Last Words: Wait and Go

This daddy whispers into his daughter’s ear before walking her down the aisle.  We may not know what he said to her, but I’m confident the words this father spoke to his daughter are remembered by her and treasured for the rest of her life.

When the phrase “last words” is uttered, what comes to your mind?

  • Maybe the last words shared  by a dear friend before she moved far away.
  • Perhaps those shared by a mother, a father or a grandparent as they breathed their last breath before stepping into eternity.
  • They may be the last words of your beloved spouse when goodbye was said way too soon.
  • Some have even suffered through the unfathomable loss of losing a precious child.  Those last actions, memories, and words are precious.

Last words matter.  They carry weight.

The last words of Jesus were shared with His disciples just before His ascension. They are recorded here in Acts 1. Verses 4 and 8 say this:

Do not leave Jerusalem,
but wait for the gift my Father promised…

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses
in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.
Acts 1:4, 8

I see two commands given that day to the disciples and  I believe they can be summed up in two words:

  1. Wait
  2. Go

He told them to WAIT in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit

The GO assignment meant that after they received the Holy Spirit, they would go – they would go out in concentric circles from where they were in Jerusalem…to Judea, to Samaria, and all the way to the ends of the earth.

They were to wait and then they were to go.

The Holy Spirit would be needed – He would empower them to go. Clearly, the second could not happen without the first. But why didn’t the filling of the Holy Spirit and the ascension of Jesus happen simultaneously? Why not have the Holy Spirit come down as Jesus ascended up?

Do you wait well?

If you’re like me, you like the GO part of an assignment. Give me the list. I’ll grab a clipboard and start checking it off.

Was there purpose to the waiting?

In verse 14 we learn how they occupied themselves during the wait:

They all joined together
constantly in prayer,
along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus,
and with his brothers.
Acts 1:14

Constantly in prayer. A good challenge for us. In His sovereignty, God ordained that waiting time for a purpose. The unity of the church, the single-minded focus, the coming together and praying together – that time together worked to stir up their hearts to be focused, expectant, and united.

There’s much to be gleaned here for us corporately.  I believe there’s also application to us individually.  Waiting time can be praying time.

Does “constantly in prayer” describe your daily life?  I’ve got a long way to go in cultivating a lifestyle that could be described as constantly in prayer.  I am better than I used to be, but I am not where I want to be.

  • Our driving time – waiting to get there– can become praying time.
  • Our walking time – waiting to finish our exercise – can become praying time.
  • Our scrubbing/cleaning/washing time – -waiting to finish our chores – can become praying time.
  • Our sitting in the carpool time – waiting to collect the children – can become praying time.

The woman of God transforms waiting time into praying time. 

You can find the entire teaching lecture for Acts Lesson 1 here:

http://fbcsiloam.podbean.com/e/acts-lesson-1-laura-macfarlan/

 

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Posted in Acts, Prayer | 3 Comments

What Jesus Began, We Get to Continue

In my former book, Theophilus,
I wrote about all that
Jesus began to do and to teach
until the day he was taken up to heaven…
Acts 1:1-2a

 

Luke’s former book is the gospel of Luke. The book of Acts is essentially Luke, Part 2. It picks up where the gospel of Luke ends – -with the final days of Jesus on earth.

The earthly ministry of Jesus lasted three years.  During those three years, He invested in the disciples.  He taught them.  He lived the truth because He was the truth.  And the work that He began to do and to teach continued on– through the work and ministry of the disciples.

The book of Acts records the launch of the church.  As Jesus ascends into heaven, the gospel message exploded across the known world. It spread rapidly and in spite of persecution. They had no resources, no buildings, and no education. But they had the Holy Spirit. You and I are here today because of their faithfulness and the faithfulness of each generation since.  For 2000 years, the work that Jesus began has continued.

Dr. Ronnie Floyd has said, “The church is not a gathering place, but a launching pad.” We see that clearly as we study through the book of Acts. In just 30 years, the church radiates out from Jerusalem to Judea, on to Samaria, and eventually all the way to Rome.

The Acts 1:8 call is not yet complete. There is work left to be done. The gospel must continue to go forth.

What about us?

How are you and I to be part of that today– in our community, in our “Jerusalem?”

The baton of truth — the gospel — has been passed down from generation to generation.  The work of his physical body continues through His spiritual body, the church.

Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

That’s the gospel. The good news.

And that gospel spread like wildfire in the first century following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The book of Acts chronicles the growth of the early church as people responded to the message of salvation.

To whom are you and I to carry that baton of truth in our sphere of influence? How is what Jesus began going to continue on through and me?

 

You can listen to the Introductory Teaching lecture for Acts: The Growth of the Early Church, here: http://fbcsiloam.podbean.com/e/acts-introduction-laura-macfarlan/

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Rights and Responsibilities

As Americans, we love our rights. We like to quote them. We enjoy living them.

It’s been that way from the beginning. To get the Constitution passed, our Founders even had to concurrently adopt the Bill of Rights.

The right to free speech, free press, bear arms, and a host of others are dear to us. We would fight – -and we have fought – -to preserve these freedoms. Each generation has stepped up, sent men and women into harm’s way, to ensure our freedoms are preserved.

But with a right also comes a responsibility. The right to free speech does not mean we can yell “Fire!” in a movie theater if there is no fire. The right to a free press does not mean falsehood can be published. The right to bear arms does not mean we can recklessly take the life of another.

In a sense rights are really privileges – ones many of us hold dear, while others take for granted.

As followers of Christ and Americans, we enjoy dual citizenship: we are citizens of both heaven and the United States. Both come with privileges and responsibilities. Do we take those seriously? What is the practical application of exercising both?

Psalm 33:12 says:
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD….

I’ve often heard this quoted, as followers lament how America has fallen. We no longer follow God or the Christian principles on which we were founded, many say.

But who is the nation? Is it not the people making it up? All Americans are United States citizens, but not all United States citizens are also citizens of heaven. Only those with dual citizenship follow God and call Him LORD. How can we, as followers of Christ, expect unbelievers to behave as believers? The better question is: Do we behave as citizens of heaven? Do we do our part individually to live out Psalm 33:12? Is God Almighty the LORD of my life and yours?

As I listen to the news, read the headlines, and see the chasm growing wider between those who call Him Lord and those who don’t, the thought comes to me: It’s on us. We, as believers, bear the responsibility for what we see happening. Here are some challenging questions I’m wrestling with this Independence Day:

  • Does my life – my thoughts, words, attitudes, actions – reveal that God is the LORD?
  • Is anger and criticism my first response to legislation and legislators?
  • Do I pray for those in authority over me?
  • What have I done to promote dual citizenship – am I praying, sharing the gospel, loving on those who do not know Jesus?

When Benjamin Franklin stepped outside the Philadelphia courthouse during the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked, “What kind of government have you given us, Mr. Franklin?”

His response: “A republic madam. If you can keep it.”

America is 241 years old today and that truth still rings true. Can we keep it? Can we continue to exist as a democratic republic? I believe that hinges on accepting the responsibilities that come with our rights.

And for those of us with dual citizenship, we have additional responsibilities. As we fly our flags, enjoy our fireworks, and grill our burgers today, let’s also be challenged to step up our commitment to behave like we believe: Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.

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Book Review: Start With Amen

I first met Allen and Ruth Ewing when my husband Kevin and I (young marrieds at the time) were part of the small group they were leading at our church. Ruth was a special mentor to me. Her quiet, gentle spirit, ever-ready smile, and love for our Lord and His Word drew me in and made her a safe go-to person for questions young moms have. Her success as a mom was clear to me then and is even more evident now as I devour this book written by her now-grown-up daughter, Beth (Ewing) Guckenberger.

Beth drew me in right away with this dedication:

To my mom, Ruth Ewing:
I have a thousand memories of your Bible open on
our kitchen table. Thank you for teaching me about
the rock from which I was cut. After a lifetime of
your influence, I know for sure: presence matters.

Well done, Beth. And well done, Ruth!

The Word of God is powerful. A mother’s faithful devotion to God’s Word does not return void.  I hope that spurs you on as it does me. And we haven’t even gotten to the book yet!

Start With Amen, was a treasure and a delight. Beth is a master storyteller and weaves in firsthand experiences as she unpacks biblical truth. Her unique way of praying is the thread woven throughout. She flips our rote prayers on end – and begins with amen.

Amen means,  So be it. By starting with amen, Beth teaches us to begin our prayers by agreeing with God. We are essentially affirming who He is, aligning ourselves with His plan, His way, and His will.

For me, praying this way has brought on a spiritual re-alignment. As I’ve cultivated this new way of praying, it has settled and redirected me. My prayer life has been transformed in many ways:

  1. Opening with amen reminds me of who He is and who I am not! God is still very personal, but this brings on a heightened sense of reverence as I approach God.
  2. Opening with amen has changed the content of my prayers. It’s prompted me to pray less selfishly and more eternally.
  3. Opening with amen stirs my heart to be open to answers different than what I wanted or expected.
  4. Opening with amen helps me end on a personal level: Dear Jesus.

Beth and her husband Todd served for several years on the mission field in Mexico. They have fostered/given birth to/adopted ten children! Many of her joys and challenges are interspersed. Her transparency is refreshing and her passion for Jesus inspiring.  She makes scripture come alive and demonstrates what it looks like lived out loud.

I highly recommend this remarkable book!

You can order your copy here:  Start With Amen

 

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Write the Word: REST

REST.

Are you in need of it? Do you make it a priority?

What does it look like in your life? Does the word REST bring to mind an afternoon nap or a week to bake at the beach?

I’ve been blogging at AReasonForHomeschool.com and I think my Cross My Heart readers might enjoy my Sunday Soaking blog posts. The topic for June is REST.

You can also download a free printable bookmark here: http://areasonforhomeschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/WritetheWord_bookmark.pdf

It’s part of my first monthly series called, Write the Word. Each month a different key word is chosen and a month of daily verses is provided that include the word for that month. Hope you will consider using these daily verses to prompt some thinking/praying/journaling on God’s Word.

And, as an added bonus, leave a comment on the AReasonForHomeschool blog post and be entered into a drawing for a free Dayspring journal.

Hope this summer finds you pressing into Jesus for soul rest, sabbath rest, and physical rest.

If you know Christ, you’ve found the ultimate REST that will bring eternal reward!

 

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He Has Risen!

It was the women who showed up first thing Sunday morning. They were rewarded by being the first to hear the news:

He is not here;
He is risen, just as he said.
Matthew 28:6

The angel made it clear: He called it and He did it. The body was not stolen or moved.  He is no longer dead. He is alive!

We serve a risen Savior!

Friday’s death brought mourning, but Sunday’s resurrection is part of the “mystery of Christ” referred to by Paul:

  • Incarnation:        God became man
  • Substitution:      God paid our bill
  • Salvation:            We trade up – -our junk for His glory
  • Resurrection:     He is alive!

The words of Matthew 28:6 prompted Alfred Henry Ackley to pen these worshipful lyrics:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

The reality that He lives changes everything.

  • Christianity is not just a club of happy smilers encouraging each other to play nice.
  • Christianity is not just about changing behavior to be a good person today.
  • Christianity is not just about being the best you can be.

It’s about truth. Life. Eternity.

We may indeed play nice, change our behavior, and transform into a better person – but it’s all the result of a heart change from the inside out. It’s not a manufactured, buckle-down-and-do-it outer change. It’s an overflow.  It’s a natural by-product of a transformed heart. And it all happens because He is risen!

  • Because He is risen, the tables are turned. Death is not the end. Death does not win.
  • Because He is risen, Friday’s dirge becomes Sunday’s party.
  • Because He is risen, I have confident assurance for eternity.
  • Because He is risen, I choose Him. I live for Him. I am His.

Why serve a dead god when you can serve a risen Savior?

Because He is risen, I celebrate Him. Forget 1999 – let’s party like it’s Easter morning.

He has risen indeed!

Photo attribution: http://static.kidspot.com.au/cm_assets/73309/istock_000056892658_medium-20160114154603.jpg~q75,dx720y432u1r1gg,c–.jpg

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Take a Little Time

 

On the third day…
Esther 5:1a

Esther chose to deal with the crisis in her world by taking time to fast and pray. Esther not only prayed … she prayed for three days.

The edict has gone out.  This is CRISIS mode! But rather than just shooting up a quick arrow prayer, Esther makes time to do the real work of prayer – for three days.

These words by Oswald Chambers were uttered hundreds of years after Esther lived:

Prayer is not a preparation for work, it IS work.
Prayer is not a preparation for the battle, it IS the battle.
Prayer is two-fold: definite asking and definite waiting to receive.

I think Esther and Oswald were on the same page where prayer was concerned.

Esther took not three seconds…or three minutes…or even three hours to pray.

She prayed for THREE DAYS.

She was a young woman.  Her life and the lives of her people are threatened and her actions can impact whether they live or whether they die – and whether her own young life is cut short.   Surely she was afraid.  Certainly she was concerned about saying and doing the right thing.  She presented all that emotion…all that fear…concern…trouble and trepidation….she gave it all to God.

Psalm 56:3-4 says:

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?

There are layers of truth in this powerful Psalm. Do you see them?

The antidote for fear – is prayer.  We come to God with our fears.  We place our trust in HIM – not in our own abilities, not in the advice of a self-help book, or the answer to a survey question on Facebook.

Our trust is in HIM and in HIS WORD.  Cultivating a habit of daily Bible study– saturating ourselves in the Word of God —  is actually preparation for the difficult times that will surely come.  God’s Word is foundational to responding well, to surviving and thriving through hard times.

And do you see the word PRAISE embedded here? Really? Praise? Is it weird – is it even possible to praise God in a fearful situation? Yes.  Yes it is.  And as we press in to Him in prayer, a quiet calm and peaceful assurance will come over us.  A peace that the world cannot give and does not even understand.  The peace that is the fruit of the spirit.  Peace that can only come from God.  The peace that in Philippians 4:6-7 Paul called the peace which transcends all understanding. 

Are you facing a hard thing—a difficult decision, a troubling circumstance, a rough road? Have you prayed? Will you choose to take time – -to make time – to really pray?

The woman of God prays first.

Before she does anything else – she prays! She knows prayer is the preparation for the crisis.

Prayer may change the situation or it may change us.  Sometimes God calms the storm, but sometimes He just calms the believer in the midst of the storm.

After three days, nothing had really changed on the outside for Esther.  The edict was still in place.  The king had still not called for her.  Haman has not repented or turned from his wicked ways. The annihilation of God’s people is still scheduled.

And as you and I complete our own prayers and say amen and rise to our feet – -the cancer may still be there, the marriage is still hard, the stack of bills is still unpaid, the addiction challenges are ever present, the prodigal child is still out there.

But we are changed. We are steadfast and resolute.  We have the peace that passes understanding. Our hearts are aligned with His. And we may even have a new plan or a new insight.

Esther’s situation had not changed when she said Amen.

But Esther is changed.  She is ready to go forth.  She has a plan and I believe that plan was given by God as she took time to pray.  Are you ready to take a little time today…to pray?

 

You can hear the entire teaching lecture for Esther Lesson 4 here:

https://fbcsiloam.podbean.com/e/esther-lesson-4-laura-macfarlan/

 

 

Photo attribution:
https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-alarm-clock-at-2-34-38267/

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For Such a Time as This

God’s name is not mentioned by Mordecai in his words to Esther, but God’s Sovereignty and His provision are clearly evident.  Mordecai’s faith in God Almighty is steadfast.  He has confident hope that God will provide.  The only question is: does Esther choose to be part of the blessing?

Will she see that all the events and circumstances of her life have been orchestrated to have her in this position for this specific time and this opportunity?

There are many cautions in scripture about speaking rashly, gossiping, criticizing, and letting nothing unholy come out of our mouths.

The sin of commission is easy to identify and I have many times needed to apologize for my words.  (You know – once uttered, words are like the proverbial toothpaste in the tube – -hard, if not impossible, to put back).  Once uttered, our words are out there and can’t be pulled back in.

But this passage addresses our sin of omission when it comes to our words.  Just as it is sinful to speak when we should be silent, so it can be sinful to remain silent when God is calling us to speak.

  • Are you and I holding back a word of praise or affirmation that needs to be released to encourage another?
  • Are we shirking on our responsibilities as mothers to use words to discipline or correct our children?
  • Are there words of kindness or sympathy that we need to make time to share?
  • Are there words of truth that need uttered when the character or reputation of another are being maligned?

God orchestrates opportunities for us to speak up and it is our responsibility to rise up in obedience – to respond as He prompts in a way that is Spirit-led and God-honoring.

Esther faced a dilemma that many of us face when God provides such an opportunity.  Rather than our physical life perishing (which was the very real possibility for Esther), for you and me it might be death to a relationship, a position, or it might invite criticism we would not welcome.

  • When your girlfriend begins to complain about her husband, might you encourage her to pray for him…or ask her if she could identify five positive things about him she is grateful for?
  • When a group of friends begins to gossip about another friend, might you have the courage to speak up and vouch for the one being condemned?
  • When conversations are going south, might you have the courage to change the subject?

Are we willing to take a chance on our popularity perishing among our group of friends?

Sometimes being quiet is a hard thing, but sometimes speaking up can be even harder.

Are you and I open to seeing our presence in every conversation and situation as a for such a time as this opportunity?

Esther’s response shows again she is the star shining brightly in a dark place at a dark time.  She demonstrates that she learned well from her cousin and father-figure Mordecai.  Here’s her reply to him:

Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me.
 Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.
 I and my attendants will fast as you do.
 When this is done, I will go to the king,
 even though it is against the law.
 And if I perish, I perish.
Esther 4:15-16

We know that in Scripture, fasting and praying go hand in hand. The commentators I read agree that this is a call to pray.

Esther is taking this battle very seriously.  She is stepping up to be a warrior woman.  She is calling everyone to pray on her behalf.  All the Jews in Susa – those outside the palace are to pray. And inside – Esther and her attendants will do the same.

I’m guessing that most likely her attendants are not Jewish, so reading between the lines, it would seem that Esther’s faith has made an impact on those who serve her. She is living as a woman of God –allowing her faith in Him to shine brightly in this dark place.

She is resigned to what she must do. But she is convicted that before she goes, she must prepare by spending time in prayer.

Her final words – –If I perish, I perish — are in essence an AMEN.  A so be it.  A confident faith that she is placing her life in God’s hands.

Her choice to go to the king may result in her death.  She knows this.  So how does she prepare – order her favorite last meal? Call for more beauty treatments or order a new dress or lingerie? Does she spend time having a good cry?

She does none of that. She prays! She woman’s up and she gets down on her knees.

I pray that you and I would respond the same in a time of crisis.  God can use a crisis to create revival in us individually and in our community.  Trouble is a revealer.  It proves our faith genuine.

Only a woman of faith can say, “If I perish I perish.”

Paul may have written these words long after Esther’s time, but I think she not only believed them, but lived them:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary,
 but what is unseen is eternal.
II Corinthians 4:18

The woman of God fixes her eyes on what is unseen.

It is prayer that brings on that eternal vision.  It is through prayer that we are prepared for battle.

As we begin to cultivate a habit of prayer and strengthen our prayer muscles, we can be sure that God will provide – or life will bring – opportunities for the application of prayer.

You can listen to the entire teaching lecture for Esther Lesson 3 here:

http://fbcsiloam.podbean.com/e/esther-lesson-3-laura-macfarlan/

 

PS If you need to order something from Amazon anyway, please consider using the link below. 

Amazon is celebrating its #1 ranking in customer satisfaction by the ACSI! Today, March 16, Amazon will donate 5% (10 times the usual donation rate) of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to Cross My Heart Ministry.
Get started at smile.amazon.com/ch/46-4702149

 

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Esther: Shining In A Dark Place

Esther’s name means star.

Verse 7 describes her as “..lovely in form and features ..”

She is beautiful, but most likely all the girls brought to the palace are beautiful.  What makes Esther different? Why does she stand out from the others?

Esther is put under the care of Hegai, the manager of the harem.  As a eunuch, he would have been forced to give up much to serve the king.  Perhaps many of these girls treated him as a servant or possibly as less than a man.  Maybe they  even disrespected him or made fun of him behind his back.

But Esther somehow earned his favor.  Perhaps just by honoring him with respect and kindness.  We can’t know for sure, but we do know from verse 9, She pleased him and won his favor. And from verse 15, “When the turn came for Esther … to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested…”

She followed the advice of Hegai and it paid off.  Not only with those looking on…but with the one who really mattered. The King. He chooses Esther above all the others to be his queen.

Esther’s coronation is the direct result of her teachable spirit.  She chose to listen and learn from Hegai – the eunuch – someone others would possibly dismiss.

If you want to know how to please your new boss, his secretary is a good source of information.  The janitors, the cooks, the housekeepers of this world tend to know way more about what goes on in any organization than some in upper level management.  We can learn from all people – not just those in a high position of authority and importance.

The book of Proverbs is chocked full of scripture on the topic of wisdom and listening to advice and learning:

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 1:8

Listen to advice and accept instruction and in the end you will be wise. Proverbs 19:20

Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. Proverbs 9:9

Our teachable spirits mean we learn from others, we learn from his Word, and we even learn from the decisions we make and life’s experiences – the good ones AND the bad ones. We are to be life-long learners.

The one thing that hinders us from learning is pride.  Thinking we know best and we’ve got it all figured out means we don’t learn from the Hegais in our world.  Proverbs 11:2 gives this warning:

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

The woman of God has a teachable spirit.

Does that describe you? Would you pray that it would?

 

You can listen to the audio teaching on Esther by clicking on the links below.

Introduction:  http://fbcsiloam.podbean.com/e/esther-bible-study-introduction/

Lesson 1:  http://fbcsiloam.podbean.com/e/esther-lesson-1-laura-macfarlan/

Lesson 2:  http://fbcsiloam.podbean.com/e/esther-lesson-2-laura-macfarlan/

 

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Runway or Running Away?

This is the first Miss America, Margaret Gorman.  She was crowned in 1921. Check out that crown!

The Miss America Pageant was originally a “Fall Frolic” – an event launched by local Atlantic City businessmen in 1921 as a gimmick to extend the summer season.

Since that time The Miss America Organization has expanded to include not only swimsuit, but evening gown, talent, interview competitions – and millions of dollars in scholarship money each year.  Representatives from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia compete for the coveted national title.

Perhaps you watched the 2017 Miss America competition where Arkansas’ own Savvy Shields from Fayetteville was crowned Miss America!

Many of us probably can pull up memories of being nine years old, watching the pageant with our mom or grandma and dreaming, “Could that be me?” A lot has changed since you and I were nine. Beauty queens get to walk the runway–waving to adoring fans and supporters—but  life for many of us brings a desire to run away from it all.

A first read of Esther Chapter 2 might stir up memories of watching the Miss America pageant. Perhaps you even closed your eyes and could almost hear Bert Parks singing, There She is…Miss America.

But a closer reading of the text and a deeper understanding of the Persian culture means that if we are looking for a modern day analogy, the Miss America Pageant might not be the best comparison. Continue reading

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