“Busyness” – O Antiphones: Prayers for the Advent Season – a Guest Post by Thomas Turner

This is a Guest Post from Thomas Turner of Everyday Liturgy. He’s a good friend, he’s sharp and I personally feel he’s an evangelical who really gets historical liturgy for us not raised in high church settings.

Download his free e-book O Antiphons: Prayers for the Advent Season available through Noisetrade, be blessed this Advent and check out his post. – Tim

“Busyness” – O Antiphones: Prayers for the Advent Season – a Guest Post by Thomas Turner

December is one of the busiest years of the month for me. Not just the usual bustle of presents and parties and pageants at church. I work in fundraising at International Justice Mission, and on top of all the holiday hustle I am pulled in many directions at work as well. It seems like the wrong time to start spreading the word about a prayer book for Advent that I have written…

But then again, it is precisely the right time. Because not only do I think you need this book (and you do!), but I need it as well.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle I need to slow down and realize that Jesus Christ came to this earth, is coming to the earth through his Kingdom and will come again in the second Advent, to unite heaven and earth under his glorious reign. I need to take some time to be still and know that the Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace came in the flesh to dwell among us. I need to prepare my body and soul to worshipfully meet the King of Kings on Christmas day.

The aim of the Advent and Christmas seasons are so rich in meaning: the first and second coming of Jesus, the Incarnation, the Kingdom, Mary’s song about what the Messiah, who is in her womb, will do when he is birthed into the world. All of this, and yet by the time I get to Christmas day I just want to eat a nice dinner, gorge on some cookies and take a nap. Where’s the worship in that?

Simply put, O Antiphons: Prayers for the Advent Season is a prayer book for you and me to use to prepare our bodies and souls to worship on Christmas day. The “O Antiphons” are one way that Christians for over 1500 years have been preparing their hearts, souls, minds and bodies to celebrate the coming of Christ at the first Advent, Christmas. In this book, I have given a fresh reading of the O Antiphons, along with an Old and New Testament scripture reading and a meditation with discussion questions to guide you during the last week of Advent. From December 17th to December 23rd, you can use this prayer book to prayerfully come into the presence of the baby Jesus, born of a virgin, fully God and fully human in form, who is Wisdom in the flesh, our Lord, the Savior promised from David’s line, our Eternal Light, the King who unites all peoples and our Emmanuel, the God-who-is-with-us.

Starting today, you can pick up your free copy of O Antiphons: Prayers for the Advent Season on Noisetrade. And if you are truly in the Christmas spirit, all of the tips I receive on the book will go toward a nice gift for Jana Miller, who contributed awesome illustrations that you can turn into Christmas or Jesse tree decorations, and toward ending everyday violence against the poor.

Have a Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas!

 

Author Bio

Thomas Turner is the Strategic Partnerships Research Manager at International Justice Mission and curates Everyday Liturgy, a source for worship and liturgical ideas. He is happy to be living back below the Mason-Dixon line again after a lengthy sojourn in the NYC metro area. You can follow Thomas online, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Why Does God Bother? – Advent 2014 Post 1

Advent is a special time for me, I hope it is for you too. The message and timing of it pushes us to take inventory of our year and points us to the meaning and beauty of Jesus’ coming. Looking back, I remember one year feeling like I was going through my days without enough prayer and reflection. It was the weeks of processing Advent that pushed me to re-center, process more, pray more, look back and ahead more and this helped me in the following New Year.

Maybe you’re new to Advent, maybe you feel like you’ve gotten off to a late start, maybe you started well but find yourself disconnected, I think that’s normal and this isn’t to appease my guilt of having done similar over the years. If I can be of encouragement, I’d suggest asking yourself, “Am I spending enough time thinking about the things that matter in this life?” And a follow up thought would be once you realize the better answer to the question is not only about the amount of time you spend dwelling on such essential things but it’s also about the posture and resulting action – this is where many have found the balance of thought/action/peace.

Advent comes and I hear sermons, I read devotionals and walk around trying to really figure out why God would really come to this world and become one of us. Of course it feels better to exist than to not exist but if I was self-existing, beyond human, all-powerful, God-like, what would compel me to come to this world? This world where the general global population routinely chooses their own happiness at your expense regularly? A world filled with hate for the most trivial of reasons? A world where we often have to make up reasons to justify selfish behavior? A world addicted to its own selfishness to such a degree that it often lacks the ability to recognize something significantly and distinctively better?

Somedays I think if I were God, I would have abandoned “Project Earth” and skipped over to one of other projects in the “Creation Folder.”  Imagine being the God of a world that decided to fully worship God rather than live in a post-fallen world that often ignores and rejects the beautiful redemption awaiting them. I imagine this alien planet in a Garden of Eden setting, singing their hymns, serving one another, and doing everything right. The competitive side of me doubts these creatures would be as beautiful as us but they seem like the type of imaginary people that God would prefer. So with that possibility why does God bother with us? [Read more…]

“Everyone Else’s Life Looks So Much Better Than Mine.”

After I posted Sunday afternoon, someone came up to me at our evening service and said something like, “Thanks for giving permission to the feeling of not being thankful. Truth is, I want to be thankful. I really do. I just haven’t figured it out. What am I missing?”

I can never give such a huge question a singular answer. Further, I am very skeptical towards those who do provide that answer. There are answers for sure, but ultimately they are found before God in prayer, Scripture, community and however else God chooses to show us grace. I’m grateful to be among the many pointing the way.

I shared this and my friend agreed but was looking for guidance, even adding that’s it tough to be thankful when everyone around you is so happy and then saying, “Everyone else’s life looks so much better than mine.”

This is a bad time to get caught up in the literalism of the statement. It’s a bad time to point out those who are clearly and arguably less fortunate in dealing with either poverty, illness, or a crisis. Yes, this individual had health, home and a sense of stability. But what I think he was really saying, “So many seem to be living a better life than mine and I’d be thankful to have a little more of that and bit less of this.”

The remainder of our conversation took a shape of its own and I asked the individual for permission to share some of this. As unpacking this a bit was helpful for me, and might be for you too.

First, I don’t know anyone who has a pain-free life. I literally do not know a single person that isn’t stress-free, pain-free, frustration-free, etc. I know people who pray/fight/search/work for their happiness, joy, strength and peace but I don’t know anyone who has it made. I know people who look like they got it made.  In fact, every single person without exception who I thought had it made has forced me to think otherwise. Once I got close enough to every single one who I thought “It must be nice to be them,” I later thought otherwise. I truly believe that without exaggeration this is without exception.

I too, used to think there were these really blessed people whose lives I would love to have. I’ll avoid name-dropping here, but I particularly remember talking to someone who was relatively famous, relatively successful (In my sector anyway), admired, appeared to have financial security, probably liked what they saw in the mirror and probably enjoyed their family portrait. What’s more to have? Oh right, this person had, from what I could tell, a relationship with Jesus that appeared so wonderful, that on one of my bad days, I would try to steal it. To summarize, this person shared with me, “Honestly, it gets kinda lonely sometimes. I never know who to trust. Everyone around me, anyone I meet, I don’t really know who to trust and who is going to stab me in the back, I don’t know people’s true intentions when they are being nice to me and I can’t figure out who the genuine people are from the disingenuine. It’s hard to find authentic community …”

When he shared about his mistrust and loneliness, I wanted to encourage finding community but when he mentioned that he feels targeted and feels unable to lower his defenses, I could offer nothing but sympathy. I drove home remembering there is very little glamour to be found in life and this became an important life lesson for me as I processed this more and more. Our celebrities, our leaders, our artists, thinkers, creatives, all the beautiful people we’re told are “laughing their way to the bank” may not be as happy as they seem. To be sure, the misery of others provides no comfort to me, but it helps me see that we’re all in this together. We have different struggles, different pains, different joys. And strikingly, we have a number of similarities as well. 

Every life having an element of pain, stress and tragedy has become for me, one of confirmations of the Christian narrative – everything in this world is broken and seeks redemption and wholeness. Again, to be clear, I am not grateful for the brokenness  – we all hate this. This is not misery loves company, this is we are all in the same boat. And maybe at one moment the person next to you is smiling, maybe the next moment not so much. Maybe the person next to you envies you and while you were looking away, caught the site of you enjoying a moment of life. Maybe you were smiling through the pain, maybe you were smiling at a beautiful moment, we all wish we could enjoy life more – that’s universal. The lives of others may look better than yours. But maybe because no one knows you pain the way you do, and you can’t know someone else’s pain the way they do.

It’s at this point, I am supposed to say something like: “You have the life God wants you to have, don’t wish for someone else’s.” Which in my mind is a very unhelpful half-true. Indeed, we ought never to be envious or wish to have someone else’s life. But depending on what the first half of that sentiment actually means, I tend to think that God wants us to have a better life than we actually have. There’s a longer story there, but while God is not a genie existing to give us all we wish for, Jesus invites us to live a beautiful, abundant life. 

It’s here where we can begin to get traction on experiencing identity, gratitude, and living at peace with ourselves. But before we can do that, it seems we need to stop assuming the person next to us has the life we want and consider that what we have is worth living in. May God give us the strength, the courage and the grace we need to be faithful with what we’ve been given.

How Seriously Can We Take Thanksgiving (And Is It OK that I’m Not Thankful?)

Thanksgiving as come and passed and I’m still processing. For us, it was a very peaceful Thanksgiving. Having just welcomed a newborn, we decided to avoid traveling and other wonderful people’s germs. We enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving turkey dinner and had a fairly easy day. The kids will tell you all about the pumpkin pie, but for Susan and I, we got to catch our breathe a little bit.

We’re obviously grateful for the addition of Baby Bri and we’ve shifted the family story from “We were trying to keep it at 3 …” to “We’ve always asked God for 4 – 2 boys, 2 girls, hashtag answered prayers.” But if i can let you in on a little secret, I’m extremely grateful in the big life picture, but I haven’t always been grateful in the day-to-day operation of life.

It’s not just about welcoming a new-born, three awesome but energetic kids, an amazing wife who unfortunately, only has two hands, a fast-moving ministry calendar, National Grid sending me notices that the price of electricity has gone up by 20%, and a fantasy football season that has not gone as planned.

I should be grateful. I am … most of the time …. some of the time … well it depends on the day really. Then there’s the news cycle. Society contains a few bright spots but is largely disappointing. Racism, violence, sexual assault, the [Read more…]

Lamenting For Ferguson

I am in lament for Ferguson.

Among the many emotions, lament is the word and feeling that keeps coming up for me. I felt it soon after August 9th and posted a  long list of laments then, many of which I still feel today, some even stronger.

Specifically today, I lament that many are going to miss an opportunity to understand the larger hurt this represents.

I lament the feeling I get when I read “Black lives matter.”

I lament the pain this represents to countless people, people I know, many that I don’t.

I lament that we often judge a situation by its worst representatives.

I lament that we often judge a situation from a narrative that will only allow us to to see this from a singular, pre-determined view.

I lament that we will likely never know exactly what happened between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown.

I lament for the countless black men and other minorities who are profiled every day. You probably know someone who has told [Read more…]

“On Welcoming Our Newborn” – A Father’s Reflection

IMG_4589 - Version 2This past week we welcomed the addition of our baby daughter to our family. Born on the morning of November 5, Brianna Joy came out healthy, and happy to no longer be confined to the tiny quarters of her mother’s womb (She told us this, “Yeah like anyone would want to spend their existence restricted and spoken to through skin and membrane walls. But really, I’m grateful to be here with you all. I want to be held, known and I want to love my family. Ok, I‘d like some milk please.”) I know, I thought the same thing you’re thinking – She has her mother’s sarcasm and her father’s sweet, gentle spirit.

It’s been a long pregnancy for Susan, and I imagine for Baby Bri. And for the sake of camaraderie, I’ll throw myself in the mix because, really, is there a such thing as a short pregnancy? If you’re listening and sympathizing, it doesn’t go very fast. But it’s great to finally meet her because she’s felt hidden for so long.

I have asked our other children if they remember being in the womb, and they all reply “Yes.” And they walk away to play with they Legos when I ask them to describe it.

Fortunately, I remember my experience waiting to be born. It was warm, softly lit, fairly comfortable if you didn’t move too much. Unfortunately the wifi was sporadic and my Treo always needed to be rebooted – that part of the experience was disappointing frankly. I also remember trying to time my arrival to be memorable but I didn’t want to compete with Jesus so I decided to be born on Christmas Eve. Looking back on it, I feel I over-thought that as I now realize that though you can miss the beauty and meaning of Christmas, nothing can really compete with Jesus. But I was young and didn’t know any better. I also remember things like the doctor who pulled me out ((his name was “Doctor”). He wore these blue latex gloves, had bad breath and hadn’t shaved that morning. I remember the nameless nurses and how they were so excited to meet me and make me presentable and how they handed me off to my Mom and Dad. I remember telling my parents, “So you named me Timothy -that will work. So you immigrated from Egypt to the United States and you picked Jersey City to begin our family? We couldn’t have found a place in Miami?” That last part doesn’t really sound like me back then but that’s my parents’ account and over time the line between stories and memories run together so I just go with it.

Fast forward to today, I’m still thinking about Brianna’s time in her mothers’ womb. Like all parents holding a newborn, we keep saying, “Can you believe she was just inside there?” Pretty incredible how these human people are born. Further, and maybe regular readers and friends are tired of hearing this but I just can’e believe we have this big family since we struggled so much with infertility – ridiculously thankful in the big picture. Now to be truthful, there are days when I act less than grateful for what I’ve been entrusted with but when I take a step back, I’m really humbled by the fact that we’re parents of a growing family.

I for one think Brianna is going to have it pretty good. The youngest of four but since all her siblings are close in age, Susan and I are still in super-parent mode. While we haven’t slept much in 6 years, there is a minimal gaps in our infancy knowledge. How often do you feed a baby? Change a baby? Burp a baby? Hold a baby? Forget about what the books tell you – the answer is always.

Four Kids – still trying to wrap my head around it. Can we really do this? Sure we can. But how well will we do it? Can we provide enough care, affection, can we afford it all, what will their opportunities be like? You think of the other questions, Which kid will get or feel neglected? Who is going to have the hardest time? Which one is going to hate us? Gathering from my own adolescence and from my years of serving in student ministry, I remember that whether you have one, two, five or many more that it doesn’t matter, each kid is going to hate you at some point, each kid is going to feel short-changed at some point and everyone goes through their own valleys. Our prayer will be that each one also find love and identity on the other side of this.

Similarly, being a ministry family, I of course, wonder what the quality of their faith will be, if they will resent the faith/church or if in the big picture, this will be among the privileges they will later claim to have? And of course, they will each have different experiences, perspectives, callings, futures, pasts, right nows. How can we really manage all this? 

Here’s what I learned on Bri’s birthday. It’s amazing how holding a newborn brings peace to the questions. They probably won’t go away but I am reminded once again of the power of presence. Further, I am reminded that there are no foreseen limits to a parents’ love. Though human and finite, the word unforeseen feels right because when we truly love, we don’t see the limits. It’s as close as we have to knowing something eternal, something transcendent; it’s very spiritual and probably where we find it most accessible to relate to and connect with God. It’s extraordinary, a bit illogical, and among the differences between romantic love and the love you have for your children is that it feels magnified when you love your children alongside your spouse.

And so to cut to the chase, we don’t manage children. Or at least we shouldn’t. There is no sure-fire way to safe-guarding a child’s future. We can try as much as we like but there are no guarantees in this life. We can be intentionally faithful, we ought to be diligent, we must be prayerful, we can introduce, guide and help our children process all sorts of things ranging from soccer to ballet dancing to painting to serving to New York sports teams to the sacred to the trivial to the many things in between. But we can’t guarantee, we can’t control, we dare not manipulate – instead, we walk together. 

Somewhat self-aware, I know I’m on riding the high of welcoming a new-born. I doubt my 29 year old self would be able to relate to this post, and in some ways, it would feel like pushing the dagger a bit further. Similarly, I’m cognizant that my 49 year old self might be embarrassed by all this. All I can say is that it’s the testimony of the moment, and I feel I gained something here and chances are there was much to be gained at 29, and more so at 49. Married, single, divorced, widowed, waiting, changing diapers or enjoying being a grandparent, love feels accessible to all of us, and most likely, different than what we anticipated.

It’s late and I probably shouldn’t post this tomorrow but I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I sound a bit over-dramatic about our daughter’s birth. And if not, then please dismiss this as the passionate expression of a proud father. Frankly, it’s a great fraternity to be a part of.

Rethinking: “Fake It Til You Make It”

In a sermon last month I mentioned my concern for the phrase “Fake it til you make it.”  Ok that’s an understatement, I voiced my great displeasure with this maxim. If there was a way for me to remove this and “There’s a reason for everything” from our maxim, we’d have a better world ;)

Perhaps I’m over-stating but i also can’t help but think how this statement is over-used. It’s a phrase we hear all the time. From my observation it’s a bit of self-coaching, confidence-booster. I think it’s trying to say, “I know I don’t got it but I’m gong to act like I do until I do (because I’m really hoping I will eventually).” It’s not so bad right?

“Fake it til you make it” sounds cute until you hear a surgeon say it. Or imagine the anxious moments of stepping onto an airplane, the crew stands at the door, and as you peak into the cockpit, there’s a sticker taped above the cockpit windshield “Fake [Read more…]

Mark Driscoll’s Resignation is the Best Possible Outcome Until …

image from Paul Wilkinson’s blog

This will likely be my last post on Mark Driscoll for a while. As one who has critiqued him, called to stop making fun of him, and in a recent post, called him a cautionary tale, this feels like an appropriate time to close this loop for a while.

If you haven’t heard, earlier this week Mark willfully resigned from being the lead pastor of Mars Hill Church. It’s been a big deal for some of us for a while and you can read up on the details here and elsewhere but there’s been a significant abuse of power, a series of inappropriate actions and years of inappropriate conduct.

While it’s always awful to hear this type of news, I’m grateful for Mark choosing to resign and see this as a best possible outcome to this scene for at least three reasons:

[Read more…]

Thinking About Ebola and the Various Threats of Life

Ebola – the newest of the scariest words we have today. We regularly get new ones to add to the lexicon: Isis, recession, Obama, Republicans, drones, identity theft, and many more. These words mean different things to us in different times. Their power fluctuates from harmless to seemingly all-encompassing to “I hope it doesn’t affect me or those near me.”

It’s customary to blame the media. “They’re always trying to get the public riled up about something!” Despite the hype (and there will always be hype), there is often good reason for the concern.

The Ebola outbreak is real. The World Health Organization reports there have been 4,493 deaths while others estimate the number to be closer to 12,000. Today’s reports are filled with the two nurses’ travel and current care as they treated the Dallas man who died after his trip to West Africa. And like all disease, this is tragic and worth grieving. 

It’s normal after every plane crash, terrorist attack, school shooting, even after hearing of a drunk driving accident to wonder if it could happen to me. We know that we are not exempt from tragedy. While we should never panic, it’s perfectly normal and fairly wise to [Read more…]

I Have a Chapter in a New Book Called Father Factor

 

Father_Factor_Cover_200dpiI’m so grateful to announce that I have a chapter in a book that will be released next       week: Father Factor: American Christian Men on Fatherhood and Faith published by White Cloud Press. It’s Book 5 of the amazing I Speak For Myself Series. 

Here’s how we’re describing the project:

Father Factor explores the intersection between faith and fatherhood, probing the resonance and dissonance created when men examine fatherhood in all its permutations, and how it is informed by and informs their faith.

There are a wide variety of Christian faith perspectives represented in the book and many ethnicities. The contributors include ministers, professors, a real estate agent, an actor, nonprofit leaders, stay-at-home dads, and a call center representative, from locations as far apart as Honolulu, HI, to Paris and all points in between. They each have a compelling story about faith and fatherhood.

Fatherhood is quite the complicated subject for all of us. For obvious reasons it transcends culture, generation, social class, and more. Biologically, we all have a father, but the relationship we have with that man differs for each of us. And so it took  quite a number of voices to speak into such an important, complicated and potentially painful/beautiful subject.

I’m in a season of life where many of the people I have known and loved throughout my life have gone from talking about the realities concerning their fathers to actually now being a father. I find it really interesting to contrast the conversations we had at 15 about our dads and now about being one (and now what we think about our dads). Interesting times.

From what I’ve been able to access, our idea of fatherhood is changing constantly. Among other sentiments, we may feel unprepared but when we see our children, we wouldn’t pass this opportunity to father for anything. I’ve been seeing from my fellow contributors that we’re all trying to find some clarity on the amazing calling of fatherhood.

My chapter is entitled, “Fatherhood Has Changed You” which is a comment one of my friends from seminary said to me. I was a bit surprised by her observation and found myself spending most of my two hour drive thinking about how the last two years had changed me. Infertility and long unanswered nights filled with hurt, angst and what felt like futile prayers were quickly replaced by two healthy, happy, crying boys that got us up in the middle of the night and got us out of bed early in the morning. Only fatherhood (and motherhood) can understand the incredible beauty of this.

One of my favorite aspects of the project is being included with some pretty amazing writers/bloggers/thinkers like main author and project editor, Anderson Campbell, Christian Piatt who wrote the foreword, a new book called Post Christian and writes one of the most provocative blogs you can read), Jason Boyett (Author of many titles including O Me of Little Faith), Andrew Marin (Love Is an Orientation), Micah Murray of Redemption Pictures, Steve Knight and friends of mine like Daniel Haugh and Drew Hart. Here’s the full list of contributors and the short bios.

I was also thrilled when I saw that some of my favorite thinkers/writers/bloggers like  Sarah Bessey (Jesus Feminist), theologian Richard Mouw (the link is his Wikipedia page), Jamie Wright (The Very Worst Missionary) give kind endorsements. I think Matthew Paul Turner (Our Great Big American God), summed up the project very well when he said,  “The essays in this book will make you laugh, bring you to tears, and at times, cause you to rethink your approach to parenting. But most of all, Father Factor will fill you with hope.”

The Awesome Andy Campbell

A HUGE special thanks to our main author/project editor – Andy Campbell. He brought so much goodness together. And grateful for our publisher Steve Scholl and the good people of White Cloud Press.

To share as candidly as possible –  I’m really grateful and proud to be a part of this. There is so much to be gained in the conversation of fatherhood and I’m honored to contribute to it.  So I hope you consider picking up a copy, liking our Facebook page, and spreading the word. AND if you know you will make a purchase, it would be a huge help to us if you pre-ordered (you also get a 35% discount).

The Father Factor Website

You can order it here.