My Review of Marjan Kamali’s The Stationary Shop

TBP June 2019 Gallery Books

When young Roya meets Bahman in a 1953 Tehran stationary and bookshop, love blossoms and the two young Iranian young people plan out their life together after they graduate from High School. But Iran is on the verge of coup that will change the course of the nation and their lives, but for additional reasons that Roya does not discover, until years later.

Marjan Kamali has penned a wonderful and engaging story of love, politics, and family with her novel The Stationary Shop. Set against the backdrop of 1953 Iran, The Stationary Shop is a study of relationships in a society that is rapidly changing and turbulent.

Written in a narrative style which moves the reader forward in time to contemporary America and backwards to an Iran of the early twentieth century, this novel is not just a story of two young people, but of families, and a society and nation, that is a turbulent mix of progressive individuals looking who believe in democracy and progress and deeply conservative ones who believe that the long held traditions of faith and family are essential to the stability of society, family, and reputation.

The Stationary Shop  is a kaleidoscope of issues that readers today can relate to: the political tensions between a progressive hope and force and a traditional belief in a strongly structure society; democracy verse monarchy; traditional family roles verses a desire to pick whom to love and marry especially as it relates to woman’s role; and the shadow of what we call today mental illness and its effect on a family.

I liked The Stationary Shop for its engaging characters, its study in contrast between families, nations, and societies; and the always powerful hope of love that moves people to make sacrifices and a difference.

This novel would be a great read in history and literature classes as well as in reading groups.

I rated this novel four-stars on Goodreads

Note: I received an electronic ARC of this novel from the publishers in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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Prayer Needs No Wifi

1 Peter 4:7-11

We live in a wireless world.

Even the birds are now going wireless!

But we have the best wireless set up in the entire universe!

Prayer!

If we are seeking God…if we are wanting to follow God’s direction for our lives…prayer is essential.

I remind us this morning that with our phones, computers, and tablets, our wireless connections is part of a network. And that network allows us to communicate with one another, share information with one another, encourage one another, care for one another…to a degree.

If we are a Christian…we are part of a network, too. And this network allows us to communicate with one another, share information with one another, encourage one another, and care for one another…face to face, voice to voice, text to text, post to post.

The network? Not ATT or Verizon or Sprint…the network is the church.

This is the second message in a sermon series on our life of faith, our identity in Christ and today we focus on our life in the church. Last week we focused on our life in Christ as the core identity of life. Today we focus on our life in the church.

But a quick review is for those who were not here last week and those who were here last week.

Our text for last week was Luke 9:18-20

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”

We were asked to consider the difference between our role and our identity. I asked us to consider the difference between two statements:

I do a Christian

I am a Christian

and we were challenged to consider our identity in Christ because of who He is and what He has done for us based on who He is…the one and only Son of God.

Our main text for today is 1 Peter 4:7-11

I am reading first from the New International Version:

The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Now, I want to read the same passage from The Message:

Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!

Peter offers us four important ways of connection that help us improve and deepen our faith: prayer, love, hospitality, and serving with our gifts.

Regarding prayer he says something interesting, “be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Stay wide awake in prayer.”

The first statement in this segment of scripture sets the tone for the rest of the passage.

The end of all things is near.

Peter, and many others, believed that the return of Christ to judge the world and put an end to Satan’s reign and rule was soon to come. They lived expectantly, hopefully.

We are to do the same. We do not know when Christ will return. But we need to be ready. Jesus emphasized this with several parables before His arrest, death, and praise His name, His resurrection!

In the meantime, in the meantime

We watch for His return and we do what He told us to do…

Acts 1:8, “…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.”

And a key part of being His witnesses, in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit (we must remember this), is praying, loving, serving, and being hospitable.

One of the ways we express our identity and connection as Christians is through prayer. And this church does that very, very well!

We pray for people far and wide and that is what we need to be doing. Scripture is filled with references encouraging us to pray, pray, pray.

In Romans 12:12 we read, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Ephesians 6:18 says, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

And Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

CH Spurgeon once wrote: “Prayer meetings were the arteries of the early church. Through them, life-sustaining power was derived.”

But while prayer is important, so is loving as Christ directed us to love.

Writes Peter, “…love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.”

Again, throughout the New Testament the importance and primacy of love was stressed time and again.

Jesus said early on in His ministry, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” which is Matthew 5:43-44

And Paul tells the church in Rome, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:9-10

And he reminded the church at Ephesus, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5

Love is the cornerstone of our witness. The Bible makes that clear from the lips of Jesus Himself in His final words to the disciples as noted by John in chapter 13 and verses 34 and 35!

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Do we really, really demonstrate that love. Do we feel it deep down in our hearts?

If we are honest, there are times we don’t, correct? But that is what Jesus wants us to do and He will help us do that!

And again, Peter makes a passionate statement for loving to his audience (and the Lord through Peter and the Bible and the Holy Spirit to us) to love powerfully!

Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.

Their lives depended on it! They were threatened. The believers were threatened. The political authorities blamed them for all their problems. There were those who opposed them on “religious grounds.”

Sociologist Rodney Stark wrote a little over 20 years ago this interesting analysis of early Christian life:

“. . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world. . . . Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable.”

And this brings me to the third practice of connection that Peter encouraged his audience to do as the church, practice hospitality.

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Hospitality.

How about hospital?

How about hospice or hostel?

I did some research on the root of this wonderful word and its meaning is based in the idea of being a host and being gracious to others.

Rodney Duke has written, “Hospitality plays no small role in the realm of biblical ethics. Biblical admonitions exhorted the Israelites and the early Christians to practice this virtue. Its practice characterized Abraham and the church leaders. And, as hospitality is an attribute of God, one finds its images in the biblical proclamation of the relationship between God and the covenant people.

Hospitality in the ancient world focused on the alien or stranger in need. The plight of aliens was desperate. They lacked membership in the community, be it tribe, city-state, or nation. As an alienated person, the traveler often needed immediate food and lodging. Widows, orphans, the poor, or sojourners from other lands lacked the familial or community status that provided a landed inheritance, the means of making a living, and protection. In the ancient world the practice of hospitality meant graciously receiving an alienated person into one’s land, home, or community and providing directly for that person’s needs.

He goes on to remind us that those “who confess Jesus as Christ become aliens and strangers in the world.” The audience of 1 Peter apparently suffered social ostracism because of their Christian confession, and he references the verses right after our main text for today, verses 12 through 16, to prove his point.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name

So, the context of Peter’s words is important for us to ponder.

The Church, the Christian community, was on the fringe, the outside, of society. And instead of withdrawing and waiting for Christ’s return, they engaged their communities. They prayed, they loved, they served…in spite of the social climate they found themselves in.

They engaged. They sought, to quote the prophet Jeremiah, the peace and prosperity of their community.

Through prayer, through love, through hospitality and through their gifts, talents, and abilities they are challenged and encouraged to express the love and hope that is in Christ. And this brings us to the final connection practice Peter emphasizes.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

One statement in these final verses caught my attention:

faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

We don’t use the word steward much these days. I do hear it every now and then especially when it comes to the environment and they use in Formula One auto racing as the track stewards are called there and race officials here in the states.

I think a more contemporary term would be trustee or even stakeholder. Other words we use in place of steward are: representative, go-between, delegate, proxy.

But we are stewards, go-betweens, representatives of God’s grace in its various forms. Two ways are highlighted in our text: teaching and serving. There are many more, in various forms. We have an assignment, we have a responsibility.

The late Alan Stibbs wrote about this segment of scripture

“Every Christian may expect particular divine endowment for some form of ministry, and [they] should recognize [their] corresponding responsibility before God as a steward for its proper use…

No Christian believer can fully enjoy the benefits of the grace of God in Christ, or fully express the new activities it makes possible, in isolation. For Christians can receive essential help, and themselves fulfill their individual calling to service, only in active [partnership] together.”

Each of us has a place of ministry that the Lord has called and gifted us to do. I have said this many times over the years and I will continue to say because it is true.

So then, as we come to a conclusion this morning, I am going to remind us of something important and then offer two questions for reflection and action.

The underlying theme of this sermon series is about our life of faith in Christ. Last week we started looking at this very important theme as we reflected on who Jesus Christ is and today we briefly looked at Peter’s instruction to the church as an important aspects of our life and faith in the Lord. This leads me to ask the following two questions for you to prayerfully reflect on and then do something with.

How are you being a good steward of God’s grace in your life and what might God be calling you to do next?

What is one thing that we need to start or re-start doing as stewards of God’s grace?

Thanks be to God for the gifts and the calling we have in Christ to be His stewards, His representatives, His servants, of His great grace!

Amen

Who Is Jesus To You?

Many years ago a then famous high wire performer began to prepare for a walk across a well-known waterfall as he pushed someone in a wheelbarrow.

He began by practising in his backyard and increasing the height of his walk over several weeks between two large polls that were 100 feet high.

A neighbor watched with curiosity for a couple of weeks and then as the man started training with a larger wheelbarrow asked him where he was going to do his next stunt, as he called it.

When the man heard the location, his eyes widened. Seriously he said, you are going to do it there?

Yes I am and it will succeed! Do you think that I can do it?

I do think that you can do it!

Really, you have scoffed at me before when I have walked across alone or with somebody on my shoulders at other places less dangerous than where I am going to do this.

You did it! I believe that you can do this!

You really do? I mean, you heckled me when I walked between two large buildings without a safety device a few years ago!

I really, really believe that you can do it!

Really?

Yes! Really?

YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT I CAN DO THIS?

YES I DO!

After a moment of silence the high wire artist said to the man, “Good. Get in the wheelbarrow!”

In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

And in The Message it reads as:

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.

Now what is the firm foundation of which the author of Hebrews speaks? Trust in God! And this trust in God requires us to answer the question, “Who is Jesus to you?” because how we define Jesus is vitally important in understanding who we are in Him!

We begin a six week study on the importance of identity and how that is to affect our lives.

Pastor Matt Brown writes, “Most of us struggle with our identity at some point in life. Not knowing who you are can really mess up where you are and what you do.”

I would add “not knowing whose you are” as well. And whose are we? We are the Lord’s!

Today, our focus passage is Luke 9:18-20

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”

This question is a question about identity. Who do the crowds say I am? Who do you say I am?

And this leads me to have us consider for a moment the distinction between identity and role. What is the difference between role and identity?

A role is what you do. For example, an employee.

And identity is who you are.

Which is more important?

Jesus asked “who do you all say I am?

They saw what He could do and did: Heal, deliver, forgive. But His actions and His mission came out of His identity – the one and only son of God. In fact, just a couple of chapters before our main text and Jesus’ important question we read about what Jesus did in response to a question if he is who He said he is:

Luke 7

John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Jesus’ response is clothed in the words of the Prophet Isaiah who wrote about the Messiah in Isaiah 35 these words:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened

and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer,

and the mute tongue shout for joy.

I do and I am.

Two words which speak to what it means to be human. We do and we are.

I do…is about action, intentionality.

I do this, I do that…

I am…is about being, as state of existence such as I am full or I am happy.

And I want us to carefully consider the following statements:

I do a Christian

I am a Christian

I am beginning a series this week about our life and faith in Christ. I am indebted to Pastor Matt Brown who has written some wonderful material about knowing and claiming our identity in Christ which gives us life.

Today, we will be focused on our Life in Christ.

Then, in the weeks ahead we will be focused on the following themes:

Life in the Church

Life at home

Life at Work

Life in the Community

Life on Mission

But all of this begins with our identity and life in Christ.

The question that Jesus asked His first followers:

Who do you say that I am?

It is a question that all of us must answer at some point because in answering it, we determine the course of our faith in something greater than ourselves. It forces us to decide whether or not Jesus was and is who He says He was and is.

Here is what some people say who Jesus is:

I can’t imagine more surprising places for God to appear than a manger or a cross. Yet all through his life and resurrection, Jesus demonstrates the power of showing and sharing God’s love. Every time I write a script or a song or walk into the studio, I pray ‘Let some word that is heard be Thine.’ That’s really all that matters. Fred Rogers

Most importantly, I thank my Heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, for his unfailing grace and mercy in my life. You don’t know what He’s done for me–HE gave me the victory!!! Natalie Cole

He lived serenely, as a greater artist than all other artists, despising marble and clay as well as color, working in living flesh. That is to say, this matchless artist… made neither statues nor pictures nor books; he loudly proclaimed that he made… living men, immortals. Vincent van Gogh

“I’ll just say, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ I am trusting Christ’s death for me to take me to heaven.” Mickey Mantle

I never thought about Buddha becoming any real part [of my life] . . . Jesus is the only one I’ve ever been interested in. Jack Kerouac

Who is Jesus to you?

Now our main text for today appears in the midst of a chapter which highlights Christ’ power and authority.

In verses 1 – 9 we read of Jesus sending out the twelve with “power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases.” And this demonstration of His power through the twelve even got Herod Tetrarch’s attention. And he wondered who this was.

In verses 10 to 15, no sooner had the twelve reported back to Jesus the results of the unbelievable mission trip, that Jesus takes them into the small town of Bethsaida and then probably to a large area outside of the town called the Plain of Bethsaida and gave them an experiencing of His power feeding 5,000 people.

Then after Jesus’ conversation with the disciples about who the people and they think He is, we find Jesus speaking about His coming death in verses 21-27. Next, in verses 28-36 we read of Peter, James, and John going with Jesus about eight days later, Luke says, up onto a mountain to pray and they see the glory and power of Christ right before their eyes as Jesus meets with Moses and Elijah.

Coming back down the mountain, Jesus heals a demon-possessed boy right in front of them as noted in verse 37-43. And, Luke notes in verse 43, “And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.”

This is followed by a second statement by Jesus about His death, conflict with Samaritans who reject Jesus as Luke notes in verse 53 “the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.” And the chapter concludes with various people indicating that they were ready to follow Him and Jesus pointing out the barriers which needed to be taken down for that to happen and concluding the chapter with these words:

No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

I share all of this because there is a lot going on this chapter of Luke which tells us about who Jesus is and what He was doing based on who He is, the Christ, the Messiah.

How many of us here this morning are Christians because we have accepted the forgiveness of sins made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection?

Good!

Do you believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the one and only son of God who came to earth, was crucified, and, praise His name, rose again from the grave after being dead for three days?

Good!

If you believe this to be true, then where is your identity located?

In your work? What happens when you retire?

In your marriage? What happens when death or divorce comes?

In your relationships? What happens when death comes or there is conflict which splits the relationship up?

The life, the hope, the power, we have through Jesus Christ, comes because of what Jesus did for us and who Jesus is.

As we go through this series, it is my prayer that our identity in Christ, as forgiven children of God who are living in the reality and power of that forgiveness, anchor us in a way that when the challenges of life come our way, we are able to stand in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit and know beyond a doubt, that we are children of God more than anything else.

Thanks be to God for an identity which is rooted in God’s will and purpose for us! We are children of God!

Amen!

My Review of SJA Turney’s The Last Emir

2018 by Canelo Adventure

In the aftermath of a hard defeat at the hands of the Moorish caliphate in Spain, Templar Sargent Arnau de Vallbona is sent on a secret mission alongside the aging warrior and now priest Balthesar to recover the bones of the first Christian martyr St Stephen to island of Majorca off the east coast of Spain. Thinking it to be a fool’s errand, de Vallbona soon finds himself, and his aging colleague, in a battle of wits and fights, against a powerful enemy who seeks to end their quest and their lives.

SJA Turney’s The Last Emir is a wonderful piece of historical fiction which takes the reader back to the time when southwestern Europe is under attack from the Moors of North Africa. Rich in texture and underscored by the author’s afterward on the historical roots of the novel, The Last Emir is a fast paced piece in which the reader is taken on a journey filled with disbelief, skepticism, faith, hope, and a fatefully passionate belief in one’s cause.

The tension and the contrast between the two main characters is part of the charm of this novel. There is Balthesar (and I am reminded of the Biblical character of the same name) who is guided by a deep, single-minded pursuit of bringing back the remains of St Stephen with the hope that it will restore the glory of the embattled Christians. And then there is de Vallbona, who is skeptical of the journey in the first place as well as the ability of Balthesar to survive the physical demands and dangers of the journey and questions his faith.

I liked this novel as it gives a historical backed view of the time when Christianity and Islam were locked in a deep struggle to gain the upper hand on the Iberian peninsula and beyond. The shadows of shifting loyalties, even between the two sides, and the reminder of the intensity (and dangers) of a militarized faith add to this novel.

I gave this novel four stars on Goodreads.

Note: I received a copy of this book as an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My Review of Lisa A. Nichols’ Vessel

Atria/Emily Bestler Books/Alloy Entertainment (May 2019)

Catherine Wells has returned to earth after a decade long space mission that went deadly wrong…and she cannot remember what happened to her fellow crew members only that they were dead and she was still living. Did she kill them? Or did something else kill them? She cannot remember.

Lisa A Nichols’ sci-fi thriller Vessel ( Atria/Emily Bestler Books/Alloy Entertainment (May 2019) is a tense and edgy novel about the challenges and unknown of deep space travel and what humanity might face if one day they go that far.

Assuming she and her crew have died in some kind of deadly accident, Wells’ miraculous return is fraught with new challenges in the present as well as in the past as she starts to put her life back together with her husband who is in a serious relationship with a close friend and her daughter who is now a teenager. And there is a senior NASA official named Cal Morganson who is constantly watching her and trying to figure out if she is lying and knows more that she is letting on.

As story winds to an unexpected ending, Morganson and Wells find themselves working together to deal with a force that not only keeps Wells’ life in danger but also that of the crew who have been launched toward the same system Wells returned from.

Vessel is a novel that has a slow, building climax with little hint as to the final outcome regarding the search for answers. Credible characters and a great plot add to this novel.

I liked this novel as it was a different kind of sci-fi fiction in which the human element and psyche is given thorough treatment.

I gave this book a five-star review on Goodreads.

Note: I received an electronic copy of this book as an ARC from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Make A Difference

I begin this morning with a reading of three passages of scripture to set the tone and direction of this message for today on making a difference.

First is Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

The second passage is Matthew 28:18-20

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The third passage is Jeremiah 29:4-7

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

We are called to make a difference in our community and one of the ways we make a difference is by partnering with others to care for people and point them to Jesus by showing them Jesus’ love and respect for them. We are called, quoting Jeremiah, to “seek the peace and prosperity of Kendallville and Noble County.” How do we do that?

We have been doing that! For example, we have partnered with other churches over the past three years to serve our community on Engage Sunday. This past year, we partnered with the Cole Family Y, Noble County System of Care, Crosswinds Counseling, and the Community Foundation of Noble County to facilitate the development of a county-wide Grandparents Raising Grandkids support group.

But we have also helped to raise up  a generation of young adults who have continued on to serve God elsewhere in a variety of occupations and churches.

So we have been doing what Jeremiah called the people of God to do centuries ago, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” where we are AND making disciples.

But are also to be people of love who love God with every part of us and our neighbor as our self. And this second part goes to the motivation that I think Jesus was pushing back on in the context of the conversation that He was having at that point because the question asked of Him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” is one of a series of questions that were asked to trip Jesus up.

But love is the hallmark of a Christian. Jesus made that so in His final words to the disciples before His arrest and Crucifixion. John 13:34-35:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As I was writing this message this past week, it dawned on me, that God addressed the issue of love and relationships in two books of the Old Testament that no one would think that He would have done – Leviticus and Deuteronomy. So much ink and words have been used to interpret these books as one of judgment and hate instead of seeing them as the way that God was making a people through whom the salvation of humanity would come. The dignity and respect of all humanity is laid out in these pages of the Bible and demonstrated in the life of Jesus.

But as we know from the rest of the Bible, these people of God would fail time and time again in maintaining their faithfulness to God to the extent that they would be sent into exile to learn from their mistakes. But even in that exile God’s purpose of them being His people is expressed through the prophet:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

In other words, make a difference there…because if it prospers, you will too!

We are called, I think even today to help our town and county prosper in the best sense of the word.

How do we do that, pastor?

Well, I would have us focus on three words that you will start seeing on the front of your bulletin… bring, develop, equip…and you will be hearing about throughout this year.

These three words describe our mission. We are to bring people to Jesus and His saving grace; develop people to help them have a growing and healthy faith, and equip people for their life mission and ministry.

This is how we are to make a difference as the First Church of God, Kendallville.

And we do so within the four walls of this building and outside them as well through partnerships…with ministries and organizations like Common Grace.

And speaking of Common Grace, I want to invite its Executive Director, now to come and share with us what is going on at Common Grace and I invite each of this morning to ask ourselves as she shares:

How and where, at this stage of life, is the Lord calling me to make a difference in my communities? (We have more than one community by the way – work, family, church, neighborhood, school, friends).

Be open to the Lord to speak to you today about how you are to help make a difference in Jesus’ name in our community. Welcome ______

The Power of a Word

What is the most powerful word in the world? What do you say?

(Feedback)

I asked this question of Google this past week and here were some of the answers I received:

“The word which appears after I AM,” was the response one person had. I AM loved, I AM talented, I AM good enough…

That’s very insightful and I think that the person has a very good point.

Someone else said the most powerful word in the world is…NO!

And a “no” response has power to change a person, even a society. What if the signers of Declaration of Independence had said, “no” to the idea of creating a new nation.

What if Jesus had said, ‘no’ to God the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane?

No is a very powerful word.

Someone else wrote that FREEDOM was their most powerful word!

And it is!

The signers of our Declaration of Independence thought freedom from oppression and tyranny was very important.

And Christ, through His death and, praise God, His resurrection offers us a freedom that we all need!

And someone else wrote that the most powerful word in the world is…YES!

George Washington and company said, “Yes!”

Lincoln said, “Yes.”

Jesus said, “Yes.”

My parents said, “Yes!”

Let me suggest this morning that Jesus invites us to say, “YES” to Him on a daily basis. Have we done that today?

A single word is a powerful thing.

In our main text for this morning, John starts of talking about Jesus with the use of the word, “WORD!”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Now “Word” as it appears in this passage is given, I think, a much deeper meaning than how we use it on a daily basis.

One definition, as noted at biblestudytools.com is that of “a word, uttered by a living voice, embodies a conception or idea…”

John does that here when he says, “and the Word was God.”

We know the power of words to embody an idea or a principle of some kind.

In the opening verses of chapter three in the New Testament book of James we are reminded what power a word and words have as James says:

the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Words have power. Words can also help us bring a focus to our lives.

What word might the Lord be wanting to use to help you live a better life in 2019?

I have done this one word focus for several years now and I have found it to be very helpful and life changing. Last year’s word was “re-engage” and it turned out to be a very significant word for me in many areas of my life.

My word for this year is “focus” and of all the words I have focused on since I started doing this in 2013, I find that this word already has me thinking differently

Why one word, Pastor Jim? Why not two or three resolutions?

Well let me respectfully ask you this, “Did you succeed at keeping at least one New Year’s resolution last year?”

Some research done by the University of Scranton suggests that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals.

And think about this bit of wisdom from Dan Diamond:

Many people use the New Year as an opportunity to make large bucket lists or attempt extreme makeovers, whether personal or professional. That’s a nice aspiration, experts say—but the average person has so many competing priorities that this type of approach is doomed to failure. Essentially, shooting for the moon can be so psychologically daunting, you end up failing to launch in the first place…

So, we keep it simple and what better way to make progress than keeping it simple and focused? And the impact of focusing on a single word for the year, one we invite the Lord to make plain to us, can, and does, go beyond the year in which a particular word is our focus.

Paula Merrifield, who is the administrator for the One Word 365  Facebook group said this week, “When I began my “OneWord365” journey in 2015, my word was simplicity. I didn’t realize just how powerful and prominent that word would become in my life – not just for that year.”

Now one of the challenges to focusing on a single word comes from the common, and important practice, of making a list. How many are list makers here?

Nothing wrong with making a list! Ask Santa! He is already paying attention to who is currently naughty and nice.

But I like what  Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen have written regarding the challenges of lists in daily living:

Looking at the list of things I was supposed to do to live my life right, or well, or whatever all this was going to do for me, I felt defeated. The list that was going to improve my life left me overwhelmed. I’m sure you can relate; you’ve made lists too. Lists of things you want to start doing or stop doing — things you want to change about yourself. Lists of ways to improve your life and your character…

When I open my Bible, I find more lists. Things a follower of Christ should do. Things a follower of Christ should resist doing. Traits a follower of Christ should display — all the truly important stuff that never makes it onto morning show segments.

When was I going to get to any of this? I decided to drop my list of ways to get the most out of my life. I realized I needed to find a new way to approach personal change.

Now I still do a weekly list and now use Post-it notes each day to select tasks which need to be done that day. And when that task is done, I throw away the post-it note! And I think that listing is a good thing. But I am now looking at my lists from the perspective of my word for this year.

So Pastor, you have said some helpful things today but how do I go about “finding” my one word for this year?

Here are three questions:

1 What do you want the Lord to accomplish/change in your life this next year?

2 What kind of person do you want to become?

3 What character trait do you want to see changed or become part of your life?

If we are Christians, I think that our words also need to focus on the Great Commandment

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

and the Great Commission of the Bible

go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

There are many good words, even in these verses of scripture, that could be someone’s one word for 2019:

Love

Go

Make

Teach

Obey

And what about this list?

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control

Are these not excellent words?

Or how about these words:

faith, hope, believe, support, encourage

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you this morning? This one word idea is merely a tool to help us become the person the Lord wants us to become!. We have scripture, we have prayer, we have worship, we have service – all things we need to use and do to help us grow in our faith and relationship with Christ.

Take a piece of paper and a pencil (or your note taking app) right now…

As I have spoke in this past few minutes is there a word that has come to mind? Write it down.

Is there a goal you want to accomplish this year? Can you describe it in one word? If so, write it down.

Finally, which of these Fruit of the Spirit do you want to see become part of your life this next year?

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control

Now pray about this word or these words and make a decision by the time you go to bed tomorrow night that this word _________ is your word for 2019.

Look it up in a dictionary. What does it mean? Look up it’s synonyms…the words which mean the same thing.

Tell someone what it is.

Write it on a piece of paper and tape it to your bathroom mirror or refrigerator or put it on a door in your bedroom as a reminder.

Look at it, often, at least once a day, and ask the Lord to help you practice this word and allow Him to work it into your life.

Keep talking to others about it and journal about it.

You will be surprised at what happens.

Let us grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus this year! And may the Word of Christ richly dwell in us!

Amen