Praying The Scriptures: Colossians

Family Praying

One of the best ways that we can pray is to pray the Scriptures. After all, they are the Word of God. We can pray these truths in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. In particular, I think it’s important to pray the promises of scripture over our children. I am teaching through the book of Colossians. It’s actually a letter from Paul to the church at Colossae- and it contains the typical components of an ancient letter. One of those components is a prayer in 1:9-14. Paul prays:

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

How do we pray this over someone- especially our children?

Almighty God,

Fill your child with the knowledge of your will through the gift of your Spirit. May this knowledge lead (child’s name) to live a life completely committed and pleasing to you. May his/her life and faith bear fruit every day as they grow in their knowledge of you and as they are strengthened to endure every attack the enemy might engage in. Fill (child’s name) with joyful thanksgiving as we remember that you have rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of Light, the Kingdom of your Son in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of our sins. We pray these things in the name of your beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Being Reconciled

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21, NIV)

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When I would read this passage I would often center in on the word ambassador. For me, an ambassador was someone who represented a country and it’s government in a foreign land. As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors of Christ and our message and our mission is reconciliation. We are called to engage the world and implore it to be reconciled to Christ and to one another. Again, for me, this took on the tone of me speaking.

While I still believe in my understanding of an ambassador and that an ambassador takes time to engage in the ministry of reconciliation by speaking- I have come to see that the primary role of the ambassador, and thus a Christian, is listening. An ambassador to a nation has to study the customs, and the habits in order to know where the ministry of reconciliation intersects the culture. An ambassador is a student of the culture. I believe a good ambassador knows the story of the people he/she has been sent to because they have listened well and taken the time to walk with the people they have been sent to. Knowing the stories of our community draws us deeper into relationships and further along in the process of reconciliation.

If we are to engage in the ministry of reconciliation as Christ’s ambassadors, then we must become engaged listeners of the stories of those we are sent to.

In our 24 hour news twitter-verse we (and our congregants) are more apt to shout out our beliefs rather than sitting across from one another listening to each other’s stories over coffee. I believe that sitting across from one another knee-to-knee and listening ultimately leads us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder doing the work of the kingdom: Reconciliation.

The community I grew up in did not have a lot of racial diversity. I heard every kind of slur and, regretfully, I used every kind of slur in arguments and on the playgrounds. My perception of people who were different than me were based on caricatures and stereotypes. Because of this, I was/am broken and sinful in my views of the other. I began to experience reconciliation through various people in my life who loved me, got to know me and allowed me to get to know them, and rather than the caricature I was able to see the unique, made-in-God’s-image individuals that we all are.

I am grateful for the people in my life who have invited me into their story given me the opportunity to listen and understand.  I am honored by the role we have as clergy to listen to those who are searching for God and to invite them to be reconciled as we are given permission to enter their lives. If we hope to experience reconciliation in our communities then we must learn to listen to one another’s stories and experiences in order to seek understanding.

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Fight Club: The Battle to be Present

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At Hope and Magnolia Churches, we’ve been in a series called Fight Club where we are looking at the battles that we all face. This past Sunday, we looked at the battle to be present in our relationships with one another and with God.

The scripture lesson was Judge 14:1-9. Samson- who is on his way to introduce his parents to the Philistine woman he wants to marry (which is its only problem) kills a lion with his bare hands. A few days later, on his way to the wedding he “turns aside to see the carcass of the lion” which was full of bees and honey. Samson did what we all might do- he scooped the honey out of the carcass and ate it! This started a downward spiral at his wedding feast resulting in Samson storming off in anger and his wife being given to one of Samson’s friends in marriage!! (Sounds like a reality TV series)

What I find fascinating is the phrase “turned aside.” Samson was heading in one direction (his wedding day) and he turned aside. How often do we know the direction we are to be heading in our relationships with one another and God yet we “turn aside” to view some dead lifeless place in our lives?

Do you remember the story of Adam and Eve? Satan tempts Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now you would think that Adam would fight off the serpent, hit him with a rake or other gardening tool (they were, after all, in the Garden of Eden), but Adam did nothing.Eve was in a battle for her life and at that moment Adam was silent. As a husband, Adam had one job at that moment, to protect his wife.

When we turn aside from our focus, we create space for sin to invade our lives. When we are not fully present, sin fully presents itself to us.

We live in a distracted world. We waste countless hours on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Tumblr while missing out on relationships with the people right in front of us. We turn towards the things that distract us and in doing so, we turn aside from our relationship with God.

What is it that distracts you? What causes you to turn aside from your relationship with your spouse? Your Children? Your friends? Your relationship with God?

How would those relationships be different if you were to win the battle to be present?

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If NBA Teams Were Churches

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I love sports and the lessons that go along with them. When Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that the church is like a body- and that every part matters- we can see that application in sports in some good and bad ways just as we can see good and bad examples of churches functioning (or not) as a body. So I wanted to highlight some NBA Teams and the churches they represent. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

1. The Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers. Magic. Kareem. Kobe. But the 2016 Lakers are not your mama’s Lakers- nor are they the Lakers that I recognize. Certainly there were the glory days but now the team is in shambles. Second worst record in the league. Why? Management caters to an aging superstar on a team that lacks a supporting cast.

We know these kinds of churches. Laker Churches. They had their glory days but now are being handcuffed by one or two families who think they run the show. Nothing can happen in the church unless it is run through (Kobe) the influential family. This mentality is killing the church. They say, revival is just a few funerals (or retirement) away.

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Warriors at Wizards 2/3/16

2. The Golden State Warriors: The Warriors just had one of the greatest single seasons ever in the history of the NBA. They have an exciting young core led by Steph Curry. They appear committed to one another and to the goal of multiple championships. What remains to be seen is their staying power.

I see the Warrior representing the “Hot Church” in town. It may be a new and dynamic church plant or a revitalized congregation. Their ministry growth includes a unparalleled music ministry and dynamic preaching. What remains to be see is whether these “Hot Churches” have the structures in place to deal with growth, discipleship, and adversity to have long-term staying power and impact in the community.

3. The Philadelphia 76ers: While most people know what the Lakers need I am not sure anyone knows what the 76ers are doing or what they need. There appeared to be a clear vision (tank and collect draft picks to hopefully draft a superstar or 2), but then 3/4 into the vision they fire the architect. It remains to been seen whether or not a new vision will develop. Until then, everything is in limbo.

Churches, like the 76ers, can struggle to have a clear, coherent, and attainable vision. It seemed the 76ers were trying to be innovative and change the process of rebuilding. Sometimes a church can set a course for clear change in their structure, their ministry, and their focus (all good things) however if the right results do not come fast enough there can be backlash and a change of vision- often back to what feels safe and comfortable. This can leave everyone wondering, “What is going on?”

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4. The Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs have Lebron- which is almost all you need in the Eastern Conference to head to the championship series. Lebron left Cleveland for Miami, won some championships, and now has returned home. It’s a great story. And Lebron is a great player who makes the people around him better. The question with the Cavs is whether or not they have enough pieces to work with Lebron. If they don’t provide a fully stocked roster (need 2 stars in the NBA to compete) then questions will remain as to whether Lebron becomes Kobe and does it all himself, or, Lebron burns out and takes his talents to…

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The Cavaliers Church is not a King James Only church (though that would be fun to write about), but the church that has a pastor or leader who works to make everyone better. Everyone knows that the pastor or leader is capable of some great ministry on their own, but their desire is to fully engage the rest of the church in ministry. The success of the church depends on whether the church will buy into the Pastors/leaders willingness and desire to get everyone involved. If the church members will not get involved, share ministry, and make each other great then the pastor/leader can be prone to burnout and frustration and may seek another place to serve.

5. The San Antonio Spurs: I believe that the Spurs are the premier NBA Team- and have been for over 20 years. With Greg Popovich as coach, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli the Spurs have a wise and experienced core that knows how to handle every situation. The Spurs also excel at bringing in younger and role players who learn the game and fundamentals by some of the best in the league. Their emphasis on fundamentals and teamwork are not often exciting (Spurs are often considered boring) but leads to great results.

I want to be in a church that operates like the Spurs. Everyone on that team knows and understands their role. Even their superstar, Tim Duncan, who is at the end of his career knows how to get the most out of his body and those around him. Their coach often sits their best players for an entire game- which gives the other players on the team experience that they could not get elsewhere. They are not flashy but they are sound in everything they do.

A church needs more than a great leader. More than a great band. More than a excellent program. It needs everyone growing in the fundamentals of their faith and getting involved in the ministries of the church. The church cannot rely on a handful of people for ministry but must constantly be discipling and giving opportunities to those who are “next up” or new to the team. A great church, like a great basketball team, does not run 1 or 2 people deep- but has a deep bench where everyone has and knows their role in order to accomplish their purpose: making disciples of all people.

What other NBA Teams are remind you of churches that you’ve been in?

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Adoption Crisis?

Relevant Magazine posted an article online yesterday with some statistics on international adoptions that were a bit shocking. The article is based from a State Department report (readable here) stating that Americans are adopting 72% fewer children internationally than they did at the peak of international adoptions in 2004. Last year, there were 4,868 international adoptions by American families compared to 22,884 twelve years ago. A similar decrease in inter country adoption is evident for couples wishing to adopt who live outside of The United States. A decrease in adoptions is not indicative of a decrease in children waiting to be adopted.

Certainly we should be asking why. One answer, according to the State Department, lies mainly with a renewed focus in ensuring that the children being adopted are actually orphans and are not being trafficked to adoptive families. This is the case is Guatemala where adoptions were suspended in 2007 because of widespread corruption. Another answer is that China has increased their efforts to encourage adoption by Chinese nationals within their own country. I think that it is encouraging to see countries looking to endure the safety of orphans, who are some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The danger, according to Chuck Johnson who heads up the National Council for Adoption, is that “unadopted children are the most likely to be trafficked.”

As a family who has adopted, we are encouraged every time we hear of others who are looking to adopt either domestically or internationally. We believe that caring for orphans and widows is one of the best ways we reveal to the world that we love God (and that God loves us!). We know firsthand the amount of paperwork, red tape, and financial roadblocks to providing a child with a forever family. Some of that red tape is there to ensure that children (orphans) are protected and not trafficked. I have hope that in the future there can be some sort of streamlining of the process.

In the end, our family changed forever for the better when Malachi came home with us and we would do it again to know that another one of God’s children has a loving home in this life.

 

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Adoption Update: Story of Malachi’s Healing

If you’ve stayed in contact with our family through this blog, Facebook, or in person you know that when we adopted Malachi he was very bowed legged. Ultimately he was diagnosed with Bilateral Blount’s Disease. He wore leg braces for about seven months. In December of 2015 his doctors cleared him from his braces. I wanted to share some pictures and tells the story a bit more with you.

September 2014

When we adopted Malachi, he was categorized a “minor-correctable special needs.” This label often includes cleft lip/palette and other “special needs” that can be addressed surgically. This can even include large birth marks. Malachi’s files were not great looking when we agreed to adopt him: small stature, failure to thrive, fine motor delay, etc. By the time we got to China, he had made some great gains and within months home he was cleared of all those labels. He had had two surgeries in China; one to repair an umbilical hernia and the other to remove a hemangioma on his chest. Both surgeries, according to our doctors, where unnecessary. But he was home and he had a family.

Malachi’s legs where not mentioned anywhere in his file. Andrea and I noticed that his legs were crooked when we brought him home. Even an infant’s legs look little crooked. When we went to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia they said that better nutrition might straighten his legs out. By early 2015 we agreed with the doctors that his legs were getting worse and needed the attention of a specialist. So we went to the Orthopedics at A.I. Dupont Children’s Hospital in our home state of Delaware.

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April 8, 2015. Malachi’s legs before braces. Notice buckle of his knees.

April/May 2015

The doctor’s at A.I. Dupont said that Malachi needed to go into leg braces and wear them for 8-10 hours a day to correct the bowing of his legs. In early May, we went back up to A.I. Dupont to receive his leg braces. Needless to say, Malachi did not like them at all (and neither would I). Not only did he have the braces, the doctors wanted the braces locked so he could not bend his knees. This took a lot of work and re-learning how to walk for an almost two-year old. But Malachi was a trooper. He even learned to get up off the floor while wearing braces (and without bending his knees!)

August 2015

We had our first checkup with the braces about four months into wearing them. The doctors took X-rays and examined his legs and how he walked. When the doctor asked how long we made Malachi wear them, I remember my heart sinking a little. There were days (especially in August) where he did not wear them a lot. We told the doctor that we were pretty consistent. The doctor replied, “I can tell. He has seen great improvement.” The doctor said it was his guess that one leg would be out of the brace by Christmas with the other leg requiring more time to straighten out.

We had our dear friends Lauren Pupchick and Rudi Pineda from Guatemala visit us in August. Before they left, and surrounded by many of our church friends Rudi prayed for the healing of Malachi’s legs. It was a moving time of prayer that I will not forget. The next morning when Malachi awoke, Andrea and I were both looking at his legs to see if God healed him over night- which did not happen. But we believe it could have. And I believe that what happened over the next three months was nothing less the miraculous.

November 2015

We took a family vacation to Orlando, Florida and the happiest place on earth: Disney! This is significant because of the picture below. You can clearly see that Malachi’s legs are visibly crooked (especially his right leg, which was the worse of the two).

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December 23, 2015

Andrea got to take Malachi back up to A.I. Dupont for this checkup. Remember in August, the doctor thought that Malachi’s left leg could be free of the brace with his right leg needing more time to straighten out. I got an excited call from Andrea after the doctor’s appointment that Malachi was out of both braces! Talk about a Christmas miracle! Malachi was just as excited as he celebrated in the lobby of AI Dupont.

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Andrea was given copies of the before and after x-ray of Malachi’s legs. Here is a picture of  the straight legs in December.

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December 23, 2015. Malachi’s legs a healed!

 

Again, in the first X-ray, Malachi’s knees are buckling outwards. In this picture they are in the proper location. Just a month earlier, while at Disney, Malachi’s legs are still visibly crooked and bent outward. I cannot say that in the last 30 days that we made Malachi wear the braces any more or less than we previously had. What I believe is that God brought healing to Malachi’s life and his legs. Not every healing is instantaneous. Some healing involve seven months of wearing leg braces. Regardless, we believe that the Great Physician was (and is) at work in Malachi’s life!

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Book Review: Prayer

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I’ve had several books that I am working on this month and I’ve finished them all about the same time. This book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller is the latest. Keller, as many of you know, is a pastor in New York City, a prolific writer, and a great thinker within the Church today. I find his books to be accessible and challenging.

Keller breaks the book up into sections which move from the Biblical understanding of prayer to the application of how to pray. The author likens the book as a “master’s class in prayer” as he uses the prayer lives and writings of the great thinkers and pray-ers of the church; men like St. Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther and John Owens. Keller provides an all-star lineup as he gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of these men (and others).

I started looking for some quotes to entice you with, but then the post would be quite long. I did, however, really like his final chapters on application because I think that many people have never really been taught to pray. For me, and many others, we have been taught to have a “daily quiet time” which mostly consisted of some sort of devotional reading or inductive Bible study. Keller encourages the reader to move beyond the “traditional twentieth-century evangelical devotional practices as well as the current restoration of medieval prayer forms.” He believes that we should pay greater attention to the Protestant theologians of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. He suggests doing this by:

  1. Praying for often: Rather than having just one quiet time a day, Keller suggest having various set times of prayer, much like the Daily Offices.
  2. Prayers that are more Biblical: By this he means prayers that are grounded in systematic Bible reading and study as well as disciplined meditations on passages. If we are going to have intimacy with God, then we need to ground ourselves in God’s Word as we already have it.
  3. More corporate. While we continue to pray privately, there is something about gathering together in community to pray and to learn to pray from one another as we gather in worship. While Keller doesn’t completely come down on extemporaneous prayer in worship, he says that these “spontaneous” prayers do not help the congregation learn to pray.
  4. Expecting more experiences in the full range of prayer: We should come to expect the joy, awe, and wonder of God as well as encountering the “Dark Night of the Soul.”

Keller’s book gave me a lot to think about and consider in my own prayer life. I think this would be a good book for personal study and reflection for anyone wanting to grow in their ability to pray.

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