Living Post-Haste

February 22nd, 2017 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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We have a baby just learning to walk. Like all children who are taking their first steps, when she moves too fast, she stumbles. She is at her best when she is slow and deliberate, for now at least.

 

I think the same could be said of all of us. Move too fast, and you’re liable to stumble. Slow down, think carefully, choose deliberately, and you’re likely to fare much better. Now, this isn’t a blanket statement for every human endeavor—James tells us we should be quick to listen, for example (1:19)—so where might it apply specifically?

 

Solomon, in all his wisdom, counsels, “Desire without knowledge is not good—how much more will hasty feet miss the way!” (Proverbs 19:2). When we feel desire—emotion, zeal, passion—we have to be wary. Do our feelings correspond with knowledge, or are we responding too hastily to an impartial or obstructed view? It is not wrong to be passionate about an issue, but to be passionate before you know what you’re talking about is terribly dangerous.

 

This is an important word for us. Of the many ways our culture tempts us to sin, haste must be among the most powerful. We live in a lightning-quick world, and one getting quicker by the moment thanks to technology. With the advent of social media, for example, we can all respond in real time to unfolding events. And we do. We tweet and like and comment and share as we watch the story develop, especially if we feel strong emotion about what we’re seeing.

 

Desire, yes. We have that in abundance. But does it come with knowledge?

 

Certainly we see how dangerous this can be when it comes to social or political moments. Once a story breaks, we are all expected to respond—but likely before the facts are in. True and extensive knowledge is impossible. A police shooting takes place. Was it racially motivated? Was the suspect unarmed and compliant? Did the officer have a history of violence? Do the witnesses agree on what they saw? These are questions we are unlikely to have answered for a period of days or weeks. Have we expressed our passion, emotion, desire prior to knowledge? We could multiply examples easily, especially in a climate of shoddy reporting, click-bait journalism, and fact-checkers who have stopped bothering to check facts.

 

But the application goes far beyond social media and our divisive political atmosphere. How often are we tempted to respond heatedly to those around us before we fully understand the situation? I can remember from my years as a teacher laying into a student for some poor choices, only to discover I had completely misread the situation on the basis of very false assumptions. I had zeal without knowledge. Hasty feet misstep—and the resulting tumble is ever so painful.

 

Elsewhere Solomon advises, “The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps” (Proverbs 14:15). The prudent give thought to their steps because they don’t want the painful tumble. Once when hiking, I watched a friend tumble down a rocky incline for about 200 feet before he slammed against a tree trunk. Thankfully he was only (badly) bruised, but it was a harrowing experience. I thought he was dead at first. What caused the fall? He put all his weight down on a spot that couldn’t support it. He stepped where he shouldn’t.

 

That’s what we do when we believe anything too hastily, before we’ve really thought through the issue. Have you put all your weight down on the latest best-selling “Christian” book before you’ve considered if it’s really biblical? Scanning the titles of many of the recent best-sellers leads me to believe we’re not an overly thoughtful audience.

 

Peter offers us another fine example of overhasty stepping. When he heard about the persecution his brothers and sisters were suffering in Jerusalem, he stopped dining with Gentiles. No big deal, right? He was just looking out for his friends back home. But, as Paul pointed out, he’d stepped without thinking, and in so doing compromised the gospel itself (Galatians 2:11-16). His desire—the passion he felt to spare his friends some sorrow—didn’t accord with knowledge.

 

We are hasty people. James wouldn’t have to tell us to be quick to listen, but slow to speak and respond (by becoming angry), if he didn’t know we were going to struggle mightily with it. We’re a “shoot first, ask questions later” species. We are hasty people, and we live in a hasty world. Let me encourage you to live post-haste—the world that could be after our current hasty culture. Leave haste behind. Think carefully, deliberate slowly, speak reluctantly.

 

Because desire without knowledge is not good.



#FakeNews and #RealSin

January 25th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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#FakeNews. #AlternativeFacts. There seems to be a lot of buzz these days about the media we ingest and whether or not we can opt-out of reality. For Christians, that brings with it a tremendous opportunity, as I’ll try to explain in my next post. But it also carries with it a clear and present danger.

 

Now, I feel a bit like Jude in wading into this topic. Like him, “although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write” (Jude 3) on a subject that distracts from more important topics. But then, most of the New Testament letters are occasional in nature—that is, occasioned by some circumstance or other—and I suppose blogs should occasionally function the same way. I was surprised and pleased to see two excellent recent blogs by gifted, insightful Christian leaders—Trevin Wax and Ed Stetzer—that treat the same subject, so I guess the occasion is real.

 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what is the danger we face as Christians living in a post-truth culture? What temptation lurks in an era of #FakeNews and #AlternativeFacts? It is, quite simply, the temptation to gossip. After all, what is gossip? It is the willful spreading of misinformation for the purpose of tearing down an opponent (whether social, political, etc.). And isn’t that exactly what #FakeNews is?

 

Consider some recent examples from both sides of the political aisle. (Sin, you’ll remember, is bipartisan.) We’ve endured eight years of relentlessly false information about Obama’s birth certificate from those on the right who question his legitimacy. #NotMyPresident is #NotWithoutPrecedent. And then there was the #PizzaGate scandal, alleging a massive left-wing child sex scandal—thoroughly debunked, thoroughly untrue—which led to a shooting at the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria. On the other side, we’ve had a shamefully inaccurate hit piece on Rick Perry widely disseminated, as well as the MLK bust dust up after Trump’s inauguration.

 

Why do fake news stories spread so quickly? It’s not difficult to analyze the human psyche here. We want to believe facts and stories that confirm our view of the world. As Solomon noted long ago, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8). In other words, #FakeNews tastes good, feels right. So if you’re a liberal, you want to believe stories that demonstrate the idiocy or malevolency of the right, and vice versa. It feels instinctively true, so considering the source and examining the (missing) evidence doesn’t even occur to us. Just click retweet. Share. Feel a smug sense of (false) superiority because you belong to the right side of history/morality/politics/science.

 

I’ve written and spoken before on the danger of imbibing a single stream of information, so I won’t repeat myself there. But I do want to point out that spreading misinformation—even if you think it might be true—and especially if it assassinates the character of a divine image-bearer (that would include Democrats and Republicans, members of all races and genders, etc.)—is sin. Unequivocally, Spirit-grievingly sin.

 

When Paul describes how it looks to suppress the truth of God’s existence (the original #AlternativeFact), when he describes the horrifying contours of humanity in rebellion against a good and gracious Creator, what habits does he mention? “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips,  slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil” (Romans 1:29-30). One way we express hatred of God is by gossiping. That fact alone should be enough to make me think twice before sharing a questionable story. Gossip and slander routinely make Paul’s “sin lists”—lists of those activities that Christians should unquestionably avoid—as in 2 Corinthians 12:20; Ephesians 4:31; and Colossians 3:8.

 

A few practical considerations to close then—more wisdom from Solomon.

  1. First, many rightly lament the deep divisions and sad hostility plaguing our culture now. Is there anything we can do to quell the quarrel? Solomon says yes: “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down” (Proverbs 26:20). It is a small step, but in the right direction at least. Refuse absolutely to spread gossip. Don’t share #FakeNews or other hit pieces about the side you’ve vilified. Don’t put wood on the fire. Perhaps the quarrel will die down.
  2. Second, some publications have developed a reputation for partisan journalism (I’m actually struggling to think of any that haven’t), which now sadly includes spreading misinformation in service of “the narrative.” If we’re going to refuse to spread gossip, perhaps we should also consider refusing to hear gossip, which may include adjusting our news intake. As Solomon reminds us, “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much” (Proverbs 20:19). Perhaps we should contextualize this wisdom to include social media: avoid those media outlets—BuzzFeed and Breitbart, for an example from each side—that seem to relish dishing out choice morsels of sinful gossip. And maybe, just maybe, we need to avoid following certain people on social media who retweet and share and throw wood on the fire—who “talk” too much in a virtual world.

First, don’t be that person. Second, don’t listen to that person. No more #FakeNews. No more sinful gossip. That’s the commitment I want to make.

 

What other wisdom would you suggest for a culture of #AlternativeFacts and partisan reality?



Solomon on Social Discourse

January 13th, 2015 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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I have spent a lot of time in Proverbs these past few months owing to the season of life I find myself in, and the desire to grow in wisdom through it. Of course, quite a lot has happened nationally and globally during that stretch of time, including Ferguson, the midterm elections, Charlie Hebdo, and at least 60 Jay Cutler interceptions. Because I have been so immersed in Proverbs while all this transpires, it has served as my filter for interpreting not so much the events themselves, but the often lamentable—and occasionally ridiculous—conversation that follows in the wake of each.sibling-clipart-fight

 

I’ve come to a simple conclusion: we could learn a lot from listening to the wisdom of Proverbs. Though writing a few millennia before Facebook and Twitter were the ubiquitous platform for social discourse, before the 24-hour “news” cycle, before the internet increased the amount of available information (factual or otherwise) exponentially while simultaneously reducing knowledge calamitously, Solomon got social discourse. And we would be fools to ignore him.

 

For the sake of brevity—appropriate in any conversation about Proverbs—I will confine myself to wisdom drawn from a single chapter, Proverbs 18. Here are six proverbs,
brimful and overflowing with wisdom that is convicting, humbling, and relentlessly apropos.

 

  1. “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions” (18:2). The contrast here is important, because the two halves of this proverb aren’t perfect opposites. One might expect, “Fools find no pleasure in keeping their mouths shut but delight in airing their own opinions,” or “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in their robust ignorance,” but that’s not what Solomon has to say. The issue, then, seems to be that fools skip past the understanding phase and jump directly to the soapbox phase. Not a wise choice—but clearly a common one, as a quick scan of the comments section of any political piece will quickly show. Solomon doesn’t tell us what the wise do, but we can assume he would counsel the opposite (as he does in 10:14): the wise would find pleasure in growing in understanding, knowledge, and discernment, all the while holding their tongues until they were sure of where they stand, and sure that it was solid ground! (And even then, one suspects many of the wise would still refrain from entering the fray, especially in certain social media contexts, where productive conversation is well-nigh impossible.)

(I’m not going to cover it, but some might benefit from reflection on Proverbs 18:6—“The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating”—at this point. Could be helpful!)

  1. “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts” (18:8). We tend to limit this verse to hushed conversations between “frenemies” in high school hallways (or sharing “prayer requests” in small groups), but I think it has a lot to say about social discourse too. Gossip and slander do not only apply to those we know personally; we may just as easily spread malicious misinformation about celebrities, politicians, and those thrust by terrible circumstances into the global spotlight. Many spread gossip about Michael Brown and Darren Wilson (as they had about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman a few years prior) based on the flimsiest of sources. In part this is because we delight in airing our own opinions, so we rushed to print as much as any newspaper ever has, but in part this is because we really enjoy gossip, as Solomon points out. It is much more fun to judge someone else’s character (ignorantly, I might add), but far wiser to judge our own—and to seek God’s insight as we do (see 16:2).
  2. “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame” (18:13). This is an extremely short and damningly incisive proverb. Others may feel more conviction elsewhere, but for me—prone as I am to offer my opinion on any subject without solicitation—this is a spiritual punch in the gut. Having read through the comments section on various editorials (or editorials cleverly disguised as objective reporting) too many times for my own health, I know I should not be alone in feeling this way. To answer before ensuring I have true understanding of a subject is folly and shame, because people will expose me as an ignorant fraud (see 17:28 also), and will embarrass me for it. Indeed, I would hazard to guess that the greatest shame will be my own, knowing I have acted beneath my calling as a child of God, and have wounded others carelessly. A far better choice would be to follow the wisdom of the next proverb on our list.
  3. “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out” (18:15). In marked contrast to fools—who answer before listening, air their own opinions gleefully, and gorge themselves on gossip—are the discerning. These men and women intentionally pursue knowledge and understanding. (Note, by the way, that is says nothing about expressing that knowledge, once attained. See 12:23.) I find it especially interesting that Solomon says “the ears of the wise seek it out.” Whereas fools answer before listening, the discerning make a point of seeking out people to whom they should and will listen, in order to grow in understanding. How differently would many recent events have turned out if people had chosen to listen first, rather than pontificating (which is never wise)!
  4. “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines” (18:17). Though Solomon uses an illustration from the courtroom, the point he makes has broad implications. One of the challenges we face today is the increasing politicization of “knowledge,” so that one may happily consume information that is already filtered and interpreted according to one’s political/religious/philosophical bent (see MSNBC and Fox News especially, never mind The New Republic and National Review). This leads to entrenched positions based on half a story—never a good recipe for wisdom. I’ve written more on this elsewhere, so I’ll leave it to you to revisit it.
  5. Finally, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (18:21). This is a famous and sweeping statement, one that should influence every word we speak or write. (Its New Testament equivalent, Ephesians 4:29, is equally broad and polarized.) Our words have tremendous power, far more than any physical strength we may possess, and we must wield them with overwhelming sensitivity. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can absolutely and utterly eviscerate my being (see Proverbs 12:18). If this is true, one can only cry out with the psalmist, “Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). And these days, we may add, “Set a guard over my keyboard, LORD; keep watch over the post button on my phone.” Amen and amen!


Love and a Multitude of Sins

November 27th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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I have noticed a curious phenomenon among Christians today: when it comes to sin in the church, we speak when we should remain silent, and remain silent when we should speak.

 

If someone sins against me, causing personal offense—by which we usually mean a wounded ego—I am likely to confront the person, sharing my hurt and frustrations with him. It is almost unforgivable that someone who claims Christ as Lord could treat me in this unholy manner! However, if I see that same brother reckless in a sin that does not injure me—does not wound my pride or comfort—I am likely to keep quiet and not involve myself. After all, what if he becomes angry with me? It just isn’t worth the headache to admonish someone—unless his sin causes me more discomfort than confronting him does.

 

I think we have got this perfectly backwards.

 

Jesus commands us—not a polite request, mind you, but a demand from the Lord Almighty—to deal with sin in the church decisively: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). This is to be done privately, at least initially, as Jesus goes on to explain (18:16); and it is to be done gently and humbly, mindful of our own propensity to sin and need of grace (Galatians 6:1). Above all, it is to be done lovingly. But that is the point, of course: to refrain from speaking—to leave a brother or sister in their sin without the exhortation and support of the fellowship of believers—is no love at all. It is indifference, perhaps the severest form of hatred for a family member. (And we are family.) James understands this well, writing to his scattered flock, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). To save a sibling from death, to cover over a multitude of sins—is this not love?[1]

 

The trouble comes when we have been personally offended. When this happens, as it will inevitably in the fellowship of sinners, we so rarely respond in love. Instead, we respond in pride and anger—damnable sins, to be sure. I suspect God calls us to forgive without admonition in these cases to keep us from the temptation to pride, to keep us in the humble experience of grace. As he so often does, Bonhoeffer strikes at the heart of the matter: “Brotherly love will find any number of extenuations for the sins of others; only for my sins is there no apology whatsoever.” Our community life usually suggests the reverse. Remember, just a few verses after Jesus commands us to call out a sinful sin, he shares the parable of the unmerciful servant in answer to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?” (Matthew 18:21; cf. 23-25). The parable’s powerful lesson is apropos: how can we trifle with a sibling who owes us a small debt—spare change, really—when we see the immensity of the debt God has canceled in our own lives? Paul expresses it tersely, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). We remain silent for our own sakes, pray for our siblings, entrust them to the infallible work of the Spirit. We forego pride. We choose love.

 

Love. Love compels us to speak, compels us to call the beloved, but wayward sibling to the abundant life Christ tenders. And love compels us to fall silent, to contemplate the magnitude of God’s love in our own lives, to forgive as we have been forgiven.



[1] The language of covering over a multitude of sins calls to mind 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Here Peter makes explicit the connection between love and overcoming sin.



Trust Me

August 28th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Jeremiah, in some of his best known words, wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” The implication to the final rhetorical question seems to be no one can understand it. And, in particular, we cannot understand our own hearts. We think we know ourselves, but our own hearts deceive us, blinding us to our real motivations, thoughts, feelings. We do not need Satan to deceive us when it comes to our own sin; we are perfectly capable of accomplishing that on our own.

 

As I prayed this morning, I asserted boldly that I was not motivated by pride in some specific request. (I am sure God needed that information in any case.) But these words from Jeremiah came to mind almost immediately. If I do not know my heart as well as I should because my heart actively deceives me, then I should pray differently. Instead of asserting my innocence without knowledge, I should take a line from the psalmist: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Rather than assuring myself that I am not, I need to implore God to reveal if I am driven by sin unknowingly.

 

I suspect I am not alone in this overweening boldness. When addressing girls on the issue of modesty, for example, I inevitably hear loud protests. Immodesty, I believe, springs from a lack of satisfaction in Christ, trying to make oneself feel lovable and beautiful apart from God. But most of the women who have heard me speak on the subject assure me this could never be in their hearts; rather, they are only trying to look “cute,” and weren’t even thinking of the response they get from men, other women, or even themselves. Maybe. But I would guess some heart-deception is at work. “Search me, God, and know my heart.”

 

Or consider the thorny issue of gossip. How many of us have flattered ourselves that we’re having a long conversation about someone else because we love them and just want what’s best for them? We have assumed our motivation is love and proceeded accordingly. But if we trusted ourselves less, and asked God to search us more, revealing the many offensive ways within us, we might arrive at a different conclusion.

 

While in Jerusalem for the Passover festival early in his ministry, many people saw the miracles Jesus performed and believed in him. The feeling was not mutual. John writes, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people” (John 2:24). If Jesus would not trust us because he knows what is in us, should we trust ourselves?



A Theology of Teasing

March 12th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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I recently had the opportunity to speak on the power of speech (ironic, I know), and offered at that time a brief “theology of teasing.” I sought to defend the notion that teasing—poking fun, irony, even sarcasm in its less technical sense[1]—can serve a life-giving purpose within the Christian community. My comments were not received favorably by everyone. So I wish now to give a fuller defense of what I only hinted at earlier.

 

Some would argue that teasing should never form a part of the Christian’s repertoire. The argument seems to follow 1 Corinthians 13:5, which says love is not rude. The underlying assumption is that teasing is necessarily rude, and since we are called to love—and therefore called to kindness, not rudeness—we cannot tease. I suspect this is a subtle form of begging the question, however, as it assumes what it is trying to prove, viz., that teasing is wrong. If we slow down and work through the argument as a whole, we may come to a different conclusion.

 

Scripture offers an absolute injunction as regards our speech. Paul says in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (ESV). That the injunction is absolute—covering all of our words—is clear from the strongly dichotomous language: “Let no . . . but only . . . .” Thus, the test we must apply to teasing is whether or not it is wholesome or corrupting, good for building up, giving grace to those who hear.

 

At this point we may be tempted to answer cavalierly, “Teasing is never wholesome, never builds up, never gives grace.” I am not sure we have the biblical right to say this, however, as Scripture happily forbids the sort of speech that can never give grace. In fact, Paul does so a few verses later, enjoining the Ephesians, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, what are out of place” (5:4). Filthiness, foolishness, crude humor—and other forms of speech, such as gossip, slander, deceit, hatred—can never bring grace, and so God explicitly prohibits them. Teasing does not make this list.

 

It should not be hard to see why. A simple logical syllogism should do the trick.

  1. If teasing brings grace, it has a place in Christian conversation.
  2. Teasing brings grace.
  3. Therefore, it has a place in Christian conversation.

The point of disagreement is statement #2. However, it seems unwise to disagree with the proposition, as (1) Scripture does not speak condemningly of teasing, and we always must be careful not to teach as doctrines the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9) and (2) many people’s personal experiences agree with it. It seems far wiser to be more situation-specific, rather than sweepingly dichotomous, asking in each case if the teasing comment brings grace or not.

 

Not everyone enjoys teasing, and so we must be careful when using it. Some people have experienced grace through teasing—strengthening the relationship as it often does—but this does not give us the blanket right to assume that all will. We must, as Paul commands, see what “fits the occasion” and what will give grace “to those who hear” specifically. This requires sensitivity to the person and to the Spirit. We well understand the psalmist’s prayer, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (141:3).

 

As Proverbs reminds us, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (18:21). When teasing will bring life, we should joyfully use it to bring humor, intimacy, wit, and the like to our gracious interactions; when it will bring death, we abstain. The decision will never be easy, especially when it proves so hard to tame the tongue (James 3:8), so we must choose our words carefully and lovingly. Love, not law, has the final say.

 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).



[1] Sarcasm technically means speech intending to mock or wound, which would of course be sin. But in today’s vernacular, it usually means little more than irony, which is something altogether different.



On Writing Blogs

November 26th, 2011 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Writing blogs is a dangerous pastime. The trouble with writing something short is that one never gets to say all that there is to say on any subject. Instead the blogger must rest content with hinting at the fullest possible picture, while packing as much rhetorical punch as possible into a few short lines. The possibility of misspeaking or being misunderstood proves all too real.

 

I am certain I will not succeed uniformly, but I would like to commit to writing carefully. When issues are complicated, I will try not to oversimplify for the purpose of rhetoric; when issues are sensitive, I will try to refrain from loaded words that may stir up controversy and divisiveness. In short, I am committing to an irenic spirit—one that hopefully aligns with the vision of love given by Paul in his first letter to Corinth. (And when I fail, I hope I will have the humility to acknowledge it and recommit to this standard.)

 

What I ask in return from my handful of readers is a similar commitment. When posting comments in response to me or other readers, ask yourself, “Is this comment posted in a spirit of Christian charity?” “Love,” says Paul, “is patient. . . . It is not rude” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5, NIV). Shouldn’t this standard apply to the blogs we post and the comments we make? Certainly. Let us proclaim the cross of Christ—with its humility, others-centeredness, self-sacrifice, and love—not only in the comments we make, but in the way we make them too.

 

Remember, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).