The Mystery of Love

Thursday – March 22, 2018

Scripture: Colossians 1:24 – 29

31“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

Colossians 1:24

Paul seems to be enchanted with the word “mystery” as he uses it many times in his writings. A quick check of the concordance in my Bible shows he used it twice in Romans, only once in 1 Corinthians, seven times in Ephesians, four times in Colossians, and only once in 1 Timothy. I think that is a total of fourteen times he used that word! I have come across its use several times as I have studied various scriptures for our Lenten devotionals this time around. There seems to be a strange combination in today’s scripture which concerns itself with the matter of suffering, a commission from God, something hidden for generations, the disclosure and a choice. With all of it bound up in the labor of Paul for God’s Church.

Our passage is one of the four times Paul uses the word “mystery” in his letter to the church at Colossae with two of them being used in this particular passage. It is also used in chapter 2, verse 2, and in chapter 4, verse three. Each time it is used in connection with Christ and the reason for His coming. In many ways, the person and work of Christ is still mysterious to us. We know a lot about His coming, His teachings, His love, His astuteness in dealings with antagonists, etc., but it is obvious there is much more to Him than we can fathom with our worldly understanding. I believe Paul had really grasped that fact and He was very upfront about sharing it with us. He doesn’t know it all, but He is also aware of that fact. I agree with that assessment as I find myself constantly flabbergasted over the things I do know and the new things I find out as life carries me along. I don’t think any of us can say with certainty that we have studied Christ and now know everything there is to know about Him. That would be the height of foolishness. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but because he is present in all of that, His perceptions, strength, wisdom and love (not an exhaustive list), are far beyond our ability to comprehend.

In this passage, Paul is somehow connecting the sufferings He is going through for the sake of the Gospel and His Lord, with the mystery that is Christ, who is known, yet unknown. We have seen Him and connected with Him but we can never really know Him in His fullness in this life. Paul is very aware of that but he contends that the mystery has now been disclosed as being “to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). He was doing this through Paul and also through other gentile believers who were sharing with gentiles outside the faith. This is the reason Paul is engaging so strenuously with these gentile believers. He wants them to reach a state of full maturity in Christ. To that end, he proclaims, admonishes and teaches with the wisdom only Christ can give. He is going through the wringer spiritually and thus suffering on Christ’s behalf, for these believers and others just like them. In fact, he is rejoicing in his suffering for these believers. Paul is totally immersed in being their “servant by God’s commission.” It is his work to share the word of God to them in all its fullness for the purpose of his readers knowing “Christ in (them), the hope of glory” (1:27).

I really wonder how many of us would respond if God made it clear to us what was going to happen and why it was to happen? Would we suffer that others might know God and know him better? Just what is the depth of our commitment to God in Christ Jesus?  Words are easy to say but the life that must be lived is far from easy. A lay back and relax existence is not an option but rather a keep on keeping on necessity until we are ready to drop from exhaustion and pain and then still keep going. Now, that can only be done in the strength, wisdom and love we get from the Father through His Spirit. It is the real expression of love, God’s love, through us.

Just as Jesus was an expression of God’s love to the world, so too, was Paul, and, so too, are we. An ambassador not only speaks for his leader, sometimes he suffers for him. Just ask some of those ambassadors of the United States, and other countries, who sometimes suffered, even died, because they were the representative for someone or something else.

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A Praying People

Sunday – March 11, 2018

Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:1-4, 8

A Praying People - Logo1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

David Mains, former pastor of the Circle Urban Church – an inner city church in Chicago, one day, in the course of his ministry among such great need, prayed, “Lord, let me see the world as you see it, and break my heart with the things that break yours.” The next day he found himself weeping so much, he had to ask God to stop.

Martin Luther once said, “I am so busy now that if I did not spend three hours each day in prayer, I could not get through the day.” How do you get through the day? Could you use a little more prayer in your life?

1 Timothy is a letter written by Paul, to his partner in ministry, Timothy. He writes the letter to urge Timothy to stand strong, as he leads the church, against false teachings. With this in mind, he spends time talking about what church should look like. He hits a lot of fascinating themes, including some that require some serious thought and a few extra readings in order to understand what’s he’s saying. One of the first issues he tackles, however, is prayer.

Verse 1 reads nicely in English but it could just have well been translated as “I urge, then, first of all, that prayers, prayers, prayers and more prayers be made for all people.” It uses 4 different words for prayers but all of them can be translated simply as “prayers.” However, each word lends a different flavor to prayer. In fact, they could be called 4 elements of prayer.

First up is “petitions,” from the word “deeseis (deh-ay-sace).” It’s often translated as “prayer” but, more specifically, it refers to a need. It means bringing our needs before God, especially our spiritual needs as we God for help.

The next word is “prayers,” from the word “proseuchas (pros-ook-ahs).” The verb form of this same word is used in verse 2:8 where it is translated as “pray.” It seems repetitive to use it here with several forms of prayer but it likely indicates some form of liturgical prayer that was in use in the early church – like the Lord’s Prayer. Interestingly enough, when Jesus offers his example of prayer, in Matthew 6:9-13, the word he uses for “pray” is the verb form of the noun used here.

The third area of focus is intercession. The word here is “enteuxeis (en-took-sace),” which is a term for coming before a king. It’s used here in the sense of approaching a king (God in this case) on behalf of others. A part of our prayers, then, is to lift others up before the Lord.

The last area of focus is thanksgiving. Here the word is “eucharistias (yook-ar-ist-ee-os).” You might recognize the word “eucharist,” another word for communion, the celebration of the Last Supper. It’s another compound word: “eu” means “good” and “charizomai (kar-iz-om-aye)” means “to give freely” or “to show favor or kindness.” “Charizomai” has another familiar word inside of it, “charis (kar-iss),” which is translated as “grace.” To say “grace” before eating means to give thanks for God’s provision of the food about to be eaten. These two ideas are close to each other: grace and thanks. We often refer to God’s grace as “unmerited favor” bestowed upon us. It’s unearned and undeserved, yet is freely given. The Eucharist celebrates God’s grace in our lives through the death of Christ and, by taking Communion, we are giving thanks to God for what Jesus has done. In the sense used here in verse 1, Paul is urging us to recognize the undeserved good that God gives us and show him favor because of it. In other words, we recognize that God has given good to us that we could never earn and we freely return thanks to him.

Prayer is an essential element of worshiping God and it takes many forms. Prayer is how we talk to God and these 4 elements of Prayer offer us a proper posture to take before the Him. Each element shows something different. But God already knows all these things we are lifting up before Him so why pray? Prayer is more about helping us to see the world in and around us more clearly than it is about delivering requests to God. As I pray, the Spirit is able to direct my thoughts to clarify my priorities, recognize my spiritual needs, focus on more than myself and discover where God is currently focusing my relationship with Him. Have your prayers become the same old thing each day? Do you pray out of a sense of duty without considering the relationship you have with the One you are praying to? Try talking to God . . . really talking to Him. Get to know Him better through the scriptures and the way He speaks to your soul. Prayer can wake you up to a whole new relationship with God if you are willing to go deeper.

The next couple of verses are handling a pretty difficult subject. Our prayers are meant to be for all men but then Paul singles out kings and those in authority over us. Submission to the authority of those who govern us is always an uneasy topic for the Christian. Our faith is one that transcends nations and the governments that rule differently in each country. It transcends the different cultures even as it gains some of their flavor. We swear our allegiance to God above all others and we find moral conflict with the laws of Man when they disagree with the laws of God. Throughout history Christianity has been seen as a threat to the governance of men and has, at times, been the vehicle of power within governments that might have polluted the faith more than injected its moral guidance into those governments. We live in a country now that has tried find balance between government and the Christian faith from its beginning and we still find an uneasy alliance. Imagine, then, the difficulty the early Christians had living under Roman rule and oppression, especially when it sponsored intense persecution of them. We have a faith that transcends men and their borders and each generation of Christians must learn how God wants us to respond to those in authority over us.

So what does God want us to do? He wants us to pray for those kings and other leaders. God wants them saved and in heaven just as much as he wants you saved and in heaven. So pray for your leaders so that they may give you the opportunity to simply live your faith in peace.

Our last two verses are incredibly important for understanding what prayer is really all about. Paul says, This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” God wants us to pray for all because He wants all to be saved. The word for “wants” is key here. It’s “thelei (thel-ay),” which is usually translated as “wills” or, in stronger circumstances, like this one, “desires.” “Wants” is not a bad translation but it’s a little weak to describe the strength of God’s desire to see all people saved. It’s His will that all be saved but that doesn’t mean it’s a certainty that all will be saved.

Paul is giving us a piece of God’s heart here. We see a similar statement from Peter, in 2 Peter 3:8-9, where he says, But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The word for “wanting” is “boulomai (bool-om-eye),” which is an even stronger word than thelei.  The love of God, for all His creation, is so strong that He doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell. If that is the desire of His heart, it will happen so far as it depends on His will. But our world is in the state that it is in precisely because He doesn’t force his will on us.

A common scripture we like to use, as believers, is found in Psalm 37:4: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” That’s something worth considering. Just what is the desire of your heart? We’ve just read a verse about the desire of God’s heart and we’ve already learned the Greatest Commandment – to love the lord with all your heart, mind and soul. How does your heart line up with God’s heart? The Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6:10, prays “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How does your will line up with God’s will?

Earlier I said that “Prayer is more about helping us to see the world in and around us more clearly than it is about delivering requests to God. As I pray, the Spirit is able to direct my thoughts to clarify my priorities, recognize my spiritual needs, focus on more than myself and discover where God is currently focusing my relationship with Him.” Prayer aligns your will and your heart with God’s will and heart. This is the real goal of prayer, not to tell our troubles to God and give Him His marching orders, but to align our will with His.

The best example of I know of bringing our wills in alignment with God’s will comes from Jesus – who is always setting the example for us. In Matthew 26:36-42 it says, 36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.””

“Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” God’s people are to be a praying people. How does this change your view of prayer? Knowing all this, how will you pray in the future? Will you stop trying to convince God to yield to your will and, instead, yield to His?

I’d like to end with a prayer from John Wesley. It’s his covenant prayer and it goes like this: “I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with who you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you. Exalted for you, or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty, Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and gladly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. O Lord, my God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And may this covenant, made on earth be confirmed, remembered and rewarded in heaven. Amen.”

Christ Lives in Me

April 8, 2017 – Saturday
faith 2
Read: Galatians 2:19 – 21, NIV
Focus: v. 20, NIV

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

It would not be a bad idea to go back and read verses 11 through 18 to get the context for why Paul is writing these words. He is taking Peter to task because he was not acting honorably before both Jews and Gentiles at the church in Antioch. Actually, he was being two-faced about the whole thing and was rightly called out by Paul. When Peter was with the Gentiles he acted just like them and ate just like them but when certain Jews of the circumcision party came to visit (and spread their brand of poison – my words) he quietly defected to them to the extent that even Barnabas, Paul’s co-worker was co-opted into doing the same thing and other Jews who had been working with and eating with the Gentiles also fell away.

Paul is simply pointing out that adherence to rules intended to enforce the Law was now actually unnecessary because we are now in an era of grace and not Law. Verse 21 makes that abundantly clear. Our purpose in these devotionals is to emphasize what was accomplished by and through the Cross. Paul is making the point by using himself as an example that he himself had been crucified with Christ. His point is that the life he now lives in the body is one of faith in the One “who loved  (him) and gave himself for (him)” (vs. 20). The indication in the earlier portion of verse 20 is that not only was Paul crucified (spiritually) with Christ but he was also resurrected (spiritually) with Christ. He is living life by faith and not by works. In other places, Paul makes it clear that works are meant to be an expression of one’s faith and not a substitute for faith.

What kind of life are you attempting to live as a believer? Is it one filled with rules you absolutely “must” keep in order to get into heaven? Or, is it a life that is filled with the freedom that comes from living by “faith” and not works? Don’t get me wrong here – works will come but are more an expression of our faith and not intended to allow us into God’s presence. Only Jesus’ finished work on the Cross allows that to happen when we accept and live the life of faith. Dorcas and others mentioned in the New Testament were often eulogized for their good works but those good works were also recognized as arising from their faith and not as an attempt to somehow get into God’s good graces. Doing good works is a hallmark of being a Christian but it must be understood that the desire and strength come through faith.

The Ministry of Reconciliation

Sunday – March 19, 2017
Reconciliation - Logo
Read: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
Focus: vs. 19

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 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.

There is an exercise I’ve used a few times in youth ministry over the years. In an attempt to help teens understand why second-hand information is hard to trust, I would speak to the first teen and deliver a basic message. I could be something simple like “red birds love blue skies.” I then instruct that teen to pass that message along the next person, who needs to pass it along to the next. This goes until we reach the last teen in the group and then we find out what message they received at the end of the line. In all my years it has never been even close to the original words uttered.

In verse 20 of our passage Paul refers to us as Christ’s ambassadors. An ambassador, simply put, is one who has the singular job of delivering the message from his leader. He doesn’t have the option of changing the language to soften the message and he certainly doesn’t have the option of delivering a different message altogether. Our president, for example, has ambassadors all over the country whose primary purpose is to deliver messages from him. They perform many other functions but that is the main reason for them being there and the president needs someone he can trust in a position like that. Nobody wants to go to war because the ambassador misquoted the president, either accidentally or purposefully.

So Paul says we are “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” What is that appeal? “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” This is the ministry of reconciliation that God has given us and we are ambassadors to the world for Him. It was in verse 11 where Paul says, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.” God needs someone he can trust for this job and the only way we can be trusted is if we believe and have accepted for ourselves the message being delivered. This is the pearl of great value and the hidden treasure. This is the Way of the Cross that requires total sacrifice. And the message we have to deliver is about the Living Hope that, last week, we referred to as a warm cup of morning coffee for our souls.

Reconciliation with God is the message we carry. With sin in charge, we are at war with God. Our unholiness cannot stand in His presence. The only way to take hold of the Living Hope that God offers is to be reconciled to Him. We must lay down our arms, accepting Jesus and walking His path. We join God’s side and go forth to persuade more hearts to reconcile with Him.

It’s not always going to be easy. As you read through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church you will hear talk about all that Paul and the other apostles have suffered for the sake of Christ. These are their credentials, so to speak. They’re task is to tell the truth of Jesus to the world and, often, there are consequences. At one point Paul says they carry about the death of Christ in them all the time as they follow in Christ’s footsteps. Paul knows the end result of his continuing to spread the Gospel but he also knows the end result for the people he doesn’t reach and who never accept the message he has to deliver.

Our task, then, as ambassadors for Christ, is to tell the world around us about the Living Hope we have in Christ Jesus. We have a message to deliver and we don’t have the option of altering the words. This is the ministry that God has given us and sometimes it’s difficult. We live in a world, right now, that doesn’t like the message very much. I’ve got news for you, though: the world has never much liked this message. It has denied it. It has ignored it. It has altered it in order to make it more palatable. It used and abused it. It has even committed atrocities in its name.

It’s the not the ambassador’s job to worry about how the message is received and what the other party does with it – at least not to the point where we soften or change the message to make it more palatable for a world walking in darkness. The world needs to hear about Jesus and what he has done for them but we need to remember their salvation is at stake but it, ultimately, is the responsibility of the one we speak for. And while God desires that all people should hear the message and accept it, the reality is that not everyone will. In fact, the percentage of the truly faithful doesn’t change very much over the years. In America that has been somewhere between 25% and 30% and there are signs that our country is becoming less receptive to the message rather than more so.

Is it our responsibility to reach the next generation for Christ and pass down our faith? Yes, in that we are to deliver the message and be faithful to God’s call as ambassadors for Him. Do we have a responsibility to make the message palatable to the world today? Yes and no. Yes, in that we need to deliver the message in a way that the next generation can hear it and respond to it. No, in that we cannot alter the contents of the message in order to make it more friendly to the world’s current ideals and mores. We can’t fit the gospel to the winds of change within our culture in order to make God more likeable. God’s message transcends all this earthly stuff. If our culture disagrees with God, it’s not God’s fault and nor is it ours. If I disagree with God, I’m wrong – end of story. And the sooner I understand that, the sooner I can be reconciled to Him.

I tell you all this to help you with the task God has given you. You are an ambassador for Him. You carry the message of the Living Hope inside you and that is an awesome responsibility. It’s also plenty to worry about without having to carry the load of the salvation of others on your back as well. Yes, their salvation is what is at stake here but ministering to the heart of a person is God’s job, not yours. We are tasked with delivering the message and God may continue to use us to make that appeal in other ways as we attempt to persuade them of the truth of the message we carry. It may hurt when they reject that message (and I hope you take it seriously enough that it does) but they are responsible to God for the response of their heart, not you. When they accept, we will rejoice with them just like God is doing. A lot of people are not going to accept God’s offer but some are. You and I did and we are not alone.

So what are you doing with the message God has given you? Are you a good ambassador delivering God’s message or are you hiding it because you’re afraid the world won’t accept it? The ministry of reconciliation has been given to you and God desires that as many as possible will be reconciled to Him. You know your part in this. Go. Be the ambassador God has tasked you to be.

To Be Made New

March 15, 2017 – Wednesday
Free
Read: Ephesians 4:17-24
Focus: vss. 22-24

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

In Paul’s letter to Philemon he appeals to his friend to forgive and set free his slave named Onesimus. It’s a great story that takes a little work to put together but it’s worth your consideration. The letter to Philemon is comprised of only 25 verses but you will see yourself in it. Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, an all-too-common practice of the day and throughout history (God condemns it many times and in many ways but the practice has survived in many cultures throughout the ages). In the case of Onesimus it seems he ran away, possibly after stealing money or some other possession, and wound up in Rome. In that day Rome is where someone in trouble would go to hide among the throngs of people. Philemon, and Onesimus, are from Colossae, and Philemon was a leader in the church there.

Somehow, Onesimus comes in contact with Paul and those with him. Possibly they recognized him from their missionary journeys and the time spent with Philemon. Paul leads Onesimus to Jesus and he becomes a changed man. He is a big help to Paul as he sits as a prisoner in Rome and Paul begins to see Onesimus as a son in the Spirit. They both realize that Onesimus must return to Philemon and set things right so Paul sends him back along with a letter asking Philemon to do the right thing and set Onesimus free. History picks up the story from here and we discover that Philemon did indeed set Onesimus free and he later became a bishop in the church over the region of Ephesus. His story ends in 95 AD as a martyr under the persecution of Nero.

The story of Onesimus is a story of redemption. It’s a story the children of God all share as his life makes a complete change in direction after finding Jesus. He gets a second chance and he dedicates his life to God. I imagine that Philemon, and others in the church in Colossae, were dubious at first. Surely Philemon did as Paul asked him to do but It’s hard to forget and forgive one who has wronged you without having some doubts as to the change of heart that has occurred. So I also imagine that Onesimus eventually proved himself to everyone and it was evident that he was, indeed, made new.

Ephesians 4:23 tells me that I am made new as I put on the new self and put off the old self. I can attest to the changes that happened inside of me when I asked Jesus into my heart and the direction of my life, I hope, has given those around me a good view of those changes as well. I was made new and I am being made new. It’s both a promise and an on-going event in my life.

I am willing to speculate that you see a little bit of Onesimus in yourself. Maybe the people around you were dubious, at first, when they heard you had turned your life around with Jesus. But we serve a God of second chances who delights in making the new you. This new you is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” It’s both a promise and an ongoing event in your life. What a wonderful thing it is to be made new.

Day 9 – For His Highest Purposes

Monday – December 5, 2016

Read: 2 Timothy 2:20-21
Focus: vss 20-21
Day 9.png
“If you stay away from sin you will be like one of the dishes made of purest gold – the very best in the house – so that Christ Himself can use you for His highest purposes.”

In our scripture today, Paul talks about living in such a way that Christ can use us for a higher purpose. When I entered my sophomore year of college, a dialogue began between me, God, and a senior ministerial student. It started out with my statement that “the last thing I want to be is a minister’s wife!” I arrived at that decision because I had seen the horrendous schedule of the Pastors’ wives in my local church – often carried out with little thanks and some opposition. In God’s providence I became friends with several ministerial students who took it upon themselves to point out that the only life of happiness was one lived in God’s will and favor. If that included being a missionary, or a janitor, or a pastor’s wife, then I had better say yes – or settle for a life out of fellowship with God! Heavy stuff, right? But it took me all year to arrive at a “Yes, Lord, yes” attitude. When that was finalized I sort of relaxed because those friends graduated and then I could safely say that I did not know any would-be ministers – that is, until 2 years later, when I tried out that line on a date and got a, “well, now you do!”  – and the rest is history! Because I chose to be my best for God, He has been able to use me for many years, and in many different ways, to accomplish His purposes. I can really think of no higher and better job than the one He graciously gave to me.

We all want to feel useful and if our life can be spent helping others to find their place in God’s plan, then we have truly served them and Him well. Is that your desire today?

MAR