Dear Friends and Fellow Children of God,
As Kathy and I return to Alaska, after retirement traveling, we commented on a recent experience we never had before. For eight straight weeks, from September 15 to November 3, we worshiped in 8 separately different Lutheran Christian churches. I preached and we worshiped at Our Redeemer Lutheran in Chugiak on September 15, at Faith Lutheran, Juneau, September 22, and at Sterling Lutheran on September 29. Kathy and I also worshiped at Lamb of God Lutheran in Wasilla, AK, on October 6 before we left town.
We then traveled, I preached and we worshiped at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Chiefland, FL, on October 13. Then we attended worship at First Lutheran in Gainesville, the Florida congregation where I spent many of my childhood years, on October 20. On the way back from my seminary reunion in St. Louis, on October 27, we worshiped at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Chattanooga, TN. where I had served two summer vicarages, or internships. And finally, on November 3, we worshiped our Lord in Oxford, Florida, at Amazing Grace Lutheran, where my brother, James, is pastor. That’s a LOT of different congregations and places of worship!
However, in each congregation we were not without acquaintances, we had friends. In fact, when we worshiped in Chiefland, we worshiped with family! My sister, Martha, and brother-in-law, Mark, attend Good Shepherd. And, when we worshiped in Oxford, FL, not only is my brother James pastor of the congregation, but his family attends. My brother Stephen and his family also attend. In fact, my brother James’ daughter, our niece, Elizabeth, is the lead singer on the praise team. My brother Stephen also plays guitar in that group, and Stephen’s daughter, Kaitlin, also sings. Actually, on the Sunday we worshiped there, Kaitlin’s college boyfriend, Matt, even played electric cello in the praise band that week. Kathy has pictures of family helping to lead worship.
What a blessing it is to share eternal truths, and eternal blessings of our Lord in worship with people you love and care about? We felt especially blessed in Oxford that day.
But, in all the other congregations where we worshiped, we may not have had family, but we did have acquaintances, and we knew multiple people. So, while we worshiped with natural blood family members in Chiefland and Oxford, we worshiped with members of our Christian family in Chugiak, in Juneau, in Sterling and Wasilla. We worshiped alongside people with whom we had worked, prayed, and shared the blessings and challenges of life at First Lutheran in Gainesville and at Cross of Christ in Chattanooga.
I may have even already overcommitted! In Gainesville on November 17, I told, Judy Helling, a long time member whom I’ve known since the 1960’s, that when we return to Florida in January, I might just attend choir practice and sing with the choir from January through March, like I did from 1968 to 1971 when I was in high school. Judy told me she would tell her husband, John, that I had promised to sing. Hmmm. I did sing in the choir with John Helling 50 years ago. And, John is still in the First Lutheran choir. If I participate, that will also be a joy.
Nevertheless, Kathy and I have been missing the joy of worshiping with our four children, and our six grandchildren. They all attend St. John Lutheran Church in Palmer, AK. But since my retirement from St. John on August 31, we have been worshiping in other locations to give St. John a chance to figure out what life is like without their 28 year pastor, Pastor Rockey. Worshiping with our family was a great source of joy for Kathy and myself. As children of God, who are given life by our Lord, who are forgiven and saved by the blood of God’s Son, Jesus, who are seeking to live in His grace today, and who are planning on eternity with our Lord in heaven, we cherish sharing our hope and faith with our family. We pray for our children and grandchildren that they live in the grace of God in this life, and that together we praise Him forever in His eternal kingdom. Kathy and I do miss those Sundays where our family would gather in the back row, while trying not to make too much noise, when we would worship our Lord together.
Family is a gift from God. What a joy to have people to love, people with whom we can share our challenges and blessings, people who walk beside us in our journey in this life. The writer of the Hebrews tells us that we not only have family because of blood ties in this world. But, because Jesus, the Son of God, took on our humanity, he is our brother. All those who follow Jesus then are our Christian family. Please consider with me the words Hebrews 2:10-15.
10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12 He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises." 13 And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again he says, "Here am I, and the children God has given me." 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-- that is, the devil-- 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Kathy and I miss worshiping, for now, with our children and grandchildren. Yet, what a blessing to worship in other locations and to know we have Christian family. The amazing truth is that, even when we worship in locations where we don’t already know someone, we are still worshiping with God’s family. We worship with people who are our brothers and sisters because of Jesus.
The older I get, the more I realize I need others. The older I get, the more precious I realize my family is. What a blessing, that in Jesus I have brothers and sisters who share my hope, who walk beside me in trials, and who encourage me to continue to trust God’s eternal love in Jesus!
A Child of God, Thankful that Through Jesus I am Part of the Family of God,
P.S. Here is a picture of the praise team in worship at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Oxford, FL, on November 3. https://photos.app.goo.gl/RMq1rHR1Sq2H5zmNA
P.P.S. Kathy and I were part of a celebration of life on Saturday, November 16, for my sister in law, Jan Rockey. It was held at the home of my sister and brother in law in Chiefland, FL. Here are some pictures. https://photos.app.goo.gl/tPezbpjwfeWuqjVCA
P.P.P.S. I went fishing on Thursday, November 14, at Orange Lake, FL, near Gainesville. This lake is pretty famous for bass fishing. And, though we fished all day with only one fish caught, it was a pretty nice one. Here are some pictures. https://photos.app.goo.gl/w3hWskuA9KYV2UqbA
ABOUT THIS DEVOTION – I am now retired as senior pastor of St. John Lutheran in Palmer, AK. This devotion was previously titled, “Thoughts from the Pastor.” However, with life’s changes I will now call it, “Journeys Through Life as a Child of God.” I am only sending this message to those who have asked to receive it. If you know someone else who desires to receive this message have them e-mail me at email@example.com. You can also view this message on my Facebook page.