Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Meditation on the Sixth Commandment

You shall not commit adultery.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and that husband and wife each love and honor the other.
Marriage is the most beautiful earthly estate that God has established on the earth.  Marriage should be highly treasured and given its proper place.  Just envision the bride on her wedding day, adorned with a glorious wedding garment.  The spotless garment is a perfect picture of what wedded life should be like.  The bride walks into the sanctuary to say her vows to her soon-to-be husband and all eyes are on her.  The beauty of marriage is typified in the garment which the bride is wearing.
Yet it doesn't take long before the wedding garment is soiled.  By the time the festivities are over the garment looks used and dirty.  It no longer holds that glorious radiance which was present just hours before.  Usually the dress is then cleaned and boxed up, it is put out of sight and out of mind.  The glory which the garment displayed is usually forgotten and the cares of life begin eating away at the beautiful estate of marriage, like a mouse eating away at the beautiful garment that was once part of the highlight of a wedding.
Married couples soon forget that glorious day.  They become wrapped up in the cares of life and at times show bitterness and anger towards each other.  Slowly but surely they lose that physical attraction that brought them together in the first place and they find themselves just biding their time together, trying to keep their families together and doing their part to make ends meet.  If their love towards each other is not kindled, it will eventually go out.
If our children are fortunate, their parents stay together until death parts them, but most of them see a much less appealing side of marriage.  Two individuals come together to unite as one flesh, yet they have done things their own ways for so long that they are unable to adapt.  Stress begins to mount and the glorious wedding dress doesn't look very glorious anymore.  Children perceive our thoughts through how we act in our marriages.  The young look to us for guidance, but when we have given them a poor example to live by we destroy the sanctity and beauty of marriage that God had established it to be.
Sure it may keep the marriage bed pure for our generation, but when our own marriages lack the splendor and appeal God gave them we show nothing but a poor example for the next generation to follow.  It’s no wonder people are so willing to try other things that have been condemned by God (co-habitation, homosexuality, or experiential love, etc.).  They see people failing every day in the marriage that God designed, so they think to themselves, why not try something else.
Yet, Christ’s marriage to His Church has never failed.  Jesus united himself to mankind by taking on human flesh and living a perfect life under the law.  He sanctified our bodies by pouring out blood from His side to wash all sin away.  Then He rose from the dead to prove to us that God had approved of His sacrifice.  This is the marriage we are to look to when our own marriage is troubled.  This is the marriage we are to look to when our sins are weighing us down.  And this is the marriage we are to aspire to imitate.  Only Jesus’ marriage to His Church succeeds against all odds.  Every time our wedding garment becomes soiled, we return to Him to be washed and cleansed.  We return to Him so that we are not looking at our own imperfect human examples but aspiring to His willingness to love us, even when we did not deserve it. 
God grant us a willing heart and mind to be chaste in all our thoughts, words, and actions, so that we treasure marriage as we ought.  Help husbands and wives to love and honor each other, as Christ has so loved us, and to set an inspiring example of marriage; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Meditation on the Fifth Commandment

You shall not kill.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do no bodily harm to our neighbor, but help and befriend him in every need.
God has given us the fifth commandment so that all human life would be protected, built up and supported by others.  In this commandment we learn how we are to live life among our neighbors and learn how we are to conduct ourselves toward fellow human beings.
In the meaning to the commandment Luther points out that to kill means to do bodily harm.  Any infliction of pain that we purposely commit against our neighbor is considered murder.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15).  One cannot even claim that he is teaching his neighbor a lesson, because God has given the power to punish wrongdoers to the government.  It is not the prerogative of an individual to get back at his enemies.  Anger, reproof, and punishment are the prerogatives of God and His representatives, and they are to be exercised upon those who transgress.
All to often, the spirit of revenge clings to each one of us.  None of us willing suffers injury from another, which is why God would keep this commandment before us at all times.  Revenge is often easy to see in our children.  They fight back and retaliate when things do not go their way.  The longer we harbor hatred the harder it is to be rid of it.  Hatred clings to us.  But God reminds us that it should not be so.
This commandment also requires us to be proactive like a sports team on offense, so that we help those who are in need.  If we fail to do good to our neighbor when we have opportunity, or if we fail to prevent, protect, or save him from suffering bodily harm or injury.  “If you send the naked away without clothes, you have let him freeze to death.  If you see anyone suffer hunger and do not feed him, you have let him starve.”  Anytime we fail to befriend someone in need, we have contributed to his death whether we directly caused it or not.  God rightly calls all persons murderers who do not offer counsel and aid to those in need and in peril of body and life.
As we look into the mirror of the 5th commandment, we lose heart because we have neglected those in need, harbored hatred against our enemies, and loved ourselves more than others.  For all of this we should be truly sorry and seek to amend our sinful ways, since the love of Christ compels us.
All of our sins have been punished in Christ.  He loved his enemies, even to the point of death.  We were his enemies and he willingly died for us.  “For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us; the righteous for the unrighteous.” No sin has been left for us to suffer punishment on our own, even our weakness and inability to protect our neighbor’s lives as we ought.  Christ has paid for all of them and has held nothing against us. 
Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  When we pray the Lord’s prayer we ask God to be gracious unto us and for Him to cause us to be gracious unto others so that even though neither we nor they are worthy of forgiveness we forgive as we have already been forgiven.
May God grant us His grace to live according to His Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Meditation on the Fourth Commandment

Honor your father and mother, that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise our parents or superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love and esteem them.
In the Large Catechism Luther observes that “The thoughts of this commandment are plain and simple words, and everyone thinks that he already knows them well.  So he passes over them lightly, fastens his attention on other things, and fails to perceive and believe how angry he makes God when he neglects this commandment, and how precious and acceptable a work he does when he observes it.” (LC 1:140)  [1]Luther points out that “honor” includes not only love but also respect, humility, and modesty that is directed at the estate or vocation of parenthood.  We are to obey our parents as we are to obey God because He has placed our parents over us.  God serves us through our parents and they are worthy of the same type of honor (except worship) which we are to show towards God in all our thoughts, words, and actions.  And even though parents fail at times, they are not to be deprived of their honor because of such failings.
What is meant by parents?  God uses the fourth commandment to establish rule and authority on the earth.  All earthly power stems from the estate of our parents.  It includes parents by blood, parents by adoption or guardianship, it includes parents of civil realm…city, state, and federal government, and it also includes our spiritual fathers who watch over our spiritual care and feed us with God’s Word.
What have we received from our parents?  Most significant of all is life.  We have been given food, shelter, and clothing, we have been and are being educated.  A God-fearing education is the responsibility of parents…not the Sunday School or public education.  As children we are to expect to be reared in a God-pleasing and God-praising manner.  An education that lacks a solid foundation upon God does more harm than good because it undermines who God is.  Children have a right to expect their parents to act as the arm of God by training them and disciplining them through His word.  It is God who has given children to us parents to care for and to bring up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord.  That responsibility falls on our shoulders as parents.
As apt as we are to fail at following the fourth commandment it is the only commandment with promise clearly stated; “That it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” (Eph 6:2-3)  It is through the arm of obedience to our parents, superiors, employers, civil authorities and our spiritual authorities that we are provided for.  God uses each one of these estates as a means through which he provides life and abundant blessing…instead of cursing.  If we would only listen and be persuaded that works of obedience are pleasing to God, we would be so overwhelmed with our blessings that we shall have all our heart’s desire.  But we cannot comply.  Everyone does what they please and the world is full of shame, misery, and murder.  We simply think we know better than our superiors and we set an example for our children not to obey.
Yet, that did not stop Christ from obeying all those in authority over him.  As a child he went with Mary and Joseph and was subject to them…and even then he was about His Father’s business.  All the way to the cross he was about His Father’s business…not for His own benefit or the benefit of His Father, but for our benefit He willingly obeyed even to the point of death.  Jesus shed His blood on the cross so that we would not have to suffer eternally for our inability to live up to the demands of the fourth commandment.  May we, through the love he poured out on us, strive to honor all those in authority over us. Amen.

[1] Tappert, Theodore. The Book of Concord. Fortress Press, 1959.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How do we view the Ten Commandments

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

How do we understand God’s Law or his commandments? Over the past few months we have taken time to review the first three of the Ten Commandments which focus on our relationship with God. Before we move on to a review of the second table of the law that guides our relationships with our neighbors, we will look at God’s Commandments in general and what they mean for us.

In our minds the Ten Commandments sound like commands, “You shall...” or “You shall not…” but according to the rules of grammar they are not commands in the Hebrew or in English. In English if we were to give a proper command we would say “Have no other Gods” or “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” These, properly speaking, would be commands. While it is important to understand the Ten Commandments in light of what God directs us to do they are not specifically written as commands so much as they are just statements about how His people act. We could almost picture it as though God is defining who we are. My children have no other gods or My children don’t take the name of the Lord their God in vain.

This does not mean that we are to assume that we can fulfill them. Just because God describes His children in such ways, does not mean that we have the ability to carry out His description of us. We even end up making false gods when we think that we can live up to these requirements. Anyone who tries to take comfort in his supposed fulfillment of the Law is simply calling God a liar. God said, “there is no one who does good, no not one” (Ps 53:1).

So what then is the purpose of the commandments? They are to show us our sin, tell us how we are to be, and what we are to do and not to do. They must show us our sin first, before we know we need a Savior. Without the knowledge of the written Law, we simply do not perceive our need for a Savior. But through God’s revealed law…we must come to the conclusion that we cannot fulfill them and are therefore guilty before God.

When God gave the Ten Commandment to the Israelites, He prefaced it with this; “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” He prefaces His law to us in the same manner, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of your bondage of slavery to sin.” Because of Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of God’s law in our place, we have been freed from our servitude or slavery to the law. Because of Jesus’ holy death, we have been freed from the punishment which our sins deserve. Only because of Christ is there a new relationship with God’s commandments. It is not a relationship of fear but a joyful expression of being His people.

Only in Jesus can we have a proper understanding of God’s description of His children according to the Ten Commandments. In Christ, God sees us as though we have walked according to all His commandments, not because we tried really hard or put forth our best effort, but because Jesus did it for us and therefore God regards us as though we have actually kept them perfectly.

Dear heavenly Father, give us a proper respect and understanding for your law, helping us to acknowledge that only Jesus has fulfilled them and in that knowledge finding the strength to do Your will. Amen.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Meditation on the 3rd Commandment

You shall keep the day of rest holy

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

How does one honor the day of rest?  If it is a day of rest, it must mean that we should cease to work on that day right.  We should take time to stop our busy and hectic lives to enjoy life a little more, to spend more time with family and friends and to enjoy “me” time.

While rest is a necessary part of our workaholic lives and rest serves a valuable purpose in rejuvenating our work ethics and our motivation…it is not what the commandment is talking about.  Certainly Jesus rested from his work of preaching and teaching at times, because as a human He also needed time to recuperate…so God is not saying that it is wrong to rest.  The Third Commandment speaks of another kind of rest.

The ultimate reason for a day of rest is so that we, as the people of God may have the time and opportunity  to participate in public worship, that we may assemble to hear and discuss God’s Word and then praise God with prayer and song, by proclaiming to each other, what Jesus has done for us.  For Christians, Sunday has been the day appointed upon which we may gather together and keep it holy.

The day, in and of itself, is not holy.  It is holy because of what is customarily done on that day.  It is the setting aside the mundane tasks of this life and gathering or assembling around God’s Word so that we may be fed and refreshed by it.  Yet it is not just Sunday that should serve as a day of rest, but every day.  Every day the Christian should go about his business with God’s Word in his heart and upon his lips.  On Sunday, when the Christian gathers for worship, he focuses on the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer…so that every day of the week the Christian’s life may be regulated by God’s Word.

We can never have enough of God’s Word.  Even if the Christian thinks he knows the Word of God, he will never know it well enough.  Where the heart stands idle and the Word of God is not heard, the devil breaks in and does his damage before the Christian can realize it.  The Devil, the world, and the flesh is at work trying to pull us away from the Word of God.  The Word is the only defense we have against them.  They are always trying to get us to forsake God’s Word, but as long as we keep God’s word sacred in our hearts, by daily learning and applying it…the Devil cannot win, God’s Word will defeat him.

The Christian will never regret spending time in God’s Word.  “It always awakens new understanding, new pleasures, and a new spirit of devotion, and it constantly cleanses the heart and its meditations.”  The word’s of God are not dead and idle words, but effective and living.  Only His words have the power to put the devil to flight…if that was all it did that should be enough.  Yet God’s Word gives us more…it gives us Christ, through whom we have peace with God.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Devotional Meditation on the Second Commandment

You shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in vain.

We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, practice witchcraft, lie or deceive by His name, but call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.

God’s name cannot be more grievously abused than for purposes of falsehood and deceit.  To use God’s name in vain is to use it for useless purposes or more particularly to use it to support falsehood or wrong of any kind.

But how is God’s name used vainly?  How is it used for false pretenses?  It seems easy to understand the obvious implications of this commandment.  Don’t lie while using God’s name, because God will hold you accountable.  I’m not sure if in our everyday conversation when we say, “I swear to God such and such happened” that people even take notice, or actually are drawn to the image of God as witness to our foolish statements.  Nonetheless, God forbids us from using His name foolishly.

More often than not, there are so called pastors of Christian churches that claim, thus says the Lord.  Just because someone adds, God said it, many people often fall pray to trusting in these false prophets.  It is easy to see the decay of the Christian Church over the past hundred years and the ill effects false prophets have had on our society.  Yet, the false teachers can’t get all the blame.  Too often we let the pastor say whatever he wants and we rarely if ever go to the Source, God’s Word, to determine if what he said was correct.  We are just as guilty, for being negligent in our studies, and letting the pastor lead us wherever he feels like.

God instructs us through St. Paul to be prepared, For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths. When churches begin falling down the slippery slope of false doctrine, there does not seem to be a bottom.  Like a large snowball rolling down a mountain, it continues picking up size as it moves faster and faster towards the bottom (hell).  The only real Guardian we have against false doctrine is God the Holy Spirit, working through His Word.

Just think of the countless number of Christians today who believe there is room in the account of Creation for millions of years.  Pastor’s have swallowed their parishioners inconsistencies and allowed God’s Word to stand along side of bad science.  Evolution cannot be proven…it is a theory.  Yet because it has been promoted as the most reasonable option for so long Christians have fallen pray to an atheistic worldview, that denies the existence of the God declared in Scripture.

Heavenly Father, forgive us for being so earthly minded by swallowing the wisdom of this world and hoping it can coincide with Your Word.  Forgive us for misusing Your Name and treating it as though it really doesn’t matter.  Give us the confidence to live in the forgiveness which Your Son has won for us and protect us from those who desire to silence Your Truth.  Amen.

Devotional Meditation on the First Commandment

You shall have no other gods.
A commandment that we have known since childhood.  It seems so simple, right?  There is only one God and we are to fear, love and trust in him above all things.  We may often forget how easy it is to fail in keeping this commandment.  When we hear it, we are often drawn to those false gods like Buddha and Allah, or maybe the multiplicity of gods included in the Hindu religion.  We easily dismiss thoughts of worshipping gods of that caliber because they often have no real appeal to us.

But if we really dig deeper into what it means to have another god, we may have to re-evaluate how easily we let ourselves off the hook.  In the Large Catechism Luther explains what a God is…A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need.  To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart.  As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.  If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God.  On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God.  For these two belong together, faith and God.  That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.

So in whom do you trust.  Do you really and truly rely on God for everything?  We like to think that we do, yet we are constantly drawn to trust in ourselves or the work which we do to earn us some money.  We trust in our car to keep us safe, our insurance to provide in case of an emergency, or even our government to bail us out when things go wrong.  While none of these things are wrong in and of themselves, we see how easy it is to be drawn to trust in them for the blessings which only come from God.

Over the next several months I will take portions from the catechism in order to give us an opportunity to review those teachings which we have learned from scripture regarding the basic teachings of God’s Word.  A review of the Catechism starts with the commandments because it offers to us a needed opportunity to reflect on God’s will for us in our lives.  The law tells us what we are to do and what not to do but it cannot save us.  More often than not, the law simply reveals to us our sinful condition and the inability of mankind to live according to God’s will.

The first commandment directs us to the source of all goodness and mercy.  Only in the one true God can we alone find comfort and joy.  Why?   Because as the psalmist says He forgives all our iniquities and heals all our diseases, He redeems our lives from destruction.  When God commands allegiance to Him and Him only, it is because if we place our trust in something else…we have no God at all and are doomed to eternal death.  But only in Him can there be full confidence, because God cannot fail.

He did not fail.  He sent His Son as promised and completed the way to make us right again before His eyes.  In the first commandment God intends to tell us: “Whatever good thing you lack, look to me for it and seek it from me.  I am the one who will satisfy you and help you out of every need.  Only let your heart cling to no one else.” 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On Christ's Ascension I Now Build
The hope of mine ascension
this hope alone has ever stilled
all doubt and apprehension;
For where the Head is, there full well
I know His members are to dwell
When Christ shall come and call them.
                            Josua Wegelin, 1636; trans. Willaim Cxamanske, 1938.

Christ was indeed raised from the dead on Easter morning...and forty days later we celebrate His ascension into heaven.  There are many reasons to celebrate Jesus' ascension and they all have to do with the comfort which they afford His people here on earth, when we truly understand what his Ascension means to us.

Christ left us for our good.  As sad as it may seem that Christ visibly left the earth, it was better by far that he return to the father then that he would stay with us.  We often wonder of what it would be like if Jesus were here.  We are like the disciple who stood gazing up into the sky wondering what next.  We act like St. Peter when he told Jesus that he should not be informing the disciple of His coming death...but what did Christ say, he said, "Get behind me Satan, you do not have in mind the things of God, but rather the things of men."  We too are guilty of having in mind the things of men when we long for Jesus visible presence among us.  If he were still on earth, how could he be present with all those who simultaneously gather around his word, how could he rule his church for the benefit of his people, how could he fill all things as St. Paul says in Ephesians.

Christ told us he was going away for our good so that we wouldn't have any preconceived notions about a Christian utopia here on earth.  Jesus did not come to rule Israel like David or Solomon. Rather He came to save us from our selfish ambitions that we have when we question why Christ visibly left us and why he didn't destroy evil in the world.  Jesus ascended into heaven so that he would more appropriately rule like God, instead of like how we would have men rule over us here on this earth.

He left so that he could be present every time Christians gather around his word.  He left so that as our brother and fellow human he would be given power and might far beyond anything we could ever imagine so that as one of us he could rule on our behalf and in our best interest.

He ascended into heaven so that our hearts and our minds would be drawn away from the things of this world and towards Him who rules all things and who went before us to prepare a place for us so that His people might spend eternity in His Father's house.

He also ascended to leave us an image of hope, knowing that we to will ascend into heaven when we die and leave behind this world of sin, sadness, sickness, and sorrow.  He left us a triumphant picture of our ascent into heaven as well, so that this world will be left behind us and we to will join him in heaven.  Our heart rests on Christ's Ascension. Amen.

Join us for our Ascension service on Thursday, May 17 at 6:00 p.m. and let your heart be lifted up in the comfort of Christ's Ascension.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

During the last 6 weeks, Peace's Lenten theme has focused on following Jesus to the cross.  The Lenten season culminates in Holy Week and of course the high point is His resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Holy week gives us time to commemorate our Lord's passion as we again hear the account of how our King rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey and was hailed by those there.  Hosanna to the Son of David.  Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Then we hear again the account of how He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Holy week gives us a time to contemplate our sins and what they deserve, but it also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the love that God has for us through His Son Jesus Christ, who took all our bad thoughts, words and actions upon himself and gave us His holy and perfect life in return.  By His suffering and death we are healed.  Please join us for worship this next week as we gather to celebrate Jesus death for us.

Palm Sunday:   8:30 a.m.
Maundy Thursday:   6:00 p.m.
Good Friday:   6:00 p.m.
Easter Sunrise Service:   7:00 a.m.    service will be followed by a potluck breakfast

Monday, February 20, 2012

Peace Lutheran Church will be hosting Lenten services starting on Ash Wednesday, February 22 at 6:00 p.m. and continuing each Wednesday until March 28th.  Then we will have a Maundy Thursday service and a Good Friday service the following week.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Peace Lutheran Church began another chapter as they installed a new pastor on January 15, 2012.  Pastor Jeffery Merseth officially took over the duties of his office during a 4:00 p.m. installation service.  The service was well attended and was celebrated with a pot luck meal following the service.

Rev. Merseth's father, Pastor John Merseth preached the message and gave both the newly installed pastor and the congregation items to contemplate as they begin a new relationship together which will serve the spreading of the Gospel.  Both pastor and congregation have manifold responsibilities to each other as they grow in their relationship with Christ and seek to spread the news that Jesus Christ died for sinners.

Pastor Merseth, his wife Megan, and their three children (Judah 4, Andrew 2, and Enoch 3 months) moved here from far northern Minnesota.  They lived approximatly 30 miles from the Canada border.  We welcome Pastor Merseth and his family into our family here at Peace Lutheran Church.  We pray that his presence and work in our midst would be a blessing to us and to those with whom we come into contact.