What is your first experience with the Bible?

When I write a book, it comes after years of experience, research, and writing in a particular area. I wrote a novel set in Uganda where I lived seven years and listened for hours on end to stories of ordinary and extraordinary Ugandans. I wrote a book on a doctor in Honduras after interviewing and conferring with more than one hundred people.

I’m researching for an upcoming book and I need your help to understand the wide range of experience people have with the Bible.

My experience with the Bible began in the 1970s when I was given my first King James Version Bible by my parents, Terrel and Charlotte Taylor. In the featured image of this post is the title page where my Mom wrote, “[Presented to] Gregory Taylor [by] Dad and Mom: We love you and pray that you will always want to study God’s Word and follow what it says. May God bless you. November 6, 1975. 

While I heard Old Testament stories from Bible class teachers as examples of faith, that two thirds of my first Bible seems untouched, unread. I read and marked New Testament passages about belief and baptism. For those first few years of my experience with the Bible, I wanted to believe and be baptized so I could go to heaven when I died and not go to hell.

To say that I read the Bible with confusion and fear would be an understatement. Anselm’s motto, “Faith seeking understanding” is a good description of my search for God as an eight year old. My early experiences were also marked with what felt like failure. We were given reading plans and encouraged to read the whole Bible. I never did, and tripped up weeks into any plan, growing bored, confused, and feeling like I was missing something.

One last and important thing: As Adam and Eve had a competing desire and sinned, so also in those early years I was introduced to a competing desire and sinned. I was living the early Bible story already and didn’t realize it. Television images, girls, and a magazine that my neighbor, aptly named Adam, pulled us breathlessly into the woods to show my brother and me competed with the words of God for my imagination. Doubts would come later, and I’ll write more about doubt and this competing for my imagination in my book.

What is your first experience with the Bible? I’m looking for brief responses about your first experience with the Bible, and I may contact you for an interview by phone about your other experiences. You are welcome to respond on comments below, or send email to gregtaylormail@gmail.com. Answer the question, “What was my first experience with the Bible?” as deeply and honestly as you can.

Thank you, and I look forward to your responses!

Greg

My Son is Also My Hero

Jacob Taylor speaking at 2017 BAHS Graduation

Two years ago, my son watched my daughter, Anna, graduate from Broken Arrow High School. That night Tram Le gave a speech because she was the top student of the class of 2015.

Jacob decided that night he wanted to be a hero like Tram Le.

Two years later, May 15, 2017, Jacob gave that speech in the same slot in the program as Tram.

Listen to Jacob’s Speech – start at 33:00

He called seniors to choose: be a villain or a hero. There is no middle ground.

I’ve gotten a front row seat, an inside look these last two years as Jacob has struggled to live out this decision. There was no middle ground in the last two years of many sleepless nights as Jacob set out to study and do well in AP classes and on the PSAT in order to become a National Merit Finalist. There was no middle ground when he decided night after night to stay up late and finish studying. There was no middle ground when he decided to not only study but also serve and lead in school, church, and community.

After commencement, Jacob left for Project Graduation in a hurry and left a few things on the table.

There was no middle ground when he ate healthy food and went running–he told me one time that studying is “dynamic” and sometimes an idea comes clear to him while running.

This reminds me of the Chariots of Fire story where Eric Liddell says when he runs he feels God’s pleasure. I can tell that as Jacob learns and grows, he’s feeling God’s pleasure, and he’s not just a student of science and math but also Scripture. And he knows his own wisdom and knowledge is not enough. He seeks God’s direction and Spirit’s guidance in daily prayer.

So Jacob gave a speech along with two of his classmates. All three of the speeches Monday night worked well together. Lexi Bagrosky spoke about senior memories and her laugh line was, “No one has all the answers, unless of course they cheat off of Jacob Taylor.”

Jacob, Jada, and Johna graduate!

Noah Osborne spoke about living with a passion for a cause bigger than ourselves. Then he said a line from the senior class motto, “Remember, if anyone is interested, I have some free love to give.” He followed that by saying, “But the only reason I have that love to give is because God sent Jesus to die on the cross for my sins, and I can’t help but express my love back to my one King without an act of worship, so if you know this hymn sing along.” Then he sang “Amazing Grace” and many in the crowd of 10,000 sang along. He stopped singing to listen as the crowd finished, “was blind but now I see.”

Jacob grabbed most of the guys’ attention with his speech when he started, “In my favorite movie, The Dark Knight . . .” He quoted Harvey Dent: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” What he meant, Jacob said, was that there are two paths in life. Then he quoted “a man he admires,” who said, “You are either part of the problem or part of the solution. There is no middle ground.”

Jacob with Sammy, our driver and helper in the fish food project while in Kenya Summer 2016.

There was no middle ground when Jacob decided to join a team of young engineers developing a sustainable way to feed fish in Kenya.

There was no middle ground when Jacob has stood up as an example for other students, even when he felt embarrassed or wanted to see others awarded or congratulated as well.

Jacob has made his choice. He has chosen to be part of the solution. Another example: the day after graduation, Jacob traveled with a school group to help with Special Olympics in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Jacob has taught me so much in his eighteen years of life. He’s the first to coin the term in my hearing at least of a “missionary-engineer.” I’ve gotten a front row seat to watch Jacob as he’s been preparing himself to change the world, to be a hero.

One of my favorite things to watch over these last few years is the relationship Jacob has with his mother and my wife, Jill. She is the AP lead at Broken Arrow High School and teaches calculus and Algebra 3 there. It has been fun listening (without comprehending) to their conversations about calculus and the learning environment of Broken Arrow High School. Jill has had a greater role in Jacob’s academic success by far, and not just by genetics but also by her hard work and dedication to working with Jacob over many years of school.

One of the things we have talked about with Jacob since he was old enough to understand–which wasn’t very old for Jacob–is this: “Jacob, God has blessed you with a great mind and heart. Now give back to Him by using your gifts for God’s glory.”

I believe Jacob is doing that. Yes, I’m proud of my son. But I’m also a student of my son’s life, work ethic, courage, and wisdom. Though my son, Jacob is also my hero.

Watch this video as my hero celebrates with some of his friends!

 

Fifth and final article in the amazing series “Electing to Follow Jesus” by Randy Harris you will want to read and share

After hearing Randy Harris speak at the 2016 Pepperdine Lectures, I wanted to share the message of the lectures in print form, got his permission, transcribed, then re-worked the material into five articles, with deft editing help from Karissa Herchenroeder.

We published the five articles about the church and politics in a series called, “Electing to Follow Jesus,” and we ran these articles at Charis Magazine during the run up to the election and shortly after.

We kept the principle names of candidates out of these articles. Why? We want these articles to be more timeless and serve a generation as a primer for understanding our own baggage, how we can take a prophetic stand but still be wrong, and how some Christians have chosen to engage or not engage politics.

We believe the articles will have a long-term impact. Thank you to Karissa Herchenroeder and Charis, the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX, USA).

Here are the links to the articles on Charis Magazine.

Claiming Our Baggage

The Gospel of Jesus vs. The Gospel of Peter

How to Be a Loser

Strangers in a Strange Land

Prophets of Justice and Mercy

This series represents a collaboration between Randy Harris and Greg Taylor, co-authors of Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.

Randy Harris is spiritual director for the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry and College of Biblical Studies. He also teaches theology, ethics, preaching, and biblical text courses in the Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry at Abilene Christian University. Randy speaks at numerous conferences and churches throughout the year and has authored and co-authored several books, including the newest, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.

Greg Taylor is preaching minister for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Greg is author of several books including “Lay Down Your Guns: One Doctor’s Battle for Hope and Healing in Honduras” and “High Places: A Novel,” and has co-authored several books.

Election 2016

Begin praying for our president elect today.

Bespoke

The peso will buy you fewer enchiladas today, pollsters are leaping from tall buildings, stocks are limit down, and my son is moving to Canada, which wasn’t the reason for the Canadian Immigration web site crash, but rather an interesting coincidence. What an election evening and I’m fairly apolitical.

I sat watching the wide-eyed dour commentators and began to wonder what kind of moment I was watching in American history. Clearly it is a watershed moment. But it is unclear at this moment if the water is flowing downhill or back up the mountain. Time will tell.

I’ve lived with a Republican president 29 years. I’ve lived with a Democratic president 28 years. I’m certain that I will adjust to life with another president that gives me indigestion.

Forty-nine per cent of our country feel like it’s the end of the world. The other fifty-one don’t feel much better. Here’s…

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By Greg Taylor Posted in God

Best Thai in Broken Arrow

Do you like Thai food and live in Broken Arrow? Try Amazing Thai Cuisine. I enjoy eating at locally owned restaurants serving food from around the world, and if you enjoy Thai food like Yellow Curry, search no further.

Visiting is like walking into a friendly home, with Thai cooks and servers greeting you warmly and serving great food. The atmosphere is very warm and enjoyable, clean, service is great, and food is amazing.

 

By Greg Taylor Posted in God

Mark and Pam Rushmore

Mark and Pam Rushmore are great friends and beloved Shepherds of The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. A Shepherd means they watch over the flock and staff and make sure we follow Jesus, God’s word, and love and pray for every person who calls on the Lord and the church for help.

Mark and Pam have been members of The Journey, like the Taylors, since mid 2000s, so we’ve been through a lot together.

Watch this video about Mark and Pam’s story. What I love about Mark and Pam is they are so good at what they do, but they follow what one of my friends calls the “unforced rhythms of grace” in their lives. They are in business to add value and worth to people’s lives, what they call “Life Lived Better.”

BA Runner

Like many of you, I love local businesses of all sorts. You need running shoes? Even if you walk, work on your feet, Drew and Carol Martin at BA Runner are the people who can customize the best fit for your arch and step. Tell ’em Preacher Greg sent you. Doesn’t mean you’ll get a discount, just that I want them to know how much I care about them and love what the Martin’s do!

Drew and Carol are some of the finest people you’ll meet in Broken Arrow. Both Christians who live out their faith and publicly express it in their business, Drew and Carol get out and run with their groups, get to know their customers and love people unconditionally.
If you are wanting a running group, they have couch to 5K programs, half marathon and marthon training, and the groups meet Tuesdays for Social Run, 6 pm, Thursdays for a workout, 6 pm, and Saturdays for long runs, usually 6:30 am.
Running group costs are very reasonable, and the Martins give you a discount on shoes and other merchandise as members of running groups.
Best of all is the community that running groups provide. We run, suffer hills, laugh, joke, work on injuries together. Together many people have achieved their goals, including me. Through the power of one the Martin’s running groups, I was able to accomplish running the Route 66 Marathon November 2015. My son, Jacob, and my brother, Toby, also ran with me and many in the group who also accomplished this goal.
So if you have foot problems or you just want a good pair of walking or running shoes or any other running merchandise, a great running group, friendship and encouragement in setting and achieving your goals, look no further! BA Runner is the place.
Greg Taylor
Preacher, The Journey

 

Audio Devotional: “Remain in Me”

William Barclay says in his book, The Gospel of John, “The secret of the life of Jesus was his contact with God; again and again he withdrew into a solitary place to meet him. We must keep contact with Jesus. We cannot do that unless we deliberately take some steps to do it.” Arrange your life, Barclay continues, so that “there’s never a day when we give ourselves a chance to forget him.”

Listen to this audio devotional today and “remain” in His love. The Bible reading is from John 15:1-11, NIV.

 

New Book and Video: Daring Faith by Randy Harris and Greg Taylor

Daring Faith from Amazon art

Tired of the political talk? Listen to Jesus direct you instead!

Follow along as Randy Harris and Greg Taylor lead you through the amazing Gospel of John in order to meet Jesus and learn Daring Faith.

Daring Faith is a brand new book and video companion new for the summer of 2016!

You can get the book content — which is great for personal, group, or church studies — in three forms: book, video (trailer below), audiobook (sample below).

Audiobook coming soon. Hear a sample below, narrated by Greg Taylor.

 

 

By Greg Taylor Posted in God

He Must Become Greater

As we grow older, we tend to become control freaks. We need to control everybody and everything, moment by moment, to be happy. If the now has never been full or sufficient, we will always be grasping, even addictive or obsessive. If you’re pushing yourself and others around you have not yet found the secret of happiness. It’s okay as it is. This moment is as perfect as it can be. The saints called it the sacrament of the present moment. –Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs.

I recently took a six week sabbatical, and one of the best things I began during the sabbatical was counseling with Terry Ewing of Plumbline Ministries.

One of the big issues many of us deal with in counseling is control. The question could be framed this way: Are you God? Or are you not God?

It seems a ridiculous question. Of course I’m not God. But sometimes we act like we think we are God. As Richard Rohr says in the quote above, as we grow older, we tend to want to push ourselves and others around, judge, tell others what they should and shouldn’t do. A counseling professor I had years ago called this “shoulding on people.” We spout opinions about the way the world should be if we were in charge. We think we’re all knowing because we have a phone and the internet. We take on much more responsibility for situations sometimes than we ought.

It was helpful to me last week in a couple of situations to simple step back from getting emotionally involved in a problem at home or work and ask myself, “Am I God? Can I control this situation?” No. This is the stuff of AA or CR or the Serenity Prayer. “Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Stop there. This means everyone around you. You can’t change people around you. The prayer could helpfully add, “and people” to read, “Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things and people I cannot change,” which is to say everyone around me.

Sunday as I preached I asked the church to repeat, “I am not God.” It felt good for some to release the pressure to carry burdens only God can carry for us. I am not God, and as such I do not control the world. I can cry or be pained for the world, lament war, famine, refugees, and do something about it by planning my life around helping the poor, the refugee, and bringing peace wherever I’m present, but I cannot ultimately change the world’s situation or carry the burden of the world on my shoulders. I am not God.

There was a man named John the Baptist who made a public confession that he is not God. He had to. He was over-appreciated. People thought he was from above. They thought he was the Messiah. Or they thought he was a prophet come to announce the Messiah. Some people in the days John the Baptist lived thought Elijah would come back and herald the coming of the Christ. So it became important for John to proclaim what he was not.

When people asked him (John 1:19-34) “Who are you?” he first said who he is not. “I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah.” Then who are you, John? “I am a voice crying in the wilderness, Repent! I’m preparing the pathway for the Messiah.”

Later, some of his disciples saw Jesus with his disciples on the other side of the river baptizing (John 3:22-36), and they stirred the pot with John, seeming to prompt comparison and competition between John and his cousin Jesus. Here, after already saying who he was not, John goes further to describe himself only in relationship to Jesus.

He says something that is golden and rings down through the years to us today as a mantra that could change our churches, our families, our lives if we took this into our lives as well.

“He must become greater. I must become less.”

NPR’s Morning Edition tells the story of Julio Diaz, a 31-year-old social worker from New York City who after work one night exited the subway onto a nearly empty platform. As the train left, a boy about twelve years old was standing near Diaz. The boy pulled a knife to threaten Diaz and asked for his money.

Diaz gave the boy his wallet and the boy fled. Before he was too far away to hear, Diaz shouted at the boy and said “Wait! You forgot something. Here, take my coat.” Diaz was taking off his coat when the boy stopped, turned around, and looked puzzled.

“Are you crazy? Why are you doing this?” the boy asked.

“Well, if you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was to get dinner. And, if you want to join me, you’re more than welcome.”

The boy agreed to join Diaz. They walked to the diner and sat in a booth. Soon the waitress came by and asked Diaz if he’d have the usual. She chatted a few minutes before putting in the order. The manager came by the booth to say hello to Diaz and his young friend. The dishwasher came out to say hello.

Watching all this, the boy asked, “Hey man, do you own this place?”

“No, why?”

“Because you know everybody.”

“I just eat here a lot.”

“But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.”

“Well, haven’t you been taught that you should be nice to everybody?” Diaz asked the boy.

“Yeah, but I didn’t think people really acted that way,” the boy said.

The social worker in Diaz saw an opening. He asked the boy what he really wanted out of life. The boy’s face was downcast, and he didn’t have much of an answer.

When the bill came, Diaz told the boy, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay this bill for me, because you have my money, and I can’t pay for it. But if you give my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”

The boy handed over the wallet. Diaz paid the bill, and then he pulled out a $20 bill, placed it on the table and pushed it across the table to the boy. “I know you could use this, but I want to ask you to give me something in return: your knife.”

The boy took the $20 and handed over his knife to Diaz. I don’t know what Diaz’s beliefs are, but he was living like a man who had a mantra like John the Baptist’s: He must become greater. I must become less. My money must become less. My coat must become less. My time must become less. My own life must become less. The person right in front of me is Jesus, and Jesus must become greater.

In Luke 3:10-14 people ask John the Baptist what they should do about the preaching by John about being fruitful, and fruitless trees getting cut down. The crowd asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “You have two shirts? Give one away.” Tax collectors asked, “What should we do?” John: “Don’t collect more than you should.” Soldiers, “What should we do?” John: “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.”

Diaz lived not just the mantra of John but some of these exhortations of John the Baptist.

What would it be like to live the mantra of John the Baptist, “He must become greater. I must become less”? When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I gained some sympathy weight. I was also eating for two! I didn’t need to gain more weight. Jill needed to gain weight, so I went on a diet and called it the “She must become greater, I must become less diet”!

When people think of you, who is bigger in their minds? Jesus or you?

 

If I were to write the name Arthur Conan Doyle, would that mean anything to you? Of course you could google it, but without doing that, do you know who he is? And yet he created a character you most certainly know. He created a character bigger than himself as a writer. Stephen King is a name you know because he has sold millions of books. And probably in his day, people knew Doyle, but the character he created was so big it continues in our imaginations today and is recreated over and over in dramas and stories. The character’s name is Sherlock Holmes.

When people think of you, who is bigger in their minds? Jesus or you?

 

Living this mantra of John he Baptist is not easy or immediate. In fact, it’s more like the process described in the song I heard as a teenager when an elder of the church I attended stood up and read all the stanzas in a monotone, but all these years later I remember it and asked our worship leader, Cory Legg, to lead the song in our worship. The song title is, “None of Self and All of Thee.” But the four stanzas progress from early discipleship where the disciple proudly says, “All of self, and none of Thee.” As life’s trials come, the disciple says, “Some of self, and some of Thee,” then later “Less of self, and more of Thee.” Finally, humbly the disciple says, “None of self, and all of Thee.” This is a lifetime of discipleship and step by step emptying of our selves as Jesus emptied himself (Philippians 2).

A portion of the Prayer of St. Patrick strongly ties to this mantra of John the Baptist and the question, “Who is bigger when people think of you?”

Christ be with me, Christ within me
Christ behind me, Christ before me
Christ beside me, Christ to win me
Christ to comfort me and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger
Christ in hearts of all that love me
Christ in mouth of friend or stranger.

One version of the prayer says, “Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.” Who is bigger?

The mission team Jill and I served in Uganda with had a mantra first said by mentors at Harding University. “Do something bigger than yourself.”

What does it mean to live this mantra in each of our lives. For a ministry at our church that does media during our Sunday services, their mantra is “do not distract but point people to God.” They want the microphones, sound, projection, video all to work without distracting from the point of it all: Jesus. This team of media volunteers want, as John the Baptist wanted, to point to Jesus. He must become greater. We must become less.

What does it mean for a church as a whole to take on the mantra of John the Baptist? My opinion must become less. My ministry must become less. My preaching must become less. My worship singing or playing must become less. My family, my children, my grandchildren, my job, my reputation, my, my, my . . . must become less in order that Jesus becomes more.

He must become greater. I must become less.