- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: January 13 2021 January 13 2021
As we begin a new calendar year, the year of our Lord 2021, we are anxious to move beyond the dreaded year of 2020 and put it behind us! And yet, as we move on ahead we are not quite sure what this new year will have in store for us as so much uncertainty and turmoil abound in our country.
As my alma mater Concordia Seminary St. Louis began its 182nd academic year this past fall under unusual conditions to say the least, they began with the theme “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). As interim President Rev. Dr. Daniel Preus welcomed students back to campus, he acknowledged that we are living in times of change, trouble, stress and anxiety. And yet, he encouraged students not be timid or afraid. Why? Because, as President Preus put it so well in his address, “Our Savior never changes. What He offers never changes. He offers forgiveness, life and salvation. These never waver, never change. They never fade. They are constant. And so in the midst of change and trouble we have comfort and we have confidence in God's constancy.”
When the writer to the Hebrews says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” he is not offering some abstract or theoretical statement about the eternal existence of the Son of God, though it is true that the triune God Father, Son and Holy Spirit never changes. Rather, he is offering a practical summary of the points he has already made in his letter for the benefit of his audience that they may live with confidence, hope, peace and joy even in the midst of trial and persecution.
Yesterday, Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7). He is the great High Priest who offered Himself as the once and for all sacrifice for sins with His own blood (5:7–10; 9:12, 26–27; 10:11–14). Today, Jesus remains the ever-living High Priest who sits at the Father's right hand making intercession and offering prayers for us right now (7:20–24) with His mercy, grace and help readily available to those who call on Him (4:14–16). And forever, this same Jesus, who is the great High Priest forever because He lives forever, is ever faithful and is coming again to consummate the salvation of His people and the reign of God forever (9:28). Those “who are eagerly waiting for him” (9:28) will receive their promised eternal inheritance in full (9:15; 11:8) through Christ who is the mediator of a new (9:15) and better covenant (12:24).
This profound, wonderful and succinct verse became a ‘motto’ for early Christians living through troubling times of crisis and suffering intense persecution. “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (12:2a), these first Christians were able to “hold fast the confession of hope without wavering for he who promised is faithful” (10:23). This ‘motto’ or confession of faith must be our mantra that we repeat and sing over and over again so that we too are grounded in hope and sustained in faith in these gray and later days!
It’s hard these days not to be cynical about the present, concerned about tomorrow and anxious about the future. But the truth is that no matter what lies ahead for us in this always-changing ever fallen world of ours, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Kingdoms and kings of this world rise and fall, priests and people come and go, everything in this life withers, fades, rusts, rots and dies, but Jesus Christ remains forever! His reign and throne are forever and His Kingdom has no end (Luke 1:33). He who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3), upholds you and His Church forever. And so we can live with confidence, certainty, and even joy that come what may, as we sung this past Sunday, “I am baptized into Christ, I'm a child of paradise!” 1
- Erdmann Neumeister, “God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It” in Lutheran Service Book (Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 594.
- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: December 01 2020 December 01 2020
Have you ever seen Christmas decorations go up so early? As soon as November 1st hit the calendar, people in my neighborhood were already putting up Christmas lights and trees! I'm always happy to see people decorating for Christmas, but why so early?
Could it be that many people are searching for sense of hope? Could it be that people wearied by our current pandemic are desperately searching for something to look forward to, something hopeful? Many of us, if not all of us, are tired, fatigued and exhausted from the past nine months of uncertainty, isolation, mandates and shutdowns.
Multiple studies show that the rate of depression has tripled during our current pandemic. In late June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that forty percent of adults in the U.S. reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. Recent CDC data reveals that almost one in five teens across the country have seriously considered attempting suicide. And sadly, actual suicides and drug overdoses have surpassed the death rate for COVID-19 among high school students.
Children of all ages are struggling mightily with isolation and remote education. Parents across the country are worried that their children are falling behind or failing in school. Small businesses are closing a rapid pace. Forbes Magazine predicted that sixty percent of restaurants nationwide will close permanently. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that one in four adults have had trouble paying their bills since the start of the pandemic. This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the awful 2020 news and statistics. To say that people are searching for any sign of light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, searching desperately for any sign of hope is an understatement!
As we enter the season of Advent, we enter a season filled with hope; hope that is grounded in the One who came and who is coming again! Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” The whole season of Advent has to do with our Lord's coming.
Traditionally, Advent focus on the threefold coming of Christ: (1) Christ's coming in the flesh to be our Savior; (2) Christ's coming again to be our Judge; and (3) Christ's coming to us now enfleshed in His Word and Sacraments.
Advent is a season of sober repentance mixed with holy joy as we prepare to celebrate aright the Nativity of Our Lord. It is a season of preparation, expectation and hope as we await our Lord's coming again to judge the living and the dead. It is a season of prayer and devotion, hearing and meditating on the Word of God and the wonder of His love come down to us and for us in the Christ child.
While the world around us desperately searches for any glimmer of hope with very little on the horizon, the Word of God in the season of Advent directs our hearts and our lives to the only place where true hope is to be found; the One who is born of the Virgin Mary “in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). He is our hope, our life, our joy and our glorious salvation. Even in the darkest seasons of life, His light shines bright as we wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Ironically, the Advent season comes during one the darkest times of the year. The days are short and the nights are long. And yet, Advent is a season of light, increasing light that leads us to the light shining in the darkness of Bethlehem in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). As Isaiah once foretold;
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:2, 6).
Advent points us beyond all the secularization and commercialization of Christmas, beyond all the Christmas lights and decorations, to the True Light that has come into the world (John 1:9). Advent is a season of hope because it points beyond itself to a time that is coming, to the One who is coming again as we pray and sing:
Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art,
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart. 1
As we continue to journey through these gray and later days, through a very dark 2020, take heart and comfort this season in your Savior Jesus who has come to set you free, to give you life, to give you rest, and to give you Advent hope, “coming” hope, in His coming again for you!
Blessed Adventide and Christmas,
- Charles Wesley, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” in Lutheran Service Book (Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 338.
- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: October 01 2020 October 01 2020
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.Isaiah 40:6–8
The letters VDMA (often pictured around a Greek cross) is an acronym that stands for the Latin phrase Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum (The Word of the Lord Endures Forever). This important phrase was the first evangelical confession and thus became the motto of the Lutheran Reformation and the logo VDMA its official symbol. Based on the words of Isaiah 40:8 and 1 Peter 1:25, VDMA is a confident expression of the enduring power and authority of God’s living and abiding Word.
While the origin of the VDMA motto and logo is unknown, its first known use occurs in 1522 when Fredrick the Wise, Elector of Saxony (Luther’s prince), ordered the logo be sewn onto the courts official clothing worn by prince and servant alike in support of the evangelical faith. The motto/logo was also used by Fredrick's successors, his brother John the Steadfast and his nephew John Fredrick the Magnanimous.
The motto appears on the title page of Luther's first German Bible translation in 1534 (Gottes wort bleibt ewig). VDMA also became the official motto the of Smalcaldic League (1531–1547), an alliance of Lutheran cities and territories formed as a way of defending Lutheran areas against the Emperor and his armies. The VDMA logo “was used on flags, banners, swords, and uniforms as a symbol of the unity of the Lutheran laity who struggled to defend their beliefs, communities, families, and lives against those who were intent on destroying them” and the Gospel teaching and preaching of the Lutheran Reformation. 1
VDMA was a strong reminder to Luther and all who confessed and defended the faith during the Reformation that even if the Emperor was able to overthrow them, he could not snuff out or destroy God’s Word which remains and abides forever! No pope, prince or emperor can ever silence the eternal gospel (Revelation 14:6).
The enduring motto of the Lutheran Reformation remains a confident reminder of God’s abiding Word of truth for His people whose lives are always lived amidst fleeting and transient days. While the Church remains under attack today from hostile enemies on the outside and false teachers on the inside, God's Word cannot be thwarted, it shall remain forever!
Even as a large part of our culture seeks to silence and eliminate the church’s voice within the public square, within our communities, within our neighborhoods and our circle of relationships, the immutable and eternal power and authority of God's Word gives His people an unshakable confidence and certainty to stand upon in the midst of volatility and futility.
Whether the church is free to believe, teach, and confess what the Holy Scriptures teach and confess or whether it endures suffering, persecution or sword (Romans 8:18, 35) like God's Word it too will endure forever because Jesus promises that even “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Unlike the fleeting faithfulness of humanity and the brevity of fallen creation, God's faithfulness is unchanging, His Word of truth and promise stands, remains, endures forever. What is true of the verbal Word of God is also true of the incarnate Word of God. Jesus Christ was crucified, died and buried, but is now risen from the dead forever never to die again (Romans 6:9) and in Him God's people shall endure, abide, live with Him forever!
The grass withers and flower fades, but the Word of the Lord remains forever and in the Word made flesh Jesus Christ so will His Church, so will you.
- Written by Lexham Press Lexham Press
- Created: August 27 2020 August 27 2020
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.Psalm 139:9–10
Lord, do you not care if we perish?
That’s what the frightened disciples shouted to Jesus as he slept in the stern of a storm-tossed boat. In the midst of suffering and uncertainty, we’re all prone to think that God has forgotten us, he doesn’t care or he’s powerless to do anything. That’s certainly true of us in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
In Christ and Calamity, Harold L. Senkbeil speaks pastorally to our suffering and uncertainty. Senkbeil shows God’s constant and faithful grace to us. Calamities come in many different sizes, and God addresses them all in his word and by his Spirit. Even when we don’t see or feel it, God is always faithful.
The disciples’ faith in the midst of the storm may have been weak, but Jesus was mighty to save. And he will save you, too. No matter how small your faith, you can count on him to hear your anguished cry and to answer.
You can find Rev. Dr. Senkbeil’s Christ and Calamity: Grace and Gratitude in the Darkest Valley at Lexham Press or any bookseller. If you’d prefer to order a copy through the church office, please contact Tom at 482-5316 or .
- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: August 26 2020 August 26 2020
Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.Henry F. Lyte, “Abide with Me”
The words of this beloved hymn ring true in several ways, but maybe the most applicable these days is change. Change is a part of life; a part that few of us like if we're honest with ourselves. I'll admit, I don't like change very much. I like routine. I like order. I like normal. And I don't very much care for these things being upset by change. Of course, if you are like me, this is due to the fact that we often find some sort of comfort and security in routine, order and normal daily patterns.
While this is not necessarily a sin problem, it can certainly be a temptation for us to turn things like routine, order, and normalcy into idols that bestow what only God can give, namely comfort, security and peace.
We've seen and experienced enough change and decay for one year maybe more! It seems as though the carpet of routine, order and normalcy has been yanked right out from underneath us. Some of us may feel as if we've had to push the pause button on our lives. Many of us are waiting for our lives to get back to some sense of “normal.” Maybe our lives will get back to the way they were, maybe they won't. Only time will tell.
One thing is for sure; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and “Thou who changest not” abides with us always! The God of history is only Unchangeable and He is our ultimate source of comfort, security and peace—not routine, order and normalcy.
Professor emeritus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Robert Kolb put it best:
God is not pleased when we try to find the stability and security of our lives in maintaining or returning to doing things the way we always have. He wants to be our only ultimately stable, security, and shalom … He is also displeased with us when try to make our customary way of doing things the anchor of our lives and do not find our anchor in His Word and His presence. 1
Unfortunately, we all have a way of anchoring our lives in things that were not meant to hold, sustain or anchor us. Unfortunately, we have a way of fearing things above or more than God, loving things above or more than God and trusting in things above or more than God. God's good gifts (even routine, order and normalcy) are for us to enjoy, but not to worship, cling to or rely upon for what only God Himself can give.
Luther reminds us in The Large Catechism:
As I have often said, it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God. 2
Change has a way of upsetting our lives that none of us really welcome whole heartedly. And yet, change in our lives always brings the opportunity for us to reflect on where our faith and trust really lie. Change, challenge, trial and struggle may or may not be from God, but He will always use these to draw us closer to Him and His Word (Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 12:8–10).
Reframing the First Commandment in a positive way, Luther reminds us that God invites us to trust, look to and cling to Him always especially in times of challenge and trouble.
“See to it that you let me alone be your God, and never search for another.” In other words: “Whatever good thing you lack, look to me for it and seek it from me, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, crawl to me and cling to me. I, I myself will give you what you need and help you out of every danger. Only do not let your heart cling to or rest in anyone else.” 3
As those who have been born again by baptism into a living faith we know who to look and cling to for all things, especially our salvation. And yet, how easy it is to look elsewhere for comfort, security and peace.
Thankfully, “Thou who changest not” changes not His grace and mercy toward us in Christ. As the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed and rejoiced in, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).
Change and decay are indeed all around us, but Thou who changest not, abides with us now and always with His grace, with His Word and presence. "Jesus Christ, who gives a peace no human system or institution, custom or practice can give, is here for us, at our side, on our side, in every contention with every new normal." 4 Thanks be to God!
Serving you in Christ,
- Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, I, 3.
- Luther, I, 4.