Grappling: The First Commandment

Grappling: The First Commandment


You shall have no other God.

Sounds pretty simple.

I’m a Christian; Christians worship the true God and no other, so I got this, right?

I suspect that’s the approach that most Christians take towards the first commandment. At face value, it makes sense – I worship the true God, I don’t bow down to any idols, I must be keeping this one. Check, done. Don’t have to worry about that one any more.

Keeping the first commandment though, is more than simply picking the “right god” and sticking with him.

At the heart of this commandment is TRUST. Who, or what, do you put your trust in above all things? Which then begs the question, what does it mean to trust?

Luther, as always, provides some keen insights!

Shall we begin?

Grappling: Vocation, Again

Grappling: Vocation, Again

This is the last of the “Introduction to the Commandments” videos. The next video, we begin digging into the Commandments themselves, I promise!

There is a quick summary on the doctrine of Christian vocation here, if you missed it earlier. Today’s video leans a little more towards the practical application of loving the neighbour through ones vocation.

Sidebar – Understanding Christian Vocation

Sidebar – Understanding Christian Vocation

Poor Wally is tired, I bet.

He was lamenting a bit that his various vocations kept him pretty busy this week and were preventing him from carrying out his vocation of Christian Blogger Extraordinaire 😉 I can relate.

There was a time when I desired (uh-oh!) to enter into full-time church work. I was so involved in the various ministries of our church that I began to desire to be able to devote myself to it full time. I thought of it as my real work, far more important than my normal 9 to 5 desk job. I wanted to be a deaconess! I enrolled in Concordia Seminary to study and was ready to go, but in the end I didn’t. That’s a whole other long story, but what it basically came down to was God saidno” to my plans.

I struggled with that for a long time. I was truly heartbroken by it. Lord, I want to serve you! Are you rejecting me? Am I not fit to serve?

I had been so sure that the desire in my heart was a holy one! That God Himself had created the desire to serve Him in this way. And realizing that He didn’t really threw me for a loop. If I couldn’t trust what I thought to be a God-given desire, what could I trust?? How could I have been so wrong? And if I couldn’t trust any of this, how could I ever figure out what God’s plan for me, personally, would be? I felt lost.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was a traumatic event in my life. I can’t explain why it affected me so deeply, but it did. It took me a couple of years to mourn and come to terms with it. Until my husband had his affair, it was the single most traumatic event in my life and the sense of loss was hard to accept.

Towards the end of my “mourning period”, I happened to be doing a lot of study on Luther’s theology of the Cross, which is closely connected to – of all things – his doctrine of Christian vocation.

Just as a side note, the “theology of the Cross” and the doctrine of vocation are probably the two teachings that have most influenced my thinking on the Christian life. I continue to draw heavily on the insights I learned from them, but coming across the stuff on vocation in my time of mourning/questioning did more than all the other healing combined, in helping me come to terms with “my loss”. I think it’s fair to say that meditating on Luther’s understanding of vocation – he has some wonderful, little known insights – was instrumental in finally healing my pain and doubts. He beautifully unfolded God’s word for me in a way that helped me make sense of my life again.

You know that saying, “once you see it, you can’t unsee it”? That’s what it’s like. The insights I drew from these teaching profoundly affected how I understand the Christian life; they have become the “lens” through which I approach the Scriptures and Christian piety.

But as important as it has become to me, I’ve never been able to articulate it well. I’ve tried to write about it at least a half a dozen or so times, but everything I’ve started has either ended up in the trash folder or is currently sitting unfinished in my drafts folder. 😕

Looking online for some inspiration, I came across this helpful summary of the doctrine of vocation and, rather than re-summarize it for you, I thought I’d simply just share it. He explains it much better than I ever could.

If you have 20 minutes to spare, give it a look. I guarantee you will look at your vocation in a whole new light!

Grappling – Desire…The Root of Sin

Grappling – Desire…The Root of Sin

What do you desire?  Plenty, am I right?  

Desire, in and of itself, is not sinful, but not all desires are right desires.  Often, it is when desire turns inward toward the self that our desires become false desires, and when we’re chasing down false desires it stands in the way of us seeking right desires.

Take, for example, Esau, who traded away his birthright for a bowl of stew to calm the desires of his hungry belly.  Dude traded away the promises of God for lunch!  Much later, he realises his error, but it is too late. The promises that were intended to be his, as first born, passed to his sneaky brother instead.  We tend to look at Esau and think, What a dumbass! I would NEVER do that!  

Think again.  If you don’t see yourself in Esau, look harder.  We ARE Esau, trading away right desires for false ones, exchanging God’s good promises for the momentary desires that reside within our hearts.  

I’m not sure why we are so inclined to trust the desires of our heart – the Bible is clear that the heart of man is deceitful and wicked above all things, that our desires are in opposition to God’s.  Follow your heart is horrible, horrible advice.  

In his Commandments, God encompasses for us what right desires ought to look like – a guidebook, if you will, to bring our desires into alignment with His own – but this conversion of our desires is only and and ever begun, never fully completed in this life.  Converting our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh is a lifelong process – we are ever in need of restraining the flesh –  therefore meditating on the Commandments and their meaning ought to be a lifelong habit as well.

This is the last video (or maybe second-to-last, I can’t remember for sure) of the “Introduction to the Commandments” in this series; then we’ll be moving onto looking at the text of the Commandments and their meanings.  Lots of insightful stuff, so stay tuned!

**If you haven’t seen the earlier videos, or you want to review them before moving on to the nitty gritty of the text, you can find them here.



Something I haven’t shared with many people is that my daughter, our youngest child, is very mentally ill.  I could tell you stories about her that would curl your hair – crazy stuff you wouldn’t believe – but I don’t feel right sharing it all…its her story, not mine, and I feel an obligation to protect her privacy.  

At the same time, though, her illness, or at least the crazy behaviours that manifest when she’s symptomatic, take a very heavy toll on me.  If you’ve ever noticed that sometimes I kinda disappear for a few weeks, it’s probably because I am busy dealing with and/or recovering from my daughters shenanigans.

Let me show you what my daughter is like:

Watching this video (which I just stumbled upon) is like seeing my daughter.  Actually, my daughter is even scarier than this girl, but what’s really eerie is that so many of the distorted cognitions she displays are identical to my daughter’s – You don’t love me, You would never do this to ______ (a sibling), You never hear me.  I don’t know what’s wrong with the girl in this video, but I can tell you that she is highly emotionally disregulated.  

We don’t quite know what is wrong g with our daughter.  She has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety stemming from PTSD as well as Bipolar Disorder, but none of those diagnoses accounts for the high degree of emotional disregulation that she experiences; I suspect that something else is going on here as well, perhaps Borderline Personality Disorder (which her dad has) or perhaps Complex PTSD which manifests in similar ways.  

This has been going on for years, since her mid-teens.  I used to say that my daughter was an emotional terrorist – that she terrorized us with her frightening emotional outbursts in order to get her way.  I know this sounds rather extreme, but the truth is that over the years, my daughter has traumatized me with her behaviour.  It can take me a couple of weeks to recover from one of her outbursts.

My daughter has three lovely children, my beloved grandchildren, whose well-being I am concerned for.  Recently my daughter has become very unstable and I had to remove the children from her care.  This is not the first time I’ve had to do this, but this time I was compelled to get Family and Children’s Services involved.  Our preference would be to deal with this as a family without having to get social services involved but the reality is, we need outside resources and support to help her.  We simply aren’t equipped to deal with this all on our own.

Right now I am the devil – I took away her children and called the authorities for help – proof that I am evil and don’t love her.  In her delusional state, she is unable to see that it was necessary; she can’t even see that her children are suffering and intervention was needed to protect them from further harm.  It was hard for me to do, because I knew that once she found out she would punish me for it.  

The psychiatric care my daughter is receiving has been spotty at best – this is a medically underserviced area and the the few p-docs we have are over burdened. There simply aren’t enough psychiatrists to go around.  Family and Children’s Services has ordered a thorough psych exam for her so I am hopeful that she may finally get a solid diagnosis and the help she needs.

I don’t know why I decided to share this – I guess I just needed to get it out.  If you are inclined, prayers for our family would be greatly appreciated.

Grappling: The Two Tables of the Law 

Grappling: The Two Tables of the Law 

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The Pharisees come up and ask Jesus Which commandment is the greatest? and Jesus’ answer is interesting.  He doesn’t point to any one commandment – in fact, he doesn’t quote any single commandment at all; rather, he gives a summary of all the Commandments – love God and love people.  

His answer is instructive – the heart of the Commandments is to love; not as an emotional abstraction (“all we need is love!”) but that in the Commandments we find very specific, concrete principles of what love for God and neighbour ought to look like.  

God’s high, holy standard for us is encompassed within the Commandments as a whole.  You can’t pick out just one and elevate it above all the others – they are designed to work together as a complete ethical system, each commandment flowing out from the previous one all the way back to the first, and summarized into two tables – love for God (the first table) and love for neighbour (the second table).

Jesus also points out that our love for God and neighbour is never finished.  Love your God with ALL your heart and ALL your soul and ALL your mind.  How’s that working out for ya?  If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’ll find that under the Law there is always more to do.

When we confess our sins before God, we confess this very thing – We have not loved You with our whole hearts; we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves.  We have sinned against God and neighbour in thought, word and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. 

Thanks be to God that we are covered by the blood of the Lamb, who left nothing undone; who is the beginning and end of love! His grace is sufficient and in Him all things are made complete.  

Grappling: The Ten Commandments As Virtues

Grappling: The Ten Commandments As Virtues

For me, this is where the study of the Commandments really starts to get interesting 😀

I know I’m going against the grain here, but I happen to believe that one can know what one should or should not do at any given moment and under all circumstances according to the Ten Commandments.  That is to say, we can confidently find God’s will for our entire lives in them.  (That provocative enough for ya?)   

If you object to this idea, it’s ok, I get it…just hang with me for a bit, alright?

If you’ve been following along, you’ll recall we looked at the Law as the primary means by which God confronts us with our unpayable debt of sin, and our desparate need for a Saviour who will rescue us from it.  The Law, however, shows us more than just what we ought not to do, it also shows us the virtues that we ought to strive after as Christians. Not virtues for the sake of our virtuousness (for we are already wholly righteous before God, in Christ) but virtues that reflect who we are under God, and how we are to live in service to one another.  Remember, the Commandments still apply, but our motivation for keeping them under Christ is radically shifted.  We no longer keep them out of fear for our own condemnation – because that has already been taken care of, dealt with at the Cross.  Now we keep them because in them we find who God created us to be.

In the Creation, God told us what man’s job is – to care for all of Creation.  And because God saw that it was not good that man should be alone, He created woman and then, in His wisdom, He allowed us to become participants in creation through the joining of man and woman together to create offspring.  In a very real sense, Creation was not fully completed until the first child was born.  We were created to create, and to care for the created.

We were originally created to know how to do that – the Law that is written on the hearts of all testifies to this – but sin has obscured our view.  We can no longer clearly see how it is that God created us to live in community together, under Him, caring for one another.  God said it is not good for man to be alone, and that is true for us too.  We’re all in this together. It’s not good for us to live in isolation of one another, nor to live as if we were, caring only for ourselves without regard for others.  

Jesus Himself told us how we ought to live in relation to one another – the first shall be last – and if we knew how to do that, we wouldn’t need the Commandments to tell us, would we?

There’s this lovely description of what the life of the faithful looks like from the prophet Micah:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

He has told you what is good…  

God has informed the heart of every man that which is good, and when that was not enough, He spoke it to us as well; commanded that it be written down, preserved, and taught to all generations. Not for the sake of our own righteousness, but so that God’s righteousness – which looks very much like servanthood, like the first shall be last, like Jesus – may be made visible in the world.

He has told you what is good – and am I wrong to think that the “good” referred to here is God’s Word?  I don’t think so…God is good, and none other.  His Word, including His Commandments are the good that He has told us.  

The more I study the Commandments the more I am convinced that they are instructions for daily life; the broad principles by which we are to relate to God and to each other.  The first shall be last and the last shall be first?  Love your enemies?  I wouldn’t know how to do that, how to put “skin” on those exhortations and live them out apart from the Commandments.  

Grappling: The Law As Conscience Training

Grappling: The Law As Conscience Training

Always let your conscience be your guide.                                               -Jiminy Cricket 

It’s good advice, so long as your conscience is properly calibrated by God’s word.  

The Bible doesn’t speak a lot about the conscience – at least, not directly – but what it does tell is is that we all have one, and that apart from God’s word our consciences remain unsure.  

How’s your conscience?

A clean conscience, one that stands sure in the word of God, is a great gift of God. But how do you know if your conscience is right? 

Ten Commandments to the rescue!  

Note: I REALLY liked this video. So much so that I did a little digging and found a few more resources – both expandments upon this short video, taking a more in-depth look at a Christian theology of the conscience. One is in written format, the other is a series of three audio podcasts.  Both are long; both are excellent.  And both are quite accessible- you don’t have to be a theological geek to understand them!

Written format here

Audio Format: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

And the video

Grappling – Using The Law As A Mirror

Grappling – Using The Law As A Mirror

Way back in confirmation class, we learned the 3 functions of the Law (curb, mirror and guide).  We were given just the basics, really, and it was literally decades later before I was able to distinguish between the first use (curb) and the third use (guide) – they seemed almost interchangable to my mind.  But the second use of the Law, that one I fully understood.  We were taught that the second use of the Law is the primary use of the Law, that it functioned as a mirror to show us our sin and to show us our need for a Saviour.  We used the acronym “S.O.S.” to help us remember the two components of the second use, and how they are connected in the life of the Christian.

In this video, Pastor Wolfmueller discusses how he uses the 10 Commandments as a “diagnostic test” in his devotional life – he breaks the commandments down into a series of diagnostic questions to meditate on as a means of acknowledging our own sin. This is meant to be a devotional exercise, a way to prepare our hearts and focus our minds on what we ought to pray for.