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

Are we intentionally inviting our children to follow Christ? Part 2

Since there is little evidence of children being converted in the early church, we ought to think theologically from Scripture and work from there.

One big theological idea that can be applied is the long-standing issue of whether an infant is born into sin. This goes way back to early church fathers, associated big time with Augustine and has continued to be discussed into the Reformation and since. The big question is, are children born into sin. Most Evangelicals don’t believe so. So we ask, Must we view children as lost before they can be found? Continue reading

Are you preventing children from coming to Jesus? Part 1

Our Lord Christ said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.” We sneer at those villainous religious leaders–or even disciples–who prevent children from approaching Jesus.

But we have to ask the question, “Do we hinder children from coming to Jesus?”

And when we ask that question in the negative, why not put it in the positive sense also: “Do we do much intentionally to help our young children come to Jesus in our families and churches?

I want to do some sweeping through Christian history, Scripture, a couple of studies of practices related to conversion or faith-shaping of children in the last century, and make some conclusions or applications and issue a challenge to us all. Continue reading

A Step Toward Unity

The following is the text of my sermon delivered Sunday, August 21, 2011 in which my goal was to motivate Garnett make a choice to fellowship Connection Church and partner in children’s ministry.

I want to help each of us–our church–take one step closer to other Christians in our city and learn to live out the prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-23, our scripture text for today.

To do this, I want to start with a story . . .

Rewind to the early 80s in Bartlesville High School . I’m arguing with a Baptist over “once saved always saved” and “worship styles.” One issue hasn’t been solved in 2,000 years and one is a red herring (worship styles) that doesn’t deserve our distraction.

When I got to college, I’m not sure what Jill saw in me, but I was a judgmental pharisee who profiled sinners. I rejected Christians of other kinds. Maybe she loved the way I dressed.

In graduate school, the more I learned about God, the church, my own sin, the less it seemed I know about this incredible God and his world.

I read studies about church growth, one said combining efforts with other churches doesn’t seem to cause churches to grow. So I became indifferent to unity efforts.

Over the years I’ve lived with Mennonites, played basketball with Catholic Priests, and worshipped with Nazarenes and Baptists.

I grew through these experiences and have learned so much from many Christians of many stripes. Does this mean I swallowed everything whole from everyone I met? No. Neither do I swallow the bones when I eat a whole fish. Eat. Spit out the bones.

I’ve moved from rejection to tolerating to indifference to mere acceptance to learning from other Christians.

And just when I thought the Holy Spirit had moved me far enough, Jesus had fed me quite enough humble pie, I read Jesus’s prayer in John 17:20-23.

    20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 
What are we supposed to do with the prayer of Jesus? And who’s he talking about? Other churches like ours? Other churches like ours didn’t exist until 1,800 years after Jesus worded this prayer. So we live it out more broadly but how?

Read and pray it again at each stage in life. It keeps changing me each year.

And the more our church reads and prays Jesus’s prayer, the more the Holy Spirit moves and changes us.

In the last decade we’ve hosted Believer’s Church and a dozen more and now host five.

But some of your stories are like mine. You have this little buzzer that goes off when the door of unity cracks open and you feel anxious like the door is going to blow you over and kill you.

But there’s this prayer of Jesus. What do we do with it? Keep praying it. And there’s this prayer we keep praying every week. What does it mean if not that we are seeking a kingdom bigger than ourselves and just our church?

If our church is a grain of sand, the kingdom is all the sand on every beach in all the world. It’s the rule and reign of God that every church must come under, not people like me, not church traditions.

And these days it seems lots of people keep knocking on our door believe God is doing something big here. Beth West says she loves being here because God keeps bringing amazing opportunities to our doorstep . . . literally.

Today I want to tell you about one of those opportunities, and then call you to make a decision.

There is a 2-year-old church called Connection Church that meets in Rosa Parks Elementary School.

For many reasons, they needed to find another meeting place.

This became such a quest for the pastor of this church, that he developed anxiety attacks.

So he decided to go on a 40-day fast.

He became so hungry during this fast, and he came across these words of Jesus in John 4:34: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me to finish his work . . . open your eyes and look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest. The sower and reaper are working together to reap a harvest of eternal life. Thus the saying goes, One sows and the other reaps is true. So . . . I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

What could this mean? Others in the church had sensed that God wanted Connection Church to do something big, like two sides of a civil war coming together in unity.

Brad began to believe that God was leading Connection Church to come alongside another church in some way but he didn’t know how.

Rewind 15 years. Brad and his wife Laura used to live in East Tulsa. When driving home from their church they would pass Garnett. Traffic was stopped and we were pouring out on the 2-lane road. He nicknamed our church, “The Church That Stops Traffic.” Sometimes it’s a bit embarrassing how other people see us.

Well, back to this year–just a few months back Brad was driving by our church again, feeling anxious, praying, and something or someONE said, “Go in.” Really, uh, go in the “Church That Stops Traffic”?

He felt a strong urge to come in, and there he met Kay Hanna who then introduced Brad to our staff and to me.

That was Spring this year, and since then we’ve gotten to know each other through lots of conversations and dreaming and praying.

Jill and I, Brad and Laura met one night for three hours at a Subway, just wondering why God somehow brought us together. Our staffs had lunch at LaMansion. Our Children’s Ministries of Garnett and Connection Church even met to discuss how to love and teach children better because we’d discovered in talking that we use the same curriculum.

We found our common ground of being called to East Tulsa and people needing the Lord here gave us confidence that Connection Church meeting here would be a great fit.

They really liked Phillips Hall and our Children’s Hall, so after months of prayer and discussion in their church and getting to know us, Connection Church would like to begin meeting for their worship on Sundays at 11 am in Phillips Hall.

Basically their worship would start about the time we’re going out to classes.

They do not have adult classes but do have a separate kids worship/class time during their adult worship.

So then we had a problem. We do our classes at the same time now–11:15 am.

Could both churches compromise their times and move their worship times . . . so am I asking you to change the time we meet again? No. Think bigger.

And that’s what we tried to do. Think bigger kingdom of God than just our churches. What is God calling us to do?

Well, the Children’s Ministry team came together and I put the problem to them . . . Then one of them said, “Since we use the same curriculum and we have space, why don’t we have combined classes for our children?”

What? Wow . . . What church does that? Do we even have a model for that? Sure we’ve had churches meet here for a decade but we’ve never combined something as important as children’s classes or long-term teaching.

If that was going to be a proposal that would fly, we had more due diligence to do.

One thing is that we need to know who they are and what they believe. Watch this video and our ushers will pass out a page with our core beliefs and theirs on the other side.

This video is great and feel good–in fact, they have baptized more people in the last year than we have. New church plants seem to reach people more effectively and I want to see how revival can come to our church and for both churches to grow in numbers, baptisms, and spiritually in every way.

Another piece of that due diligence is for the elders of each church to be aware and make congregations aware of the core beliefs of each church, so if we do anything together, we know what we are dealing with.

So we put together a page, front and back, that has our core beliefs and Connection Church’s core beliefs, and we want you to look it over.

Connection Church, as you can see on the handout, is based out of the Nazarene Church. Our beliefs are a lot alike. Not exactly, but two Churches of Christ couldn’t write two exact papers if they tried. Still, these core beliefs are vital to each church. We keep our distinct identities, beliefs. We are stubborn about that and so is Connection Church. I’ve heard them talk about it. In matters of faith, unity, in matters of opinion, liberty. In all things charity.

Now, you may be asking, “Are we talking about combining churches?” Nope. Having joint worship? Nope. But if you want to worship together with Connection Church–go for it. This is a great way to continue our commitment on Sundays to the heritage value of acappella worship while also giving an opportunity for worship with Connections Church that has a praise band.

Or you might be wondering, “Is one church taking over the other?” Absolutely not. If both churches took the step one day of dissolving their denominational ties into union with the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ is the authority who takes over–you might think that’s quaint or naive, but I’m talking about Jesus’s teachings and life being the shaping factor for everything rather than squaring up everything according to traditions and heritage of denominations.

Others of you might be saying, “When did we ever get asked our opinion about this?” We have talked extensively about this with our shepherds, staff, and several of you in the congregation including children’s team and others.

You may think, “Greg, why don’t you tell us these things sooner so we can either get excited or shoot you down?” You wouldn’t like it very much if I brought you current on every thought in my head before it bakes. We as leaders have to do some due diligence before bringing an idea to you, then still ask for input, wisdom, and then we still have to come back and make a decision as a leadership team.

What our Children’s Team has decided is that they are willing to try this. Our Children’s team excels in teaching. Connection Church excels in vision and direction of Children’s Ministry, so our people want to teach and Connection wants to use that curriculum we both use and set a big vision for teaching kids Bible foundations and leading them to Christ. We’ll do that a little different in our church, families, but the Holy Spirit will help us work that out.

Some may be saying, “Well, it’s already decided, so what’s the choice?” The church meeting here is part of a decade-ago decision by leadership before most of us were even here. The choice we have today is this:

Connection can be just another church that meets here . . .

Or they can be your friends and perhaps your brothers and sisters in Christ.

And do you have a choice to say something about the proposal our leaders and children’s team and Connection has been simmering on, to combine children’s teaching time on Sunday? Yes, we want you to ask hard questions, pray about this, give us your input in the month before Connection Church comes to meet. How should we go about decisions for Christ differently in each church? What is the Bible teaching plan for the children.

You have a chance today right after our worship here in the auditorium during our ScreamFree class to ask questions and give comments.

What would we ultimately be teaching our kids by example? We would be teaching our kids something they can get in few other places on the planet: two churches could come together and teach the basics of the faith that leads to decisions for Christ, baptisms, and fully devoted followers of all ages, and be unified in that.

Does Connection Church want that for their kids and adults? You bet. Do we? You better you better you bet.

Connections Church has chosen to believe there is something incredible happening here and they want to be part of it with us.

Once again it’s interesting to see how others view us. Connection Church sees us as a body of Christ unwilling to give up on the dream of people far from God becoming fully devoted followers right here in East Tulsa.

Now, I want you to see how excited Brad is for the church coming here along with a hundred and a half Christian servants who will be shining their light for Christ here.

http://vimeo.com/connectionwired/greencountryeventcenter

Connection Church believes they are “Movin’ On Up” and their plan is to begin meeting here Sunday, Sep 25.

Connection Church wants to help us rebuild. I have to say honestly that part of this sounds intimidating or offensive to me, that another church would take a step beyond just needing a place to saying they really want to help us grow and rebuild. They want to come alongside of us and reach people far from God and help them become fully devoted followers and run to the poor and hopeless and give them hope in Christ.

As Beth West said, “What a beautiful picture of the unified body of Christ this is! Not without a good dose of tension that is healthy as well, to hold to convictions yet be open to the Spirit’s leading.

One thing we’re learning as people either far from God or very close knock on our door is that sometimes what we’re called to do is get out of the way and say, “OK God, do your thing.”

Is God bringing the harvest that Brad had read and prayed about, the words of Jesus in John 4? Is God calling us to live out his prayer for unity in John 17? I think we’re going to be blown away by what God wants to do here, but it’s going to take more reapers. We’ve been here holding on, and I truly believe that God is telling us, “Look at the harvest of 10s of thousands of souls, people who come here every day who need the Lord.” The fields are white here in East Tulsa.

What Connection Church Believes

1. We believe in one God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

2. We believe in Jesus Christ. Born of the Virgin Mary, he suffered and died on a cross, and was raised to life. By his death on the cross he made a full atonement for all sin.

3. We believe that everyone has sinned, fallen short of God, and is separated from him. Whoever repents of their sin and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.

4. We believe in the Spirit surrendered life. Christ followers are called to submit their lives fully to the Holy Spirit.

5. We believe in the Holy Bible. The scriptures are the inspired Word of God and contain all truth for all mankind.

6. We believe in the Church universal. The body of Christ is called by God to worship together and join in the redemptive work of Christ in the world.

7. We believe in baptism. Baptism is the declaration of ones faith in Jesus Christ.

8. We believe in the Lord’s Supper. Communion is the remembrance and appreciation of Christ’s death on the cross.

9. We believe in divine healing: We believe in the prayer of faith to heal the sick.

10. We believe Jesus Christ will return, the dead will be raised, and the final judgment will take place.
The ICN has over 1.8 million members worldwide and ministers in 159 world areas.
The ICN continues to be one of the largest missionary sending denominations.

What Garnett Church of Christ Believes

God
We believe God is the creator and ruler of the universe. He has eternally existed in three personalities–God the father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ
We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He came to earth and lived a perfect life, as God and man. Through his death, burial, and resurrection we can claim eternal life, freedom from sin, and access to God. Through faith in Jesus Christ we become children of God.

Holy Spirit
We believe that the Holy Spirit is a gift from God and lives in the heart of each believer. The Holy Spirit’s power is to help each Christian to understand and accomplish God’s will. He is our comforter that provides peace in times of loss, grief and despair. The Holy Spirit works through the Bible and the body of believers to guide us, reveal God’s plan for us and bring Glory to our heavenly Father.

God’s Word
We believe that the Bible is God’s word to us. Human authors under the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible. It is the supreme source for Christian beliefs and living. It is the only written authoritative voice of God on the earth.

Baptism
We believe that baptism is a part of the salvation experience. We believe in the practice of baptism by immersion in water.

Salvation
We believe that all mankind is sinful and falls short of God’s glory. We can never make up for our sin by self-improvement or good works. Only by following Jesus Christ can we enjoy the benefits of salvation.

Communion
We believe in observing the Communion as a way of celebrating what Jesus did for us on the cross and anticipating His return.

Love
Our faith in God is displayed in our love for each other.

My Teen, The Alien

Giger's Alien, as portrayed by Bolaji Badejo i...

From the 1979 film, Alien

Eugene Peterson says that God gives us the gift of Adolescents just at the right time, for most of us in middle age:

And then God’s gift: in the rather awkward packaging of the adolescent God brings into our lives a challenge to grow, testing our love, chastening our hope, pushing our faith to the edge of the abyss.

Stop right there! Yes, yes, pushing our faith to the edge of the abyss. So how in the world is that a gift?

What parent of teenagers hasn’t wondered, “Who has snatched my child into their saucer and replaced her with a alien in a human suit who doesn’t know how to act like the human I thought I was raising?”

A gift of an alien in the house? Well, there’s a humor blog specifically for moms experiencing this–it’s dedicated to this experience of having a teenage-alien in the house. It’s called “My Teen, The Alien” and written by two moms, Lynn Armitage and Maria Bailey. Here’s a quote from their greeting page:

Do you ever feel like someone came into your home overnight, snatched the joyful child you gave birth to and raised effortlessly (for the most part) for about 14 years, and then left this unrecognizable creature in her place? She’s moody, sassy and standoffish one minute, then free-spirited, loving and affectionate the next? Lynn Armitage and Maria Bailey started this blog to wrap sympathetic arms around all you mothers of teenagers who are wondering how the heck you’re going to survive today, let alone the next four to five schizophrenic years.

But don’t let my tangent on aliens cause you to miss something very important that Peterson is saying. I truly believe God has given us people going through an incredible transformative experience right before our eyes. The biggest surprise for me is that I’m growing up, too. Peterson says, and I agree, that the most significant growing up anyone does is growing up in Christ. We continue to grow into the full measure of the stature of Christ all through our lives. We should not squander, he says, this opportunity God has given us to grow in Christ along with our teens.

I’ll close this post with a sledgehammer of Peterson’s that may just break you wide open if you are struggling parent of a teenager (or two or three):

My purpose is to block any approach that reduces adolescence to a problem to be solved and insist that it is an experience to be entered into by the middle-aged as well as by the young as a means for growing up. But there is this difference: what the young are forced to go through by virtue of their biology, the middle-aged willingly embrace by virtue of their faith (or willingly refuse in their unbelief). And the “growing up” of parents is not to a mark on a measuring rod but to the “stature of the fulness of Christ.”

African Children’s Choir coming to Garnett

I’m really proud to announce that the African Children’s Choir is making a World Tour stop at Garnett Church of Christ. I’m excited about hosting these children from Uganda and Kenya in our homes and church for two nights. They will perform Saturday, January 22 at 6 pm and again Sunday, 10 am in our worship January 23. Below is more and a video.

World-renowned musical ambassadors, The African Children’s Choir, bring their exciting 2011 World Tour to Tulsa, for a one-night-only, energy-packed performance you won’t want to miss!

Green Country Event Center/Garnett Church of Christ
January 22, 2010 6 p.m.
Free Concert (Love Offering will be taken)

In 1984, when human rights activist Ray Barnett was summoned to help the thousands of orphaned, abandoned and starving children in war-torn Uganda, he and his team were inspired one day by the singing of one small boy, and decided to form the first African Children’s Choir to show the world that Africa’s most vulnerable children have beauty, dignity and unlimited ability, and could serve as a mouthpiece for change, one child at a time.

The African Children’s Choir has performed to packed audiences around the globe, from major churches to every major TV network–including American Idol–to guest appearances with Christian music superstars Michael W. Smith, Josh Groban, and many others. Over its twenty-six years, The African Children’s Choir has helped hundreds of ACC choir tour members realize not only their own personal dreams of a better life, but to duplicate those dreams for many thousands of other African needy children through tour proceeds and sponsorships that provide quality education, food, shelter and medical assistance. Don’t miss this unique opportunity; make your plans now to see The African Children’s Choir in concert on January 22nd, 2010, presented by Garnett Church of Christ and Green Country Event Center. Admission is free. For more information, call 663-3000.

The Gift

I received a gift in 1975 that changed my life forever. I was a young boy when Saigon, South Vietnam fell.

Fearing the take over by the North Vietnamese, Saigon practically emptied, with evacuation of troops, government, and civilian personnel, including many Vietnamese. In April 1975, President Gerald R. Ford ordered Operation Babylift, which would evacuate nearly three thousand orphans out of South Vietnam. A C-5A Galaxy plane later crashed, killing 138 passengers and hurting morale of the troops, but this did not dampen the resolve of the international community and the U.S. government. President Ford ordered American involvement in another operation. This one called “Operation New Life,” which resulted in evacuation of 110,000 Vietnamese refugees.

Most of those refugees traveled through Guam, and the majority made their way to the U.S. and some to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.

I’ve never been to Vietnam, but in 1975, at Christmas, Saigon came to me and my family in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. With Operation New Life in full swing in 1975, I never imagined New Life would come to my hometown, to my living room, and I would be changed.

Christmas the year before, in 1974, was an eventful one. Up to that time, the biggest thing in my life was getting great Christmas gifts! I wanted something loud and dangerous, to the consternation of my mother.

There I am on the front yard, down on Mission Road where we lived, and my brother is handing me the gift, and he’s ecstatic, his hair is standing up, he’s just removed a helmet and pushed it down on my head, and he hands me the handle bars and there I am holding the prized gift of all gifts for a seven year old boy: a mini bike.

So I do what you’re supposed to do. I rev the engine with the throttle . . . and the mini bike begins to move. But there’s a problem . . .

I have not mounted the bike. I’m standing next to it . . . and the mini bike begins to move. So I do what I have to do. I move with it, slowly at first, then I pick up speed.

Now I’m running, trying to keep up with the mini bike. How can I jump on? I do not realize there is an option to let off the throttle and just stop it. Faster, Faster, I’m running, I’m sprinting now, I’m crying out for my brother to catch me, help me!

I can’t keep up, the mini bike is too powerful, too fast for my little legs. My brother says, “Let gooooo!” and I think he means the mini-bike itself. He means the throttle. Let off the throttle!

So I do what I have to do . . . I let go, of the whole shooting match. I let the mini bike go and stand there in the middle of the yard and watch the mini bike finish the trip, like a riderless horse.

The mini bike continues on down the slope and over a brick retaining wall several feet high. My hands are on my helmet as if I’d just thrown an interception in the Super Bowl’s last minute. What have I done? The gift for our whole family, the kids, the neighbors, the cousins.

My brother and I walk over to the mini bike to examine it for damage. Looks like nothing shattered. Maybe it’s OK. Then we pick it up and look at the front fork. It’s bent. I tear up. I’ve ruined Christmas for my brother and the rest of us. I’ve ruined our gift on the first day.

To ride the mini bike straight down the road from that day on, you turned the handle bars at a 20 degree angle.

I’ll never forget hiding behind the Christmas tree that night, sulking, warming my hands on the big red and green Christmas tree bulbs on the tinder box of a live Christmas tree. The bulbs were 6000 degrees Kelvin and yet another Christmas miracle occurred that year that fire did not engulf that tree spontaneously each night as the bulbs heated up.

And it was in that living room with the sculptured shag carpet, the gold threaded ivory drapes, the first-ever totally electric house in the city, a house so modern it prompted my mother to be quoted in the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise newspaper, a modern housewife they called her, and she said, “I go from room to room pushing buttons.” We mimic that quote, quite literally, to this day.

In that living room was a meeting that would change my life . . . and it had nothing to do with a mini-bike . . . that wasn’t the gift that changed my life. Another gift came in the form of a family who traveled across the world.

They had come as part of a mass evacuation called Operation New Life . . . some of the 90,000+ who’d made it from South Vietnam, through Guam, and received asylum in the United States . . . made it as far as Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. Then a friend of my dad’s urged him to sponsor a Vietnamese family. My father and mother have devoted their lives to helping those with little or no hope, the poor.

So Christmas 1975, in that living room where I had worried so much about a hunk of metal, the twisted mini-bike, a family came from across the world and entered our lives and changed me in ways I am trying to explain, but I would never be the same.

This was my first experience of people from another culture. The family who came to our house that day in 1975 is named “Vu.” They were mother, father, grandparents, and many children.

I remember the faces of the Vu family. I remember their faces didn’t look like mine. Their eyes were slanted. Or were my eyes the ones slanted? Their skin was a different color. They spoke a language I didn’t understand. But they didn’t understand my language, either. The Vus, in 1975, that Christmas were the first Asian family I’d ever met.

I remember going to the Vu’s downtown apartment. That’s where I ate my first eggroll.

During those turbulent years my family loved a Vietnamese family. And they loved us. They kept feeding us eggrolls. Our two very different families treated one another with respect and concern and love. Many of the Vu family still live in the United States and on occasion we’ll get a Christmas card from them and hear they are doing well.

As an eight-year-old child in 1975, I thought that mini-bike was the most important machine on the planet. I remember quietly moping next to our Christmas tree, thinking I had committed a terrible offense by wrecking our family’s motorbike. But my parents reminded me that the mini-bike was only rubber and steel. They reminded me of this fact by welcoming the Vus to sit by our Christmas tree with us. That’s where I looked at their eyes and watched them open the presents our family had given them.

I’ll never be the same after that visit and our visit to the Vu family home. I learned three things that Christmas in 1975:

  1. I learned that Christmas means helping someone desperately in need. Jesus entered a desperate world, and my parents showed love and received love from people desperate for a new life.
  2. I learned that eggrolls are good to eat.
  3. I learned that giving alone is not what Christmas is about. Christmas is first about learning how to receive, then you become a great giver.

Jesus first received flesh and blood, says John 1:14-18. He received food and clothes and was taught how to pray by his mother. He received the Holy Spirit. He received bread and fish from a little boy first before he gave fish and bread. He received a foot washing long before he washed feet. Jesus teaches us to receive. So Christmas is a good time to learn how to receive grace of God through the thoughtful gifts of our loved ones. When we grow in the grace of receiving, we learn something vital about God. Giving, doing good works, follows receiving the incredible gift of grace.

Maybe that’s partly what pointed me toward faraway lands like Uganda, where I worked as a missionary for seven years with a church planting team. With all its sugar cane and tropical plants and heat, Uganda looks and feels a lot like Vietnam. In Uganda I learned to eat food unlike what I grew up eating. I learned to keep the throttle low and my defensive driving skills high. And I learned that giving to those who are desperately in need is what I’m called to do as a follower of Christ. Maybe I went to Uganda because my parents taught me early in life that the motorbike was just rubber and steel, but the people of Vietnam and Uganda and the United States are all God’s creation.

And what I received in Uganda is another life-changing experience. I will truly never be the same after living in Uganda with my wife, Jill, and three children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. We loved and were loved by our wonderful Ugandan friends. My parents taught me at an early age how to make and be friends with people very different from us, from far away, who had come in Operation New Life. We, too, received New Life through their friendship.

I still eat eggrolls every chance I get, but these days I try to stay off motorcycles. But more four decades later, one of my best memories of Christmas is watching Vietnamese children open their presents and remembering the day I learned that to give may be more blessed than receiving, but we have to receive first. And Christmas with the Vus was about friendship of receiving and giving.

And those early childhood memories of my father’s and mother’s love shown to a Vietnamese family stick with me, because the Vus gave to us as well. I hope one day my three children will remember something I did to serve a Ugandan or American or anyone desperately in need. But even more than that, I hope my children know how desperately we all need grace, how we all need to receive love and grace of God before we really know how to give good gifts.

May your Christmas be filled with the same grace and truth that Jesus was filled with, that he received. May joy and memories of lessons learned and people who have blessed your life as my Dad and Mom, true servants of Christ, planted in mine by loving–and being loved by–a family of Vietnamese refugees. I didn’t know how to ride a mini-bike but I was paying attention to the coming of New Life.

600,000 without power in Oklahoma

I got my answer to the question, “Why do people go for milk and bread” when a winter storm is predicted. You never know.

How could we have known power would be out for 600,000 in Oklahoma? Turns out it was smart to buy milk and bread, because with trees down and power out, few stores could even open after the storm. Even mighty Wal-Mart has been crippled, though a friend was checking out when power went out, and the back up system kicked in for the cash registers and they never missed a “beep.”

How do you function while homebound without electricity in freezing weather? Some go to shelters, others to hotels. We decided to stay home and shared food and time with several neighbors. Some neighbors got generators. We have a gas fireplace and kept that going and cooked on the gas grill outside. Anna and two of her friends even made “no-bake” cookies on the grill burner.

Today, as most everything finished thawing, we cooked as we needed to for certain foods. We emptied lots of freezer bags into a pot and made some great chili that included cut up extra hamburgers from the day before. We kept some food outside where it was colder than the fridge or freezer.

Over the last three days, we’ve enjoyed fun times with neighbors, friends, family, playing games and eating together. Thanks to the Kings, Clarks, Smiths, Davises, Hodges for the fun times and helping and feeding each other.

We fed a few mouths here but ate breakfast at the Smiths, dinner at Kings one night, Davises the next and tonight Wade and Heather Hodges brought over meat that was thawing in their freezer, and Wade grilled four kinds of surf and turf. Good stuff.

Power returned for us this afternoon, but for still tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands across the state, power has still not been restored.

One of the funniest things about these storms is that when people are homebound, power and school are out, they go a little crazy, become disoriented. Their children make them nuts, and so what do they do? They put the kids to bed, go into the bedroom by candle light, shut the door, and start making more kids. Go figure.

They say most of the hospitals are online now and doing fine, but they’d better start thinking about hiring more maternity staff in August 2008.

Healthy baby in Uganda

DesireeFor many who’ve never been to countries such as Uganda, you may have seen only photos of sick and starving children.

By contrast, I want you to see a healthy child in Uganda. Good friends of our mission team in Jinja, Uganda just had a baby a month ago, and I want you to see their beautiful child, Josiah Desiree. The father’s name is Lazarus and I don’t remember Lazarus’s wife’s name because he married her after we left.

African Children’s Choir at Garnett in Tulsa

African Children’s ChoirGarnett Church of Christ is hosting the internationally renowned African Children’s Choir. They appeared on the Jay Leno Show and have appeared at the G8 Concert and other global events. Their singing was recently featured in “Blood Diamond.”

If you are in Tulsa, the state or nearby state, please join us in “letting the little children come” and welcoming them as Jesus would welcome them.

We want to help those attending to become more aware of global suffering and provide several “next steps” such as water well drilling, micro-credit programs, and children sponsorship that we can all participate in.

This is more than just a free concert by an incredible international group, we want to humble ourselves to receive from the children the gift of beautiful music and to return the blessing with our awareness, action, money, and our very lives.

Garnett Church of Christ, 12000 E. 31st St., Tulsa, OK
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Praying the Bible with your family

Praying the Bible with your familyI really like the series of books David and Heather Kopp have produced, for their focus on prayer practiced in families and home life. One of their books, Praying the Bible with your family is a great resource for family devotional times.

Here is an example of the format:

Quotes Job 38

Brief meditation on Job

Two questions: What do you think is the most amazing thing God has ever made? What does it tell you about God’s character?

Biblical principle

Prayer from the Bible: “God of hippopotamuses and hailstones, Lord of rainbows and coconut trees, Maker of snowflakes and snails and parakeets, Father of every living person–especially in this house . . .”

I was sold on the book while standing in the bookstore reading that prayer. I smiled and tucked the book under my arm and headed to the checkout. We soon began using it in our family times.

15-year-old drives school bus to safety

Tulsa World Staff Writer RHETT MORGAN wrote about a Pryor, Oklahoma high school sophomore last week who kept his composure and guided a school bus to safety after the driver–his former neighbor–passed out with a heart attack while the bus was moving forward.

Freshman Bradley Thibodeau noticed the driver, Brian Parish, 49, slumped over the wheel, and Josh Marin, 15, jumped up, steered the bus to safety–it had been rolling about five mph. He turned off the ignition and told the twenty students to get off the bus and instructed another student to call 911.

No students were injured, and Parish was in critical condition. Marlin was riding the bus for the first time that day. He sat close to the driver, who was his former neighbor. ” He wanted me to sit in the front seat so he could talk . . . about working on my pickup,” Marlin said.

Principal Terry Gwartney said Josh did exactly what he should have done and it was all caught on surveillance tape–“a demonstration of what you should do in that type of emergency situation,” Gwartney said.

John Alan Turner

I want you to know about my friend, John Alan Turner. He came to Tulsa this weekend to speak at Garnett and spend time with our children’s ministry core team. I’ll let you learn more about him from his web site Faith20.org, but I want to tell you what I experienced through his wisdom this weekend.

My wife, Jill (his wife is also named Jill), and several other children’s core team members met Saturday afternoon and talked about how to turn our children’s ministry inside out in several ways. I don’t know all they talked about, but I’ll share a few things he related Sunday morning in my “Families Forming Faith” class.

1. Provide “shared experiences” for children and adults. Too often we silo ages and lose vital family (and he emphasized that one word for church in NT is “family”) connection. In the 252Basics curriculum he creates and publishes with the RE-think group, there are scripts for 45-minute shared experiences with parents and children. Rather than simply dropping kids off and adults heading to their classes, a monthly or quarter (or however frequently a church wants to do it) group class combines children and adults in an interactive learning experience.

2. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). OK, he didn’t use this overused acronym, but he did emphasize the importance of using the time we have with children to teach several age-appropriate things, rather than trying to do broad sweeps of hundreds of Bible stories all before a child graduates from pre-school. For example, he said his church focuses on three areas then branches out from there. (See next)

3. Growing up like Jesus. Those three simple launching points for teaching are the ways Jesus grew up. We are trying to raise our children to be like Jesus, in wisdom, and favor with God and favor with man. So we make wise choices, learn to love God, and learn how to love others. Hundreds of Bible lessons and applications can branch off of these principles.

4. Clarifying the Win. What is the “win” of every class, every ministry, every event. John is quick to ask this important question of our children’s and adult classes. If we don’t clarify what we want to accomplish (think Covey’s “begin with the end in mind”), then we don’t have imagination for what we are doing right now. So John led us to imagine all the people we’ve taught coming to our “retirement from church” party and saying, “The one thing ______ taught me that I’ll never forget is . . . ” When we clarify the win of every class, ministry, and event, we also have the authority to say no to certain other left field or tired ways of doing things.

Check out John’s site and ministry and resources. He has more than 1,800 subscribers to his 252Basics curriculum, and the resources are fresh, biblical, fun, and will change lives of those who take them seriously and use them in their churches.

Faith20.org