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.

New Beginnings

sunrise

Do you notice that sometimes there are themes around you? I do. Every once in a while, many things around me (or even in me) will work in apparent concert toward some consistent message, idea, or theme.

Lately, I am being pretty often reminded that life is full of new beginnings.

And also that it is not.

For example, each day is a new start, each year—happy new year to you, reader!—and many other instances on the calendar or the clock provide us with a fresh beginning.

Today I marveled at sleep. Each night (for most) we shut down to regenerate. Our energy (and even our heart and mind) is replenished by an end of one day, and a preparation for the beginning of the next. Even within sleep there are cycles that our bodies go through, giving us the most effective, helpful rest to replenish us. Incredible.

A new home, a new business, even paying off debt and gaining new financial freedom—even in our own creations we find the recurring theme of a fresh start.

Some new beginnings are thrust upon us, contrary to anything we may have chosen, by accident, illness, or the will of others. Life can change in a moment—and never go back to how it was.

There are so many new beginnings, it seems to me that it is an essential part of God’s design.

Certainly not the suffering, or any evil, or the pain and brokenness of a fallen world, of the fallen us. But with so many examples around us of cycles of fresh starts and new beginnings, it must be a truth our Designer wants us to see.

Recently I have been noticing that I am no longer young. I don’t feel old, and I realize that compared to many, I do not qualify as aged. (I just spent time with my nearly-nonagenarian grandparents. They probably think I’m silly to talk about “not being young”.)

One recurring scene that reminds me that time has passed is young families. At the store, in photos of friends on social networking sites, at the public library—everywhere I see what I once was. I was them. My young wife and I, along with our younger (and fewer) children. We were those confident-yet-bewildered brand-new adults, feeling our way into what would become our life.

Sometimes—more often than you might think—I wish we could go back. I don’t want to really go back; who would? But I do wonder what it would be like to enjoy that newness again while keeping all the wisdom life has taught me through the experiences we’ve had since.

That is not the way of things.

Life always moves forward. We can’t—and shouldn’t—go back. And so God gives us new beginnings. Each day, each month, each year. And sometimes the new beginning happens at a moment of our choosing. When we choose to accept his new mercy this morning.

Those may sound like “just words” to you. When life thrusts a new beginning upon us, unwelcome, and unchangeable… we don’t want words. We want what we’ve lost. We want to undo the change.

I think God has reminders placed all around us—really, everywhere—that we would know that life moves forward, and he moves with us.

Maybe each time we remember that (and believe it), that is another new beginning. Which means we are perfectly, exactly where we’re meant to be.

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![a]
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Lamentations 3:22-23

Infallible Trustworthiness

trustworthiness

Yesterday, after reading a couple more chapters of the book of Hebrews with our two oldest boys, I was recounting to Jen some of what we had read and discussed. Julia, our seven-year-old was also in the room. From what we are reading, a common theme the author of Hebrews seems to be conveying is the ultimate, unfailing trustworthiness of God, so I used the phrase, “infallible trustworthiness”, and asked Julia if she knew what that meant. She did not, but she did listen when I explained, “It means God can always—always—be trusted.”

He can.

Early in the letter called “Hebrews”, it’s stated that God can not lie. It is impossible for him to lie. Jesus’ supremacy is also well established, and his role as our intermediary—our advocate, High Priest—is outlined in great detail. That God is for us, always, seems to be a main theme of the Hebrews.

We are often encouraged, then, to trust him, based on this. Approach the throne of grace with confidence. Come to him in our time of need.

Through the years, various lines and sections from the book of Hebrews have encouraged me about who God is and my relationship to him. I’ve included many of them in songs I’ve written, and recalled them “in my time(s) of need”. So, I’ve enjoyed reading through this letter again, and discuss it with my boys. I love seeing them process and understand grace and the truths of God’s Kingdom.

Most of all, perhaps, is this recurring theme of God’s infallible trustworthiness.

It’s what’s caused all of the people mentioned in chapter eleven, the “by faith” section, to see far beyond their circumstances to something they believed and hoped for. It wasn’t their belief in something, but someOne who spurred them on.

“By faith… Their weakness was turned to strength…” (11:34)

In the end, the whole of our existence depends upon him. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the fullness of God and man. It’s beyond comprehension, and yet it’s the foundation of all that we are.

The list of people who accomplished great things in full reliance upon God’s infallible trustworthiness is summed up by the following:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge cloud of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. (12:1-2)

We’ve heard that before, but it is the essence of what is most important: keeping our eyes on Jesus.

It’s easy to take our eyes off of him. Circumstances can easily distract us. Financial and employment struggles, relational woes within a family or with close friends, chronic health issues, or even diagnoses of terminal illness and death.

And yet, Jesus is with us through all of that. If we clear away the clutter, be it sin, doubt, worry, fear, or anything else distracting us from him, and keep our eyes on him, we will know joy—life in its fullness.

When we’re crushed by sadness, guilt, hopelessness, it’s hard. It feels impossible to “trust”. I know.

…let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. […] Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise (10:22-23)

God can be trusted to keep his promise.

Wherever you’re doubting today, worrying, fearing, remember those words: “God can be trusted to keep his promise.” He promises us rest, peace, grace, forgiveness, and his love, from which nothing can separate us.

He is with us. He is for us.

What, or who, can ever be against us?

I highly recommend to you a re-read of the book of Hebrews. We’re enjoying it in larger chunks, which to me helps provide context. Some prefer to go slower, meditating on smaller portions.

However you do it, may the words refresh your trust in our God’s infallible trustworthiness!

And let us, together, keep our eyes on Jesus.

[ThisDay] Chapters

Life is change. Everything around us—and even we ourselves—are constantly growing, changing, gaining, losing. This post from January 29th, 2008 was my reflection on how life often changes, even when you don’t want it to. (Sometimes it feels like especially when you don’t want it to!) I hope you’ll enjoy this post as you consider the chapters of your own life.

Chapters

January 29th, 2008

book-chaptersOur closest friends are moving away.

There. I said it. Sometimes I try not to. Other times I say it more than I probably need to. Both are ways to deal with an unexpected (and truthfully, unwanted) change in my life. Our family’s life.

We have known for a while, but I think it’s safe to publicly say now as the decision has been public for a couple weeks. But for quite a bit longer than that we have been thinking and talking together with our friends through the various elements of their big decision. They are quite excited. It’s a great new opportunity for them, and seems to them to be exactly what God has prepared them for. They were expecting a new chapter in their life and it looks like this is it!

For us there are much more mixed emotions.

On the one hand, we are of course excited for our friends. We love them and you can’t help but be excited along with people you love. You are excited when they are excited. You hurt when they hurt. And so on. But on the other hand, it will be very different with them gone.

Of course I know that life is change. “The only thing certain in life is that life is not certain,” or something like that. Life is all about changes. Chapters, if you will. And we have actually had a good two or three chapters with these friends. Going way back to college days (chapter one) and then moving together to work at the same church in upstate NY (chapter two). Then bring Jen back into the equation after her one-year internship in Indiana (chapter three) and then we both started having children (chapter four) and maybe even add one more chapter for when we both had finished our time at the church that brought us to this town in the first place (chapter five).

That’s a lot of chapters.

And there will be more. Perhaps only one more. (The “rest of life” chapter.) But how can you ever know? If change is the only certain thing in life, who knows if we might meet up again somewhere down the road?

But for now… I’ve mostly just been sad.

When someone dies, people are affected in different ways. The people who spend the most time with the lost loved one are of course affected the most. We saw this when Jen’s brother died. Her parents were devastated for a long time. They had poured their lives into him. He lived with them again, and so they were spending every day with him. We were all hurt by the loss, but I believe they were affected the most.

In a way, it’s similar with our friends. No… they aren’t dying. 🙂 I’m grateful for Skype and e-mail and phone calls (and the occasional visit!). The similarity for me is just in the closeness both emotionally and in time spent together. These friends are the ones we share the most life with. Often at least a couple visits in a week, and of course every birthday and other special day. (We have lots of those….) 🙂 Our kids call them “aunt” and “uncle” as well, which is intended to reveal a closer relationship. We have a few other friends whom our kids call “aunt” and “uncle” but none fit quite as appropriately. We have joked since our first children were born (we had a boy and they had a girl) that our kids might one day be married. And I guess we just assumed they would at least grow up together.

It will definitely be hard when they leave. It’s nice that the end of this chapter – this section – is not abrupt. They will have a few more months of tying up things here. For now, we’re enjoying the last part of this chapter.

And I know there will be more. And I’m grateful for the five (or more) that we have had. And life will be full of many more chapters.

It’s still not always fun to move on.

OTHER POSTS from JANUARY 29th

Forward

sun

Forward never stops. The next moment forces itself upon you whether or not you’re ready to leave the current one behind. And then again, without asking, there is another moment stepping in to replace its predecessor.

The sun rises, travels across our sky, and sets every day. The seasons advance relentlessly, reliably.

There is comfort in this unceasing cycle. Comfort, awe, helplessness, and a perspective-inducing, throw-up-your-hands sense of irrelevance.

Time marches relentlessly forward. We hold to the past… and we try to flee it. But it really doesn’t matter. We are compelled to move forward. I would posit that we might do better when we move with the natural rhythm of life, but then the realization that whether or not we comply, forward we go.

Thus, whenever we do hold on to our past, we are really ignoring reality.

If our past mistakes—be they small, numerous, or large, injurious—render us incapable of living now, free, able to experience life, and even joy…

If our past victories—again, large and well-known, or small, frequent, even unknown to others—are constant reminders of where we’d rather be, or even who we’d rather be…

If hurt—even deep, scarring, wounding, killing hurts—in our past fill our hearts, minds, bodies with life-drawing sadness, yearning for what was, and could have been…

We are trapped in an existence that time has simply altered, and continues, relentlessly, to further alter.

The good news here is that with this irrepressible forward motion, there is always new, always hope. I believe this is the “gospel” message. No matter what you’ve done, or who you’ve been (“good” or “bad”) we move forward. You are accepted, loved, even cherished, sought after. Time moves us forward. No grudges, no lists of wrongs… forward.

There are always consequences for actions (and inactions) in the Forward. That is part of its nature, too. Something done, or left undone, in this moment comes to fruition in the next—consequence.

But grace is in the next moment Forward.

“And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” —Jeremiah 31:34

We can not change anything that has already happened. We usually can’t repeat it, either.

Certainly there is value in cherishing the good from our past, and learning from the bad, but forward we must go. There is no other option, really.

Forward never stops.


As a point of curiosity from me, what did you first see in the photo above? Is it a beautiful sunset? Or a sunrise? I am regularly fascinated by how our mindset shapes the world we perceive. Not that a sunset is any less forward than a sunrise, but one is generally considered a “closing” and the other a “beginning” … hope, versus a lack of hope? Again… just curious. And maybe incorrect. 🙂

Middle Age

Greg Campbell - Aged

Every once in a while I get to noticing my age.

It might come from stiffness in some joint, or soreness in some muscle. Alternately, I might just ponder the numbers which track my cyclical journeys around the sun. (They do keep increasing…)

On some days, it’s just watching the people around me growing up. My oldest son is just over a year away from driving himself around (and right now he has us doing that many times to many places!) and my daughters will be women before I can blink.

Whatever might trigger it, I can easily be reminded that I am old.

But then I consider that my age still begins with a three. I know that’s not old. I realize there’s likely much life ahead of me, should God decide to number my days so.

My second parents are septuagenarians. My own parents are sexagenarians. And my grandparents are octogenarians. Many important people in my life are still nearly double my age, despite my sometimes feeling ‘old’.

I mean, I am barely old enough to be President, for goodness sake!

So I’ve been thinking—I’m not old, but I’m not young…

I think I’m middle aged!

That’s supposed to mean it’s time for my “crisis”, right? At some point around now I am to realize that I’m further into my life than I have remaining ahead of me. A reflective overview of what I’ve accomplished—and what I’ve not accomplished—is to set me into a spiraling tizzy, ending with the purchase of some wild vehicle, or some other wild (even scandalous) adventure.

I can’t emphasize enough how much that is not going to happen. 🙂

For me, this probably mainly stems from my lack of personal ambition or other such motivations. I’m not sure if that’s the only thing that would push someone into a mid-life crisis, but it seems to me unfulfilled expectations might do just that.

What I do know is that it’s pretty odd here in the middle.

Some days I think I want to be old. I want to fast-forward through today’s tough parts, and maybe enjoy the fun parts of being a grandpa. Perhaps enjoy the fruits of all the years lived and wisdom gained. There are certainly benefits to being aged.

But there are advantages to still being young, too. (Which I do admit, I am quickly leaving behind.) My body can still keep up with my inner athlete. Running continues to be an enjoyable activity, and I love playing sports with my older boys (who are now old enough to keep up with me!)

Youth is still part of me, but beginning to show signs of departure. Age is coming, but only still on the outskirts of my view.

I’m right in the middle, enjoying bits of both worlds.

And I hope to remember, for as long as I remain here, that this is the place I’m meant to be. Right now. Right here.

Right in the middle.

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.

Enjoy.

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.