8th Commandment: Truth Telling

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

What does this mean?

“We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

-Martin Luther, The Small Catechism

The eigth commandment is traditionally applied in the court of law. It stands for justice and fairness in the eyes of God. As with the other commandments, this seems like a basic rule, why should it have to be reiterated? As people, many things can get in the way of justice such as prejudice, wanting to fit in, or self-interest.

The eighth commandment isn’t just about the abstract idea of a court of law, or even limited to parents or teachers trying to figure out what happened in a specific situation. Times when we are tempted to break the 8th commandment rear their ugly heads throughout our everyday life. This is especially evident when it comes to name calling and rumors. To better understand what I’m talking about, I’d like to tell you a story about my own time in middle school. Continue reading

7th Commandment – Property Rights

“You shall not steal.”

What is this or what does this mean?

“We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.”

-Martin Luther, The Small Catechism

Throughout the world and across cultural and political boundaries almost every single group of humans has some sort of rule about stealing. If this is so standard throughout the world, why would God need to go out of the way to remind us of this simple rule?

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Youth help out with Trunk-or-Treat!

Each year St. Mark reaches out to the community around us to provide a safe and fun trick-or-treating experience. This year both the Middle School and High School youth helped out by creating their own trunk-or-treating experience. Check out the pictures below to see what they did!

Eikon (High School)

Last Sunday the High School youth built a Spooky Maze in the church basement. During Trunk-or-Treat, the youth helped kids have a safe and not too scary haunted house experience!

CREW (Middle School)

Over the past couple of weeks each of the 6 small groups worked together to plan a fun trunk. Then they met up early on Wednesday evening to put together their trunks and hand out candy to the Trunk-or-Treaters.


5th Commandment: The Sanctity of Life

“You shall not murder.”

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.

-Martin Luther, The Small Catechism

On it’s face this commandment seems fairly easy to follow. Most people don’t think they would ever be able to kill someone else. But when we explore what this commandment really means, we reveal a more nuanced idea. The 5th commandment means that all of life is sacred, including Human life. This means that animals are also covered by this commandment. A better understanding of this commandment might be, “Do no harm to another.” We are called to help life flourish around us.

We violate the 5th commandment when we refuse to help someone in need. To understand this better we looked at The Parable of The Good Samaritan (found in Luke 10:30-35) and examined which characters in the story may have broken the 5th commandment.


 We also had a special guest join us from the Blank Park Zoo. We took a trip around the world with the help of our zoo guide and some animal friends. We learned about animals, plants and conservation issues from different habitats in this challenging, inquiry-based program.

4th Commandment: Honoring Parents

“Honor your mother and father.”

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we niether despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them.

-Martin Luther, The Small Catechism

This is the first commandment that deals with interpersonal relationships. It is many mom and dad’s favorite commandment, and it seems like it gets used just to keep kids in-line. But this isn’t the only place in all the Bible where there are references to the relationships between parents and children. In fact these sorts of passages exist all over both the old and new testaments.

So why do you think the Bible puts so much emphasis on how we interact with our parents? Continue reading

3rd Commandment: Sabbath Worship

“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

What does this mean?

“We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear it.”

-Martin Luther, The Small Catechism

For some of us, when we hear the third commandment, we can almost hear God in our heads (sometimes in a voice that sounds surprisingly like our parents) saying, “You are going to go to church every week, and your are going to like it!” In many of our busy lives this can come as yet another crazy expectation piled on to our already overflowing plates. We can easily forget that God is not just another coach or teacher who doesn’t realize that we already have a lot going on. Instead, when God tells us to remember the Sabbath, God is telling us to take a step back, rest, relax, and spend some time with God. Therefore, Sabbath is when we consciously take a break to seek God’s presence.

In order to better understand our need for rest, let’s take a look at at the life of Phillip, a middle school boy who has aspirations of playing high school sports, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout in his local Boy Scout troop, and getting into college.  As we read this story I want you to keep track of the blessings that Phillip has been given by God.

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2nd Commandment: What’s in a Name?

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.

-Martin Luther, the Small Catechism

Names can define us, either for the best or the worst. Many people have a private nickname that would mortify them if it came out in public. Some of us are a part of a family where we have to deal with either good or bad expectations based on what our siblings or parents have done. The same sorts of things can happen with God’s name. In order for us to better understand what’s happening when we make wrongful use of the Lord’s name, let’s hear about a girl who grew up in a small family. Continue reading

1st Commandment: What is a god?

Dice Game - Kim and Denise's Group“You shall have no other gods.”

What does this mean?

“We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.”

-Martin Luther, The Small Catechism

When God gave this commandment to the Israelites, they were surrounded by cultures who worshiped not only different gods, but many gods. These cultures had gods of the harvest, gods of war, gods of beauty, gods of fertility, and pretty much anything else you could think of. If someone needed help with something, there was a god to cover it. In our culture, here in central Iowa, we aren’t totally familiar with being surrounded by cultures like the Israelites were, so we might think that this commandment is a no brainer. But, when you look more closely at why people worshiped those multiple gods, we may find that this is a little more real than we imagined.

Continue reading

Heavenly Boundaries: God’s Rules and Why We Follow Them

Tonight is the first “real” lesson of the year. Over the first part of the year we’ll be covering The Ten Commandments. Our first lesson is a brief overview of the idea of finding freedom in following God’s Law.

We started off by playing a dice game in our small groups, the kicker however was that I did not provide any rules whatsoever. So the kids were left to their own devices. Just when it seemed like they were figuring out how their games would work I would walk in and change the rules. This activity allowed us to explore the importance of having rules to govern our actions. We were able to see how we, as humans, tend to act in our own self interests regardless of our effect on others in the absence of rules.

For the next part of our lesson we explored a story about a situation that could arise in any middle school setting. That story, and the questions that we answered are in the quoted text below:

Today we’re going to be talking all about rules, specifically God’s rules aka the 10 Commandments, and why we even have them. As we saw in the last exercise when there are no rules, on the whole, people act out of their own self interest. And when we are acting in our own self interest, we usually fail to see how it can affect others. It’s really easy to see this in a game setting because we all want to “win” and sometimes we’re even willing to change what it means to win so that we can get into the winner’s circle. But in order to better understand how this might play out in the real world I’m going to tell you a story about a girl named Halli.

Halli had gone through elementary school in a small school where everyone kind of got along. There weren’t many cliques. There were a few kids with learning disabilities, but they were accepted and no one really seemed like an outsider. When her parents announced that the family would be moving to a larger city just as she was entering Jr. High, Halli was determined to fit in at her new school. So she got her hands on a yearbook from the new school. She figured out what kind of clothes the popular girls wore. She even studied the way the cheerleaders styled their hair and got it cut that way. By the end of the summer she was actually looking forward to going to what she now thought of as a “real” school.

Question: What sort of social rules do you think Halli was expecting when she got to her new school?

Halli thought she was prepared, but she had no idea what she was in for. There was a definite pecking order in her new school and everyone seemed to know exactly where everyone else seemed to fit in. There were the popular kids at the top of the ladder – the football players and the cheerleaders and their friends. Then there were the middle rung kids – not popular, but not picked on either. Then at the bottom of the ladder, were the total outcasts. They were called “scums.” Halli definitely didn’t want to be a scum.

Even for Halli who was new to the school, it was pretty obvious that one person was at the very bottom of this social ladder. His name was Eric Spangler. He was a pale, skinny redhead with a big nose and nerdy glasses. He was really smart – He got all A’s- and was super nice, but everyone picked on him. Halli thought it was probably because of his clothes, his family was poor and couldn’t afford cool clothes for any of their kids. So, Eric and his siblings always wore weird, outdated stuff from thrift stores.

Eric was also allergic to perfume, so one of the jocks would spray some on him almost everyday. He would have to go take a shower and spend the rest of the day wearing gym shorts, with his skinny blue legs sticking out like a bird’s. Eric was so unpopular that his name became an insult. Instead of calling someone a “scum”, they would call you a “Spangler”.

Question: Where do you think you would be in the social ladder of this school?

Halli’s new clothes and hairstyle didn’t make her the instant friends she had hoped. The popular kids seemed to know that she didn’t belong despite her clever costume. So, Halli decided to join the Christian club at her school so she wouldn’t end up like Eric. The leader of the Christian group was Cindy and she warned me from the start that if i didn’t hide my cross necklace people might call me a Jesus Geek. The kids in the club were somewhere on the middle rungs of the social ladder. Halli didn’t have much in common with them, but it was nice not to have to eat lunch by herself. Eric always sat by himself.

It was at this point that Halli started noticing a punk-rock girl around the school. She was the only girl in the school who looked and dressed the way she did. Her hair was a different bright color almost every week. Her clothes were mostly black, but sometimes they’d have a pop of color to match her hair. She was pretty quiet and kept to herself. At lunch Halli would see her reading in the library or walking by herself across the gym. She wasn’t popular, but she wasn’t scum either. She had this look in her eyes that seemed to keep her from getting picked on. So Halli asked the kids in the Christian club who she was.

“Oh, that’s Lauren Meyers,” Cindy said. “She’s a Satanist.”

“What do you mean?” Halli asked.

“Well, just look at her.”

Halli didn’t say anything, but she was starting to feel a little uncomfortable with the other kids in the club. The always seemed to be putting other people down.

Halli past Lauren in the halls a couple of times. She had a very calm and confident way of walking and looking at people. Halli wondered what made her able to do that. It didn’t look like she had any more friends than Eric, so it didn’t make much sense.

One day a couple of cheerleaders poured an entire bottle of perfume on Eric. He screamed and tore at his clothes. “It’s not funny! I can’t breathe!” he screamed gasping for air.

Everyone stood in a circle and laughed at him. Halli felt a knot in her stomach. She wanted to stop them, but her feet were frozen to the floor. Then she saw Lauren pushing her way through the cheerleaders. She shouted, “What are you doing? Can’t you see he’s really sick?” and lead him to the nurse’s office.

Someone snickered, “Eric has a new girlfriend.”

“Dude,” someone else said, “Lauren’s a Spangler now!”

Question: What do you think was stopping Halli from helping Eric?

After Eric went to the hospital the popular kids stopped dumping perfume on him, but they still found other ways to torment him. One day, when Halli was heading to lunch she saw a group of guys literally stuffing Eric into a garbage can. Then out of the corner of her eye, Halli saw a blur of black and bright green running towards the group of guys. It was Lauren to the rescue again. Before Lauren could get there, Halli felt a surge of courage.

“Hey!” she shouted at the boys. “Leave him alone!”

The boys were startled and let Eric go. He climbed out of the can and ran away. Lauren finally reached the boys and Halli, completely out of breath. “Why do you do that?” she asked the boys , her clear, confident eyes drilled into the them.

They looked uncomfortable and Halli thought they would start making fun of her or Lauren, but instead one of them said, “I don’t know.”

“Well think about it.” Lauren said.

Without discussing it, Lauren and Halli walked away together, leaving the stunned guys behind them. “So, do you want to eat lunch?” Lauren asked.

“Sure,” Halli said. “But I think you should know that I’m a Christian.”

“What makes you think I’m not?” Lauren laughed.

“Um…I guess the way you dress.”

“I don’t care about the way you dress. Why should you care how I dress?”

“I’m sorry. I just thought you wouldn’t think it was cool to hang out with a Christian.”

“Do you think Jesus was cool?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that a lot of people didn’t like the company he kept, but he didn’t let that bother him.”

“Yeah, that’s true. He just did what he believed was right, no matter what.”

“That’s what I try to do.” Lauren wasn’t bragging or anything; she was just being matter-of-fact. “It makes me feel free.”

Lauren and Halli may not have realized it, but they were following God’s rules. The rules God sets before us in The 10 commandments are really a call for us to stop being selfish like Halli. In the story she was rooted in place when the popular kids were hurting Eric. Maybe it was because she was afraid of losing what status she had gained in her new school by reaching out to Eric. It turns out that she had become a slave to the idea of being popular.

A lot of times when we think of rules we think of them as restricting us and maybe even keeping us from being what we want to be. And sometimes that’s true, but not with God’s rules. Lauren knew what it meant to follow God’s rules. It means you are free. Free of any of the need to gain power, wealth, or popularity and free to reach out to the people in need. God calls us to be selfless rather than selfish.

Question: How do you think rules could help us to act selflessly?

We can be sure that God’s rules are there to help free us because they come from a time when God selflessly freed the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. After many many generations in slavery God frees his people from a life where they’ve been told exactly what to do each and every day. This means that they may not have had any idea about how to live together and look out for anyone other than themselves, because selfishness is what was required to survive in Egypt.

Even though the list of commandments may feel like a list of “Don’t”s, this is simply not the case. Because this list really isn’t about what happens when you break the rules, It’s about what happens when you follow them. This is easy to see when we look at the punishment and reward section of The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:5-6). The punishment for not obeying only lasts 3-4 generations, but when we are faithful the rewards last for 1000! God’s grace is much greater than any punishment and that is Good News for us.

This week, I’ve asked your children to look through the Ten Commandments as a whole. God tried to give the Hebrew people a set of rules so that they could focus on becoming the best version of themselves rather than worrying about how they should act. So, I have tasked them with creating their own version of “Commandments for Surviving Jr. High”.

Your student’s challenge for this week at home is to share what they’ve come up with during small group with their parents, and to ask for their parent’s input. What would they change about the list? What do they like about it? Then at the beginning of large group next week we’ll get to share what you found with your small group!

CREW, How is This Confirmation?

Welcome to CREW 2015-16!! This year is going to be a journey of growth and discovery from the waters of baptism and enfolded into weekly worship and praise! In all of our activities, class time, and relationships (in fact relationships is our middle name [Creating Relationships Every Wednesday]), CREW will be an important way we can grow more deeply into our baptismal promises.

CREW is much more than what happens in this large group classroom. It will be a vibrant connection between your homes and the congregation. We’ll share what we’re learning each week with you at home through challenges, projects, and questions. All of this is so that faith can begin to speak into the very heart of our daily lives.


What is Confirmation?

Outside of the church walls, “confirmation” is a run of the mill word associated with the ideal of verification – we choose to receive confirmation when a package has arrived, a reservation is made, or an order has shipped. Inside church, however, the word “confirmation” is used quite differently and often means slightly different things.

Most often, “confirmation” is used to describe the entire two year educational process which prepares students for the Affirmation of Baptism service and the life of discipleship that follows. During that time a student is said to be in or going to confirmation. The Latin word, confirmare, from which “confirmation” comes literally means “to strengthen”. When we pair that with the word faith we produce an appropriate definition of “confirmation”. Used in this way – confirmation is a time to strengthen faith.

“Confirmation” is also used to describe a special worship service that concludes this time of faith-strengthening. Therefore, a student looks forward to being confirmed at his or her confirmation service. In the ELW this service is called Affirmation of Baptism, a rite of passage which reminds us and the congregation of the covenant made at our baptism – both God’s promise to us and our call to live out those promises.

Martin Luther reminds us that the Christian life is one of daily dying and rising with Christ in the waters of baptism. In this sense, “confirmation” is something that never stops happening. It all begins with the sacrament of baptism where we’re washed with water, marked with the cross of Christ, and filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a public celebration. It’s “confirmed” in the Affirmation of Baptism service, in which we say, “YES!” to our baptism. And it continues in the daily renewal of our commitment to the baptismal life.

In other words, confirmation is not an end, but a beginning. Everything we do in CREW will help to deepen our faith by pointing towards the only question that matters in the right of Affirmation of baptism. At the end of your two years in CREW you will have the opportunity to stand before the congregation and take on the baptismal promises your parents made for yourself.

During the Affirmation of Baptism liturgy, candidates will be asked to “profess faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the church.” Then – and perhaps more importantly – you will be asked:

“Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:

  • To live among God’s faithful people,
  • To hear the word of God and share the Lord’s Supper,
  • To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
  • To serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
  • And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

CREW is here to help you understand the vivid picture that this questions paints, and to equip you to say yes to this call in a way that will continue to change your life and help you to begin a life where you Grow in Faith, Share Jesus Christ, and Serve Others.

  •         To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
  •         To serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
  •         And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

CREW is here to help you understand the vivid picture that this questions paints, and to equip you to say yes to this call in a way that will continue to change your life and help you to begin a life where you Grow in Faith, Share Jesus Christ, and Serve Others.