Friday, December 30, 2011

promise and disappointment - another new day

Stand firm and be deeply rooted in God's love. - Ephesians 3:17

Sunrise in Valrico, December 29, 2011
Wow, what a cool, refreshing morning! The mercury dipped to around 40-degrees again and it made for most excellent walking conditions.

Scout Labradoodle seems to appreciate the sense of energy in the air. I'm not sure if she's responding to my shift in spirit or simply shares my enthusiasm; either way, her tail is high, her nose is in the air, and she has a spring in her step.

It's like the morning is this invitation from the universe (don't worry, I'm not trying to deify creation - I just think that the Creator speaks directly through such amazing work).

My brother, Geoff, shared a great comment about each new day when we were talking recently about mortality. He said that he's often heard people say, "Live each day as if it were your last."

Geoff said he appreciates the sentiment behind the cliché, but his years of working in a hospital taught him that "the last day" isn't necessarily your best, and certainly not the kind of experience you want to repeat on a regular basis.

"So what I have decided to do is to live each day as if it were my first," he said.

There's a lot more energy in that idea; energy and promise and potential. Because none of us know what tomorrow will bring, irrespective of a bleak diagnosis, a good one, or no diagnosis at all. So the imperative is to live forward, regardless.

Days also hold sadness and disappointment, and there's no way to greet the promise of a new morning without acknowledging that some days - days created and sustained by the same God who invites us into the life-charged life  - are more difficult than others. And I can't write like this without thinking about my niece, Hannah, and her family, who sustained another bitter setback yesterday when she lost the second of the twins she has been carrying for almost five months.

Grief and sorrow are realities that can't be - shouldn't be - steamrolled or knocked aside by tidy answers or shallow theologies. However, and despite our most difficult trials, the sun does break through in the morning and light does pour over the eastern horizon and into our lives. Every new day.

INVITATION: And it is an invitation that never fails to quicken my step, that always manages to tingle my senses and that unfailing calls to me - be it ever so subtly, to "Live this one like it is the first day of your life...."

Open to the possibilities...
"God is wonderful and glorious. I pray that his Spirit will make you become strong followers and that Christ will live in your hearts because of your faith. Stand firm and be deeply rooted in his love. I pray that you and all of God's people will understand what is called wide or long or high or deep. I want you to know all about Christ's love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is."  - Ephesians 3:16-19 CEV
In the promise of this day, another new one - DEREK

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Are we ready to grow up? (the 5th day of Christmas)

All wrapped up, because it's way chilly up yonder in CT
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. - 1 Corinthians 3:1-2
BABY! I've been looking back some and, sure enough, I'm sure I haven't been overloading my readers with the "I've got a grandson!" thing. So I'm thinking we're overdue for at least a small reference.

David Henry is ten and a half weeks now and his parents are enjoying the opportunity to observe some serious growth. His face is shaping into a very recognizable little-boy; he's packing on a few pounds; he's developing a schedule that actually includes sleeping at night; he has opinions about everything; and, most importantly, there's this growing sense of awareness.

He's responding, interested in the world around him, making connections, beginning to get a little of the "big picture" idea, giving his parents smiles and chuckles along with the more standard "Open my mouth wide, yell, and cry my eyes out because I'm ______________ (hungry, wet, tired, bored, annoyed, etc...)."

"No, not the doctor's office...."
Here's a nice example (left). It was taken at the doctor's office this week, where he was scheduled for some more baby shots. No, not happy at all!

MATURITY: I can't help but watch David grow and think about our lives as immature spiritual beings. So many of us meet Jesus, attend church, even get involved in a small-group experience... and then remain stuck at the "Feed me; entertain me; meet my needs; show me something flashy or I'll go to some other church where they have more impressive programs..." stage.

But instead, what God has in mind for us is so much more! God wants us to begin to explore our spiritual environment, to respond to God's invitation to grow and mature, to make connections, and to develop this growing sense of God-saturated awareness.

SCRIPTURE: Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? - 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

Looking forward to what's next!
As I begin to imagine where I'd like 2012 to take me, one thing is for sure; I want to continue to grow. Maybe David Henry can give me some pointers along the way!
Peace, blessings and promise - DEREK

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"I Can Read You Like a Book" - the 4th day of Christmas

Matthew, Mark, Luke & John
"On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me.... FOUR calling birds...."
On the fourth day of Christmas, my  friends all said to me, "I can read you like a book!"

Tradition tells us (and we know that the word "tradition" is often code for "We don't really know, so somebody made this up...") that the "Four Calling Birds" represent the four Gospel accounts of Christ's life. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Rebekah talked about this some Sunday afternoon, when she was guest preacher for the SpringWater Korean Church Christmas worship service. There is a theory that each day in the "Twelve Days of Christmas" song represents an aspect of faith. 2 Testaments, 5 books of the Pentateuch, 8 Beatitudes, 11 faithful disciples... etc. etc.

So far as I'm concerned, any mnemonic device that serves as an aid to recalling truths from the Bible is a great idea. It's not only that I need all the help I can get when it comes to remembering anything, it's also that this particular memory tool draws attention to aspects and ideas I might not have considered otherwise.

And so, back to the Four Calling Birds. A calling bird has a song to sing, and the bird is not afraid to sing it. In fact, the song is actually so much a part of the nature of the bird that not singing isn't really an option. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are known as the Four Evangelists because - quite simply - they sing out the story of Jesus.

BE the gospel!
A few weeks ago I wrote about faith in terms of living a better story. This is very much the same idea. The idea of evangelism is not to brow-beat, to condemn, to press a belief system on someone else... No; evangelism at its best, and as practiced so beautifully by the Gospel writers, is all about telling the story of Jesus.

The best way to tell the story of Jesus is to live the story of Jesus. We've all heard the cliché, "I can read you like a book!" Well, how about if that book was a Gospel?
Good thoughts for the Fourth Day of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Life Runneth Over - the 3rd day of Christmas

My mum and dad hosting Boxing Day
Sometimes, all I can say is that, "Life Runneth Over."
I mean, really, how can I possibly journal a life that's as full and rich as the one I am privileged to live? Yesterday, for example, was "Boxing Day." (I know I'm a writer, and I'm supposed to be good at summing things up in a few easy sentences... but I'm recommending you go to Wikipedia if you want the full explanation of the British "Boxing Day" tradition).

As for my immediate family, Boxing Day simply means spending the day after Christmas Day at my mum and dad's house. We eat cold cuts with baked potatoes and "stuffing", slather everything with British condiments, and follow it all with Christmas Pudding, mince-pie, Christmas Cake, hot custard and a lot of hot tea. We really miss Naomi and Craig and David, up in Connecticut, but they are establishing their own Boxing Day tradition that they share with family and friends...

"Pictionary" - Hudson is enthralled!
PARTY HATS: During the eating of the meal, and for the remainder of the day, we wear the silly paper party-hats that flew out from the "Christmas crackers" we pulled right after the blessing.

The afternoon is spent playing parlor games, drinking hot tea, walking off the dinner so we can eat more, drinking more hot tea, exchanging gifts, drinking tea, retelling family stories, singing favorite Christmas carols, drinking tea again, and then - of course - drinking tea.

Later, we feel full and content and blessed. Then we have another cup of tea and float on home.

Hannah with the heirloom gift
HEIRLOOM: All gifts are special. But one, the black scarf (my mum called it, properly, a "stole") modeled here by my niece, Hannah, has an extra measure of blessing attached. My brother Geoff gave it to my mum back in the 1960's. Yesterday she passed it on to his daughter.

The passing on of an heirloom gift is always loaded with meaning; it's like my mum took a piece of herself and said, "Here, Hannah: the love, and the faith, the spontaneity, the extravagance, and the over-the-top verve - the qualities that characterized your father even when he was a child - are all wrapped up in this stole."

STOLE: In the church, the pastor's stole is deliberately heavy. The stole symbolizes the weight and the responsibility of the office, the fact that care is both privilege and duty; not an encumbrance so much as a trust.

The gift was, in a sense, a passing on of the privilege of care along with the sentimental value of the stole as an heirloom piece.

Hudson and Haley waiting for presents...
That's the power and the layered richness of family; so much of it unspoken; so much of the meaning and the reach of the ties that bind, unconscious; so many nuances unthought or - consciously at least, unintended.
JUST ANOTHER DAY? So, is any coming together of family ever just a meal and a party and laughter and fun? No, of course not. We were created, in the beginning, for relationships, and to live in community. God designed us that way. And, to the extent that we embrace the opportunity family affords for us to live out the intention of our creation, then we are living faithful lives.

We all wear the stole, symbolically, when we acknowledge our family name...

Monday, December 26, 2011

'Tis the Second Day of Christmas

Christmas Day at Maul Hall!
Tis the Second Day of Christmas and it's quiet in our house. 'Cause the whole world's out shopping, (LOL) even my spouse!
Yes, folks, I admit it, I'm messing up today's blog post with inspirational couplets in the spirit of "The Night Before Christmas." I know, it's a cheap writing vehicle, but the first one jumped into my brain and it just took it from there.
I've Skyped with my grandson, talked with Naomi by via text, Facebook messaged with Andrew and I wonder what's next? The trash is all piled by the chimney with care,  In hopes that the garbage truck soon will be there.
And it gets worse! The first item I saw on the news this morning was a "Decision 2012" update and the next thing I knew the following came to mind:
More vapid than usual the candidates came. Trump whistled and shouted and called them by name: Now Gingrich, now Bachmann, now Paul, Perry, Romney -  Via media outlets your presence is omni.  To the top of the polls? Got your back to the wall?  Please dash away! Rush away! Go away all!

Seriously, though, it has been so refreshing to concentrate on the promise of Christmas over the past few days. Giving, family and worship have all been front and center, and so it's no surprise that peace and hope and love and joy have come along with the package.
Worship at First Presbyterian on Christmas Eve was magical. Around 750 people showed up for the two services. Rebekah's message was simple - "God says do not be afraid." There's so much that seems to churn us up inside, even to the point of missing the Christmas message because we're upset about this, or that, or worried that Christmas needs saving in some way. But Christmas is about God reaching in to this broken world and saving us. Because of God's great initiative, we do not have to fear. All we need to do is to live in love.

Then we were surprised and delighted to receive a sanctuary full with people Christmas morning. Such a wonderful treat to have Christmas Day on a Sunday. Then, that afternoon, Rebekah and I returned to church as she'd been invited to preach at the Korean worship service.

It's always fun to watch Rebekah work with a translator. Several times she watched and listened carefully as pastor Kim translated her 30-second paragraph into two minutes of animated Korean, punctuated by loud AMENs from the congregation. "Did I really say that?" she'd ask... and he'd always reply, "Oh yes... exactly!"

Christmas Brunch with the Blacks
So here's the real point of today's post. It's a question: Are we any different than we were a few days ago? Have we allowed - are we willing to allow - Jesus to infiltrate our lives any more because of Christmas?
I heard the Shepherds exclaim, walking into the night... "Will these Christians be moved - like we were - by this sight?" And the Magi agreed, as they rose from their knees, "Our eyes have been opened, our spirits are freed.... But what of these Christians? sure, they sing and they pray.... But is Jesus this welcome at home, every day?"

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Derek & Rebekah: the official 2011 Christmas Newsletter

“Shine as lights among the people of this world, as you hold firmly to the message that gives life.” – Philippians 2:15-16

(It's possible one of these might make it in the mail with a nice Christmas/New Year's card, one day... but don't hold your breath). Hmm… where to start? None of us want to be labeled, “That family forever flaunting flashy facts, fun features, and fortuitous fortune…” However, if we didn’t say 2011 has been over-the-top awesome we’d be flat out lying.

  • Craig, Naomi and David
    First off the “no-brainer.” WE ARE GRANDPARENTS! Wahoo; yippee, drum-roll etc. That’s right; October 16 saw the debut of a healthy happy David Henry Campbell, born in Connecticut. Naomi and Craig Campbell are in love with their new addition, Derek and Rebekah are ecstatic, and David is already engaging life full on.

Andrew with Alicia in Kiev
Andrew (a.k.a. International Man of Mystery), is making the most of his experience living in the Chianti region of Italy. During 2011 he travelled extensively in Europe and North Africa, made several trips home across the big pond, and participated in a number of mission projects. One sequence of cities: Venice, Vienna, Kiev and Pisa, represents the first four liaisons with his new friend, Alicia, who has been omnipresent in conversation, Skype and scheduling.

  • Rebekah and David in our garden
    Rebekah has enjoyed another positive year enjoying a fruitful experience in ministry. October marked 15 years as senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Brandon. During 2011, the congregation celebrated 50-years of witness in the community, completed an extensive building project, and continues to respond positively to the constant challenge of reinvention and creative discipleship.

Derek in Italy
Derek spent 2011 speaking in communities throughout the United States, completing manuscripts for books #4 (Reaching Toward Easter) and #5 (Ten Life-Charged Words), writing for several news publications, taking a gazillion photographs, and building an audience for his daily blog, "Life-Charged Life." Another unforgettable highlight was a father-son 8-day tour of “Andrew’s Italy.”


Scout Labradoodle (5) continues to keep Derek fit and to amuse Rebekah. Darth Cat (12) is slowing down, but sill remains super-cool.

LIFE: There is so much we could share about the wonder of living day-to-day as life-charged followers of the Way of Jesus. We love our home, it is a true sanctuary; we enjoy our children and we’re thrilled to see them live with such passion and purpose; we are immeasurably blessed to be part of such a dynamic community of faith; we are thankful for an extended family where love and respect define our relationships; we treasure our friends; and we are grateful for the opportunity to live in such a place as the United States, where we are secure and free.

David Henry Campbell
PRAYER: Yet, and not forgetting all these mercies, we grieve for this deeply troubled world, the undercurrents of war and desperation that color every observation of international news, and the growing cynicism that defines politics at home. That is why this scripture keeps coming to mind.
“Shine as lights among the people of this world, as you hold firmly to the message that gives life.” – Philippians 2:15-16
In love, and because of love – Derek and Rebekah

Friday, December 23, 2011

2-days and counting: keep it simple down the home stretch

As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:15

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD.... - Jeremiah 29:12-14

This has been one of those Christmas seasons where - for me - everything seems to be boiling down to the essentials. Time and again, I find myself stripping faith down to the bare bones.

Today it's simply "Seek and find." Along with the assurance from God, "When you seek me with all of your heart, I will be found by you."

Chapel in Volterra
Jesus said as much during the sermon on the mount. And, later, Jesus pointed out that he is "The Gate", and also "The Way."
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. - Matthew 7:7-9
I believe one of our great errors in religion has been over-complication. Do this. Say that. Follow this code. Memorize these rules. Live according to such-and-such set of guidelines. Genuflect. Recite. Kneel. Chant. Turn around. Put your right foot out. Put your right foot in, You do the Hokey-Pokey. And you turn yourself around....
  • How about seek... find... end of story.
Maybe we conveniently forget about the "with all of your heart" part of the seeking? Maybe we forget about Jesus? Maybe we rush around like crazy in the days leading up to December 25 because we want a little more control in the process.

CONTROL: But along with control comes an absence of faith. "I can do this!" "I can summon the Christmas spirits!" "I can work the program until I wring out the last drop of peace, hope, love and joy...!"
Really? I don't think so.

Follow the star
How about honestly following the star? and how about God's assurance and promise? How about we rest in Jesus? How about we keep it simple for once, and just fall to our knees? How about a long, deep breath, a breathing in of the Spirit of God?
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,  Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” - Matthew 2:1-2
I have seen His star rise in my heart, and I will worship him - DEREK

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Wars miss the point

Welcome the Christ-child
Jesus stood up to read... “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” ... Then he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” - Luke 4:16-21
If you read this space on a regular basis (and it appears that several hundred of you do) then you already know that I like to include photographs that tell a story. The quality that makes a photograph journalism is the element of story.

I take photographs for my magazine and newspaper articles, and I always tell the people I interview that, "We'll try for art but I can't guarentee it... but I will promise you a story people won't forget." Sometimes a poor-quality image (grainy, unflattering portrayal of the subject, poor lighting etc...) can still tell a great story.


NUTS: Take Rebekah's favorite nutcracker, for example. This guy is a bishop. He caught my attention a couple of minutes ago when I walked by. I tried to imagine what his reaction might be regarding some of the foolishness that is characterizing this year's installment of the ongoing "Christmas Wars" saga in North American culture.

The bishop guy doesn't exhibit much variety in expression, but I think the picture on the right says it all. I mean, really, what else is there to say other than the jaw-dropping "REALLY?" I'm not quite sure, but I think he may let loose the occasional "ARE. YOU. SERIOUS?"

Personally, I'm not so sure that much of what gets passed off for Christmas here in the USA is anything other than the tawdry promotion of nostalgia, and a carefully cultivated marketing campaign designed to boost the economy.

GIVE ME A  BREAK! As to the screaming (literally) controversy of "Holiday trees" versus "Christmas trees," the use of public buildings to promote one religion over another leaves little doubt that many people believe Christianity is America's "State Religion." Ironical, wouldn't you say, in light of our history? I can't think of much else that could be more harmful for both the church and the United States.

simple manger
But I guess what bugs me the most about "The Christmas Wars" is the way the whole debate misses the Good News of the Gospel by such a wide margin.
And so the television cameras record angry religious folk maligning the rise of secularism, bad-mouthing "liberals" and mixing in political references to "good conservative values." Thanks a lot; I'm sure that's just what Jesus was looking for when he nestled into a feeding trough with his exhausted parents and drew his first breath in the struggling world he came to offer his gift of peace, hope, joy and love....

Meanwhile, in tens of thousands of faith communities throughout the country, millions of Jesus Followers are quietly serving the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, helping the blind recover their sight, offering freedom to the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

"I've got your Christmas cheer right here!"
THE STORY: So let's not be confused. This picture, taken at my small-group Christmas party, represents a riot of cheer, celebration and concentrated goodwill. However, we all understand that the most eloquent retelling of the Jesus narrative will "go live" 365 times over the coming year, and it will be told in the way we allow Jesus to live in and through us as we:
  • Love without reservation,
  • Serve the poor,
  • Demonstrate release from our own prisons,
  • Share the power of the message with others in captivity,
  • Help those who don't see clearly to witness God's love in new ways,
  • Offer freedom from addiction and pain and debt and bitterness and floundering and.....
  • Tell the truth about the Gospel of Jesus, simply by being...
In other words, to live as if the story is true and to live as if we really are redeemed - DEREK