The first part of February we were generously gifted some free housing for a couple of weeks in New Tampa by some friends, Kevin and Sherri Kelly, whom we would see from time to time in years past when they would travel through, stopping to worship with our congregation in Beaverton, Oregon.
After a little Sunday afternoon nap, Mark suggested we take a chance and drive a half hour south, through possible Super Bowl traffic in Tampa (where the Bucs were looting the Chiefs) to the only congregation we had not yet visited in Florida that was meeting on a Sunday evening for worship, relatively close to our housing.
We parked the “Fresh Prince” — our Airstream that you may recall got its name because from the back it looks to be sporting a 191990s “high top fade” hairstyle ala Will Smith. From outside the cute, white, brick church house we could already hear songs of praise wafting out through the open door next to the entry table with the obligatory hand sanitizer (a sign of the times :D!).
As we entered, someone kindly scooted over so we could sit in the back and we joined in singing the familiar songs that were being sung from the same songbooks we had used for 28 years in our congregation at Beaverton. It sounded just like the home we’d left six months earlier! In fact, as I looked around, the church building looked like the same floor plan as the South Salem church of Christ in Oregon in which I had grown up from about the age of seven in 1969 until Mark and I left for his first preaching job in Forest Grove, Oregon in August of 1986.
The sermon delivered by brother John Guzzetta took on something absolutely essential that we seem to hear perhaps less of in recent years. Brother Guzzetta refuted some very trendy false teaching of an author named Ehrman who claims to be an authority on the history of the belief in an afterlife, and asserts that the writings of the Old Testament scriptures do not teach an afterlife.
As I listened I thought how Ehurman’s “gospel” must be exceptionally good news for our hedonistic culture, because, of course, who can enjoy addictive, self-destructive sin with unchangeable, eternal damnation hanging over one’s head? There will always be an abundance of authors willing to tell sweet little lies, but, the truth is, there are quite a few times that God reveals the reality of an afterlife in the inspired Old Testament — though certainly the world's most inconvenient truth for many. For starters, 1 Samuel 28:8-19 describes such when the spirit of the deceased prophet, Samuel, is brought back from the dead to have a conversation with King Saul. The following passages, among all the others, indicate the lasting nature of the soul and a conscious life beyond the grave:
“If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me! If someone dies, will they live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made” (Job 14:7-15).
“Rise up, Lord, confront them, bring them down; with your sword rescue me from the wicked. By your hand save me from such people, Lord, from those of this world whose reward is in this life. May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies; may their children gorge themselves on it, and may there be leftovers for their little ones. As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (Psalm 17:13-15).
“But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy… your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” Isaiah 26:19
After worship, several members inquired about our lifestyle of shining the light of Jesus while living a vanlife. We talked at length with a few and gave out our little contact cards to those who wanted to listen to our podcasts or follow our travels online at nomadsyouandi.com. Then John Guzzetta did something that meant so much to us — He invited us to follow him and his family to a gathering of their young people for a little Bible study and dinner. So we caravanned back the direction we’d come to the lovely home of a hospitable young family, Rich and Sarah Brown, who commute with their boys a bit of a distance to enjoy the congregation in Brandon that they’ve found to have so many of the qualities of the excellent congregation in Pennsylvania where they had been baptized years ago.
We settled into some folding chairs in the far corner mostly to listen while about twenty young Christians dug deep into their engaging conversation over the Minor Prophet, Amos. That’s when things took a curious turn. So, let me ask you this: have you ever seen the character Mikey from the cartoon Recess that ran from around 1997 to 2001? In the cartoon, this unassuming young man, Mikey, as it turns out, can sing exactly like the real Robert Goulet. So, there was a total of zero physical resemblance of our teacher, Reagan Bingham, to Recess Mikey or Robert Goulet, but my question became, “What. is. going. on?” I mean, that college kid can lead a Bible class. But in a minor prophet? Where does that even come from? And, to be fair, everyone in the room seemed just as well read and serious about the message of Amos, adding plenty of relevant scriptures to the discussion. It was also cool to me how their study happened to complement the truths that had just been presented in the sermon: Judgment is guaranteed to come for the unrepentant, and mercy is just as sure for those who draw near to God through repentance. If you think about it, all the other typical topics around the moral temptations many high school and college-aged Christians face that are often discussed at these kinds of gatherings are most certainly overcome when you’ve taken that lesson to heart, are they not?
After class, a sweet nursing student from “The College” Emily Cook and I had a great conversation while everyone else went through the taco bar — the kind of conversation I wish I could have every week with bright, young women, like herself. I was going to mind my own business, but Robert Goulet, I mean, Reagan Bingham, got in line behind me so as I made nachos I leaned his direction a bit and mumbled “You are exceptionally gifted, and I want to thank you for using that gift for the very reason you were created.”
Amongst the remaining great conversations of the evening, it came to my attention that the leader of our great Bible discussion had gone to the Sons of Light Bible camp often during his youth, and other Bible camps as well (if memory serves). That explains quite a bit, because from what I understand, they build a lot of spiritual muscle in young men over there in those camps. There are similar options for young women as well. I pray for more intense Bible study camps like these around the country and wish that all young people who love God could and would attend these Bible camps. Perhaps those who agree might want to consider sponsoring a willing young man or woman to attend — the ripple effects seem incalculable. At present, some of the camps that have come to our attention include the following:
Sol (Sons of Light) Camp/New York/Monastery/School of Good Works/Joe Works/Early August 2021/Boys Only/solbiblecamp.com
Indiana Bible Camp (IBC)/Gary Fisher/Shackamac State Park/Indiana/Boys Only/Late July/Indianabiblecamp.com
Young Men’s Leadership Camp/Alabama/Sewell Hall/1tim412.com
Salt and Light/Tennessee/Ed Smith/Boys Only/saltbiblecamp.com
Dove Camp/Girls Only/ Shakamak State Park/Jasonville, IN/ dovcamp.com
Brandon Church of Christ
529 Coulter Road, Brandon, FL 33511-6020