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God Be Praised and Lord Have Mercy

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

June 11, 2024

In today's world, it is odd how easy it is to feel isolated and disconnected. We have so many opportunities to connect whether that be events, phones, texts, and social media, yet we can still find ourselves with feelings of isolation.  That is why our Christian understanding of fellowship is something we take so seriously here at Shepherd of the Hills.  We understand that we are called by God to live in community and fellowship, supporting one another in our walk of faith. Our confessions and the Scriptures provide us with clear guidance on the importance of gathering together as a community of believers.

Fellowship, or koinonia, is more than just social interaction; it is a vital part of our life together in Christ. When we gather, we encourage one another, bear each other’s burdens, and rejoice in our shared faith. Our fellowship is an expression of our unity in Christ and helps us grow in our understanding of and living out of our faith.

The Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions highlight the importance of fellowship and gathering in many ways. Here are a few key verses that illustrate this:  Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV): "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Acts 2:42 (ESV): "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  The early church provides us with a model of devotion to teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer, which are central to our life together as Lutherans. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV): "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” Our fellowship is an opportunity to build each other up in the faith, a practice that is remains essential to our life together.

At Shepherd of the Hills, fellowship takes on many forms, from our Sunday Divine Service, where we receive God’s gifts through Word and Sacrament, to Bible studies, prayer meetings, and social gatherings. Each of these opportunities allows us to connect more deeply with one another and with our Lord. Let us continue to prioritize these gatherings, understanding that they are not merely routine but are central to our faith and spiritual well-being.

Central to our fellowship is our participation in the Sacraments, particularly the Lord’s Supper. In the Sacrament, we not only receive Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins but also express our unity with one another in the one true faith.  There is a vertical and horizontal nature to this unity. This sacramental fellowship is a foretaste of the eternal feast to come.

This summer let us commit ourselves to these gatherings.  I look forward to being with you at our services, bible studies and fellowship events.  Look in the coming weeks for an invitation to join your pastor, elder and fellow congregation members for a social gathering hosted by our elders.  This is just one more way we can grow together. 

May God bless our congregation with a spirit of unity, love, and fellowship. May we always find joy and strength in gathering together around His Word and Sacraments, and may our collective faith shine brightly as a beacon of hope in our world.

In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust

May 14, 2024

Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,


I wanted to spend a moment in thanksgiving and praise to God our Heavenly Father who provides for all that we need as individuals, families and as a congregation.  In the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” we are taught by the scriptures as Martin Luther summarized:

God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in the petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

What is meant by daily bread?  Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.


Here at Shepherd of the Hills, I am thankful for the daily bread God gives to us as a community through all of you.  Your blessed stewardship of your time, talents, money and energy is what makes our community flourish with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Your good stewardship provides for me and my family and therefore the faithful preaching of the Gospel, teaching of the Word and equipping of the saints. It provides for a beautiful place to gather in the study of God’s Word and the Divine service.  It allows us to bless the world around us with acts of mission and mercy.  It is how we fulfill the great commission in going and making disciples of all nations.  Thank you. 


I’m so thankful for all the work and sacrifices we make together as the church here in Ruidoso to make the love of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, known in word and deed.  As St. Paul shares with the churches in Philippi, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).”  I am always encouraged by how you all work to press toward the goal.  I admire how you all make those sacrifices of time, talents, money and treasure and honor when we are challenged and struggle with those sacrifices.  


You remain in my prayers as I am sure I am in your prayers.  I look forward to all the wonderful ways the Lord has given us to serve and be served here in this place even as we take this same service to the world around us.  


In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust

April 28, 2024

Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,


On Wednesday I have had the privilege of spending time with some of you learning the Small Catechism.  One thing I always emphasize as we study Luther’s Small Catechism is that this is a Bible study.  The catechism is just a summary of all that is written in Holy Scriptures.  Therefore it is always good for us to study.  


Question 12 in our explanation to the catechism ask the question, “What is the Small Catechism?”  It answers it in this ways.

For centuries, Christians have used three important text as a basic summary for teaching the Christian faith and life:  The Ten Commandments, Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.  Martin Luther helpfully included biblical passages on Baptism, Confession, and the Lord’s Supper.  The Small Catechism, written by Luther in 1529, includes these texts along with brief explanations.  The expanded Explanations section is prepared a s teaching and learning tool.


Question 13 asks, “What are the central, or chief, parts of Christian teaching and life?”  

1. God makes known His will through the Ten Commandments, which summarize how God wants us to love Him and love our neighbor and also reveal our sin and inability to keep God's Law.

2. The Creed summarizes who God is and what He has done for the world: creating and preserving all things out of fatherly love; redeeming the world in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and calling and gathering believers into the Church by the Holy Spirit.

3. In the Lord's Prayer (or the Our Father), God the Son teaches Christians how to pray as God's own dear children, confident that what we are praying pleases Him and is for our good.

4. Scripture teaches us that in Holy Baptism, we are cleansed from our sins and belong to the one true God, Father, Son, and Spirit, whom we trust for life and salvation.

5. As God's believing, baptized children, we still battle against sins of thought, word, and deed. But God graciously has given special authority to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of the penitent and to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant (Office of the Keys and Confession).

6. God welcomes His children to the Sacrament of the Altar (Lord's Supper), where Christ gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink with the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins and to strengthen our faith.


This is the document we use in our church to declare our unity in faith.  We are constant learners of God’s Word and are always being conformed by this Word.  Even if you are not in the class on Wednesdays I encourage you to break open that catechism and find where you are challenged in your life by God’s Word.  Then celebrate all the wonderful ways God has given you his gifts through that same Word.


Blessings to each and everyone of you.  It is a joy to teach and learn God’s Word with you in our Bible studies, prayers, and the Divine Service. In other words…it is a joy to be your pastor. 


In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust

April 14, 2024

Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,


This world is beautiful and glorious, full of joy and delight.  This world is dark and grotesque, full of hate and suffering.  How can both these statements be true?  I believe that both these statements are true and it’s not just a matter of perspective.  This is a belief we hold as faithful Christian people. Both of these realities are true simultaneously.  


The joys and wonders of our world come to us because of God’s creative goodness.  He is the author of all of creation and some of that creation you and I experience still bear the reflection of that goodness.  Yet, we live in a fallen world, a world marked by sin and chaos.  Therefore creation also simultaneously reveals this fallenness.


People in our world can be kind and compassionate, sharing in the joy and delights of this creation.  Faithful Christians and non-Christians, from a very human perspective, contribute to the good in our world. Faithful Christians and non-Christians also contribute to the hate and suffering we experience in this life.  


From a very human perspective we hold both realities to be true about our world.  But this does not bring hope.  If this alone was true, the best we could do is resign ourselves to ‘fate’ and work to make this life as joyous as possible and try to minimize the suffering.  YUCK!


As faithful Christian people we are given a much more concrete hope.  A hope for a redeemed creation and a redeemed humanity.  The focus of that hope is the Resurrection of Jesus.  Now the joy and delight we experience with creation and one another is just a foretaste of the feast that is to come.  These moments become for us a chance to reflect and give thanks to God for the blessings in life we receive, but also not putting our hope in these moments or blessings.  We see them for what they are…a gift.  


This also means that the dark, grotesque, hatefulness and suffering of the world is not only to be expected, because this is why Jesus came to live, suffer, die and rise, but is also temporary.  Hurt, heartache, pain, illness, suffering and death are all terrible.  God is good.  Jesus is fixing it. Jesus has risen from the dead and has defeated all sin, death and the devil.  His resurrection means a time is coming when darkness will be no more for those who trust in him.  


The world being beautiful and dark simultaneously are realities that we describe, not fates we are tied to.  The Lord, through his salvation story remembered and celebrated this Easter season, has given us a greater hope.  We, by faith, are certain that all things will be made new and until then the very real presence of the Lord Jesus abides with us until his return or our call home.  May the Lord sustain you in this life with the faith to trust such things.  


In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust

March 26, 2024

Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,


Here we are.  We are in Holy Week.  This is the most sacred week of our church year.  We don’t just celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord, but also is suffering and death.  Our God is a God of love, but his is also a God of perfect justice.  Perfect justice is something we don’t get in our fallen world.  We get little glimpses of justice, but never perfect justice.  


This letter is a continuation of the previous two letters highlighting the special services of Holy Week.  This time we are examining the beauty of Good Friday.  This is the day perfect justice was carried out.  This is the day our accuser, the devil, is silenced.  This is the day death is undone by death.  This is the day our sin, our own most grievous sin, is paid for perfectly.  It is not paid for with our life, but with this life of the Lord of Life.  This is the day when Jesus, fully man and fully God, chooses to die.  He dies perfectly innocent having no sin of his own, but taking the sin of a fallen creation upon himself.  So how is this monumental event reflected in our service of Tenebrae, the service of darkness?


Good Friday continues the sacred Triduum, the three-day observance of Christ’s Passion.  It is not observed as a funeral for Christ.  It is a day of repentance over sin and restrained joy and praise for the redemption Christ accomplished for us on the cross.  The altar is bare of its usual adornments and in their place a black cloth and 7 candles are visible.  The service consists of the extinguishing of the candles and the dimming of the sanctuary lights.  This reflects the darkness that creation experienced when the Lord of life and light gives up his life for us.  


In our service we extinguish one candle after a reading of each of Jesus’ last seven words.  This is a compilation of readings across all 4 gospels.  A brief litany of response from the congregation is given and we use the song “O Lord Hear Our Prayer” as a refrain to reflect our participation in these events through our own sinful actions.  This helps us stay in this repentant posture through the service.  We are not mere observers of the passion but acknowledge our own sin and the confidence we have that indeed the Lord hears our prayers and grants us the fruits of his divine justice in the death of his son.  


Justice is completed on this night.  Perfect justice is completed on this night.  The sin of humanity is paid for.  Our sin is paid for.  Now we wait.  We spend Saturday in anticipation of the Service of the Resurrection on Sunday.  Very early on the first day of the week, Sunday, we gather to celebrate that death could not hold Jesus and that in the waters of our baptism, we receive the fullness of the resurrection as well.  


I love celebrating Holy Week with you all.  May our faith grow stronger and more bold as we gather to receive these blessed gifts Jesus has won for us. I encourage you to prioritize the time to join me in these special services: Maundy Thursday—March 28 at 6:30; Good Friday—March 29 at 6:30; Services of the Resurrection—Sunday March 31. Sunrise service at 7:15 and Divine Service at 10:30.  I look forward to sharing the Gospel with you in these special ways.  


In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust


March 12, 2024

Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,


This letter is the first of a series of three highlighting the different special services of Holy Week.   We will cover Palm/Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  Each of these services are unique in our church year as is appropriate for the special nature of Jesus’ passion.   This week our focus is on Palm/Passion Sunday. 


There are two elements that make Palm/Passion Sunday a unique service.  It starts off with a procession with palms (or other branches) and hosannas to commemorate our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem.  Versicles, responses, a prayer and the Gospel account are part of this special start to the service.  The traditional hymn we sing is “All Glory Laud and Honor.”  This all adds to a very festival like flare to the service and is a public statement of our Lord’s kingship.  It is a time for us to remember and receive the comfort that even in Holy Week with the suffering and death of Jesus, he is Lord over all.  He does not enter Jerusalem as a victim or martyr, but as one who is determined to do the work for which he came into our world for!


The service continues as normal with the service of the Word and the service of the Sacrament.  Then the second element that makes this service unique comes at the end.  The festive mood changes as we pivot to the reading of the entire passion account as presented in Matthew, Mark or Luke.  John’s account of the passion is reserved for Good Friday.  The mood is more reflective and somber as we look ahead to walking with Jesus through his passion on Thursday and Friday.  


During the reading of the passion we pause in silence following the sentence describing Jesus’ death.  It is a long reading and gives us plenty of time for reflection and absorbing the significance of Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, suffering and dying for us, his beloved creation.  This ultimate act of love is the very center of our faith.  


As you continue your lenten journey with Jesus this week make sure as you plan you schedule for the weeks to come that you prioritize the time to join me in these special services:  Palm Sunday—March 24 at 10:30; Maundy Thursday—March 28 at 6:30; Good Friday—March 29 at 6:30.  I look forward to sharing the Gospel with you in these special ways. 


In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust