking that when things start “going against us” that there must be some reason—in particular, something that we have done wrong, or some good thing we did not do—and so, God (or the natural consequences he set in place) is enacting his just punishment (we call it “chastisement” or “discipline”) on us.

Long, perhaps run-on sentence aside, that is how it often goes. We use any other eye but our “eyes of faith” to interpret the world around us. What we really need to do is stand firm on the foundation of God’s clear, undeniable acceptance and deep love for us. His willingness to literally do whatever it took to restore our friendship with him. Even better, to adopt us as his sons and daughters. This gave him great pleasure.

With that as our focus, our lives look (and feel) very different. (And differently, if we’re going for proper grammar regarding the parenthetical addition—I think.)

The point of this post is the song (and even the whole episode of the basicmm radio podcast). I hope that it’s an encouragement to you today. There is more to life. Or if you need it to be less, it can be less. The hope that we have is the foundation of his truth, his love.

May you know that today, no matter how hard your day has been—or will be. We will never be without pain, until we are with him in paradise. Things will go wrong. People will betray us. Life will punch us in the gut.

But he is with us. He is for us.

I need Faith To Be My Eyes.

Faith To Be My Eyes (2003)

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Why is it that I can trust you
When I’ve got my ducks in a row?
But when anything goes against me
I wonder why you never showed

What is this right to perfection
That I feel my life must deserve?
When my life gets a little harder
I wonder where I made the wrong turn

chorus
I need to keep my eyes wide open
And know that you never change
Don’t let my worrying heart take over
I need my faith to be my eyes

We have this misconception
That bad things mean something’s wrong
But I have learned from example
That you can turn bad into good
This pain is just temporary
Though right now it overwhelms me
Please train my eyes to focus
On your faithfulness to me

bridge
Walk by faith, and not by sight
We’ve heard those words before tonight’
But when our world is fallin in on us
That’s when they really can take flight’

Keep my eyes off circumstances
And let me focus in on you
My worryin heart is prone to dancin
With every new point of view
But every new day is full of chances
To rip off the blinders and gaze into
The world of faith that can be before me
Knowing that you always come through

Keep my eyes on you – – – I need my faith to be my eyes


Words & Music by: Greg Campbell
Copyright © 2003 basic music ministries.


For further reading, please read Ephesians (especially chapter one), as well as Romans (especially chapters five and eight), and even second Corinthians five, and Hebrews (particularly chapters eleven and twelve). Those are referenced above, and the original is always better!

Do I Have A Dream?

The Campbell Family

This week the well-known refrain, “I have a dream!” echoed from the lips of a man who changed the world. We are all quite familiar with the speech. Powerful words, and stirring delivery by a great orator. But the heart of what Martin Luther King declared on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial one late summer’s day nearly fifty years ago was that he had a dream.

Dreams are something that sits at the core of us and is our every motivation, the very fiber of us. His dream was to see all men treated equally. Every person judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin in contrast to much of the America he lived his life in.

Dreams somehow also sit at an unattainable distance from us. Like two powerful magnets, the dream that is distant pulls on the dream at our core, beckoning us to realize that which we were made to be. Our dream. It’s as though it is at once unattainable, and unavoidable.

Lately—even before the annual rememberance of Dr. King and his famous speeches—I’ve been thinking about my dream. Mainly I’ve been asking myself, “What is my dream?”

And I really don’t know.

I’ve been through a rough patch the past maybe eighteen months, or so. Jen & I both. Maybe it’s even two years, now, I don’t know. But one thing after another… life just taking its toll on us, as it seems to be so good at doing.

Is that why I have lost focus on my “dream”? Or did I just never have one?

When I was a very young kid, I wanted to be a weatherman. Yes, really! I would be sure to get in front of a TV and catch the full weather portion of the daily news broadcast. (As soon as it was over and the sports segment was up I made sure to turn it off as quickly as possible! Hated sports!) 🙂 But, as many early childhood dreams, that really amounted to nothing. I am still interested in science and specifically anything to do with the sky … but that’s about the extent of me living that dream.

As I got older, I imagined myself to be a writer. So much so that when I was pressed to decide what I would do with my life at the ripe old age of sixteen, I chose “Journalism”. Seemed to make sense. A career as a writer! Who could ask for more?

Except, I don’t think writing is my “dream”.

A year at the Journalism school yielded little more than a still-strong allegiance to the Green and White. (I only took one journalism course, and I really don’t remember a thing about it.) I soon transitioned to a local university before deciding to pursue another “dream” and finish my undergraduate work at Cincinnati Bible College.

As I got to be an older teenager, I did grow to love sports. I really could throw the football better than most people I knew. It came pretty easy, but also from lots of “reps”, as they call it in the world of football. I was always throwing a football, even with no one to throw it to! Maybe playing football was my dream?

So while at MSU, I decided to try to walk on with the varsity football team. That was promptly put down, but my “dream” was not.

At the University at Buffalo, I joined the spring football team practice and workouts. Sadly, I never got to play any football. My class schedule conflicted with football practice, so all I got to do was add some muscle to my frame in the weight room. I did also get to meet Joe Reich, brother of the quite famous Buffalo Bills backup QB, Frank Reich, of the Greatest Comeback lore. Joe was the team’s coach in charge of the spring football practices.

Coach Reich was also a believer. We talked about football, about his brother, and also about our common faith. I told him how I’d always wanted to play football (though, “always” was definitely a stretch, I’d say) and, while talking about that dream, we also talked about what I was slowly realizing was maybe my “real” dream: full-time ministry.

I’d been wrestling with that for much of my second year of college. It seemed like God was impressing upon me that there was nothing else that mattered to me than helping people live in the everyday reality of life with a loving Father. I wanted to help people know the same Jesus I had come to know. He was so much more than I’d ever imagined him to be, and I knew others would want to know that, too!

And so I decided to pursue my dream. I left football, and journalism (and, hardest of all, meteorology…) and began taking classes toward a degree from a(n undergrad) seminary.

The funniest part about that dream is that I knew that it wasn’t what I was made to do before I even started it! I nearly did the “kicking and screaming” routine on the way to following this leading! I told God, “I do NOT want to be a preacher!!” And I didn’t. Still don’t. And, I never was (unless filling that role once or twice counts against you?) 🙂

And yet, as I pursued that dream, it felt right. Like I was where I was meant to be. I didn’t completely fit in with the rest of the folks I was going to school with there. I even ended up finding an obscure way to live out my full-time ministry aspirations: Campus Ministry. After doing an internship at Miami University during my senior year, one thing led to another, and I was hired by a church in New York to begin campus outreaches to local universities.

I was living my dream! Mostly… but no? Maybe I wasn’t.

I think I have forgotten to mention here that through the football dream, during the journalism dream (but well after the Weatherman dream) … the lovely Jen Walker was a big part of my dream. 🙂 In a story much too long to share here, God helped me see that I loved her, and I knew I could love her forever as my wife. We remained good friends, kept in touch, and eventually—remember, this is the very short version—we were married! I am still currently living that dream!

(And adding these six amazing kids to the dream has definitely made that my favorite, most meaningful “dream” to date!)

Now, in the interest of keeping it brief… Oh, wait. I think I missed “brief”…

God has continued to seem to move me from one dream to another throughout my life. Maybe you are like that, too? Or maybe you’re more like MLK. He knew what he was made to do, and he did it. He made the bold choices that changed the world. (He apparently made some other poor choices, too. And his bold/good choices got him killed. So it’s not all rosy… but he still had more courage to see his dream come to fruition than most of us do.)

From campus ministry, the seeds of sharing the Life of God through music that had been planted years earlier began to sprout and grow, and before we knew it, we were actually traveling the country singing my songs in every place you can imagine. We were full-time, independent musicians! And it sure seemed that God was arranging so many of the details. It was a fun ride, to be sure. We were living the dream!

I think?

Let’s recap. My dreams so far have been:

  • Weatherman
  • Journalist/Writer
  • Full-time ministry
  • Campus ministry
  • Musician
  • Jen… and our kids

And now, for the past eight years or so, I’ve been designing/building/developing websites for people and businesses. That’s been a great blessing to us. My love for and understanding of technology has certainly lent itself to this “dream”, though to be honest, this has always felt like more of a job than a dream.

But related to the website building, I managed to create a few podcasts. The Buffalo Bills Review allowed me to live out the football “dream” while also writing, and using technology. That was a pretty good “dream”, but it never earned enough money to justify the time I was putting into it.

AND, I have yet to share this story more publicly, but just about a year ago we were really, really close to opening a restaurant! Now that is pretty close to a dream right there. Maybe the closest. I love making food for people, I love being with people… both of those and more fit right in with the plans we had for the restaurant.

That is currently not my wife’s dream, though, and God saw fit to swiftly and decisively close all of the doors we though he had opened toward the restaurant endeavor. It was sad, a bit shocking, but in retrospect, definitely wise and needed for the year that was to come. (I love when we can see Father’s wisdom in the recent past.)

All of this to say, I sit here in early 2012, nearing four decades of existence on this planet, and I’m really not sure what my “Dream” is. I don’t think I’m having a mid-life crisis. I don’t feel like it’s a “crisis”. I just really can’t say what it is that is at the core of me. That distant, unattainable goal that is irresistably drawing me to itself.

Is that normal? Is it normal to wonder that?

I’d guess that it is. You might not know what your “dream” is, either.

But I do know a few very important things.

One, Jen and our kids are definitely one of my dreams. I want to spend my days pouring myself into them.

I was not wrong when I first realized that all I wanted to do in life was help people know Jesus the way I had come to know him. That’s looked different all through my life, but that is still definitely at the core of who I am.

I do still get to write (as you can see here… in this very long post!) and I do play football with my kids, and I do still make music (usually with my kids) and I certainly get to make food for people (most often my kids…)

Hmm. Could it be that simple? Have I found my dream?

That’s where I might be defining “dream” differently than I need to.

Each day I get to do all of those things for and with my family. I even get to “help people live in the everyday reality of life with a loving Father”. It just happens that the “people” are most often my wife and kids. 🙂

Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song for his wife, Mary Beth, called One Little Heartbeat at a Time. The chorus says:

You, you are changing the world
One little heartbeat at a time
Making history with every touch and every smile
Oh, you, you may not see it now
But I believe that time will tell
How you, you are changing the world
One little heartbeat at a time

I may not be leading huge marches, or speaking to hundreds of thousands of people. I may never have a holiday in my honor. (You never know, though, I suppose…)

But I do love my kids. So much. And I am so glad that I get to spend my life with Jen, who is still my favorite person in the world.

That really is my dream. I don’t know that I have a “dream” job, or a life-cause as most might see it. But I do have a dream. I have a dream that one day my kids will live full lives of being loved by their true Father, and loving and serving everyone he places around them. I have a dream that one day my kids will be known by the content of their character, not by anything position they hold or possessions they own. I have a dream that one day I will get to see their kids—my grandkids—and the joy that God has given us in being the parents of these six new Image Bearers will multiple many fold.

I want to love and be loved. Loved by my Father, and love all who are around me. I want to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. Wherever and how that plays out every day is very secondary.

So I guess I do have a dream. And—lucky me—I’m living it!

What Matters Most: The Story of Jayden

Every day we have stuff to do. Things that are “on our plate”. At the time, they weigh on us, at the end of the day (or during the day) exhaust our energy, and they may or may not also leave us feeling fulfilled.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s work, it’s the kids, it’s bills, it’s errands, it’s house cleaning, home repair, auto repair, insurance squabbles, kids’ daily and weekly activities, your family’s social calendar, community and neighborhood events and/or responsibilities. Then there are all your relationships: family, close friends, neighbors, friends who need support, good friends who are far away, and so on. And don’t forget all the books you want to read, the shows you like to watch, the hobbies you don’t have time for, and plans for the next holiday’s activities and gatherings.

These things fill our days, and our weeks, and our years. And mostly they are good. They are the stuff of life.

But for the most part, they all completely fall away when death or serious illness makes its macabre appearance.

Last year seemed to be full of serious illness and death all around us. (And you can throw in divorce and other of life’s hardships, if you’d like.) And somehow, when the reality of the most certain thing in life came front and center, the rest seemed so silly. So trivial. So superfluous.

What did it matter if I was having trouble getting a certain plugin to work with a complex shopping cart installation? So what if I can’t really figure out how to get our family out of this current financial pinch? Who cares if the van has fourteen different things wrong with it at once? Why does my kids’ incessant refusal to keep their living space neat and tidy bother me so much?

None of it matters when someone we know and love is either already gone, or soon will be.

We have some friends who just recently lost their four-month-old baby boy. I wish I could tell you the full story here, but not only would it be long enough to fill a week’s worth of posts, I’m not sure I could do it justice. I do hope that someday they will be able to write it out for more people to hear and see God’s every great gift to them.

The video above is their story. Hopefully you already watched it. If not, please do. What was most inspiring and encouraging to me is that through a difficult pregnancy where they were told early on that their baby would probably have some severe problems when—if—he was born, they trusted God, and asked him for a healing miracle… and they watched him DO it! Baby Jayden was born perfectly healthy, with no sign of the expected difficulties. (And, they even got to watch them be removed through the long months of the pregnancy.)

But then, things again took a turn for the worse.

Instead of being angry with God, though, who had given them hope and then (it would seem) had taken it away again, they loved their little boy (their gift from God) and they moved forward completely trusting Father to take care of him and them, however that turned out.

Their complete trust in God’s goodness through all of the physically and emotionally tiring, exhausting, draining experiences of Jayden’s four months was what gave them a deep peace that was palpable when you were with them, and it has buoyed them still, in the few weeks after his absence from their family.

And during the time he was sick—gravely sick—other things faded away. Family became important, work less important. Daily “things” were pushed to the background, and life and relationships took their place. I know because I saw it, watched it, and I have lived it.

We have experienced loss, too. Far too many times, actually. We did not get to experience both the joy of knowing our babies for four short months, nor the pain of losing someone we knew outside the womb. But we’ve also known loss.

And every time, what the reality of that brings to the front is that nothing matters more than how you love, and being/living loved. Knowing that your Father loves you, adores you. And then loving other people because you know he adores them, too. Cherishing the other Image-Bearers that he has put in your life, and you in theirs.

That’s really it.

Really.

Thank you, Jayden, for the reminder. Thank you Jesus for giving us some time to be around him, to know him, and to be reminded of what you really made us for. What really matters.