Have you ever noticed how often the title of Ten Commandments is used to list the most important rules of everything from buying a car to earning money on the internet?  When I wrote Ten Essential Words, I set up a Google alert to let me know what was trending online for the phrase “Ten Commandments.”  Each week I am amazed at how often this phrase is applied to any topic imaginable.  Here are just a few examples:

  • The Ten Commandments of a Happy Marriage
  • The Ten Commandments of Dating
  • The Ten Commandments of Money
  • The Ten Commandments of Twitter
  • Google’s Ten Commandments
  • The Ten Commandments of Dog Ownership
  • The Ten Commandments of Cruise Ship Buffets (for those who consider buffets a religious experience, I suppose)

You get the idea.  One way to make your list the definitive list is to attach the moniker The Ten Commandments of [insert topic here].  Atheists have even felt the need to come up with their own ten commandments.

So what makes the idea of listing ten items such an enduring one?  After all, there were many more laws and commands in the Old Testament than just the traditional Ten Commandments.  As I write in Ten Essential Words:

Oddly enough, the Bible never explicitly gives these statements the title we have given them – the Ten Commandments. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the phrase that is used is aseret devarim, which literally means “ten words.” The root Hebrew word davar, however, has a wide range of meaning from the simple idea of a word to the more encompassing ideas of statements, speeches, and commands. So our English version of the Bible interprets “ten words” as the phrase “ten commandments.”

Yet there is something exceptional about this list.  At a time when ideas were passed down orally, it is notable that God instructed Moses to write this list down – carve them in stone.  God did not want the Israelites to forget this list.  Additionally, at a time when nobody could really walk around with stone tablets to refer to, a list of ten words or phrases could be easily memorized and recalled.

Today’s modern society does not memorize much of anything anymore.  Thanks to the internet and smart phones, all we have to do is google a topic in order to recall it.   Studies show that we moderns can recall two or three main points, far less than a list of ten.  Jesus reduced this list of ten commands down to two: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.

Still, there is something enduring about taking a complex issue and reducing it down to ten bullet points.  Perhaps this explains why the label, The Ten Commandments of…, will continue to serve as the defining list for any and every topic, be it dating or cruise ship buffets.

Ten-Commandments-Film

Which way to the buffet?

I was saddened to read this past Saturday that Brennan Manning passed away.  He was one of my favorite authors.  His writings had a way of extending the grace of God to me in a way that I have needed to receive over and over again.  When I found myself in image management mode, Manning gave me permission to accept who I was and live in the grace and forgiveness of God.

Ragamuffin GospelAccording to his website, he was ordained to the Franciscan priesthood in 1963.  During his work with the poor, he traveled to Spain where for a time he became a solitary reflective, secluded in a remote cave for six months in the Zaragoza desert.  After returning to the states, he experienced a battle with alcoholism.  That battle prompted him to begin writing, encouraging people everywhere to accept and embrace the good news of God’s unconditional love in Jesus Christ.  Among his most popular books are The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, and The Signature of Jesus.

Abba's Child

Back in September of last year, I wrote about the Top 5 Books That Have Influenced Me, and Abba’s Child was among my top 5.  One of my favorite quotes from that book is,

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  This is the true self.  Every other identity is illusion.

The first part of that quote graced the wall in my office and a friend gave me a journal with that quote printed on the first page.  Is has become one of my life’s mottos.

From The Ragamuffin Gospel, one of my favorite quotes is,

In Christ Jesus freedom from fear empowers us to let go of the desire to appear good, so that we can move freely in the mystery of who we really are.

Signature of JesusAnd from the Signature of Jesus,

The question is, do I worship God or do I worship my experience of God?  Do I worship God or do I worship my idea of him?

Aside from reading many of his books, I got to hear him speak a couple times and count myself fortunate to even have had lunch with him along with a couple other people on one occasion.  Whether through his writing, speaking, or sitting across a table from him he was always both challenging and refreshing to hear.  May he truly rest in the grace of God!

The eighth piece of fruit in the series on the Fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of Gentleness. For an overview see, By Their Fruit You Will Recognize Them.

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Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

In its original language, gentleness often stood in contrast to harshness.  It is closely related to the Scriptural idea of meekness or humility.  Followers of Jesus were often implored not to be overbearing and harsh with their words and their beliefs.  Thus gentleness was to characterize their disposition when interacting with others.  At the same time, truth was never to be compromised.

We have already covered the first fruit of love and we also examined the role of truth with the fruit of peace.  Gentleness then could be described as – to use the language of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians –  “speaking the truth in love.”  Truth is not being set aside, but neither is it being used as a harsh weapon that serves to turn people off from the message of grace, because it is wielded with a gentle stroke.

Speaking the truth in love is more of an art form than a science – a delicate balance that, as followers of Jesus, we must strive for in our words.  Words that contain both truth and love provide valuable nourishment for others and ourselves.  Yet it is rather easy to leave one of these two ingredients out of our words.  Some people speak the truth quite freely.  They have absolutely no problem pointing out faults and offering criticisms to those around them, even reminding others that the truth sometimes hurts (a sure sign that it was probably not spoken in love).  What they say can even be rather accurate; there is truth in their words.  But love is absent.  Their words are not delivered with gentleness.

Other people extend love quite easily to those around them.  They are often encouraging and make others feel good about themselves with their words.  But when the truth does need to be spoken, they shy away from it, often settling for the approval of those around them.  Truth is skirted if there is a possibility that it may bring disagreement or rejection.

The truth is that on the truth-love continuum, most of us lean more toward one than the other.  Some of us are truth-tellers, while others of us are grace-givers.  One comes easily for us while the other is a bit more difficult to muster up.  But finding that balance is part of expressing the fruit of gentleness.

If gentleness is the art of speaking the truth in love, how would you characterize the fruit of gentleness being evident in your conversations?

  • Am I speaking the truth with love and humility?
  • Do you tend to be more of a truth-teller or a grace-giver?
  • Have you interacted with a person who exuded gentleness with their words?  How did you respond to their words?  How was truth about yourself presented to you?

In the first post of this series on the Fruit of the Spirit, By Their Fruit You Will Recognize Them,  I introduced  the practice of using the Fruit of the Spirit as a way to review the previous year.  I thought I would make it a series over the coming weeks and delve into each piece of fruit a little deeper.  Click on the Follow or Sign Me Up button to subscribe to this blog and get notified of new posts in this series!

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Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … Love your neighbor as yourself.

The notion of love is a prevalent one in our culture today. It is the topic of songs, poetry, art, dare we say it is even the longing of the human heart. “All you need is love” has become a popular sentiment ever since the Beatles introduced it decades ago. And the romantic inside us all desperately wants to believe that this is true: Love is all we need.

The problem is that our culture – and by extension, we ourselves, since we are part of the culture – has a very shallow definition of love. It is usually reduced down to a fleeting emotional feeling. When we feel it, everything is great; when it’s gone, so is the love.

This is very different from how Scripture describes love. Many of the same ideas are expressed, yet they are grounded in a much deeper understanding of the word. The descriptions of love given to us by people such as Jesus, and the Apostles Paul and John, take us far beyond sappy, emotional definitions of love so prevalent in today’s culture. When Scripture says that love is the greatest commandment, it is not referring to an ephemeral emotion. It cannot be found in simple attraction or reduced to lust. It is greater than a human impulse or merely our brain’s response to a chemical reaction, though we might say that it captures some of what it means to be human, to be created in God’s image.

This love being referred to as a fruit of the Spirit is a supernatural love that flows from the Creator to creation. And the heart of God is that this love be returned, through our neighbor, back to the Creator. When we truly understand love in this way, it is easy to understand why so much of our art, our music, our imagination, focuses on the theme of love. It also helps us understand why, when love is separated from God, so much of our artistic expression on the topic often rings hollow, holding out empty promises for the brokenness of our world.

Once we get past our cultural notions of love, we can begin to understand those areas of our heart that we need to nurture. To begin with, love is not just a good feeling, but it is the ability to express a range of emotions. Love allows us to feel things deeply. Yes, at times that can be a feeling of happiness, but love also allows us to hurt with others. Love lets us celebrate and rejoice with others, but also prompts us to weep when our hearts are overwhelmed with sadness. A heart full of love is a heart that has the ability to feel things deeply.

Beyond feelings and emotions, love is also something that can be learned and takes commitment. There are times when it is a choice to love, whether or not we feel the emotion. Scripture often describes God’s love in terms of a covenant, and a marriage covenant served as a good example. Oftentimes, it is living under a covenant that rejuvenates feelings of love in a marriage, rather than the continual feelings of love keeping the covenant intact. This should bring us comfort, for under the Covenant of Grace, it is God’s love and commitment to us that carries us through times where we do not have the energy or emotional capacity to respond to the love of God.

Finally, love that comes from God is love that is put into action. It is not enough to simply say that we love God or love others; we must express that love in tangible ways. Words of encouragement, kind deeds, involvement in a cause, and commitment to spiritual practices are just some of the ways we can start to express love, rather than just feeling it.

With this Scriptural concept of love in mind, how would you evaluate the presence of the fruit of Love in your life?

  • Am I growing in my capacity to love people and am I loving God and others well?
  • What is one aspect of this piece of fruit that you can celebrate?
  • In what aspect of love can you take as step toward growth?