7 Intriguing Things I Learned About Prayer on Facebook

Facebook is a great place to learn about prayer.

I’m not saying Facebook is a great place to learn about how to pray, but just a place to learn about prayer.

Normally prayers are personal or conducted in public worship services, but now, Facebook is providing an opportunity to observe the virtual prayer lives of people.

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When someone makes a request for prayers, their friends leave comments on their status to let them know that they’re praying for them. It’s probably just me, but I find these prayerful comments really intriguing.

I’ve been observing prayers on Facebook for the past few years. With all due respect, I don’t know what to make of prayerful comments on Facebook, but here are seven things I’ve learned about prayer on Facebook. (You can’t get offended, I said, “With all due respect.”)

1. Prayers Need a Compass 

We learn that some prayers are not directed toward God, a god, let alone anything in particular. Some prayers are sent out from the sender who provides them with a direction and in some cases, a warning.

We see this when prayers are: “going up,” “coming your way,” or “going out.”

I’m not sure if I should be thankful for these prayers, get ready to catch them, or depending upon who they’re from—get out of the way.

2. Prayers Can Be Sent Through the Mail

Certain prayers are wrapped in a package and delivered. These prayers are normally expressed as, “Sending prayers.”

My only hope is that they come with either a tracking code or request of signature upon delivery. If not, I’m uncertain if we can trust the USPS to deliver them on time or even at all.

3. Prayers Take the Form of Small, Medium, and Big

Some prayers are “big prayers.”

For some reason “big prayers” remind me of the times I blow up balloons for my kids. (There’s probably no connection whatsoever, but, oh well.) Hopefully those praying big prayers don’t pray too much that their prayers burst like many of my balloons have.

4. Prayers Take the Form of Shapes

Some prayers are more than words. They can take the form of geometrical shapes.

For instance, we can pray “circles” around people. Perhaps this is a good thing, but then again, it sounds like this person is competing with the person they’re praying for in how much they will pray for them. Let the praying begin!

5. Prayers Can Be Heavy     

I discovered that some prayers can be lifted. I’ve seen it said, “Prayers lifted.”

I have a sneaky suspicion that these prayers come with a warning sign, like, “Be Careful: Bend Knees When Praying.” (Hopefully this is just wishful thinking.)

6. Prayers Are Like Dropping the Mic

Some people come across your Facebook account, say, “Prayers on,” drop the mic, and then walk away. It’s like they just out performed everyone expressing prayers on your status.

7. Prayers Don’t Actually Have to Be Prayed

When someone says, “Praying right now,” my response is, “No you’re not. You’re commenting on my status.”

Requesting prayers through Facebook is not a big deal at all and I think people should do so if they feel so inclined. I just find it interesting what we learn about the prayer taking place in a social network like Facebook.

Where to Turn When Life Doesn’t Turn Out

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we think it should.

Whether it’s from the pressure of financial concerns, difficulties at home, business failures, or forces beyond your control, such as a natural disaster or accident, all of us will experience some level of pain, loss, or setback.

In the moment, such experiences can be crushing—if not outright devastating. We can become consumed by these moments of grief and despair, and succumb to their burdens to the point that we turn in on ourselves and not out to God.

Regardless of our circumstance and situation, God has a way of working things out for his glory and our good. He’s promised to those who love him that he will “work all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28). We might not be able to see how God will do this in our life anytime soon or on this side of heaven, but thankfully he has provided us with many examples from the Scriptures to draw encouragement from—in particular Acts 8:4–25.

In this passage we observe that the martyrdom of Stephen was followed by “a great persecution against the church” (Acts 8:1). This wave of oppression came like a mighty wind that scattered the church throughout the region. Luke, who wrote this passage, is not saying that the persecution displaced a building and required a group of people to obtain a permit to worship elsewhere. The “church” was comprised of individuals and families who were persecuted and not much different than our own today. They lived in a community, they worked, visited the market for food and supplies, and had families and friends.

Despite being persecuted and displaced from their homes and livelihood, those who were scattered didn’t falter in their faith in God but “went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). What appears to the eye as a terrible situation was an event God redeemed to further the spread of the gospel of Jesus beyond the confines of Jerusalem. Something many—if not most—reading this today should be eternally grateful for.

By the grace of God, when the pressures of life begin to weigh you down, look beyond the limitations of your struggles and fix your eyes upon the God of hope who will complete the good work in your life he began (Phil. 1:6). For God is more than capable of taking what appears to be a terrible situation and redeeming it for your good and his glory (cf. Gen. 50:20).

This post was adapted from the Acts Study Guide: Chapters 6–11

 

6 Book Recommendations About D-Day

1. D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climatic Battle of World War IIby Stephen Ambrose

Detailed account of preparations leading up to D-Day and the conflict that ensued. A masterful one volume account that has an intimidating presence (over 600 pages), but one that will capture your attention and compel you to effortlessly turn every page.

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2. The Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D-Dayby Cornelius Ryan

Monumental account of D-Day based upon extensive interviews from survivors in both the United States and Europe. The author, Cornelius Ryan, seamlessly weaves together these various stories from both the Axis and Allied forces into an amazing mosaic capturing the memories, the heroic tales, and establishing the legend of those who served that day.

longest day

The following four books are the first-hand accounts of Donald Burgett, a private in the 101st Airborne Division who fearlessly served his country during D-Day and the European Theater of World War II. These books are a harrowing tale of the life and horrors of war. Donald is a master storyteller and his personal memoirs will captivate your attention and provide you with a newfound appreciation for those who served during this time.

3. Currahee! A Screaming Eagle at Normandy

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4. Seven Roads to Hell: A Screaming Eagle at Bastogne

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5. The Road to Arnhem: A Screaming Eagle in Holland

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6. Beyond the Rhine: A Screaming Eagle in Germany

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Eating Bacon to the Glory of God: The Beginner’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Law

The Old Testament law is important. Like, really important.

It’s probably more important than you think.

How we interpret the various laws will influence what you eat, how you dress, and your worship of God. Think about it this way.

It determines whether or not you can buy that poly/cotton blend jacket you’ve had your eye on (Lev. 19:19), play football with an actual “pigskin” (Lev. 11:7-8), how you style your hair, and shave your face (Lev. 19:27).

It determines whether or not you can eat a pulled pork sandwich, shrimp on the barbie (Lev. 11:10), or rare steak (Lev. 17:10).

And it also determines whether or not you have to worship God at a specific location, wear priestly garbs, or sacrifice animals to atone for your sins.

As you can see, accurately interpreting the Old Testament law is no laughing matter. It speaks into every area of our life.

So, what Old Testament laws should Christians obey?

A difficult task

Answering this question is no small task. It’s difficult to answer and has caused tremendous discussion from the start.

It began with Jesus and the Pharisees, was picked up by the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), hashed out by Paul, Peter, and the Judaizers (Gal. 2:12; 5:12; 6:12), and emerged throughout church history in varying degrees.

Jonathan Edwards had this to say about the difficulty:

There is perhaps no part of divinity attended with so much intricacy, and wherein orthodox divines do so much differ as stating the precise agreement and difference between the two dispensations of Moses and Christ.

But before we can dive into these deep waters, it’s important for us to lay some initial groundwork.

It begins with Jesus

For Christians, the interpretation and application of the Old Testament law doesn’t begin with the law—it begins with Jesus. The law points us to him (Luke 24:44). The law is fulfilled in him (Matt. 5:17). And the law takes on a new meaning for us today in him (e.g., “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…”). For us to interpret the law rightly, we need to understand it in light of Jesus.

Easy enough, right?

Well, not necessarily.

This is where things start to get hairy.

There are a ton of Old Testament laws—613 to be exact—and some of them have been abolished and have no bearing on our lives today (see Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:23–25; Eph. 2:15).

So, exactly which laws, or category of law, have been abolished?

There’s no one perfect way to answer this question, but there is one really helpful way found within the history of the church.

3 categories of law

For hundreds of years, the Reformed tradition taught that the Old Testament law was comprised of three different categories: ceremonial, moral, and civil. Though this view is far from comprehensive, it helps us to understand, interpret, and apply the law to our lives.

1. Ceremonial

God gave the ceremonial laws to the people of Israel as a means of guiding them in their worship of him. These laws include the various sacrifices for sin, circumcision (Gen. 17:10), priestly duties (Lev. 7:1–37), rejection of certain foods (e.g., pork (Lev. 11:7–8) and shellfish (Lev. 11:9–12)), and the cleanliness code (i.e., on cleansing lepers (Lev. 14:1–32), and the like.

The ceremonial laws served a temporary purpose and foreshadowed the coming of Jesus (Dan. 9:27; Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1) until they were fulfilled and abolished in him.

Today, we are no longer required to follow them and are free to eat bacon wraps and wear clothes made with multiple fabrics. In other words, we don’t have to ceremonially purify ourselves for God; he does that for us through faith in Christ.

2. Civil

God gave the nation and theocracy of Israel civil laws to guide their daily living, political affairs, and judicial system (Exod. 21–23:9; Lev. 19:35; 24:17–23). Today, these civil laws and their punishments are no longer applicable. They expired when the people of God were no longer determined by their ethnicity or geographic location, but rather through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:7–9, 29).

Today, God’s people assemble together as a church from every nation, tribe, and language (Rev. 7:9). His church is not a nation-state like Israel or identified by a particular political party.

Today the church does not deal with sins the same way as Israel once did. The penalties have changed. The church deals with sin “by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership” (e.g., 1 Cor. 5), not stones and fire.

3. Moral

God not only gave us moral laws like the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1–17), but he wrote them on our heart (Rom. 2:14–16). And these laws have not been abolished in Christ (Matt. 5:17–19).

While the moral law of God does not provide salvation (Rom. 3:20; 6:14; Gal. 5:23), it does continue to be used as a mirror reflecting the perfect righteousness of God, a means of restraining evil, and a way to reveal what’s pleasing to God.

Today the moral law of God is still in force and it has much to say about loving our neighbor (Lev: 19:18; cf. Matt. 19:19), taking care of the poor (Deut. 15:4; cf. Acts 4:34), and staying sexually pure (Exod. 20:14; cf. 1 Cor. 6:9).

When looking to interpret and apply the Old Testament law today, here are two simple steps to take to help you walk in the right direction.

1. Understand the Old Testament law in its own historical setting

Here, you want to ask questions like:

  • Who wrote it, when did they write it, whom did they write it to, where did they write it, and why did they write?
  • What does this verse mean in the context of the paragraph, chapter, or book? Is there a specific need or concern the author is addressing?
  • What does this passage reveal about God? About his will for his people?

2. Understand the Old Testament law in relationship to Jesus

Since the Old Testament law points to Jesus and is fulfilled in him, we need to ask some basic questions about the Old Testament law we’re studying, such as:

  • How does this passage complement the entire Bible?
  • What does this passage mean in light of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection?
  • How does Jesus fulfill it?
  • Is this law directly carried over into the New Testament? If not, why not? If so, how? (e.g., Is it reinforced or reinterpreted?)

This post originally appeared on Resurgence

10 Ways to Use Stories in Blogs to Connect with Your Audience

Stories are a powerful literary device.

Stories teach us. Stories influence us. And stories inspire us.

Stories can be told by anyone. Stories are not difficult to tell. And stories help readers with retention.

All this adds up to one start conclusion: Stories are a powerful literary tool.

Stories are such a powerful literary tool that they helped Buffer—a social media app—increase their reader engagement 300% and the average time on a page was five times higher.

Using stories to share the one big idea of your blog post will help you connect with your audience, increase their engagement, and help them remember your main point.

There are multiple ways you can weave a story through the fabric of your post, but here are just a few:

  1.   Conflict and resolution
  2.   Influence of a parent, friend, pastor, or mentor
  3.   A meaningful conversation
  4.   Life and ministry experience
  5.   Overcoming a challenge
  6.   Personal renewal (Think of the movies It’s a Wonderful Life or Family Man)
  7.   A tragic event
  8.   An adventure in search for something
  9.   Something funny
  10.   A new project or venture

You can use stories to introduce the one big idea of your blog post, support your one big idea with a seamless plot line, or to help illustrate and apply your one big idea.

Not every type of blog topic needs a story and you don’t have to write a personal memoir all of the time. The key is to engage your audience by sharing a story that not only helps support your blog post, but resonates with them.

6 Book Recommendations for Writers

1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

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2. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser

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3. Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark

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4. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

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5. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

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6. Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life, by Douglas Wilson

wordsmithy

Playing Red Light/Green Light with God’s Will for Your Life

Red light/green light is a game my kids and I like to play.

And it’s a super-simple game too.

Whoever is “it” stands at one side while the other players stand at the opposite side. With their back turned to the other players, the person “it” yells “green light” and the players run, or they yell “red light” and the players stop. The first player to reach the person “it” wins.

This fun backyard game not only affords us endless entertainment, it’s also exactly how I used to seek God’s will for my life.

Bedside Conversations with “Jesus”

Recalling a conversation he had with “Jesus” by his bedside, Kenneth Hagin shared what “Jesus” told him, “The number one way, the primary way, that I lead all of my children is by the inward witness.” “Jesus” went on to exemplify this in Kenneth’s life by reminding him of a recent experience he had, saying, “You had a check in your spirit…You had something on the inside, a check, a red light, a stop signal.”

“Jesus” further detailed the traffic light inside of Kenneth, telling him, “You had a velvety-like feeling in your spirit. That’s the green light. That’s the go-ahead signal. That’s the witness of the Spirit too.”

This internal traffic light made sense to me at one time. Besides, if Kenneth got this message directly from the horse’s mouth—”Jesus”—during an early morning conversation with him over coffee by his bed, then it was good enough for me too.

Finding God’s will for my life revolved around me constantly examining my feelings and trying to equate them with either a red, green, or even yellow light. This way I knew if I should stop, go, or wait when making a particular decision.

Flooring the Gas and Pumping the Brakes

In all honesty, I became one hot mess when I followed this teaching.

My ever-changing feelings served as the GPS of my life. One moment I’m flooring the gas pedal and the other I’m pumping the brakes. I was more concerned with how I felt about a decision rather than how God wanted me to live for him. This subjective, mushy, inward focus proved to be problematic—especially after a sleepless night or a Mexican meal.

I would pray about something, get a particular feeling, and then make a decision. After making whatever decision it was, I was then convinced that the decision I made was God’s infallible—unchanging will—for my life.

Well, I had one small problem.

I’m a normal person whose feelings can and do change.

After making a decision when I felt a green light from God that subsequently turned into a red light, I grew confused, inactive, and changed my mind on countless occasions. I would take one step forward and then two steps back.

Needless to say, this back-and-forth left me in a vicious cycle of impulsive decisions and regrets.

Finding God’s Will for Your Life

Our feelings do not serve as the barometer of God’s will for our lives. We don’t have to take extensive pilgrimages, seek prophets, or wait upon a particular feeling in order to make a decision about anything.

Now, don’t get me wrong, decisions based upon our feelings are not necessarily wrong. It’s when we base God’s will for our lives completely on our feelings when things get messy

In order for us to understand God’s will for our life, then we have to understand how God talks about his will in the Bible. One helpful distinction theologians have made throughout the centuries is differentiating between God’s secret and revealed will.

In Deuteronomy 29:29, we read, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (emphasis mine).

This helpful distinction by Moses releases us from the self-imposed legalism of following our feelings rather than following Jesus and walking in the freedom only he can provide.

Let me explain.

1. God’s Secret Will

God’s secret will is just that, a secret.

God is sovereign over everyone and everything. He stands outside of time, human history, and is guiding every minute detail for his glory and our good (Ps. 33:11; Isa. 46: 8–10). Being the finite people we are, there are some things we’ll never know about God and his ways until they actually happen. Besides, there are some things he’s just not going to share with us (Prov. 25:2; Acts 1:6–7).

As Moses says, these secret things belong to God. For instance, we can’t pick up a Bible and discover where we will live, go to school, or who we will marry.

When it comes to making these types of decisions, there’s not really a right or wrong decision—unless the decision goes against God’s revealed will. Which leads us to the next point.

2. God’s Revealed Will 

God’s revealed will for our life is written down in the Bible.

Through the pages of the Bible we discover who God is and what pleases and displeases him. The Bible—not our feelings—is the only standard God has provided to direct us in living for him.

We are to live our life by what God has revealed, not what is hidden.

God’s will for our lives is revealed in the Bible and it is to guide and direct us in the decisions we make. We don’t have to do a jig, pay a prophet, or wait for some sort of funny feeling. In the words of Kevin DeYoung, we need to Just Do Something.

For instance, God is sovereign over our life. He can do whatever he pleases (Psa. 115:3). We may have breath today, but we’re not guaranteed it tomorrow. This is why we can’t say with 100% confidence where we will be next year, let alone tomorrow (James 4:15).

Also, this influences how we pursue a spouse. If you desire to marry someone, that’s a good thing. What’s not a good thing is passively waiting by for God to do something about it when you’re sitting at home twiddling your thumbs and whistling Dixie. If you want to marry someone, pursue a godly spouse in a godly way.

What is more, unless your vocation violates what God has revealed, such as prostitution, gambling, or stealing, God doesn’t really care what type of work you do as long as you take care of yourself (Eph. 4:28), your family (1 Tim. 5:8), and others (2 Cor. 8–9).

Knowing God’s Will

Instead of playing red light/green light with God’s will for your life, I encourage you to simply trust God (Prov. 3:5–6), read the Bible (Rom. 12:1–2), and seek godly counsel (Prov. 11:14) when making decisions. There’s really not much more to knowing God’s will than that.

This advice isn’t new, sleek, or sexy, but it honors God.

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My Deep, Dark, Dirty Secret as a Writer

“Ma’am, can you please pass me?”

I muttered these words sheepishly under my breath while my senior high English teacher looked at me with a contorted face.

After these words left my mouth with a lack of confidence, there was a long moment of silence fit for a memorial.

While looking down at her desk—apparently trying to avoid making eye contact—she began shuffling some papers around, placing them neatly on the right-hand corner of her desk.

My hands began to sweat and my heart race. “If I don’t pass, then I have to go to summer school. If I have to go to summer school, then I can’t play football in the summer at college,” was the line of reasoning racing through my head.

As each second passed by if felt like an hour. I was beginning to lose all hope.

But then, against all hope, I was pardoned as a free man, set free from my failing grade—though I was condemned criminal guilty of not applying myself.

It’s Time to Spill the Beans

Throughout grade school, middle school, high school, college, and even a significant part of graduate school, I struggled tremendously with reading, grammar, and writing. My shortcomings were not due to a legitimate learning disability, but rather a lack of applying myself at school.

After graduating high school and passing English by the skin of my teeth, I was required to take a remedial English course before I could even think about stepping foot into English 101. Needless to say, I didn’t set out to become an English major and only took the minimum English classes required. These choices perpetuated my English deficiencies into graduate school.

When applying to graduate school I had to take the GRE, the standard admission test for grad schools. Well, my score was good enough to get me into school, but, unfortunately my lackluster writing score landed me in a remedial writing course.

The lack of effort I exerted in school left me with a tremendous deficiency in the English language. To this day I struggle in varying degrees with grammar and still mispronounce some words. (My sweet wife corrects me today, but thankfully not as often as she used to.) This lack of confidence is something I still carry with me today. In the back of mind I sometimes think that my past will be revealed like a disclosed criminal record, and I’ll be ushered away from my day-to-day living.

Writing was—and still is—something I labor over. It’s not easy work. From research, thinking, writing, editing, and then rinse and repeat, writing can be a long and arduous process. A process I wasn’t interested in until my mid-twenties. But the strangest thing happened to me after I turned a graduate paper into a pamphlet: Somebody liked it.

“Let me be honest with you, this is great,” a friend of mine told me over the phone.

After an awkward pause caused by what I thought was a blatant lie, I broke the silence: “Say what? Can you speak into my good ear? You think it’s good?”

“Yes,” he said. “I think you should turn this into a book.”

“Well, I never thought about writing a book.”

We hung up the phone.

There was no bolt of lightning with inspiration, and I didn’t even place the proverbial pen to paper. I sat there in somewhat of a befuddled state.

“Who, me? Write a book? I never thunk such a thought before.”

A Humbling Literary Journey

I accepted my friend’s advice and embarked upon a humbling literary journey.

From writing multiple drafts, overcoming a substantial learning curve, to balancing a full-time job, part-time graduate course work, and family life, I slowly eked out a manuscript.

And amazingly enough, to my surprise, a publisher published my book.

I can still remember the excitement I felt as I read their e-mail of acceptance while lying down in our bedroom. I was jolted from my slumber and tumbled down the stairs of our home to let my wife know that my book was going to be published.

I didn’t desire fame or fortune and haven’t come remotely close to acquiring the two—nor do I care to. I simply had a desire to write, and so I did.

Some Parting Words

Do not allow your self-imposed limitations to imprison you in an open cell of fear.

If you want to write, then write.

Your level of intelligence, ability to learn, or mastery of the English language are not prerequisites for writing.

Many accomplished authors, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Bernard Shaw, and Agatha Christie—the best-selling novelist of all time—had learning disabilities. Others, such as Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, and Winston Churchill, were considered bad spellers and struggled with grammar.  As you can see, straight A’s in English are not prerequisites for becoming a good or even great writer.

There’s no one holding you back. There’s no angel you need to wait for to bless you with a golden pen or quick wit. And there’s no past experience that’s more powerful than God’s present-day grace.

If you enjoy writing, then exercise the passion of your heart and write.

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9 Book Recommendations for Content Strategists

Content Strategy for the Web, by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach

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Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and more) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Businessby Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman

"Content Rules"

Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less, by Joe Pulizzi

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Managing Content Marketing: The Real-World Guide for Creating Passionate Subscribers to Your Brand, by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi

managing

Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content, by Colleen Jones

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The Web Content Strategist’s Bible: The Complete Guide to a New and Lucrative Career For Writers of all Kinds, by Richard Sheffield

bible

The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social media, Online Video, Mobile Applications , Blogs, News Releases, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly, by David Meerman Scott

new rules

Content Strategy for Mobile, by Karen McGrane

mobile

The Elements of Content Strategy, by Erin Kissane

elements

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