- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: 18 January 2019 18 January 2019
As we begin this new year and ponder what it will bring, we as God’s people know unequivocally that, come what may, the Lord will be our help, our hope, and our home now and forevermore. “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” 1 penned by the prolific hymn writer Isaac Watts confesses this comforting truth well. One of the finest of Watts’ 600 plus hymns, it declares the beauty of God's keeping throughout the years of our short lives. “O God, our help is ages past, Our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home.”
Played on the BBC as soon as World War II was declared, Watts’ hymn is a paraphrase of Psalm 90. Though this psalm confesses God to be “from everlasting to everlasting” and “our dwelling place in all generations” (v.1), Psalm 90 is a one of lament. Even though God has always been, even before creation, and always been a refuge from enemies for every generation, Israel has still lived as though God did not exist, did not matter and was not a refuge.
The psalmist acknowledges that our life is difficult and short and that even the best of our days are wrought with toil and trouble (v. 10). He laments and confesses that man is like the grass that fades and withers in the evening (v. 6). Man is the dust that the Almighty will return to the ground (v. 4). But far worse than the brevity and mortality of life is the guilt and burden of sin under the wrath of God (vv. 9–11).
Thus, the psalmist pleads for God's mercy and steadfast love (vv. 13–14). He pleads for Yahweh to give His people hearts of wisdom that teach them to number their days and to continually turn to Him alone for mercy, refuge and security (v. 12).
Finally, the psalmist prays, “Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us” (vv. 16–17). Thankfully, the Lord answered this prayer revealing, manifesting, epiphaning His work in Christ to us. Christ Jesus is the work of God that bore our sin and shame and took the full brunt of God's wrath for us in death. He is the work of God that lets the favor of God rest upon us now and forever. He is the work of God that turns our brief, mortal and fragile lives into meaningful, joyful, unshakable lives lasting to eternity.
Stock markets, governments, employers, friends and even family will most likely fail us at some point this year. Life will remind us once again how fleeting and fragile it is. But the One who is constant, lasting and ever faithful is our God who is “from everlasting to everlasting.” He is our refuge, our help, our hope and our home now and forever. It is this truth and comfort of Psalm 90 that Watts’ great hymn expresses so beautifully.
“Under the shadow of Thy throne Thy saints have dwelt secure; Sufficient is Thine are alone, And our defense is sure … Time, like an ever-rolling stream, Soon bears us all away; We fly forgotten as a dream Dies at the op’ning day. O God, our help is ages past, Our hope for years to come. Be Thou our guard while troubles last And our eternal home!” What an excellent prayer for the new year and always!
Blessed New Year and Epiphany,
- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: 04 December 2018 04 December 2018
The deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history is now fully contained. But the destruction and devastation caused by its path is still gut-wrenchingly unreal; more than 18,000 structures destroyed, including some 13,972 homes, and at least 85 lives lost.
A close and lifelong friend and his family live in Paradise, California. As news came in about the fire we feared the worst for them. By God's grace, they, like many of their neighbors, escaped the flames to safety. Unfortunately, they later found out, along with eighty percent of Paradise residents, that their home was destroyed to nothing but ash. Not only did they lose their home, but the community they loved was completely wiped out. Only a few public structures and homes remain while the city's infrastructure is totally destroyed.
My heart sank upon this news for my friend, his family and their community and stayed in my stomach for weeks. What does one begin to say? What can one do? What does one do? Of course, prayer is the place to start, and our family continues to lift up in prayer the Hogan family and their community to the God of all mercy.
Thank you to all who have joined our prayers for our friends and the community of Paradise. Thank you to our Saint John's Lutheran World Relief sewing group, who helped us send a box of quilts to Paradise. Thank you to those who have passed along gift cards to send to Paradise and to everyone who donated to the offering taken for LCMS Disaster Response’s wildfire relief.
In the midst of tragedy, a picture of hope has surfaced and remains for a community devastated by such unimaginable loss. It is a cross in the parking lot of Our Savior Lutheran Church. Even though the fire destroyed the church and parsonage, the cross remains standing in the midst of the rubble and ash.
Pastor Brandon Merrick, in a letter to his congregation, put it well: "I hate this picture. However, I also love this picture. … For me, this picture is not just a heartbreaking reminder of what can happen to the things and people of this world, this is our one true hope in the midst of tragedy that cannot be destroyed by anything. God is with us. … The hard work of the people of Our Savior Lutheran over the last 54 years, some who are still with us, was not lost in the fire because the cross still stands. God is still with us, and on the foundation of His promise and sure Word, we will continue to stand."
The cross standing in the parking lot of Our Savior is not only a picture of hope for the people of this congregation, but for the entire community of Paradise. It is also a picture of hope for us. For this, too, is our hope, and this, too, is what Christmas is all about.
Christmas is perhaps the most joyous season of the year. It has, unlike any other season, a certain sentimentalism attached to it that fills our hearts with joy and gladness as we recall childhood memories and times with family and friends over the years. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this (these, too, are good gifts from God) as long as we don't lose sight of the reason we gather together, what and why we celebrate; namely, the Nativity of our Lord. (See Carl Jorgensen’s Christmas memories).
Christmas is about hope in paradise lost! It's about a promise God made to Adam and Eve after paradise was squandered by the fall into sin and all the world was cursed. A promise that God would put enmity between the serpent's seed and Eve's seed; “he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) A promise that One from Eve's offspring would come to restore paradise lost by reversing the curse, destroying sin, death and the serpent forever.
Christmas is about the One who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin, lived, died and rose again to make right what has gone wrong with the world and with mankind. Isaac Watts captures this well in his beloved hymn, Joy to the World: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as the curse is found.” St. John put it this way: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
We give thanks to God that He graciously and lovingly spared our friends from this horrific fire. Most of all, we thank the Lord for the hope we have in Christ symbolized by the cross that remains standing in Our Savior's parking lot.
Christmas is about hope in paradise lost. It is about the hope we have in the promise of paradise restored in Christ and the life He gives now and forever that nothing can touch or destroy! “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” Joy to the world, the Lord will come again!
Blessed Adventide and Christmas,
- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: 30 October 2018 30 October 2018
If you are looking for a good devotional resource and you haven't come across Bo Giertz’ daily devotional, To Live with Christ, you need to check it out! Pastor Giertz (1905–1998) was a Bishop in the Lutheran Church of Sweden. A faithful pastor and wonderful writer, Pastor Giertz' devotions are Christ-centered and one hundred percent applicable to our daily lives! The reflective prayers at the end of each devotion are worth the price of the book alone!
As we look toward our national day of Thanksgiving, giving thanks to One whom all praise and thanksgiving is due, I commend to you a sample devotion from To Live with Christ. Enjoy!
Serving you in Christ,
Where are the nine?Luke 17:17
Of the ten lepers there was only one who made the effort to give thanks when Jesus healed them. The others showed gross ingratitude. Many show their ingratitude just by giving thanks in this way, only when they feel they have something special to give thanks for.
That someone who denies that God exists doesn't thank Him for His gifts is understandable. But there's an infinite number of those who count on God's existence, who receive most of His gifts without saying thank You. They do it day after day. Everything we receive regularly we so easily regard as something we have a right to, something we naturally should have. To live and be able to go to work, to have our near and dear ones around us, to have food on the table and heat in our homes so easily become things we take for granted. That's why it's such a useful reminder to thank God for food. Just that, however, is something many feel is so unnecessary, an old custom we can put away.
This is the attitude of dead faith. God has become something in the background. Almost everything goes on by itself. Only when things get difficult, when children are missing, or your heart starts acting up, or the company starts to lay people off, or the rain pours down during the harvest season—then God should come to the rescue. If He does it right and like we asked, then we have a reason to give thanks.
The problem is that we don't know who God is. We've reduced Him to an aid in distress, a reserve we have in an emergency. We don't see Him just when He's closest to us: in every event of everyday life, in everything we see around us, in everything that grows and blooms, everything that lives and moves, in our own body and all its cells and tissues. We don't realize how He says “let there be” in each and every new moment and how dependent we are on His words of creation. And least of all can we imagine how, in the middle of creation, there's an ongoing struggle between the Creator and the destroyer, where only God's constant help and mercy can save us from destruction.
Knowing God is having a well of thanksgiving that never runs dry.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all. Bless the Lord, all His hosts, His ministers who do His will! Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His dominion, Bless the Lord, O my soul! (From Psalm 103)
- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: 22 August 2018 22 August 2018
We all know many people who are outside the faith; those who are un-churched, those who are of a different religion, those who are atheists, and those who believe nothing and simply don't care. We know many people who need to hear and know about the good news of Jesus Christ! Every one of us is called to be salt and light in this unbelieving world (Matthew 5:13–16). Every one of us is also called to give a witness to the faith. St. Peter calls each of us to be prepared to give a reason, make a defense, for the hope that we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).
Sharing the faith, witnessing, starts with relationships. Effective witnessing starts with sharing the faith with those whom you know and have a relationship. That is, there must be a level of trust. Most of us won't give the person knocking on our front door, trying to sell us something we don't need, the time of day! Why? Because we don't know them and we don't trust them.
Sharing the faith starts with sharing the good news of Jesus; His death for sins of the world and His resurrection from the dead! There is no substitute for the proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified and risen! But what do you say to the person who rejects this good news out of hand? Is the conversation over? Do we simply say, “well, you've just gotta believe!”?
Effective witnessing also needs to be prepared to respond to and deal with roadblocks. There are always roadblocks. How can anyone believe in God anyway? Why should anyone believe the Bible is really God's Word? How do you know the Bible wasn't written by drunk monks in the fifth century? What makes Jesus so different? How do you know that Jesus is really who He claimed to be? How is Christianity any different than any other religion?
We believe the Bible is the Word of God, and it is. But why do we believe such? Do we simply believe it is because it says so? What separates the Bible from the Koran or the Book of Mormon?
We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, who died for sins of the world and rose again from the dead. This the heart of soul of the Christian faith. But what is this faith, our faith, based on? Is it based on subjective feelings or is it based on sound historical evidence?
In an age of religious confusion, pluralism and persistent attacks on the Christian faith, a basic orientation in Christian apologetics is becoming increasingly vital for all Christians. What is Christian apologetics? Apologetics is a Greek word (apologia) that means "to defend a person or thing." The task of Christian apologetics is about removing the roadblocks of skeptics so that one can give a clear witness to and reason for believing in Jesus Christ.
Our evangelism committee is excited to host professor and Christian apologist Dr. Adam Francisco to speak here at Saint John's September 28–29. Dr. Francisco will give a Friday evening presentation titled “Is There Good Reason to Believe that God Exists?” He will also lead a half day conference on the basics of Christian apologetics on Saturday; “Confessing the Faith in an Unbelieving World.” I strongly encourage you to attend one or both of these events. I know that all of us will find something beneficial for the task of giving a reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ!
- Written by Jeffrey Hemmer, pastor of Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois Jeffrey Hemmer, pastor of Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois
- Created: 12 July 2018 12 July 2018
Long, long before it was trendy to decry “toxic masculinity” on social media, we had a serious problem with masculinity. Although distortions of masculinity—played out in the lives of self-indulgent men who think that sex is for self-gratification and that women are objects to be taken, conquered, traded or sold—have been much in the news this year, our modern predicament is hardly new.
Indeed, it could hardly be older.
At the dawn of creation, Adam was the first man to distort real, godly masculinity, and Eve was the first woman to be let down and left hurting by a man’s inability to understand and live out his manly calling.
Adam was called to protect his bride, to provide for her, to populate the world with her. He was given to be selfless in his service toward her, caring more for her own good than his own. And things were going swimmingly until he and Eve suddenly found themselves face to face with the father of lies in the form of a serpent.
When the serpent approached the woman with his wicked distortion of God’s Word (“Did God actually say … ?”) and outright lies (“You will not surely die”), where was Adam? When Eve saw that the fruit was pleasing to the sight and good for food, where was her husband? Hint: he wasn’t out cultivating a garden, checking on the animals or otherwise exercising his lordship over creation.
He. Was. Right. There.
“She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6, emphasis mine) It is almost as if Adam has been treating his wife as a kind of lab rat with which to test the veracity of God’s Word. Will she die? Only when she doesn’t immediately keel over does he join her in eating the forbidden fruit. Eve, Paul tells us, “was deceived and became a transgressor.” (1 Timothy 2:14) Adam “was not deceived,” and yet he sinned. He failed to intervene to shield his wife from the attack from the serpent, to wield the Word of God he had been given to preach against this slithery deceiver.
Then, when they hear the sound of their Creator walking in the Garden and Adam has the opportunity to emerge from the fog of selfishness, what does he do? He tells God, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12) In other words: “If we’re being honest, God, the blame falls first to her and second to You for giving her to me in the first place. Keep that in mind as You’re doling out punishments.”
This is toxic masculinity. Adam would rather throw his wife under the bus than expose himself to divine wrath. He shamefully and selfishly cowers behind his wife’s fig-leaf skirt.
Since then, every man has been an heir of Adam’s selfish distortion of manliness. We men are all selfish jerks by nature. We all are more inclined to save our own hides than to offer our bodies and lives for the good of others entrusted to our care. We’re born rebellious against God, with our shoulders slumped and our eyes downcast, curved in on ourselves. This is sin.
Only one Man in history has not been guilty of this kind of selfish, toxic masculinity. He is the Man born of Mary, the Eternal Word who became flesh—the One who, though Man, remains fully and distinctly God.
Jesus was, is and always will be the perfect Man. He is everything Adam was created to be. Where Adam was self-centered, Jesus is centered on the good of those He comes to save. Where Adam was self-preserving, Jesus is self-sacrificing. Where Adam was self-serving, Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28).
Real masculinity is not a matter of having big enough muscles, big enough tools, guns or trucks. Those things are fine, but they don’t exhibit masculinity. The strongest man can still be selfish.
Real, God-pleasing masculinity exists in seeing one’s self and giving one’s self for the good of others. Men were created to serve, to give, to love, to be instruments for the benefit of their neighbors and the flourishing of creation.
And no one except Jesus exhibits that kind of masculinity perfectly.
The cross is the perfect display of masculine giving. Nothing is more manly—in the theological sense of the word—than Jesus’ selfless sacrifice on the cross. There, He holds nothing back, spends Himself completely for the good of His Bride, the Church. He succeeds where Adam—and all men—failed. And even Adam, along with all the rest of us cretins, is saved from his own selfishness by the perfect self-sacrifice of Jesus.
Jesus alone, true God and perfect Man, is the solution to toxic masculinity. His Bride is the only one who has no cause to lament having suffered at a man’s selfishness. He loves her selflessly and perfectly. He endures abuse so that she can be adorned with His own righteousness. In this Church, then, men—and women—have hope.
Right now, the world needs men. Real men. Manly men. Strong men. Courageous men. Christ-like men. Masculine men. Men who will give of themselves for the good of their wives, their children, their communities, their congregations, their countries. The Church needs men, too. She needs men to be the spiritual leaders of their families—husbands who will love and forgive their wives as Christ loves and forgives His Church; fathers who will catechize their children in the faith and set the example for them in the pew of what a man forgiven by Jesus is and does. The Church needs older men who will mentor younger men. She needs martyrs who will boldly confess Christ in the face of persecution. Above all, the Church needs men who will work to solve the problem of toxic masculinity by embracing God’s call to embody the higher, holier, selfless masculinity they find in Jesus.
The problem of distorted, defective masculinity is older than our modern predicament. But so is the solution. The solution is the Man up on the cross, the savior of sinners and the example for men.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.1 Peter 2:21–24
Jeffrey Hemmer is the author of Man Up! The Quest for Masculinity. Article reprinted, with permission, from the June/July 2018 Lutheran Witness (Vol. 137, No. 6).