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When You Give, Pray, and Fast

Historically, the holy season of Lent has been a special time for prayerful and penitential reflection, special devotion, self-denial and humble repentance as we meditate on the holy suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. These sacred days are to prepare us to celebrate “Easter with glad hearts and keep the feast in sincerity and truth.” 1

Based on Matthew chapter 6, the Western Church has historically encouraged the three-fold discipline of almsgiving (charity or giving to the needy), prayer, and fasting (Matthew 6:1–18) during the Lenten season. There in Matthew 6, our Lord Jesus does not say, "If you chose to give, pray or fast." Rather, He says "when you give … when you pray … when you fast … ." Our Lord, of course, spends much time in this chapter addressing the problems of false motivation; doing things in order to impress others and appear pious. However, He is also assuming that we will be active in deeds of piety; giving, prayer and fasting.

During this season of Lent, some will “give something up,” which is a form of fasting. Others will find a way to give extra to help the needy, to help supply a food bank—maybe even our own Food and Clothing Bank. And some will set aside extra time for prayer and meditation on God's Word.

As we journey together through this holy season of Lent, I encourage you to engage in one of these three Lenten disciples, if not all of them. And as we practice these things, let us remember to always “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Whether you are fasting, giving or praying, fix your eyes on Jesus! He is only One who can prepare you now and always to celebrate the feast of Easter. May God bless our Lententide as we fix our eyes on Jesus!

In the name of Jesus,
Pastor Nettleton

Return from Exile daily devotional booklets are available on the tables in the narthex.
  1. “Ash Wednesday” in Lutheran Service Book: Altar Book (Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 483.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 970-305-2420.

The Sign of the Cross

Since the inception of Christianity, the cross has been a symbol of our Lord's sacrificial death for our sins and the sins of the whole world. It is our chief symbol because it is the symbol of our salvation. Crosses are front and center in Christian churches, they adorn the walls of our homes and are worn as an expression of faith. The cross is a symbol of blessing and hope because it reminds us, points us to, symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through which all blessings flow and all hope is to be found. The cross of Christ defines us now and forever.

As you have noticed, our new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, encourages the people of God to make the sign of the cross during the invocation in remembrance of their baptism. Some of you may have thought, and maybe still think, that this is a Roman Catholic ritual. Actually, it is very catholic, that is, Christian, because the practice of signing oneself with the cross is the most ancient Christian ritual or ceremony we have.

In fact, in the Small Catechism, Dr. Luther suggests that when we get up in the morning and before we go to bed in the evening, we should, before we pray, "make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

So why does the hymnal and Luther encourage Christians to make the sign of the cross? What does it symbolize? Making the sign of the cross reminds us that we are a baptized child of God. It was there at our baptism that the sign of the cross was first placed upon our foreheads and upon our hearts to "mark [us] as one redeemed by Christ the crucified" because that is what literally happened. It was there in those waters of Holy Baptism that our life in Christ began as we were buried with Him in death and raised with Him to new life in His resurrection (Romans 6:1–11). It was there in those waters that our life and Christ's life became one life. It was there in those waters that that name of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit was placed upon us. That is, we were marked with the cross and with God's triune name forever. This was God's way of saying, "this one is mine," "this one is my beloved child."

Obviously, making the sign of the cross is a Christian liberty that one may or may not choose to do. Like any other ritual or ceremony, Luther reminds us that we should not and "do not make it a rigid law to bind or entangle anyone’s conscience, but use it in Christian liberty as long, when, where and how you find it to be practical and useful.” 1 One can surely remember their baptism without making the sign of cross. And yet, for nearly two millennia, the practice of making the sign of the cross, crossing oneself, has been for many a deep and powerful way or recalling who they are and whose they are, marked with the cross of Christ.

When we make the sign of the cross, we remember our baptism. We remember that we were marked with the cross, that is, redeemed by Christ the crucified and risen Lord. We remember that it was there that God called us by name, made us His very own child, even as He put His name upon us; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we make the sign of the cross, we remember who we really are—a baptized and beloved child of God.

Making the sign of the cross and remembering our baptism is a good way, as Luther suggests, to begin and end the day, to begin worship and prayer. For it is our baptism, after all, that grants us our entrance into the Christian life as God's redeemed and beloved child, gives us the privilege to pray, praise and live as God's very own.

  1. Martin Luther, “The German Mass and Order of Service (1526)” in Luther’s Works (AE), vol. 53 (Fortress Press, 1965), 61.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 970-305-2420.

The Kingdom is Yours

A blessed All Saints' Day to the saints of God at Saint John's. This month, I commend to you a devotion written by Pastor Bo Giertz that may be found in his daily devotional book To Live with Christ. May it strengthen you in Christ whose blood and righteousness makes sinners saints.

Blessed All Saints' Day,
Pastor Nettleton

All Saints' Day
Matthew 5:1–12

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:3

All Saints' Day has become the day when we talk about heaven, think about the dead and decorate their graves. It has become roughly what is called "all souls day" in southern Europe, which is the day after All Saints' Day. The combination has its risks. It has probably contributed to the misunderstanding that all dead people are saints and that you will certainly go to heaven when you die.

All Saints' Day is about the saints. Even we evangelicals talk about saints. As a matter of fact, all Christians can be called “holy.” That’s what they’re called in the New Testament. That means they’ve been taken away from this world, cleansed in Christ’s blood and united with Christ Himself. However, there are those among God’s holy ones who have been so affected by the fellowship with Christ that they become a living testimony that He truly is the living Savior. They help the rest of us to believe. They become irrefutable proof that God lives. We call those people saints.

We oftentimes imagine people like these must be very impressive, strong and successful in every way. Jesus describes what they are really like in the Beatitudes. He gives us a picture of the new life that follows from faith in Christ. These blessed ones don’t feel blessed. They are poor in the spirit and feel that they are lacking in everything. That’s why they are hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Actually it says: after righteousness, the only true righteousness is that which Jesus possesses and which won’t be fulfilled until we become like Him in the resurrection. They mourn, both for themselves and others. They’re abused, persecuted and lied about because they don’t live like other people. However, they’re gentle. They don’t demand their rights. They don’t put themselves on a pedestal. They establish peace by suffering rather than fighting. They’re merciful because they know how much forgiveness they need every day. And they’re pure in their hearts, sincere, without trying to find blame or make excuses.

And what does Jesus promise them? Everything that came with Him and will be victorious and apparent when the world is born again. They will be comforted when God dries their tears. They will possess the new earth that God will create. They will be satisfied when they become the dinner guests in God's kingdom. They will be counted among God's children and will see Him face-to-face. In other words: they belong to God's kingdom.

Dear Lord Jesus, we ask You to give us saints. You see how much we need people to strengthen us in our faith and show us how to live. But help us, Lord, so that we don't want saints to be different from how You want them. Help us to let go of all our longing for things that impress and strengthen in a worldly manner. And make us willing to follow the path of Your true saints so we renounce what is grand and gets a response and, instead, dare to be small and powerless in Your way so Your power can fill us. Honor be to Your name and help our fellow human beings.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 970-305-2420.

Faith and Conscience in 21st Century America

For nearly two and a half centuries, American Christians have been blessed to live in a country that honors and values religious freedom. In fact, one of the founding and core principles of this great country is the freedom to live and speak in accordance with one's religion. But is that which our Lutheran ancestors, and so many other Christian immigrants, sought in coming to the United States eroding from our country's foundation?

Our culture has changed and is constantly changing. Christians living in America no longer have as one person put it, “home field advantage.” 1 On the contrary, the Judeo-Christian values and beliefs, that used to distinguish America from other countries, no longer influence the majority of Americans. But should this give us cause for concern? Christians in every age have had to balance the tension of living “in the world” without being “of the world” (John 17).

As Christians, we have a dual citizenship; we are citizens of the both the state and of the church. As such, we are called to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” We are commanded to obey the secular authorities (Romans 13:1–7), and at the same time, we are called to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). While we are certainly not called to escapism, the tension to live and be involved in a positive and God pleasing way “in the world” without being “of the world” is increasing.

Luther, and Lutherans after him, have always distinguished between the two realms of God, namely the church and state. We have always acknowledged that these two realms are distinct and have different roles and responsibilities in the world. The church is the mouth house for the gospel, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to a world bound in sin and death. The state is God's instrument of working justice in the civil realm, restraining wickedness and punishing the evildoer (Romans 13). As those who understand and appreciate these two realms, we know that it is not the church's place to Christianize the state or to coerce people to believe in Christ. At the same time, we also know it is not the state's place to legislate and bind the Christian's conscience.

Dr. C.F.W. Walther put it well:

The Lutheran church believes, teaches and confesses, in accordance with God’s Word, that the secular government does not have the power to command its subjects to do anything that God has prohibited, nor does it have the power to prohibit anything that God has commanded, nor does the government have the power to force its subjects to do anything that violates their conscience. 2

This brings us to the quandary of living in 21st Century America. We know that secularism is on the rise and the state continues to legislate laws that are contrary to God’s Word and our Christian beliefs and values. 3 But just how far will the state go? And when will the state and its laws force Christians to go against what God commands and against their conscience?

A few year ago, a state licensing officer in Washington demanded that a Christian day care center remove posters depicting the “Tree of Good and Evil” from a classroom wall, and a Bible verse from a chapel wall, because the content was “too negative” and might frighten children. City officials in Coeur d'Alene Idaho “instituted an ordinance barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, then informed two Christian ministers that unless they agreed to perform same-sex ceremonies, they could face months in jail and $1,000 in fines.” 4 After Hurricane Katrina, “Federal officials tried to block a local church from offering worship services and Bible studies along with food, clothing and shelter to victims” of the hurricane. 5

Recently, a Wyoming judge was censured by the state’s Supreme Court for telling a local news reporter that she, hypothetically, couldn't perform a ceremony for a same-sex couple because it would violate her religious beliefs. A federal appeals court ruled that a high school football coach was justifiably suspended for kneeling and praying on the field with his team after the game.

These are just a few of the issues facing Christians who seek to live according to their faith and conscience in 21st century America. Can the state coerce a business owner to act against his or her religious beliefs and God-given rights of conscience? Will the state eventually force churches and religious organizations to act against their beliefs and sacred practices? These are just some of the important questions that lie ahead of us in the 21st century.

On Thursday evening, October 26, we are privileged to have Tim Goeglein, vice president of External Relations for Focus on the Family, here at Saint John's to speak to these important issues. Tim has served in high-level government posts for the past two decades. His years of public service and private initiative have been devoted to faith, freedom and family. Tim's firm grasp of our American heritage, church and state issues, and the legitimate role of faith in the public square, has made him a coveted speaker around our country. It is with great appreciation and anticipation that I invite and encourage you to join us for Tim's special presentation, “Faith in the Halls of Power: What is Ahead for American Christians in the Next Decade.”

  1. Timothy Goeglein and Douglas Napier, "Free People" (The Lutheran Witness, January 2015), 22–23.
  2. C.F.W. Walther, Walther's Works: All Glory to God (Concordia Publishing House, 2016), 467.
  3. A prime example is the Supreme Court's decision on so-called “same-sex marriage” in the summer of 2015.
  4. Goeglein and Napier, 23.
  5. Ibid., 23.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 970-305-2420.

Kids in the Divine Service

Growing up in the faith is much like growing up in a family. Watching and experiencing how adults in their family (primarily parents) speak, act and live out their daily lives shape children into who they become as adults. Children learn to speak the language that is spoken around them. They tend to, though not always, follow, even imitate the actions of others around them. Children will also tend to value the things valued by their family.

Baptized in the Christian faith, children are brought into a community of faith that speaks, acts and lives a certain way, a unique way, that is shaped by Christ Jesus. As children grow in the faith, attending and participating in the Divine Service on Sunday mornings is essential, even paramount to faith development.

As it is in the home, so it is in the church. Children will learn to speak, act and live out their Christian faith by what they hear, see and experience on Sunday mornings. Children absorb things by repetition, they learn to sing and pray even before they can read or understand everything completely. A very normal part of the learning process includes asking questions. “Why does pastor wear a bath robe at church?” “What does the word Sanctus mean?” “What is Advent?” “Why do we light candles at church?” These are all good, inquisitive and important questions!

To help parents and grandparents answer these questions and more, the LCMS recently released an updated resource titled “Kids in the Divine Service.” These brief guides are written for parents and children to read and talk about together. They give instructive and helpful insights into the Divine Service, church setting, seasons of the church year and Christian faith for children of all ages as well as helps for parents to continue the conversation.

Starting this month, "Kids in the Divine Service" can be found on the last page of the Sunday service folder and in The Eagle under a new section titled “The Family Altar.” May these guides be a blessing to you and your children as we grow together in faith and life in Christ Jesus.

In Christ,
Pastor Nettleton

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 970-305-2420.