History helps us avoid mistakes . . . or something more?

What Douglas A. Foster says about history will now stick with me every time someone says, “We ought to know history so we can avoid mistakes of the past . . . ” Foster disagrees. In a recent article, he writes this contrary view to the conventional wisdom about learning from history (he is a historian, so don’t think he’s down on history!):

I am convinced, however, that the primary reason it is vital for Christians to know our history is to make us humble.

(Douglas A. Foster, “Ignorance is not bliss,” Christian Standard (November 7, 2004 Vol 139, no. 45).

Foster along with D. Newell Williams, Paul Blowers, and Tony Dunnavant (who died during the preparation of the 800 page tome) have recently with Eerdmans released the most extensive and broad reference work ever to be done on all of the Stone-Campbell movement: Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia.

Being thankful for our “props”

Our Christian lives in America are very propped up by resources that people in many poor nations do not have. In the spirit of Ron Sider’s exercise that helped us imagine what it’s like to live in a poor nation, here I want to help us knock out the props of our Christian education to see how many Christians in foreign nations, and many of the poor around us live. I wrote the following while in Uganda working with a church planting mission team:

Christian universities or preacher training schools no longer exist for you or your children. You no longer have access to Christian periodicals or books. Neither will you attend Christian conferences or workshops. The only book on your shelf is a tattered, dirty Bible with no cover and missing pages, so that it begins abruptly at Genesis 34 and ends well before the ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ of Revelation. Your only regular contact with Christians is your village church. And they have neither trained ministers, nor books, nor money to attend Christian schools or seminars.

You are now a rural African Christian who is hungry for Christian fellowship and teaching. You resemble a first century Christian more now. They didn’t have complete Bibles, either, but they craved those letters and teaching from Paul and other apostles. The Holy Spirit was the driving force in planting both the first Christian churches and the Soga churches. At least three of these faith-supporting tools were used in the first century: epistles and gospel writings (publications), Paul’s and Peter’s teaching (schools), and the Jerusalem conference and the gathering at Cornelius’ house (meetings). What props can help build your faith as a Ugandan Christian?

Props such as schools, publications, and meetings exist to help us stay anchored to Jesus, the foundation of our faith. I’ve wanted, however, to kick out this set of faith-props for the distance of this e-mail, so we might walk in a rural Ugandan’s shoes. What props could help you and your fellow Ugandans grow in faith?

Here are three props which God has helped us use to brace up your faith on the foundation of Christ in Uganda:

  1. TRAINING: Because you desire to know Jesus, we plan three year’s worth of preaching, church nurturing, and leadership training curriculum for you, and we’ll come spittin’ distance of your hut a couple times a month to teach you this curriculum.
  2. PUBLICATIONS: Because you thirst for reading and understanding, we continue to provide Lusoga Bibles, books, pamphlets, and a church newsletter which help brace your faith for the next millennium in Uganda.
  3. MEETINGS: Because you hunger for fellowship, we have planned the meetings, seminars, and leadership classes for both men and women.
By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Recipe for Thanksgiving Dressing and Conversational Prayer

How refreshing it was to have a conversational prayer with our small group Sunday night in our home. A friend who I’d helped with a manuscript sent me a Greenberg turkey all the way from Tyler, Texas, as thanks, and I carved it for our small group, made dressing (or stuffing as some call it . . . yes, I made it–write me for recipe).

We moved from the thanksgiving meal to a time of discussion about what Scripture and events had shaped us in the last week, then Mike Comegna led us in a time of conversational prayer.

We’re using a good study guide called Growing in God’s Love, and it describes conversational prayer something like this:

  • Start praying, not with spending valuable time with requests. Follow the lead of the topic of a person who prays.
  • Stay on one topic at a time.
  • Be brief, allowing others to hear and not lose concentration or daydream, then join in.
  • Be spontaneous. Instead of going in a circle, join in when the Spirit moves you on a certain topic or topics at different times.

Conversational prayer worked well and rather than exhausting ourselves talking about the requests then having a few minutes of prayer, we began with a time of adoration of God, moved to thanksgiving for what he has done in the world and in our lives, then finished with intercession for family and friends, particularly our interaction during the holidays with some who are not Christians or for those in difficult family situations.

This recipe for prayer worked well for us, but there are as many recipes for Spirit-led prayer, such as conversational prayer, as there are recipes for Thanksgiving dressing (stuffing). May we all use some of those recipes for Thanksgiving prayer this week, and I’d like to hear about some of yours.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

A flight to remember on Ashley Grace Taylor’s birthday

Today is my daughter’s 11th birthday.

Eleven years ago yesterday I was in Oklahoma planning to attend my grandmother’s funeral. Grandma Grace Taylor had died on Sunday morning, November 21, 1993.

Jill had gone back to Houston, where we lived at the time, because she was great with child.

I never thought I might miss the birth . . . but that Sunday night she called and said her water had broken and she and her parents and sister were heading to the hospital. I panicked. I couldn’t think. My family went into action. Toby called for flights and drove me to Tulsa. He had me on a plane to Houston within an hour.

On that Southwest flight I actually requested to the flight attendant that she ask the pilot if he could fly the plane as fast as he could. I said that! She said she’d see what she could do. The flight seemed to take hours, and I made my first-ever airphone call. Jill was in the hospital room waiting for the doctor but things were progressing swiftly. My heart was pounding in my chest.

I arrived at Houston-Hobby and looked for my ride, a friend of the family they’d sent to pick me up. I must have walked right past him, never saw him, and walked straight to a taxi. I didn’t have time to waste. The taxi was nearly $40 from the airport to hospital in Nassau Bay, Texas . . . but well worth it. I was at the hospital. But was I on time?

I rushed into the room and literally within minutes of my arrival it was time to push. Jill had been wanting to for quite some time but holding back for me to arrive the best she could. I’ll spare you the rest of the details. Just after midnight, November 22, Ashley Grace Taylor was born. We had planned on another middle name but decided to name her after her great grandmother, Grace Taylor, who had died less than 24 hours earlier.

Four months later, we took Ashley to Uganda, where she spent the first seven years of her life. Sometimes on her birthdays we miss Uganda, because we would have parties outside on the lawn–in warm November weather (warm all year round!).

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Psalm 93 Thanksgiving Meditation: Thou art from Everlasting

Psalm 93 is a joyful expression of God’s everlasting power, a reminder to us in an age of over-singing about ourselves and growing concerns for our own security that God is not only “in control,” but always has been–regardless of what we think or who we think is running the show on a local or world scale. And he will accomplish his purposes however he wants, through whom he wants, whenever he wants.

Psalm 93 Freely Adapted
By Greg Taylor

The Lord is clothed in majesty, armed with strength.

The world is firmly established and we had nothing to do with setting its foundations–we don’t even understand how God could be from eternity, not bound by time with no beginning or end. For all we know Jesus Christ himself came to earth from the future.

The seas roar, waves pound. A hurricane. Winds that break the weatherman’s instruments. Tornadoes. But you are more mighty than a storm, more powerful than lightning.

Holiness fits you. We don’t have a better word but we need to keep trying to come up with ones that fit, because you’re worthy. You are not holy as in “holier than thou” but because you bring us to our knees in reverence and awe and wonder and love and terribleness and joy all at the same time and we can’t fathom you but we at least want to love you. Holiness befits your house, forever O Lord. Forever.

I want you to hear a sample of Second Chapter of Acts,* their meditation on Psalm 93

*I’m revealing my 70s – 80s music biases here (with Keith Green on Thursday and now what I’m about to tell you . . . my rock-n-roll roots are for another post, but 2nd Chapter of Acts is another Christ-centered 70s – 80s group that touched my heart when I was a teenager–and still does.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Thanksgiving unsettling meditation: What would it be like to be poor?

As a way of reflecting further on thanksgiving, I want to bring you an exercise taken from a book by Ron Sider, Rich Christians in the Age of Hunger.

The following exercise helps us imagine what it would be like to live in a poor nation. Our houses are about to be raided . . .

  • We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television set, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a wooden chair. Along with the drawers go the clothes. Each member of the family may keep in his “wardrobe” his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none for the wife or children.
  • We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards…the box of matches may stay, a small bag of flour, some sugar, and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, must be hastily rescued, for they will provide much of tonight’s meal. We will leave a handful of onions, and a dish of dried beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.
  • Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next we take away the house. The family can move to the toolshed.
  • Communications must go next. No more newspapers, magazines, books, (computers, television, internet)–not that they are missed, since we must take away our family’s literacy as well.
  • Now government services must go. No more postman, no more firemen. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms (and no books). There are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided that the family has a bicycle.
  • Finally, money. We will allow your family a cash hoard of $5.00.

John and Sara Barton introduced Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in the Age of Hunger to me while we worked in Uganda, among painfully poor people. Even so, the book further hit me like a 2×4 in the knees and turned me again to the poor to defend their cause, act justly, and to love mercy (Micah 6:8). Sider also made me aware of structural justice, the act of working toward systematic changes that help a whole society’s poor.

I highly recommend the 20th Anniversary edition of Sider’s book (the first one was much more controversial, and he has been accused of everything from communism to liberalism . . . he is criticized for his lack of economic understanding even in his new book). Read this book, but be aware it has been controversial over the last two decades. When a book on giving away more and more of your money and seeking justice for our neighbors and fighting against “structural evil” sells 250,000 copies and stirs controversy like Sider’s and calls us to radical discipleship with the taboo wallet, we ought to take notice.

After all, Jesus had much to say about money. And many of us who are fat, rich Christians are squeezing through eyes of needles to condemn all manner of things that Jesus rarely spoke about as much as he did money and discipleship.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Dust to Dust

Psalm 90
The preface attributes this Psalm to Moses, who begins by acknowledging that God has tabernacled with them, that the Lord’s presence has long been with them. He tries to fathom the beginning and end of God but can’t see past the horizon in either direction and settles with a sweeping statement, “from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”

Then he says something that sets the tone for the rest of the Psalm, which sounds a bit Solomon-esque from his writings in Ecclesiastes: “You turn men back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust O sons of men.'”

The dust we come from and will return to is a constant reminder of the place we hold in the universe. The land is important to God. We are important to God. The earth was created first. We rose from it. We return to it. But . . . that’s where the resurrection from the earth makes all the difference. If Christ was not raised, we are fools and worse off than those without Christ (I Corinthians 15:1f).

The resurrection is the reason we can move from dust to dust to hope. Here is a song about that hope that’s been meaningful to me, by Keith Green:

Dust to Dust
by Keith Green

Sometimes it’s hard to see, sometimes it’s hard to get through to me, but I want to do all that You ask me to. Help me to follow through, make every day a devotion to You, cause it’s dust to dust, until we learn how to trust.

Chorus
Sometimes I wander away, and I’m lost in the dark, my faith starts to sway I don’t know what to do, so I cry out to You, and I reach out in the air, and I call Your name and you’re always there, then You send down your light, then You tell me, walk by faith not by sight, and then You come shining down.

I’m putting Your armor on, finding myself so suddenly drawn, like a moth to a flame, whenever I hear Your name. Help me to follow through, make every day a devotion to You, cause it’s dust to dust, until we learn how to trust.

Chorus

Sometimes it’s hard to see, You know, sometimes it’s hard to get through to me, sometimes it’s hard to see, You know, sometimes it’s hard to get through to me, but it’s dust to dust until we learn how to trust. Until we learn how to trust.

Listen to a sample of a Keith Green song, I don’t want to fall away from you

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Thanksgiving in Book IV of Psalms

Rubel Shelly said in last Sunday’s sermon that Thanksgiving is the only holiday (our culture) hasn’t messed up. In other words, most of the other religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter have been commercialized and replaced with secular elements that obscure the richness of the holiday, but Thanksgiving remains the least spoiled with trappings of distraction from the family-oriented and thankful spirit it brings.

In the next few days I’ll be writing Thanksgiving meditations that lead us up to my favorite holiday of the year. Book IV of Psalms, which includes Psalm 90 – 106, is full of thanksgiving Psalms appropriate for this important season we call Thanksgiving. My guiding Psalm for this exercise is Psalm 103:2.

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits–who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Hey, we’re always complaining about how early “they” are starting Christmas, aren’t we? Why not start Thanksgiving a little early? If you don’t have a reading agenda of your own, why not read Book IV (Psalm 90 – 106) with me over the next 10 days?

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Double Wedding 50 Years Ago


Posted by Hello Boise City, Oklahoma (the panhandle) October 31, 1954–(from left) Terrel and Charlotte Taylor, Robert and Nordeen Cochran celebrate with cake at their double wedding. We plan to celebrate again for their 50th the day after Thanksgiving. Nordeen plans to come, but we lament that Robert died one year ago and will remember him on that day as well. [See details about the event below]

I had said earlier this morning that the first person to correctly guess the identity of at least on person in this photo would receive a free copy of High Places. Greg Kendall-Ball correctly guessed that one couple pictured is related to me, my parents. Congratulations, Greg, the book’s in the mail soon.

Here is the rest of the story . . .

Celebrating Fifty Years of Marriage
Terrel and Charlotte Taylor along with their children and grandchildren invite you to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary
Friday, November 26, 2004
Come and go 1:30 to 4:00 p.m.
Home of Brent & Karen Taylor in Bartlesville, Oklahoma

As dear friends of our family, please honor us with your presence and a written blessing or memory. No gifts please. A book will be compiled of these cards, and blank cards will be available at the Taylor’s house. Write Brent for directions

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Coaching Soccer

Jacob, 5, Anna, 8, Ashley, 10

Just finished today with soccer season for all three of our children. Jill and I both coach their teams. Soccer’s a great sport. We love coaching. We do it for our children’s fun, skills development and growth in teamwork and learning to compete. I tell the parents that we often learn more from losing than from winning, though we like to win! I sure do.

As coaches, we find out more about the lives of our children’s teammates and classmates. Two girls who are in Anna’s class and soccer team have moms with newborns. One of those girls is in a stepfamily; her mom married again in January. Jill is out right now getting a gift for their new baby.

If you are looking for ways to get involved in your community and help transfer life, and if you have the disposition and basic knowledge of a sport, then coach. I still remember coaches from my schooldays who took time to show concern for me, laugh with me, teach me. Kids glow when coaches encourage them, positively work with them to improve, and touch their lives in unique and life-giving ways off the field.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Prayer of Shabez

A world without Saddam Hussein and Yasar Arafat in power . . . today’s burial of Arafat with dirt from Jerusalem. Iraq. Land squabbles. Serious issues. But for this weekend, here’s some comic relief from Shabez, a neighbor of Jabez.

Tamara Jaffe-Notier wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece for The Door magazine about Shabez, a fictitious next door neighbor of Jabez, whose land was expanding into Shabez’s property.

Here’s an excerpt from Shabez’s prayer:

Lord, would you please clue me in on your definition of evil? I know that You have ‘kept Jabez from evil’ but he’s such a shlub! He’s got all the water rights for a couple days’ journey in every direction, and he charges me 15 sheep a year just to let my flocks use the springs and wells. OK, maybe that’s not evil, but it’s not very nice either. Another thing— I’ve really had it with this ‘enlarging his territory’ thing.

Don’t get me wrong . . . I liked Bruce Wilkerson before Wilkerson was cool. No offense to Jabez, either. The impact of Wilkerson’s earlier Walk Through the Old Testament materials has been greater on me than The Prayer of Jabez. (I did walk through the Bible in Africa and translated the words and signs, with the help of local people, into the Lusoga language.) Because when we walk through the Old Testament, the focus is not on Jabez–it’s not even on Adam, Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets. It’s about how all of them, like us, come to a fuller understanding of who the God is Israel truly is. The story, the Bible, is about God’s creative and relationship-seeking life come down in pursuit of humans.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Blue & Red Make Purple States

Matt Elliott, in light of the good discussion we’ve been having, has pointed us to an interesting set of maps done by Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman of the University of Michigan. The electoral maps represent size in terms of population rather than land mass. They also show shades of purple to represent the strength of support. It’s an interesting map that I believe helps give another perspective to the debate over blue and red.

Even in the solidly blue or red states, you can’t run and you can’t hide . . . we live and must talk and continue to be good neighbors to those around us who differ with our opinions.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5-6

You may say, “that’s the church, this is politics . . . ” But being baptized into Christ is the most politically radical statement we can make: our allegiance is not to the state but to God alone. Yet God does not call us to rebel wholly against the powers that be but to work cooperatively and peaceful, unless government in some way opposes him and keeps us from honoring him.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Mandate to be a statesman

Rick Horowitz crunched some numbers that help give us some perspective on Bush’s mandate.

President Bush received more than 59.7 million votes; that’s more votes than any presidential candidate has ever received, and 3.5 million more than John Kerry got. So I ask you: If winning by 3.5 million votes isn’t a mandate, what is?

Well, how about winning by 7 million votes? The president’s father did that back in 1988, against Michael Dukakis . . . More

The death of Yasar Arafat presents President George W. Bush with a challenge of taking his crippled credibility in the world and trying to be a statesman. But does he have an international mandate to do this? It’s times like these that he needs to call on Colin Powell, who has earned such a mandate in the world. He may also call on people like Khalil E. Jahshan, who wrote for Wineskins about Arab-American relations.

Sara Barton – Homeland Security?


The national conversation about security centers on concerns such as fighting terrorism, border control, better intelligence. We don’t like the feelings of fear we’ve felt, particularly since 9/11. Karl Barth said that security is a modern idol. Donald McCullough calls comfort a “Western deity.” Do we idolize security? Do we deify comfort? And, how does this affect how we worship and think about God? [more at www.wineskins.org ] Posted by Hello

By Greg Taylor Posted in General