Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,

Where do I begin?  Let us start with the first things.  I’ve been using the phrases, “God be praised” and “Lord have mercy” with just about every conversation I’ve had with you all.  Each of us have things for which we give thanks in the midst of the most tragic of circumstances.  We give thanks to God for the protection of life for each of you.  We give God thanks that He has once again provided for us our daily bread even if that daily bread looked much different than it did 3 days ago.  We give thanks for the mutual consolation of the saints and for faithful friends to lean on during these tragic times.  We give thanks when homes and property have been spared.  We give thanks for the courage and hard labor of our fire fighters, law enforcement and EMS personnel who have worked themselves to the bone helping to protect lives, property and one another.  We give thanks that in the midst of anxiety and fear we have a good and gracious heavenly Father who hears us.  We give thanks that no matter what happens in this life we have the sure and certain hope of the forgiveness of our sins, life eternal and the abiding presence of Christ with us at all times.  GOD BE PRAISED!

Each of us have things for which we cry out to the Lord, even in the midst of all the good gifts He has given us.  We cry out when homes and property have been lost.  We cry out when irreplaceable items that carry personal sentiment and memories for us are suddenly taken.  We cry out because of the anxiousness we feel in our hearts.  We cry out because being displaced, under any circumstance, is hard and taxing on us physically and emotionally.  We cry out because we are scattered and can’t be together during such a time as this.  We cry out because of the hurt and suffering our fellow congregation members, family and friends are experiencing. We cry out when livelihoods are lost or altered.  We cry out when the beautiful places we hold dear are marred.  We cry out because we feel helpless in the face of such destruction.  We cry out because the tasks of mercy and rebuilding seem daunting.  We cry out because it all is just too much to bear.  LORD HAVE MERCY!

Having talked to most of you, I want you to know you bring me great joy!  The beautiful way that you have communicated with one another, shared the joys and sorrows of this time, and reached out in compassion to me, your fellow congregation members, friends and neighbors is heartening to me and a wonderful witness to the world.  You have graciously given generously when it was needed and you have graciously received from others as you have been in need. For most of you, it was probably a little bit of both.  I have received texts, emails and phone calls from the District President, various Circuit Visitors, pastors, congregations and even visitors to our church reaching out, asking how best to pray and what the pressing needs of the community are.  Thank you!  I pray you are encouraged as much as I am by all these folks.  We are not alone.  We have been surrounded by faithful Christians all over the state and country who care for us and our community.

Continue steadfast in prayer.  Read and hear God’s Word.  Remain in contact with one another.  When anxious thoughts assail you or evil doubts beset you, return to the Lord Jesus Christ who is the bringer of peace, a peace the world cannot give.  It is a peace He has earned for you by His life, death and resurrection.  He is still Lord of all creation and Lord of His church.

On Sunday, we will gather at 10:30 for the service of the Word either at Shepherd of the Hills or in Captain at a location to be determined if we are sill under evacuation orders.  I will work to make it live on our YouTube channel (“Shepherd of the Hills Ruidoso”) for all of you who are not evacuated locally.  If you are out of town, I encourage you to attend the local LCMS church.  Announce to the pastor your presence and circumstances and let him and the congregation share God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament with you as they care for you during this time.  Please share my greetings with them.

Please reach out to me for prayer, consolation and information.  If you have needs that arise, please share with me.  If you have resources that you would like to share, please make me aware so that I can continue to build a list to share with others as needs arise.  God’s blessings to you all.  I look forward to gathering with you as soon as we are able.  We will stand shoulder to shoulder, walking with one another through those moments of “God be praised” and those moments of “Lord have mercy”.

Let Us Pray:

Almighty God, merciful Father, Your thoughts are not our thoughts, Your ways are not our ways. In Your wisdom You have permitted this disastrous fire to befall us. We implore You, let not the hearts of Your people despair nor our faith fail us, but sustain and comfort us. Direct all efforts to attend the injured, console the bereaved, and protect the helpless. Bring hope and healing that we may find relief and restoration; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Merciful Father, we commend to Your keeping all who work to bring rescue and relief. Give them courage in danger, skill in difficulty, and compassion in service. Sustain them with bodily strength and calmness of mind that they may perform their work to the well-being of those in need so that lives may be saved and communities restored; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Lord God, creator of heaven and earth, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we praise You for the abundant mercy that You this day so richly have provided us, blessing us not only with daily bread for our bodies but also with heavenly food for our souls. Grant that Your living and powerful Word may abide in our hearts, working mightily in us to Your glory and for our salvation. We commit ourselves to Your divine protection and fatherly care. Let Your holy angels be with us that the evil foe may have no power over us. Look in mercy on Your Church and deliver it from all danger and adversities. By Your Holy Spirit comfort and strengthen all who are in affliction or distress, and grant Your abiding peace to us all; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

God be praised and Lord have mercy, AMEN!

In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust

Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, Ruidoso