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Washed With the Word: Catechism Retreat 2022

Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18b–20a). At the end of his Pentecost sermon, the apostle Peter proclaimed, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:38–39).

God’s gift of Holy Baptism stands at the center of the Christian life. In fact, as Robert Kolb notes,

Baptism frames the whole of the Christian life and brings the action of God to the heart of our lives. For in baptism God has transacted the joyous exchange of our sinfulness for our Lord's innocence. He has used baptism to put us back in the right relationship to himself, and through it he has given us new identities, as his beloved children. 1

Baptism connects us to Jesus, plunging us into His death and raising us up with Him in His resurrection! Saint Paul uses the strongest language possible to declare that we have been “united” with Christ in Holy Baptism. Like a broken bone that fuses together as it heals and becomes one again, our life and Christ’s life are fused together and become one life (Romans 6:5).

There is no distance or separation between us so that what happened to Christ happens to us. When Christ died to sin, we died with Him. When Christ was raised from the dead, we were raised to new life with Him! Sin and death have no power over Him, and it has no power over those joined to Him in Holy Baptism. This is our new reality, our new identity in Christ! This reality defines and determines our whole existence, our very life.

Tragically, many people today do not have a sense of identity. They are lost and end up searching for a sense of identity and acceptance in all the wrong places, everything from wealth and worldly status to sexual promiscuity (immorality) and gender orientation. Living in a culture that promotes and encourages such debauchery, perversion and ungodliness, it is imperative and ever important for our young people to cling to and rejoice in their identity given in Holy Baptism.

This past week (June 20–23) five youth accompanied me to the Catechism Retreat hosted at Lutheran Valley Ranch and Retreat near Woodland Park. We joined up with nearly 200 other youth, adults and pastors from Lutheran churches as far away as Texas, Iowa and California. Together we spent three days studying the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and its importance in our lives as God’s people. Of course, youth also spent the week participating in various activities led by the LVR staff such as rock climbing, horseback riding, archery, fishing, climbing the high ropes course and going down the zip line! It was a great week!

When we begin our prayers by making the sign of the holy cross or when begin the Divine Service “In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit” we are essentially remembering our Baptism into Christ, remembering who we are and whose we are. We remember that the name of God has been placed upon us in Holy Baptism; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are God’s holy, righteous, beloved and precious children in Christ Jesus. This is who we are! This is our God-given identity in Christ.

The prophet Isaiah declares to God’s people in his day and ours,

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. (Isaiah 43:1–5).

God did not simply give nations or men in exchange for you, He gave His one and only Son as a ransom in exchange for you. In Holy Baptism, God placed His name upon you! You are His! He is yours! Rejoice today and always in your God-given identity as a beloved child of God and sing “I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!” 2

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Nettleton

  1. Robert Kolb, Teaching God’s Children His Teaching: A Guide For Study of Luther’s Catechism (Concordia Seminary Press, 2012), 119.
  2. Erdmann Neumeister, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It,” in Lutheran Service Book (CPH, 2006), 594.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.

“A Prayer for the New Year”

Lord, Lord, merciful and gracious, ever patient and of great faithfulness, You are from everlasting to everlasting, and with You there is no variation or shadow due to change. Under Your protection I have again entered upon a new year. How excellent is Your loving-kindness, O God; therefore, the children of men take refuge under the shadow of Your wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the goodness of Your house; the river of God is full of water.

My God and Father, during the past year I have fully experienced all this. And so I begin the new year in Your name with prayer, sighing, and supplication. Lord, be pleased to hear my voice early, on the very threshold of the new year. Give ear to me in its first hours. O Lord, I know not what may befall me during this year. A year is long; its days are many. Human misery is manifold, and the calamities that may befall us are countless. And so I come to You, O mighty and loving God, and wish to commend myself at its very beginning to Your mercy and faithfulness.

Now that all things are about to be made new; the earth again to be covered with green vegetation; the sun ascending higher and higher, and everything is to be filled with new vigor, let Your goodness and mercy be renewed upon me. I commit my soul into Your fatherly mercy and protection. Guard it against sin, that I may not contaminate it by willful and intentional rebellion. Lord Jesus, sanctify, wash, and cleanse me with Your holy blood. God the Holy Spirit, dwell in my soul, and let it be Your temple. What a blessed year it will be for me, if I, Heavenly Father, abide in Your grace and live as Your child! How happy I will be if I continue in Your fellowship, O Jesus! How beautifully shall I be arrayed, O precious Holy Spirit, if you dwell in me and rule me! The King's daughter is all glorious within; I too, thus adorned will be pleasing to You.

And since You have up till now bestowed on me the precious gift of life and health, be pleased, if it is Your fatherly will, and if it is for my salvation of soul, graciously to preserve this gift to me during this year, that I may become more fit to serve You and fulfill the duties of my calling. But if it should please You in Your holy counsel to visit me with sickness or pain, do not depart from me. When I suffer, alleviate my pain, and let me also welcome with joy the hour You will refresh me and relieve me of my burden. O Lord, my God, hold Your protecting hand over my loved ones and my possessions. Be a wall of fire around us, as You were around Elisha. Hedge us all around as You did the house of Job.

Grant me the power of Your Holy Spirit that I may become truly godly during this year and live as a true child of God, that I may be devout in my prayers and be a careful hearer and doer of Your word. Grant that in the new year the condition of my heart may be described like this: “The old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Let there be in me new longings for You, new love toward my fellow human beings, a new zeal to enter into communion with You and to abide in it. Sanctify me wholly, that my entire spirit, soul, and body may be kept blameless until the day of Jesus Christ. Give me new zeal in my Christian faith that I may grow and increase in whatever is good. Bless my calling and labor, my going out and my coming in. Give me whatever blessings You have in store for me.

However, let me also remember that sometime the last year of my life will begin. Grant that I may always keep myself in readiness, live in a state of repentance and faith, have my lamp burning and dressed to welcome You, my Bridegroom and my gracious God, and to enter into the Kingdom You have prepared for me from the foundation of the world. Give me a new mind a new spirit in conformity with Your will, teach me unwaveringly to fulfill what You command and keep me, body and soul, the habitation of Your Spirit.

Now greet the swiftly changing year
With joy and penitence sincere.
Rejoice! Rejoice! With thanks embrace
Another year of grace. AmenLSB 896:1

An excerpt from Starck's Prayer Book: Revised Concordia Edition, pages 71–72.

January and The Sanctity of Human Life

As we have celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus in a real flesh and body human body, so now in the season of Epiphany we unwrap the gift of our Heavenly Father gazing in praise and thanksgiving at the light of life that shines from the face of Jesus!

It is appropriate in this season of life and light in Christ Jesus that Christians confess and support the sacred gift of human given by our Heavenly Father. On January 13, 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation designating January 22 as the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. While some Christian congregations chose to celebrate the Sanctity of Human Life on the Sunday closest to January 22, other congregations devote the month of January to promoting and supporting God's gift of life. This month, I'd like to defer my newsletter article and commend to you the excellent letter on life written by President Matthew Harrison.

In Christ,
Pastor Nettleton

The Gift of Life
by Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

As I sat in the hospital room holding my first granddaughter the week before Thanksgiving, I wondered what the world would have been like if my son and daughter-in-law had bought into the lie sold to them by their adversaries, the devil, the world and their own sinful flesh.

Their sinful selves would not have chosen to have a baby. The old Adam does not want anyone to be dependent on him but instead wants to enjoy the soft, self-indulgent life. And old Eve would never, of her own will, choose to endure the life-and-death ordeal of childbirth. She, like Adam, would prefer to stay safe and comfortable, “curved in” on herself. Bringing a child into the world is an act of rebellion against the old sinful Adam and Eve, one that calls the new people in Christ out of their selfish existence.

The world would have this young Christian couple believe that adding another person to the eight billion who already exist pushes the earth ever closer to a climate crisis. It would have them believe that the way to serve their neighbor is to prevent more children from crowding out the ones who are already here. And it would have them believe that adding another mouth to their fledgling family would jeopardize the life they share as husband and wife. Shouldn’t they keep it simple and adopt a dog from a shelter first?

Then there is the devil, who absolutely hates babies as he hated Christ and the innocents of Bethlehem. Every baby—especially every baby born to Christian parents—is a potential citizen of heaven, a candidate for Baptism, one whom Jesus will raise from the dead on the day of His return. The devil hates babies because babies are an act of resistance against his regime of death and decay. He seeks to convince this couple of these lies and convert them into evangelists for his demonic cause.

The devil knows that those ten little fingers of my new granddaughter will very soon fold in prayer and seek her heavenly Father’s protection against the devil’s wiles. He knows that her little ears will continue to be totally receptive to the Word of God, over which he has no authority. He knows she’ll be in church from the get-go, hearing the Gospel in the liturgy, and that it will stay with her until the day she passes from this life to await the resurrection.

The devil knows that my granddaughter’s parents will bring her to the baptismal font and, in her stead, renounce him and all his works and all his ways. He knows that she will be instructed in the clear Word of God until she is ready to confess with her lips—which cannot yet articulate words—that Jesus is Lord. He knows that the first word her perfectly formed little lips will say in church is “Amen!” He knows that the crucified and risen Jesus wants more mouths to feed with His body and blood. And he knows that some day the children of this little baby girl will place her body in a grave “in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection” unto life everlasting.

The devil hates babies. The devil hates it when mothers in crisis are cared for. The devil hates it when Christians provide for moms, babies and dads. The devil hates it when we supply what young mothers need to turn a crisis situation into a blessing. The devil hates it when a young couple marries and welcomes a child. The devil hates adoption, thousands upon thousands of which happen via our Lutheran agencies. The devil hates it when courageous parents welcome and love a child with developmental disabilities. The devil hates it when children are celebrated at church; loved by their extended church family; and taught the liturgy, catechism, hymns and Bible stories.

Young Christian couples continue to stick it to the devil every time they are open to God’s gift of another child into their family. It’s little wonder that we see so many young Lutherans with big families. We were amazed a few years ago when a study found that our LCMS young married couples where having more children, on average, than Roman Catholics!

Meanwhile, those who are not called to the vocation of mother or father stick it to the devil every time they embrace life, however they are called to do so, in their own vocations—by helping care for and teach the young, esteeming the old, and upholding and defending the sanctity of life at every opportunity.

Throughout this month, I’ll join with many of you in person and in prayer as we march for life. The LCMS will be at the March for Life in Chicago on January 8 and the National March for Life in Washington, D.C., on January 21. We won’t be there because, as some say, we’re opposed to women or we’re single-issue voters. We’ll be there to carry out our baptismal vows to renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. We’ll be there to give voice to the vulnerable and unborn. We’ll be there to pray and proclaim the Word against the forces of hell that would oppose life, children, mothers, fathers, marriages and families. We’ll be there to counter lies with truth, shine light into darkness, and oppose the devil with the love of Jesus.

In the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany, when Jesus came in the flesh and was revealed as the Savior for all people, we rejoice that, though His life was opposed by many, He was brought safely into the world. And we draw great comfort and courage from His sacrifice for us on the cross. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

I give thanks for you and for the courageous ways you promote life in a culture of death. May God grant you strength and encouragement in these gray and latter days.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.

Abide in Jesus’ Word and Be Free

To the Jews who had believed in Him, Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and truth will set you free” (John 8:31b–32).

Over the centuries, many a people, Christian and non-Christian alike, have used our Lord's words here in John 8 in and out of context, as a firm unwavering belief in the Christ who sets one free or simply as a wisdom maxim, slogan or punch-line for whatever so-called truth one wishes to profess.

As we approach our annual remembrance and celebration of the Lutheran Reformation on October 31, we give thanks to our Lord for the work of the Martin Luther and company who brought to light the clear teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Holy Scriptures that truly and only sets men free from slavery to sin, death and devil! And yet, Martin Luther would be the first to deflect any credit for this historic movement that unleashed the good news of Christ upon people who were thirsting and yearning to be set free from the guilt and burden of their sins!

As Luther once famously said,

I did nothing; the Word did everything … I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philips and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it … I did nothing; I let the Word do its work. 1

Of course, one rightly celebrates the Lutheran Reformation properly when we remember it as the work of God through His Word and give thanks to Him for what He has done! At the same time, we would be well served to heed Luther's confession of the power and efficacy of God's Word in our own lives.

“If you abide in my word,” says the Lord, “you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and truth will set you free.” What does it mean to abide in Jesus’ Word? Does it mean that we should hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest His Word? Yes. Does it mean that we should walk in its truth as a light to our path? Yes. Does it mean that we should cleave to it, hold on to it with everything we have, never let it go, as we endure and suffer trial and cross? Yes! Absolutely! It certainly means all these things. But above all, it means listening, hearing, being open to hear again and again, hearing anew and hearing afresh the words of Jesus.

Jesus’ Words are spirit and life (John 6:63). His Word is light in the darkness (John 1:5, 9–11), life in the midst of death (John 5:24) and truth in the midst of relativity and falsehood (John 17:17; 18:37). Those who abide in His Word live in the light of His life and freedom. Those who abandon His Word for another word, who are indifferent to His Word, whose ears and hearts are not open to hearing His Word remain slaves to the darkness of sin and death.

Commenting on John 8, Luther observes the importance of abiding in Christ's Word and remaining His true disciples,

The divine Word alone is our cornerstone, the I-beam, the girder, the stanchion, and the pillar undergirding our constancy. Therefore it is imperative that we hold to the plain Word of God, that we cling to the words of Christ. Then we will experience God’s help in the midst of danger and upheaval … If we rely firmly on the Word, then we need have no fear … Here is where disciples of Christ come to the parting of the ways. The false disciples begin to believe, but they defect. The true disciples remain on the hard path or enter through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:14), namely the Word of God, saying: “I am helpless. May God help me. It all rest in His hands. He promised and said: ‘Just cling to the Word, and I will uphold you. When you find yourself in any extremity or distress, you will learn to continue in God's Word. This will liberate you and make you a true disciple.’” 2

Since the garden of Eden, man has and continues to be lead astray by the words, whims and teaching of the world. Amidst the cacophony of voices in our world that question, contradict, reject, deny, oppose and seek to silence Jesus' Words, faith clings to and abides in His Word. And abiding in His Word, we remain His disciples who are truly free.

True freedom is not the liberty to do, say or believe anything we want, but to abide in Jesus who “wants us to discard and abandon everything else … to give up the illusion that anything else will avail to make us free … [and] look to Him alone” who sets us free. 3

Jesus words are not a slogan or punch-line, but the very truth of His salvific work for you and me. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and truth will set you free.”

The Lutheran Reformation isn't just something that happened long ago, but is something that God is in the business of doing in you and in me today and always; opening our ears, opening our hearts, opening our minds anew, afresh with the words of Jesus that we might abide in His Word and be free.

In Christ Alone,
Pastor Nettleton

  1. Martin Luther, Eight Sermons at Wittenberg (1522), in Luther's Works, Vol. 51, 77–78.
  2. Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of John (1531), in Luther's Works, Vol. 23, 400.
  3. Ibid., 412.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.

Lord Teach Us To Pray

After observing the prayer life our Lord Jesus, His disciples asked Him, “Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1b). This request reveals at least two things about the disciples and about us. First, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes, “in making this request, they confessed that they were not able to pray on their own, that they had to learn to pray.” 1 And secondly, since we need to learn how to pray, we are essentially always learning how to pray.

To borrow a line from John Kleinig, Jesus is the only “expert at prayer.” 2 For the rest of us, we are always learning from Jesus and from His Word how and what to pray. Just as a child learns to speak by listening to his parents and others speak, “so we learn to speak to God because God has spoken to us and speaks to us … Repeating God's own words after him, we begin to pray to him.” 3

Of course, our Lord Jesus gives us the most excellent and most exemplary prayer of all to pray. He gives us His very own prayer that He prays to His Heavenly Father, literally “The Lord's Prayer” as we have properly named it. His prayer covers all the bases. There is nothing that we need to pray for that is not covered in this prayer! Each petition is “so great,” as Luther observes, “that it should impel us to keep praying for it all our lives.” 4 For “in these seven petitions are found all our anxieties, needs, and perils, which we ought to bring to God” and the “great things” He intends to give and do for us. 5

In a very real sense then, the Lord’s Prayer serves as the source, guide and norm for all other prayers, petitions, intercessions, supplications and thanksgivings. And while our Lord's Prayer should be prayed daily and often, there remain many other prayers for which God’s people may learn to speak in boldness and confidence to our Heaven Father. The Old and New Testaments give us numerous prayers to use as our very own, most especially the Psalter which Luther considered the Christian’s prayer book.

In addition, there are many fine prayers that have been handed down to us over the centuries through the church’s liturgies, daily prayer offices, hymns, collects and catechetical materials such as the Small Catechism that all have their roots in the Scriptures. Luther, in fact, intended his Small Catechism to be a prayer book as much as concise summary of Christian doctrine for teaching.

One of the greatest prayers that we have preserved in our church body is “The Litany.” 6 The name “litany” comes from the Greek litaneia which means “prayer, supplication or entreaty.” It is one of the most ancient forms of prayer dating all the way back to the fourth and fifth centuries. Our Litany is based on Luther’s revision of the Great Litany (1529) and follows the English translation made by Thomas Cranmer (1544). 7 Purged from the Litany of All Saints, Luther removed the unbiblical prayers to the saints and enlarged the element of intercessory prayer. Today, “the Litany stands as a great and comprehensive pattern of prayer for the Church, the world, and for all sorts and conditions of people.” 8

The Litany is appropriate for penitential seasons such as Advent and Lent or for special days of repentance and prayer. With the recent state of the world, especially the last few weeks, I have found myself on my knees in prayer much more these days. And in moments of frustration, anxiousness, deep concern and even anger, I have personally found the Litany to be an exceedingly helpful prayer to lift before our Heavenly Father. 9 During these trying and uncertain days, I invite you to join me in praying this great prayer for the Church, the world, and for all those in need.

As we continue to learn to pray from our Lord, from His Word using some of these ancient forms of prayer handed down us, we approach the Lord with sure and certain confidence that He hears our prayer, that He desires to help us, to give us and do for us great things in Christ our Lord. For as Luther quips, God “did not command [prayer] in order to deceive you and make a fool, a monkey of you; he wants you to pray and to be confident that you will be heard; he wants you to open your bosom 10 that he may give to you. So open up your coat and skirt wide and receive God's gifts for which you pray in your prayer.” 11

Serving you in Christ,
Pastor Nettleton

  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible (Augsburg Fortress, 1970), 9.
  2. See John W. Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today (Concordia Publishing House, 2008), 156–161.
  3. Bonhoeffer, 11.
  4. Luther, The Large Catechism, III, 34.
  5. Martin Luther, Ten Sermons on the Catechism (1528) in Luther's Works, Vol. 51, 181.
  6. You may find “The Litany” on pages 288–289 in Lutheran Service Book (Concordia Publishing House, 2006).
  7. Cranmer (1489-1556) used and included Luther's version of the Litany in the Book of Common Prayer (1549).
  8. Lutheran Service Book: Altar Book, (Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 410.
  9. Interestingly, Luther was prompted to revive the Litany when the Ottoman Turks threatened the faith and freedom of Christian Europe. He then insisted people pray or sing it during the Matins and Vespers.
  10. Luther is either referring to the chest or the innermost part of body.
  11. Luther, Ten Sermons on the Catechism, 171.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.

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