Pray for President Obama as he welcomes to the White House key partners in the effort to achieve peace in the Middle East. On May 18, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel will visit; on May 26, President Mubarak of Egypt will come, and on May 28, President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority will journey to Washington. Pray for President Obama as he discusses with each of them ways to strengthen our partnerships and possible steps to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, between Israel and the Arab states.
1-2 Bilious and bloated, they gas, "God is gone."
It's poison gas—
they foul themselves, they poison
Rivers and skies;
thistles are their cash crop.
God sticks his head out of heaven.
He looks around.
He's looking for someone not stupid—
one man, even, God-expectant,
just one God-ready woman.
3 He comes up empty. A string
of zeros. Useless, unshepherded
Sheep, taking turns pretending
to be Shepherd.
The ninety and nine
follow the one.
4 Don't they know anything,
all these impostors?
Don't they know
they can't get away with this,
Treating people like a fast-food meal
over which they're too busy to pray?
5 Night is coming for them, and nightmare—
a nightmare they'll never wake up from.
God will make hash of these squatters,
send them packing for good.
6 Is there anyone around to save Israel?
God turns life around.
Turned-around Jacob skips rope,
turned-around Israel sings laughter. (The Message)
"...he doubtless makes a comparison between the children of God and all who have not been regenerated by the Spirit, but are carried away according to the inclinations of the flesh. The subject which Paul reaons [in Romans 3:10] upon is not, what is the character of the greater part of men, but what is the character of all who are led and governed by their own corrupt nature.
"Only God can make us new creatures by his mysterious grace."
(Commentary from Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms)
"Prayers Well Aimed"
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
It probably goes without saying that Christians in Ephesus in the first century were not inclined to pray for Caesar. Paul was telling them to stretch their prayers. Pray for everybody...even Caesar. Why? It is the opinion of the article that the "we" in verse 2 is the Church. The reason to pray for a wicked king who had sworn enmity to Christ was so that the church might exist without being persecuted. This is very relevant for us today, in an environment where our government becomes increasingly hostile to Christianity.
The important thing to realize here is that Paul was not telling them to pray for their own indifidual advantage. He wasy telling them to make the Kingdom a priority. The truth is that most of us, as individual Christians, prayer pretty much for our own personal welfare, if not for the welfare of individuals around us. Has my first concern as I have prayed over this past week been the Kingdom of God and his Church? Hmmm...next question.
Jesus said that we are to "seek first the kingdom of God." (Matthew 6:33) Obviously, there is nothing wrong with praying for yourself and your family. But our priority should be God's Kingdom. AND, if you keep reading in 1 Timothy 2 to verses 3 and 4, it says that this attitude of prayer is pleasing to God, "who desires all people to be saved..." So we should also be praying (while praying for the Kingdom) for people around us to be saved...to be brought to repentance. What this is NOT is a command to go out and evangelize your whole neighborhood. Most of us don't have the gifting to be able to effectively do that. However, it is an urging to pray for lost people to be saved. And in doing so, making ourselves available for God to bring about "divine appointments," wherein we might get opportunities to share Christ with people. We truly have no excuse for failing to pray for our lost neighbors.
Are my prayers well aimed?
"No Place to Hide"
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
This one starts off with a bang. "Our fallen sinful nature affects and pollutes everything we do. Our very best deeds are stained with sin."
The Psalm that this verse is taken from was written after David's horrible mistake with Bathsheba and her husband, which resulted in a whole mess of the ten commandments all being broken in "one fell swoop." (Don't ask me what that means...my mother used to say it a lot.) In this Psalm, David traces the problem back to the fact that he was born sinful. He inherited his sinful nature, as do we all.
Why spend so much energy talking about sin? After all, it only makes us feel guilty, and we're supposed to be focusing on grace, right? The reason is because, as the title says, we have "no place to hide." "Only against the dark backdrop of our sinfulness can we see the glory of the cross shining forth in all its brilliance and splendor."
We must be aware of our desperately sinful condition before we can revel in the glory of God's grace.
Mark 10-12, Psalm 19
Jesus begins with some very difficult teaching about divorce. "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." I believe that people in our culture enter into the marriage committment way too lightly. In fact, I have come to believe that anyone involved with Hollywood should be forbidden to marry. Hollywood has made a mockery of marriage, and has contributed to the insincere attitude about it in the rest of our culture.
I understand that there are extreme situations, just as there are in anything, and I am not talking about those at all...I'm just saying that our attitude about marriage, in general, is not serious enough.
When the rich young ruler came to Jesus, Jesus listed off commands to the man. Ironically (and I'm sure, on purpose, because he knew what was coming next...), Jesus left out, "Do not covet." He knew the man's heart. He knew what the man's reaction would be when Jesus told him to go sell everything he had and give the proceeds to the poor. The man's possessions possessed him. Plain and simple. Jesus then turned this into an object lesson for his disciples. "How difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" Then he says it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Whoa! Camel...eye of a needle...not going to happen, not without some high-tech shrinky machine thingy... This really dismayed the disciples..."Then who can be saved?" they asked. And here's the beautiful answer: "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." And there you have it. That's how we can be saved. I cannot do it on my own, because it is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.
In chapter 12, Jesus affirms that we should, in fact, pay taxes. Dang it.
Then he told the Saducees that they didn't know the Scriptures. That makes me laugh. These were he experts in the law, and Jesus told them they didn't know the Scriptures. That must have made them soooo mad!
Also, in chapter 12, beginning in verse 28, one of my favorite answers of Jesus occurs. A scribe asks him what is the greatest command. Jesus answer comes from Deuteronomy 6. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." He then answers a question that the scribe didn't ask. The second greatest command is "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The scribe answered and said that to do these two commands was greater than any burnt offerings or sacrifices. Jesus told him he wasn't far from the kingdom of heaven.
I base my entire philophy of the priority of worship in the church on these answers from Jesus. It is my opinion that, based on Jesus's answer, worship is the ultimate priority of the church. Not evangelism. This is why I am a worship leader. Because the most important thing our churches do is gathering to worship God. Never mind whether you believe in the institutional church or not. Regardless of HOW you meet, this is the reason to meet.
Lest I be misunderstood, worship is not only singing and music. It is a variety of elements. But hear this: If worship is not happening, all other activities of the church will fall short. Churches that make evangelism their first priority will have members who are shallow, who lack depth, who don't understand what it is that they are about in the kingdom of God. On the other hand, churches that make worship their first priority will evangelize with much more effectiveness than the church that gets it backwards.
It is my belief that if we get the order right, all the functions of the body of Christ will happen the way they should. We shouldn't even have to work at it. Once again, this explains the motto of our church..."Love God, love people."
It HAS to be in that order.
Incidentally, Mark says that "after that no one dared to ask him any more questions."
The last thing Jesus does in Mark 12 is to do more damage to the erroneous beliefs about tithing that the scribes and pharisees (and most modern Christians) had. The widow came in and put in a couple of small coins in the offering. It was, apparently, all the money she had at the moment. Jesus declared that her pittance was more offering than any of the "tithes" of the rich rulers. Their tithe may have been of money, but that's not the point. It's not how much you give. It's the attitude with which you give it. Our offerings to God must be given in faith, and cheerfully, for "God loves a cheerful giver."
My lessons from today's reading:
1. Marriage is difficult. God hates divorce, so we should be very sober about entering into a marriage.
2. With God, all things are possible.
3. It is not the amount of our gifts (or the percentage, even), but the attitude of our heart as we are giving.
I thank you, too, Lord, that you have given me a strong idea of my sinful condition before you. But even so, it's not enough. I'm well aware of your grace, and I revel in it, in part, because I know how much I don't deserve it. But this attitude about sin needs to be stronger, strong enough to deter me from future sins.
I also thank you, Lord, for my marriage. Christi and I have a good marriage, in spite of my shortcomings. It's not easy, that's for sure, but you have given both of us the committment that it takes to make a marriage successful, no matter what. It's kept us together for almost 24 years, and we look forward to as many more, if we are granted that many more years of life.
Finally, Lord, help us to be cheerful givers. I believe that Christi and I are, and you have given us a generous spirit when it comes to giving to others and helping people with material goods. Let us never lose that conviction in our lives.
To end this prayer, let me begin my new attitude about prayer by praying for the salvation of people around me. Let me be more sensitive to those around me, in regard to their relationship with you, or lack thereof. And let me be ready, should an opportunity arise, to have a testimony to give.
Take some time to look at the stars tonight, if you can. Hear their declarations of the glory of God! Revel in his grace and mercy. Meditate on his wonders.
Grace and peace, friends.