Books January and February 2021

It’s been a good start to the year for book reading. I’ve read some great fiction and nonfiction, and really enjoyed some of the biographical and theological work I was able to get through.

Here are the books for January and February 2021. Reviews are below. Hope you find some good ones to add to your list!

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The Practice of Supplication

“‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’”(Jesus in Matthew 11:28)

Deep breath.

2020 was a doozy, and 2021 has started off on much the same foot. I’m hopeful for the new Administration, but what we face is much bigger than politics. Everything that’s happened in the last calendar year is a lot to take in. And add to it that my family is currently struggling with non-COVID health issues, and 2021 is bringing with it its own stresses.

But I write today from a place of hope, even though it’s hope amidst struggle. The Christian faith knows well these types of hard seasons. Jesus called to Himself all those who were weary and burdened because He knew He could give us rest (Matthew 11:28). He called us to Himself because He knew His yoke was easy and His burden was light (Matthew 11:30). He knew the human condition: that “even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall” (Isaiah 40:30). But He also knew what He offered amidst that: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

The Christian practice of supplication is asking God for specific prayer requests, especially amidst difficult circumstances. It’s a chance to pray to God for a myriad reasons: family, friends, health, finances, work, our government, our church, for really anything we’re dealing with in our lives.

Supplication is the act of laying down our ability to handle things on our own, and acknowledging that we need Someone bigger than us to help us through the present moment. It is surrendering our ability to do it ourselves, and, instead, accepting the good gifts of a good God who knows what we need before we even ask. Supplication is allowing an all-powerful, creative, loving, heavenly Father to do in our lives what we are unable to do on our own.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “We must lay before Him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.” That means that when we are bankrupt, when we are burdened, when we are exhausted, tired, weary, and broken down, we practice coming to God and pouring out our hearts out to Him. God’s not interested in any attempt at perfection – the “ought to be” that Lewis is referring to. It is our honest, vulnerable, imperfect selves that God is after – “what is in us.”

And the craziest part? Not only does God hear our prayers and meet us in those moments, but He answers those prayers in infinitely creative ways. A family member sends you a text right at your deepest moment of sadness, giving you the fight you need to make it through the rest of the day. A friend sends you a DoorDash gift card out of the blue to take away the stress of meal planning for a couple days – bringing tears of joy and thankfulness, and the knowledge that you are not alone in this moment. Or an author you follow posts some words about suffering that shake you to your core, helping to remind you that joy can be found amidst heartache and that no one’s life is pain-free.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus summarizes how God feels about our practice of supplication:

“‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.’” (Matthew 7:7-8)

This is the God I know, a God who, amidst our hardest moments, is at His most intimate with us. Who, amidst our moments of greatest need, is so, so present. Who “whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain). While I know that supplication doesn’t always bring the exact outcome I pray for, the practice offers me the chance to connect deeply with this good God who is present with me amidst it all. And then I get to watch His eternal, unlimited creativity go to work in answering those prayers.

The practice of supplication teaches us that

we

are

not

alone

in

this.

We. are. not. alone. in. this.

And that’s a gift for these days.

The Practice of Adoration

Giving God adoration in the age of Trump.

This past week. These past four years. Wow. Where to begin. I’ve been trying to process the events that took place in DC this past week, while generally trying to wrap my head around Christianity in the waning days of the Trump presidency. I keep asking myself: How do I practice my faith in the age of Trump?

More specifically: How do I continue to practice my adoration of God – that is, giving God praise for all He’s done, is doing, and will do – when the faith tradition I practice has, again, been corrupted by an immoral political movement? There seems to be a huge chasm between the good God the Bible speaks of and the Christianity that has been co-opted by Trump and his enablers.

What I do know is that Christians have practiced the adoration of God for thousands of years, in a myriad of political contexts. The Christian faith started amidst Roman occupation and persecution, so I know the God of the New Testament is for and with the oppressed. Not only was Jesus nailed to a cross because of the challenge he posed to the political and religious power structures at that time, but the New Testament is filled with examples of early church heroes being jailed and/or killed for their religious and political declaration that Jesus is Lord. But then, starting with the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 313 AD, Christianity became a tool of empire, with a very imperfect historical record ever since.

But, here at the end of the Trump presidency, I’m asking: How do I present Christianity to the person who has watched with horror as Trump has co-opted the Christian faith for political purposes? What could I say to THAT person so that he or she would give God a chance, or even come to the place of adoring Him?

I would start by pointing to the inspired, historical writings of Christianity that paint the picture of a God who is good, who is endlessly creative, who is on the side of the oppressed and downcast and lowly, who comes to the rescue of those in bondage, who makes clear His distaste of performative, empty religion, who came to earth to save humanity, who came to give us life to the full, and who is still at work today.

Old Testament

-The God who created the whole universe (Genesis 1)

-The God who saves His people from slavery by parting the Red Sea (the book of Exodus)

-The God who protects His people while in exile in Babylon (the book of Daniel)

-The God who rescues His people from genocide through an amazing woman (The book of Esther)

-The God who despises hypocritical, performative, immoral religion (Isaiah 1:11-17)

-And much more…

New Testament

-A God who became a Middle Eastern Jew and dwelt among us in the form of Jesus amidst an occupation of God’s people by the Roman Empire (John 1)

-A God who, in Jesus, is with and for the lowly and oppressed (Matthew 5) and calls out religious hypocrisy (Matthew 23:27-28)

-A God who, in Jesus, came to give humanity abundant life (John 10:10)

-A God who, in Jesus, became a servant to humanity through his life on earth and His death in a cross (Philippians 2:6-8)

-A God who, in Jesus, is a High Priest who is able to empathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15) while also being the perfect sacrifice for all humanity’s sin (Hebrews 9:26)

-And much more…

I would say that I can give God adoration today, despite everything going on, because I actually believe that the writings of the Bible – the seeming myth about a God who came to earth to set humanity free – are TRUE.

It’s almost fantastical: that God would do this for us. But I believe it is true. This seeming myth is a true story: the truest story of the craziest love of a Creator for His Creation. C.S. Lewis says, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact.” I adore God because He first adored us. I love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Or, as Chance the Rapper says in that recent Bieber song, “I know we believe in God and I know God believes in us.”

I would say that I practice adoration not because God is a needy God, and not because Christianity has a perfect track record, but because adoration reminds me about God’s unconditional, sacrificial, and eternal love for all of humanity. Adoration is a practice that reminds me that we are adored by God – even to His own death on a cross. I adore Him because, even in our brokenness, even amidst our political, social, and economic turmoil, He adores us unendingly – while giving us clear directives to stand with those who are lowly and oppressed. The Creator of the universe, the God of all creation, the Savior Christ, adores YOU and ME and our family and friends – and even our enemies – and wants to set us free. That’s why we can sing the Christmas carol: “Come let us adore Him, [for He is] Christ the Lord.” The Christ has come, right into the middle of our brokenness and imperfection, and has called us to Himself in love. This is why I give God adoration – even in the age of Trump.

The Practice of Confession

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” (Psalms 51:1 NIV)

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This is what David prayed after the prophet Nathan called him out for his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. David was the King of Israel, a shepherd boy turned war hero turned royalty, a man after God’s own heart. But David tried to keep his affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of David’s best soldiers, a secret. And God, through Nathan, called David on it. And the house of David was marred forever because of it. It was a personal and political sin that never left David’s house. It forever changed Israel’s history.

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This post is not a post about Christians confessing sins to God on a regular basis – although the Bible does call Christians to do that (James 5:16). This post is about when a nation is brought to its knees by the sins of its leaders. When a nation needs to come before God and confess its collective sins – so as to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24 NIV)

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Let’s not beat around the bush: what we saw today at the US Capitol is sin in action. Political sin. Personal sin. As many have already said, this is just the culmination of years of sin by Trump’s enablers and Trump himself. Eugene Cho said today: “This is the result of several years of enabling, spewing conspiracies, and lack of accountability.” Another post I saw said it really well: “The name of Christ has been dragged through the mud – not by His critics, but by those who claim to be his followers.” There were “Jesus Saves” signs commingled with Confederate flags in today’s craziness. There was white privilege on full display today. As Ibram X. Kendi said today: “If these people were Black… well, we all know what would be happening right now to them.”

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King David’s sin was personal and political. He and his house were never the same afterward, nor was the nation of Israel. The Trump presidency is our country’s political and personal sin – enabled by religious conservatives and an immoral political right. But we, as Americans, all share the collective blame. We allowed the Trump presidency to get to this point. As a white male, I must confess my sin of not doing enough, of taking for granted my white privilege. We collectively must confess our country’s sin of allowing a monster like Trump – a racist, a misogynist, an egomaniac, an adulterer, a sexual predator – to become president, and we must do it now. Our country’s sin of white supremacy must be confessed collectively, and we must do it now. When a country is brought to its knees by the sins of its leaders, it is up to the whole nation to confess their sins and ask God to heal their land.

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So it’s time to get on our knees and confess – a practice that the Christian tradition has practiced for thousands of years. Sin must be called out. Forgiveness must be asked for. Repentance must be the clothes we wear.

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Lord, have mercy on our country. Lord, heal our land.

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“Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.” (Isaiah 1:4 NIV)

The Practice of Giving Thanks

“Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

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2020 was brutal in every way – physically, economically, spiritually, socially, and politically. The pandemic raged, the Stock Market crashed, millions of workers found themselves without a job, American racial injustice continued to rear its horrible head, and the election was more than contentious. And these same issues have continued with us into 2021.

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But my faith tradition has an ancient practice of giving thanks to God no matter the circumstances – as a way for us to remember that God is a good God who knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). The people of God are not unaccustomed to hard times – whether it be enslavement in Egypt or exile in Babylon, occupation and persecution by the Romans, the ugly history of enslavement and Jim Crow in our own country, or even the latest corrupted matrimony of religious conservatives with an immoral political right.

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The Christian faith has long promoted the practice of thanksgiving, the practice of proclaiming God’s goodness amidst any and all circumstances. We do this, as people of faith, because we know that God has shown He can lead His people out of Egypt by parting the sea, that He can keep His people safe inside a Babylonian furnace, that He can grow a Church amidst Rome’s occupation, that He can bring us a Lincoln to save the Union and do away with our original sin of slavery, that He can bring us Civil Rights leaders that give political voice to all races, genders, and sexual orientations, and that He can use American voters to defeat immoral leadership and give hope for a more perfect America in the future. In short, we know that the “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr).

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There is power as we practice thanksgiving, especially during tough circumstances. So, today, despite these difficult days at the start of 2021, I give thanks. I give thanks for Dana, Hanes, Cohen, and Baby #3 on the way. I give thanks for our extended family and our community of friends. I give thanks for my colleagues, my company, our church, our country, our health, Hanes’ school, the COVID vaccines, and our frontline workers who are putting themselves and their families in harm’s way to serve us all.

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Yes, this season is a hard one. But my faith tradition teaches me that we have a good God who knows what we need before we ask. So, today, I “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalms 107:1 NIV).

My Year in Books (2020)

Hopefully you find a few to add to your list!

Books.

They’re wonderful and challenging and heart-wrenching and uplifting and engaging.

They keep me on my toes intellectually and spiritually.

They’re also my imaginative haven, my quiet rebellion.

Always a theological, economic, social, political, historical, cultural, scientific, or artistic breath of fresh air.

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Even my own book project carries with it that wonderful, particular gift of books: discovering parts of yourself you never knew were there, while at the same time discovering the experiences of others that you never knew you connected with.

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Despite how difficult 2020 has been, this year has been a rewarding year of books for me – heavily influencing my thoughts on our theological, cultural, and political present. Here is this year’s book list, with reviews in my Instagram Stories Highlights and in previous posts here on my website. Hope you find a few to add to your list!

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church by various authors

These Truths by Jill Lepore

The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger

Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

The Four Pillars of Investing by William J. Bernstein

An Alpha-Read of Zach Roush’s book

The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali

Upheaval by Jared Diamond

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

God and the Pandemic by N.T. Wright

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Love Wins by Rob Bell

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Soul of America by Jon Meacham

wishtree by Katherine Applegate

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Prophecy Hope! by Danté Stewart

Waiting Here for You by Louie Giglio

Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire by Jen Hatmaker

Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller

I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown

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Hope you find a few to add to your list!

Books December 2020

Despite how brutal and arduous 2020 has been, the month of December has flown by. I’ve got young kids, so the lead up to and celebration of the holidays is a really wonderful time for our family. This year, amidst COVID, Christmas was still wonderful – despite not being able to see many of the people we love.

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December was also a good month for books for me. Here are the books I was able to get through this month. Hopefully you find a few to add to your list!

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A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Prophecy Hope! by Danté Stewart

Waiting Here for You by Louie Giglio

Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire by Jen Hatmaker

Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller

I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown

Christmas 2020

Immanuel, God with Us

I’m no theologian, nor an expert in Biblical context or contemporary commentary. But I wanted to do a Christmas post that connected the birth of Jesus to our present reality: taking the reality of what things were like at the time of Jesus’ birth and connecting them to our political, economic, social, and theological present.

My research was far from exhaustive, as it started with the four Gospels and then moved to various Google searches. But, in that work, I found 6 main points that connect Jesus’ birth with our present. They are as follows:

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1. Economics

2. Unplanned Pregnancy

3. Empire

4. Systemic Violence

5. Immigration

6. Immanuel

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Here are those 6 points explained.

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Economics

Jesus was born into poverty, into a 3rd World context. That simple fact raises some really important questions for us: How does Jesus’ poverty influence our understanding of and reaction to those in need in our own communities? How does it influence our thinking on the widening wealth gap in America? How does it influence our next steps in light of the severe economic impact of the pandemic on those that are most vulnerable in our country – let alone its impact on the vulnerable around the world? Jesus was born into 3rd World poverty. Does our faith cause us to empathize with and act for those in a similar situation?

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Unplanned Pregnancy

A teenage Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit prior to marrying Joseph. Of course we know that the pregnancy was initiated by the Holy Spirit, but that’s easy for us to say in hindsight. Joseph was ready to quietly end their engagement once he found out she was pregnant – as he knew the baby wasn’t his. It took an ANGEL OF THE LORD to convince Joseph to stay with Mary and, together, raise the Savior of the world. Can you imagine all the gossip among Mary and Joseph’s community as everyone watched the unwed teenager’s baby bump grow? Yet, we now know her as the Virgin Mary, the one who gave birth to the Son of God, the mother of the Savior of the world. In her pregnancy, she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). What does this say about how we should view 1) unplanned pregnancies, 2) abortion, adoption, and the sacredness of life, 3) gossip, and 4) purity culture?

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Empire

Jesus was born into a military dictatorship, and the only reason why Mary and Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem was due to a census of the entire Roman world called for by Caesar Augustus. Which raises questions about our own present-day empire. We are the most powerful country in the world – militarily, politically, economically, and more. The tentacles of the American empire reach to every corner of the globe. Thankfully, we are a democracy, not a military dictatorship. But when Congress passes an almost $800 billion defense bill in December 2020 while, at the same time, not being able to pass a bill that supports working Americans amidst a pandemic – we are far from a perfect union. Moreover, our foreign policy is far from perfect as well. How does Jesus’ birth into a military dictatorship influence our understanding of America’s role as the leading superpower in the world? Shouldn’t we challenge our political leadership to lead “not with the example of our power, but [by] the power of our example?”

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Systemic Violence

Upon hearing about the supposed birth of the “King of the Jews,” Herod King of Judea killed all the boys of Bethlehem under the age of 2 – an attempt to ward off a challenge to his power. Jesus’ birth in the face of systemic violence brings us face to face with our country’s own systemic violence. We have our history of slavery and Jim Crow, and we have our present realities of mass incarceration of and police brutality towards people of color. How does the systemic violence carried out by Herod at the time of Jesus’ birth influence our thinking and actions related to Black Lives Matter, the broader fight for the civil rights of people of color, the recent state-sanctioned execution of Brandon Bernard, the current movement to abolish the Death Penalty, and, generally, our systemic inequalities?

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Immigration

As soon as Jesus was born, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus immediately became refugees as they fled the violence of the Herod regime. Mary and Joseph were prompted BY AN ANGEL NO LESS to flee to Egypt. That is to say, God told Mary and Joseph to leave their homeland and live as refugees in Egypt until they could safely return after Herod’s death. How does Jesus’ early life as a refugee affect our thoughts on immigration? What would have happened if Egypt had not accepted this young family of refugees due to policies driven by xenophobia, nationalism, and protectionism? What if Egypt had turned the blessed family away because they didn’t want Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to be a drain on the nation’s safety nets? Or worse, what if they stuck them in detention centers at the border, and separated Jesus from his parents while in detention – only to give the family back to Herod? It is not enough to say that God is for and with refugees. It must be said that God Himself has been a refugee – which should greatly affect our understanding of immigration in this country.

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Immanuel

God is with us, especially amidst really hard times. Jesus’ birth is God becoming human, the Creator embodying the flesh and blood of His creation as a means of calling all of humanity to Himself. And it all occurs amidst really difficult times for the people of God. Hundreds of years of seeming silence from God for the Jews. Occupation by a foreign empire, accompanied by strict, power-hungry religious authorities bent on control through religious rules. And yet, God arrives as Baby Jesus, and sets the precedent for the rest of human history: that even amidst hard times, God knows our suffering and is with us through it all. Immanuel, God is with us, even as we suffer through the darkest days of the COVID pandemic here in Christmas 2020 (with case numbers and daily deaths at their highest levels). Jesus was “fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17), including, as an adult, weeping with us (John 11). And, most amazingly, he brought eternal life to all of humanity through his life, death, and resurrection. This is Immanuel, “God with us,” especially amidst trying times.

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These are the 6 points that, for me, connect Jesus’ birth to our present day. Christmas is about Immanuel, “God with us,” amidst our hard times and the imperfections in our society.

In closing, I hope Christmas is a safe and wonderful time for you and your loved ones. Amidst Shelter in Place and masks and social distancing, God is with us. What an incredible gift in these crazy times. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

-KGC

Books November 2020

November was another good month for books. I finally read Elizabeth Gilbert’s mega-bestseller Eat, Pray, Love (the Pray section was my favorite), and I also read my first Jon Meachum book on US history to help me better understand our history, 2020, BLM, and the election. Last was another Katherine Applegate middle grade book. All three were good reads. Reviews are below.

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Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Soul of America by Jon Meachum

wishtree by Katherine Applegate

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The rest of my reading month was getting started on Barack Obama’s new book A Promised Land, which is amazing so far – but it’s also over 750 pages long, so that’s gonna take some time.

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Hope you find a good book here for your list!

 

Meditations 11.29.20

What I’m praying over these days.

MLK Jr.

Old and New Testament Scripture

RHE

Ryan Holiday

Elizabeth Gilbert

Toni Morrison

Louie Giglio

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“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality […] And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

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“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited […] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:12-16, 21 NIV)

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“The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough.” (Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday)

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“‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’” (Matthew 6:34 NIV)

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”Replace fear with process.” (Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way)

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“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic)

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“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison

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“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

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“Christmas is a story of longing fulfilled. That’s why it gives us reason to celebrate the goodness and nearness of God in the midst of our waiting seasons.” (Louie Giglio, Waiting Here for You)