Monday, March 27, 2006

The Road I Take ©

I went through all the motions
My goal to not be ignored
I faked the heart and emotions
Inside I was lonely and bored

Talk about high expectations,
I tried to live up to them all
It led me to total exhaustion
Each time I’d inevitably fall

What difference does it make which road I take
I’ve tried narrow and wide,
Gone along for the ride
Wound up empty inside
Wondering who gives a damn for the person I am

I won’t live their irrational fears
I refuse to be empty inside
My conscience is quiet and clear
If it ever existed … it died

What difference does it make which road I take
I’ve tried narrow and wide,
Gone along for the ride
Wound up empty inside
Wondering who gives a damn for the person I am

I thought I was going to smother
I escaped in the nick of time
I’ve traded one road for another
It may not be better … but it’s mine

My road’s my own, to know and be known
Leave expectations behind
Refuse to live blind
And hope that I’ll find
Those who do give a damn for the person I am
For the person … the simple person … I am

© copyright 2006 Lloyd Campbell

Monday, January 16, 2006


Hebrews 11:6 has become my sin qua non of Bible passages. It says

So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

Classic Christianity affirms faith – mentioned throughout the Christian Scriptures as the essential element to a right relationship with God – is crucial. However, what has never been clear to me is what are the rudiments of faith … its makeup … how can we know that faith has actually taken on a life of its own? In other words, when we move beyond acknowledging aspects of faith to the point when those aspects converge and become initial (incipient) faith.

Hebrews 11:6 has answered my question. The elements of faith are 1) believe that there is a benevolent God, and 2) begin a lifelong quest to know this God. It doesn’t seem possible to claim faith on the basis of believing there is a God but in having no inclination to know more about this God. When the elements of faith come together … God is and I must discover him … then faith is born.

The agnostic may believe there is a God but have no desire to discover – or be discovered by – this God. This belief in God is simply not faith. Faith begins a quest. That doesn’t mean that the pursuit will always be neatly defined, taking similar paths for each pilgrim, and codified conveniently so that each succeeding generation will know the exact path to follow.

It seems to me that a search by definition implies a certain kind of randomness … one doesn’t know where to look. In terms of a search from location A to location B, simple turns of left or right in the correct sequence should ultimately lead us to the destination. However, the ultimate search for God isn’t so limited in its dimensional scope. After all, we are talking about searching for God. Therefore the search would include all the dimensions of our limited humanity trying to discover all the dimensions of God’s unlimited personality. What could be neat and tidy about that?

But, that’s exactly what theology has tried to do over the ages, make the quest understandable and reproducible. Instead, they have reduced it to a set of logical deductions mixed with cultural moral imperatives and called it the quest for God. The only thing missing? Finding God.

The point of Jesus coming was to help us in the quest. When the gospel writers talk about Jesus’ life, they are continually pointing out that Jesus came to help us understand 1) who God is, and 2) how we can go about finding him. Not in a prepackaged format, but in an ever-changing, untidy, often confusing relationship filled with starts and fits … with high points of understanding and low points of despair … with sadness and joy. A truly authentic relationship.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Incipient Faith

I like the word incipient. It means something that is just beginning to exist or appear. When something is incipient, in its very earliest stages of development, does it exist? Doesn’t it exist whether it is fully grown or barely embryonic? It doesn’t seem that size, age, maturity, or development is the issue. While all those things may happen, the question of existence is settled when something begins to be.

So goes my philosophical reflections … perhaps meaningless ruminations, deserving of dismissing offhandedly … but there is one area where the meaning and question of incipient gnaws at me: Faith. You see, as a follower of Jesus Christ, the question of faith is a critical one – without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) because God makes us right in his sight by faith (Romans 1:17, 3:28-30, and scriptures too numerous to list). According to the Bible, faith is at the heart of a personal relationship with God. But how much faith is necessary? Jesus said that the tiniest faith could accomplish great things (Luke 17:6). He asks us to have faith as uncluttered, simple and innocent as a child’s faith (Mark 10:13-15). Since it seems clear that God doesn’t require full-blown, well-reasoned, mature faith in order to enter into a relationship with him (Mark 9:24), how much faith is needed?

My answer … incipient faith. Hebrews 11:6 says that “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” This seems to be the irreducible minimum: God exists and He will reward my search.

God’s choice to “reward” the sincere seeker is not based on the degree to which one searches but on his graciousness based on what Jesus Christ did at the cross. His sacrifice made the way possible for everyone to enter into a relationship with God. When one searches, whether they know it or not, their search is made possible because of the way opened by Christ (John 14:6).

Why does someone without any need or requirement search after God? How do we explain this behavior? Is it social preconditioning? Or is it something more? When does the unconscious question become a conscious search? When does a logical uncertainty become the search for the divine? When does an instinctive longing become the living mote of faith? I don’t know. But when that speck appears, for whatever reason in whatever form, it is the beginning of the relationship with God. As that faith grows, He will continue to reveal himself, ultimately as the Christ. But up until that time, even embryonic faith is acceptable to God … existing and eventually emerging – if we allow it – into the faith that acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Moral Schizophrenics

I think Coldplay is an awesome group. Their new album X & Y is terrific. I was telling a “church” person about my musical tastes and they said, “I don’t listen to secular music … (supply your own self-righteous tone here) … I only listen to Christian music.”

A person’s worldview matters. It matters because it colors and frames everything we perceive about life. The classic church worldview is to classify everything into either sacred (church=good) or secular (world=not good) categories, judging every experience of life as valuable or harmful.

So, being a good church-person I will listen to Christian music. I will read Christian books. I will attend Christian seminars. I will acquire Christian art. I will have Christian friends. I will frequent Christian establishments. I will sport a Christian bumper sticker. I will vote for Christian candidates. I will wear Christian t-shirts. I will support Christian values. I will argue for Christian morality. In short, I will live in the ghetto of the Christian sub-culture and feel secure knowing that I’m on the sacred side of life.

So … U2’s off limits … but what about some Christmas music, like Jingle Bells, is that okay? And CSI is good television; can’t we include that? The Gap has some cool threads, no fish symbols emblazoned on them, but maybe we can wear some Gap stuff, too. I know that I can’t like Harry Potter, but are the Disney classics with witches and magic okay? Surely, there is some redeeming value in rooting for my team to crush their opponents? These don’t fit neatly into the sacred group, but can’t we squeeze them in somehow?

My mind is spinning! What about my business? Where does school fit? Or sports? Or parties? Or mountain climbing? Or the arts? Or orgasms? Hmmm … where does sex fit on the sacred/secular continuum?

Instead of allowing his followers to be moral schizophrenics, God gave us some very simple advice …

Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it. We may receive it gladly, with thankful hearts. (1 Timothy 4:4)

Could it be that easy? Emphatically, yes! Everything God created is good. We shouldn’t reject any of it. We should receive it gladly and thankfully. The sacred/secular mindset is a perversion of God’s generous gifts to humanity. In the desire to keep away from evil, people have quenched the possibility for pleasure through many of the forms that God intended.

I can hear someone’s moral worldview beginning to crack, and nervously they ask, “If the sacred/secular contention isn’t true, then how can I know what is good and what is evil?”

Consider this by C. S. Lewis …

There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to him and bad when it turns from him. (C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)

The issue is not the song, not the art, not the movie, not the clothes, not anything in the categories of sacred or secular. What matters is my motive. Why am I doing what I am doing? For what purpose and to what end?

Theologian Martin Buber said,

What matters is not what is being done, but the fact that every act is filled with sanctity—that is, with God-oriented intent. There is nothing that is evil in itself; every passion can become a virtue, every inclination a “vehicle of God.” It is not the matter of the act that is decisive, but its sanctification. Every act is hallowed if it is directed towards salvation. The soul of the doer alone determines the character of the deed. (Martin Buber, Mamre)

There is a sacred and secular, and here is how you find it: To the person who lives their lives with a God-conscious worldview everything is sacred or can be turned that way. To a person who lives their lives with a self-conscious worldview, everything is secular, because the world revolves around them instead of God.

Friday, October 28, 2005

I Like Life

I’m a life-aholic. I’m hooked on it! I can’t get enough of it, and I’ll do almost anything to make sure that I get my fix. A small battle with cancer a few years ago deepened my obsession, but I’ve always been addicted. I’m not talking about just breathing; I’m talking about living … living everyday … taking the good with the bad knowing that it all adds up to something terrific.

My love for life has often proven problematic for me. Being in the church and enjoying life doesn't always go together. Self-denial is usually seen as a greater virtue than enjoyment. Like the diet advice: if it tastes good you can’t have it, churches have preached the doctrine of denial for centuries. If something is fun and feels good, then it is probably an activity you shouldn’t be involved in.

Of course, this is an oversimplification. Many in church will immediately protest that they are allowed to enjoy their lives. However, whether they realize it or not, they are only speaking of “sanctioned” enjoyment. Anything outside of the “approved” list of “allowable” enjoyment is suspect at best and a pathway to hell at worst!

The church has taken everything and asked this question: will this particular event, activity, feeling, or desire lead me into other things that are suspect or clearly evil? If they answer yes, then that puts it off limits for every good church person. This kind of thinking led to the sarcastic joke: The reason Baptists don’t believe in adultery is they are afraid a dance will break out.

Much of life is off limits for church people because they are constantly asking themselves that question. Inevitably this leads them to a self-righteousness based on avoidance. Ask them about spirituality and they will give you a laundry list of things they don’t do. They operate from a line of reasoning that goes something like this: “I am right with God because I don’t do …. Therefore you are not right with God because you do …. Which means, I am better than you are.” They may never say this aloud, but you’ll know it after just a few miserable minutes of being around them!

Living in fear of participating in something that might lead me into evil is a gross waste of time. Truthfully, everything – good, bad, or indifferent – has the capacity to lead me somewhere that may not be good for me. If I live my life according to this question, I’ll never live at all! I’ll hide away in some sanctuary and surround myself with others who have stopped experiencing life. We will proclaim our superiority and condemn everyone on the outside. We’ll be safe, secure, self-righteous, smug, and very serious.

The doctrine of self-denial is largely based on a lousy interpretation of Jesus’ words when he said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Jesus wasn’t saying to deny yourself of all personal pleasure. He was saying don’t live your life for yourself. And, as anyone knows who seeks to enjoy life, the only way that’s possible is to live your life outside yourself. Any kind of self-focus takes delight out of life … especially the self-focus of self-righteousness! It is only when we get out of ourselves that life begins to have meaning … and enjoyment! That’s what Jesus meant.

Righteousness by avoidance seems very spiritual, but it is actually anti-Christian. Would anyone ever describe Jesus in terms of what he didn’t do? The word avoidance would never be applied to him. In fact, if anyone ever loved life, it was him. The first recorded event of Jesus’ adult life was his attendance at a party where he turned water into the best wine the participants ever tasted! He drank so much he was accused of being a drunkard. He partied so often he was accused of being a sinner. He hung around individuals that proper people avoid at all costs. His love for life was included in a promise he gave to his followers:

My purpose is to give life in all its fullness. (John 10:10, NLT)

The Bible describes God this way …

God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17, NLT)

Life wasn’t meant to be lived by avoidance. Instead of experiencing life with faith and enthusiasm, we alienate others and force them into categories of judgment. When we do we end up missing out on our humanity and on much of God’s goodness.

Forget what the official church says … go out and live a little.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

To Be or Not To Be

While many leave the organized church from sheer boredom, a vast number leave because they are simply worn out. They are tired—physically, emotionally, spiritually. They have sacrificed time they didn’t have in order to be a cog in the wheel of the endless activity that has come to characterize the modern church. After several years of “working for the Lord” their spiritual lives are emptier than ever and they slowly, inevitably pull away from their duties. Ultimately they leave altogether, exhausted. They feel guilty at first, but soon the fatigue subsides and they begin to feel better than ever, quite certain that they’ve made the right decision.

At least these people have found some relief. Thousands have remained within the confines of organized religion resigned to the notion that this is the way it is supposed to be, a lifeless, numbing existence as a living martyr in sacrificial service to God. They are convinced that although it isn’t the way it is supposed to be, it is the only way.

But is it? When a person becomes a believer in Jesus does that automatically sentence them to a lifelong incarceration in the church?

No, being a follower of Jesus and regularly attending an organized church do not necessarily go together. Jesus didn’t tell people to go to church, he invited them to be the church … and the difference is as wide as the world.

Going to church will suck the life right out of you. Being the church will invigorate you.

Going to church is filled with mindless, hamster-like activity to ensure the wheels keep turning. Being the church is living your life with the awareness of a purpose, the purpose of making a difference for good and for God in the lives of people.

Going to church will guilt you into serving God through proper ecclesiastical channels. Being the church will liberate you to love God and serve people wherever and whenever you can.

Going to church teaches you to be an expert in political maneuvering. Being the church allows you to relax because you aren’t building or protecting your own mini-kingdom.

If these things are true, then why does the Bible tell us to go to church? Well, it doesn’t … not if you are talking about the kind of organization today that has “church” at the end of its name.

The word church simply means assembly. Other than the few instances where the Bible uses the word church to mean every believer throughout the ages, the word only always means believers gathered. Whether it’s talking about a few of them sharing the Lord’s Supper together, or a multitude gathering as small groups in several homes across a city, it always means believers gathered. What it isn’t talking about is a 501c3 corporation with a budget and a building. The believers of the Bible would never say, “I’m going to church.” What kind of sense would that make? They were the church.

What characterized these gatherings? I believe Acts 2:42-47 provides a clear snapshot …

42They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord's Supper and in prayer. 43A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. 45They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. 46They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity-- 47all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. (New Living Translation)

They were authentically human and convinced that their faith in Christ made a difference. They were committed to loving God and other people. They respected one another and helped each other. They cared deeply for each other. They were joyful and generous and their winsomeness drew people like metal shavings to a magnet. They were being the church.

I’ve counted at least five churches this morning here in Panera’s, although I doubt that any of them would call themselves such, and they may even be offended by the suggestion. But here they are, believers gathered around the table, drinking coffee and eating pastries, some laughing, some serious, some with their Bibles, others with the paper … they are sharing life … being the church. They’ll soon separate and go to offices and shops and schools, but they will still be the church and they will be doing the work of the church – as long as they love God and serve people. They don’t need to be part of the corporate church. If only they could understand that, they wouldn’t burn out, die of boredom, or become hopelessly legalistic.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Ya'll Come

If it isn’t plain to you that the church today isn’t the Church that the Bible talks about, let me give you a telling example.

The organized church is invitational. In other words, they exist to get people in the doors. The programs, personnel, and promotions are prioritized to maximize their attractiveness and get people to “give them a try” by showing up to something. Everything hinges on people coming to the building. Invitations are extended like commercials for a retail chain and success is defined by how many people show up.

This number is critical. The “experts” can—based on attendance—predict with some certainty how many will come back, how many will become regular attendees, and more importantly how many will become contributors to the cause. It’s all very scientific.

What’s wrong with the invitational church model? It is very American, very consumer driven, and very self-centered. While churches talk about “reaching” people, the fact remains that very few people are actually “reached” by the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. Most new attendees are church consumers looking for the latest “style” as they change from one congregation to the other. But this is of only passing concern to the established church … it doesn’t matter who comes through the doors as long as they do; they must have people in order to survive. There are bills to pay, positions to fill, and don’t forget the self-importance generated by being part of a “growing” church.

Instead of the invitational model of church, the true Church was founded on a missional model. This model means that every believer is on a mission. Repeatedly, New Testament believers are encouraged to live their lives in such a way that they make a difference. The missional Church doesn’t say to the world, “Ya’ll Come.” They aren’t interested in getting someone into a building. What the missional Church is interested in is getting someone interested in the mission of Jesus. What was his mission? He came to save, to rescue, and to reclaim humanity. He sought to alleviate suffering wherever it was found. He went about doing good, no strings attached. Jesus spent his time outside the confines of the formal church and instead mixed with people—disturbed, neurotic, confused, ashamed, hurting, longing, and hopeful people.

The invitational church says, “Come to church.” The missional Church says, “We are the Church and we’ve come to you.”