Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Please Pray for Oneness in Jesus!

Dear Fellow Children of God,


In the last two weeks I have blessed by requests for 3 baptisms at St. John which I did not expect.  Actually, we have 7 baptisms planned for the next 9 weeks, and we have another request for a baptism that has not yet been scheduled.  I can tell you that nothing lifts the spirits of a pastor more quickly than seeing God’s work bear fruit in their congregation.  And, nothing can quench the joy of doing God’s work more quickly than conflict, or division, or hurt feelings.


I have recently heard much joy from the people of St. John.  But, I also know and have heard of some real struggles and concerns.  Having been in Alaska now for 24 years I have a lot of contacts, and people call to talk with me.  In the last 2 weeks I have heard from multiple congregations from our own denomination about trials.  I have also listened as people from other denominations have shared their concerns and struggles.  And, I’ve been involved in discussions about the struggles of ministries and denominations on a national level.  All of these discussions have happened in just 2 weeks time!


In my 36 years of serving as a pastor I believe I am now seeing more conflict in the church than at any time since I began serving.  Yes, at times congregations and church bodies and church workers make mistakes that deserve criticism, or at least some loving admonition.  But, we also live in a time when our culture is more and more antagonistic toward institutions, such as the Church.  So, all who serve in positions of authority are more and more open to criticism and attack.  This criticism is aimed at Presidents, and police, at teachers and church leaders, doctors and nurses, and many others.


So, as I was preparing bulletins for May 17 I found that the assigned Gospel lesson for that Sunday is from John 17.  The verses immediately following the assigned lesson are a prayer of Jesus.  Amazingly, on the night that Jesus was betrayed He prayed for His disciples. Thankfully, on the night that Jesus was betrayed He prayed for us!  Importantly, on the night that Jesus was betrayed He prayed for unity in the church.  Having just listened to many people share about the conflicts and troubles in God’s Church, I read the words from Jesus’ prayer with an open heart.


20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  23  . . . May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  (John 17:20-22, 23 b)


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God’s people could find oneness and unity in the saving, sacrificial, love of Jesus?!  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when there were disagreements, God’s people could sit and calmly and lovingly talk about God’s will as found in His word, before sharing our own thoughts? And, wouldn’t it be wonderful if, even when there is disagreement, we could treat each other with love as fellow children of God?


I have often shared with people that doing God’s work, sharing the love of Jesus, and spreading God’s kingdom of grace, is a wonderful and exciting work of faith.  In fact, sharing the forgiveness and love of Jesus is a holy work, one of the chief purposes for which God has called us to live in faith as His children.  The only problem is that God calls sinners to do this holy work.  In some ways calling sinners to do God’s work is a recipe for disaster.  In fact, if we look at the New Testament church we find disagreements throughout the churches of God. 


Nevertheless, God has graciously sent His Son to die and rise to save sinful people like us.  So it is a privilege to do the work of God, whether teaching Sunday School or cleaning bathrooms, singing in the choir or doing mission work.  It is a privilege to do the work of God, even when there may be conflict.


In my personal devotions during the last two weeks I also read a prayer by William Laud, who lived from 1573 to 1645 and who once served the Church of England as the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Laud’s prayer touched my heart.  I share it with you and ask you to pray this prayer with me.  And I ask my Lord to quickly and lovingly answer this prayer. 


“Gracious Father, we humbly beseech Thee for Thy holy catholic Church.  Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace.  Where it is corrupt, purge it; where it is in error, direct it; where it is superstitious, rectify it; where anything is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen and confirm it; where it is in want, furnish it; where it is divided and rent asunder, make up the breaches of it, O Thou Holy One of Israel, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Amen.  (For all the Saints, volume 1, p. 1029)


Yes, there are conflicts in God’s church.  After all, the church is composed of sinners whom Jesus calls to forgiveness.  But, our Lord is stronger than the sin and division and death of this world.  Jesus showed that power and love in His death and resurrection.  And, Jesus prays for the unity of His Church, for oneness in His people.  Will you join me as I join our Lord in this prayer?


A Child of God, Seeking to love others Because Jesus Loved Me,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  During the week of April 27 – May 2 I have been on the MV Christian, the mission boat of Lutheran Indian Ministries.  Along with me are St. John members Steve Arlow, who is captain of the MV Christian, and Gerry and Ruth Zellar.  Our purpose on this trip is to reach out to young people in Kake and Angoon to attend the Alaska Youth Academy which teaches healthy choices and lifestyle.  When that camp is held Pastor David Sternbeck of Lutheran Indian Ministries will provide devotional time and Spiritual guidance.  Here are some pictures from our trip so far, April 27 – April 29.




ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ -   I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have.  (I am always adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.)  However, if you don’t want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message. . .


Friday, April 24, 2015

Keeping Watch Over Ourselves - Sunday School

Dear Fellow Children of God,


I was recently part of a conversation that truly warmed my heart. 


I was attending a board meeting at church when we began discussing the next time the board would meet.  Since there were complications with our normal meeting time we looked at other options for when to meet.  One of the options was for the board to meet on a Sunday between worship services.  But, as we discussed this option one of the board members realized what that meant and exclaimed, “But that means I would need to miss the ‘Genesis’ [adult Sunday School] class.”


I responded, “Actually Sunday School and Bible classes are what God’s church is really about, and are really more important than a meeting.” 


In turn, the person responded, “No, I would have to miss that board meeting.  I’m not going to miss the Genesis class.”  As pastor of St. John, I like that response!  It warms my heart to see someone putting first things first.


When a new pastor is ordained into the ministry or installed as new pastor in a congregation, the other pastors gather around the new pastor at the end of the worship service and lay hands on them and bless them.  Usually the pastors each share a Bible verse as they bless the new pastor.  The verse I normally share is from Acts 20:28, Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”


The point I make when blessing new pastors is that they need to take care of themselves so that they are able to give God’s care to others. This includes physical care.  But even more this care includes nurturing of our own relationship with our Lord.  How can a pastor help someone else in their walk of faith with our Lord if the pastor is not alive in their own walk?


Whether you know it or not, pastors struggle with faith just like everyone else.  A good pastor does not serve others out of their own righteousness or their own strength.  A faithful pastor serves others because they know personally the love and mercy of God in Jesus.  They know that Jesus died and rose for them.  That knowledge and faith is a gift from God as He works in our hearts by His Spirit. 


But, God has given ways or means for His children to keep their faith alive and strong.  I personally depend on my daily devotional time.  This past week I have been reading from the book of Daniel, the epistles of John, and the Gospel of Luke, with prayers and devotional thoughts included.


And, part of God’s plan to nurture and care for our faith is regularly spending time with God’s people in worship and Sunday School.  There we hear the word of our Lord Himself and get to apply it to our life. There we can apply the forgiveness of God and the mercy of God and the guidance of God to our needs and our struggles.


In our current world we all have more opportunities than we have time.  So, we have to make choices.  Making good choices means having our priorities in order.  The advice in Scripture to the pastors of Ephesus is good advice for each of us.  Keep watch over yourselves . . .”  A really good way to keep watch over ourselves is to spend time with other Christians considering the wisdom and love and guidance in the Word of God.


A Child of God, Seeking God’s Priorities for My Life,,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  This Sunday, as Genesis teacher, Jim Summers, is traveling, Pastor David Sternbeck will present Bible Class about God’s work through Lutheran Indian Ministries.  Please note, even with Jim out of town there WILL BE Bible Class.




ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ -   I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have.  (I am always adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.)  However, if you don’t want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message. . .




Friday, April 17, 2015

"How Does One Find a Church?"

Dear Fellow Children of God,


More than once church members of St. John have longingly shared with me, “I miss my mother so much.  It would be nice just to talk with her and see what she thinks.”  I understand.  It has been 4 years now since my mom passed away, but, yes, it would be nice to talk with her and see what she thinks.


Do you know that The Church is sometimes referred to as our “spiritual mother?”  Think of the similarities.  A mother gives birth to a child; God works through His church to give the new birth of faith in Jesus through God’s word, and through water and the Spirit.  (John 3:5, 1 Peter 1:23). A mother feeds and nurtures a child to maturity; in God’s church people are fed and nourished for faith in Jesus Christ, leading to maturity.  (Hebrews 5:12, 2 Peter 3:18).  Parents, in love, correct their children to keep them from harmful dangers in life; in God’s Church children of God are corrected so they might live healthy and fruitful lives.  (2 Timothy 3:14-17, Hebrews 12:5-9).  There are more similarities but you get the picture.  In many ways The Church is our spiritual mother.


It is difficult to lose one’s mother or a parent.  So, what happens to young people when they leave home and their spiritual mother, the church where they were raised, is no longer there?  I have often heard college students tell me, “I can’t find a church that is like our church at home?”  Yet, when a person loses their mother, they find a way to continue in life, remembering the love and teachings of their mother.  When a Christian leaves their spiritual home, they still need to continue.  They still need to find a church where they can be fed, and loved by God and His people, and also find ways to serve our Lord.


So, last week was Confirmation Sunday.  While the class was still meeting I taught about the topic, “How do you find a church as an adult?”  I believe this is important enough to share with you.  My instructions to our young people were based on 3 principals.  If you have left home and need to find a place to worship and serve God, look for a church where

·         Scripture is taught and believed to be the Word of God.

·         The congregation, even though made of sinful humans, sincerely seeks to live out what God teaches in Scripture, and

·         The good news of God’s grace in Jesus is seen as the central teaching of Scripture.  A church should teach that God forgives us and saves us as we believe in Jesus, because Jesus died and rose for us.


Someone might wonder about such a strong emphasis on the Bible.  But, I instructed the 8th grade class to consider the attitude of Jesus Himself toward the Scriptures.  Please consider what Jesus said.


In John 10:35 when the religious leaders of the day were challenging what Jesus said about Himself, Jesus quotes a verse from the Old Testament and then told the people, “and the Scripture cannot be broken.”  That is not a pastor saying this, but Jesus Himself.


In Matthew 22:29 when Jesus was challenged by the Sadducees on the teaching of the resurrection of the dead, Jesus quoted a verse from Exodus 3, and told those opposing him, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”  Please remember, these are not just the words of an enthusiastic believer.  These are the words of Jesus Himself!


Later in that same chapter, Jesus teaches about Himself as the Messiah by quoting from Psalm 110.  He points to the truth of the verse by asking the question in Matthew 22: 43 "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? In other words, David may have been used by God to write those words.  But it was the Spirit, it was God Himself, who was speaking through David.


And, when Jesus prays for His disciples and The Church on the night of His last Passover He asks His Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”  Our Lord Himself tells us that God’s word IS truth!


If this is how our Lord felt and taught about God’s Word, then the Word of God is the primary guide and strength for people today.  So, when looking for a church it is important that a person finds a church that teaches and lives according to the Scriptures, and that a person finds a church that understands the main teaching of the Bible, Jesus.  Perhaps a good summary of all of this is what Jesus told people gathered to hear Him teach, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." (Luke 11:28)


Someday today’s 8th grade students will leave their parents’ home and live on their own.  At that time we hope they will not forget their faith, but will continue to grow in faith and bear fruit.  So, hopefully, our 8th grade students heard the messages in this lesson.  As they were confirmed last Sunday I thought it was important to share this with you as well.


A Child of God, Seeking to Hear the Word of God and Keep it!,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Here are pictures of last Sunday’s confirmation class.


P.P.S.  In work on Wednesday, April 15, Harper June Manelick was baptized.  Harper is the daughter of Augie and Sarah Manelick.  Here is a picture of the baptism.


P.S.  Please remember that this Sunday, April 19, there is only ONE worship service at 10:00 a.m. so that we may eat a brunch and meet after the worship service.  Please see below!




ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ -   I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have.  (I am always adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.)  However, if you don’t want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message. . .






Friday, April 10, 2015

Will You Live (and die) for Jesus?

Dear Fellow Children of God,


This Sunday is Confirmation Sunday at St. John.  In late worship seven young people will share their faith with the congregation in an essay they have written.  In addition, as part of the confirmation ceremony, they will vow to serve the Lord with their lives.


Confirmation is important enough an occasion in the life of a Christian that I will write about the confirmation event and the decision to serve the Lord in this week’s devotion and in next week’s devotion. 


Every Christian, after all, should continue to ask, “How committed am I to serving the Lord with my life?”  The historic vows said in the Confirmation ceremony are sobering.  The person is asked if they are “willing to suffer all, even death” rather than to fall away from the Lord and His Church.


Really?  Am I personally willing to suffer death in order to serve Jesus?  Honestly, I am not sure what my response would be.  That is an overwhelming question to ask a 7th or 8th grade student!


Consider that in our Bible readings last week, Holy Week, we heard all the disciples say at the Passover Meal that they would be willing to die rather than to desert Jesus in His time of need.  But, then all the disciples did desert Jesus.  And Peter even denied 3 times knowing Jesus.  So, the disciples who knew Jesus made these vows and they failed.  It is interesting to me that God’s Church has for centuries asked the same questions of young men and women coming into adulthood.


So, in class on Wednesday as the youth were preparing for Sunday’s ceremony we practiced reading their speeches or testimonies which they have written.  And we practiced the Confirmation ceremony and the vows they will speak.  I talked to them about the meaning of the vows and shared with them another way to think about their commitment.


First, I asked if in their hearts they sincerely want to live for Jesus.  A very important memory verse in Confirmation Classes each year is 2 Corinthians 5:15, And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.  Jesus died for us.  Jesus died and rose so we can have eternal life in heaven.  I find that it is important to first consider what Jesus did for me, before I promise what I can do.


Actually, I told the class, none of us know what we would do if we were have to choose between our Lord and death.  We hope we would be willing to die for our Lord, but we don’t know.   But, we can look at our hearts and ask if, in response to Jesus’ sacrificial love, we want to do what 2 Corinthians 5 calls us to do.  Do we want to live for Jesus?  Do we want to serve him ahead of ourselves?  Personally, I know that Jesus died and rose for me, and I know that I do want to live for Him.  I also know that, like the disciples, I often fail.


However, the other part of these vows is found in the words with which the students respond, “with the help of God.”  The confirmation students are not asked if they are willing to live for Jesus and die for Him by their own strength.  When asked the questions, they will answer, “Yes, with the help of God.” 


I can’t even resist temptation from day to day.  I know I cannot promise on my own to be sure I would die for Jesus. But, Jesus’ forgiveness, and His love, and His Spirit do help me to continue to work to live for Him.  Actually, I hope that through my life I have perhaps grown in living for the Lord.  Though I have not, and never will, reach perfection.  I cannot live or die for Jesus on my own, but with God’s help I can keep working to love God and serve Him in all I do.


So, as the confirmation class on Sunday answers the questions, I encourage you to answer them in your hearts as well.  Many of us have taken those vows in our lives.  “Do you promise to live for our Lord and to suffer all, even death, rather than to fall away from Him?”  I cannot do it on my own.  But, because Jesus died and rose for me, with God’s help, it truly is my will to live for and serve my Lord.  “Yes, with the help of God.”


A Child of God, Seeking to Live for Jesus,

Pastor Jonathan




P.P.P.S.  Here are some pictures from the Easter Breakfast.


P.P.P.P.S.  FINALLY, here are some pictures from Monday’s day off!




ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ -   I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have.  (I am always adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.)  However, if you don’t want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message. . .





Friday, April 3, 2015

A Good Day that Overcomes All Bad Days

Dear Fellow Children of God,


On a Friday morning in the Spring of 1981 I woke up with plans for a full day of worthwhile activities ahead of me.  I was pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in inner city St. Louis, MO.  My wife, Kathy, was leaving for work as I was in our basement showering because of interesting plumbing in a 1926 vintage church owned house.  Kathy hollered “Good-by!” as she left for work and told me that our 2 month old son, Josh, was in a baby carrier on the ground floor.  I finished my shower quickly and ran up the stairs. But I found the door from the basement to the ground floor locked.  I ran outside in pajamas to try the back door, but I found the back door locked.  Kathy had automatically locked the house as she left for work, the way we normally did when we left home.  The only difference was that I was still in the house.  Only, now I was locked in the basement and our son was one floor above.


I checked out the basement door again, but the hinges were not visible.  I heard Josh starting to cry.  Friday chapel service would also soon be starting at our church parochial school and I was to conduct this chapel service.  There much else planned for the day as well.  Finally, I broke the door knob on the door to get out of the basement.  Now I could take care of Josh and attend to the day’s activities.


But I was late to chapel service.  I rushed into the church with Josh in a baby carrier as everyone was waiting.  Then, as I was putting Josh and the diaper bag down, I spilled coffee all over myself.  For the rest of the day everything seemed to go badly.  At the end of an evening marriage enrichment retreat, the pastor and counselor who led the retreat asked me on the way out of the door why I was angry.  I guess it showed.  That morning I had a promising day in front  of me.  But one thing after another seemed to go badly.  I do confess that I was frustrated, and yes maybe even a little angry.


I tell this story because I believe that everyone has had one of those bad days.  We expect good, but sometimes event after event causes trouble and our troubles make us throw up our hands in frustration and wonder.  Can you remember one of those days in your life where it seems everything went wrong?


This Sunday, however, we are told of a day when people expected loss and sorrow, but instead God’s power and love worked victory and life and joy.  The women went to the tomb of Jesus to anoint His dead body.  They had seen Jesus die on the cross and were convinced that evil had won.  Yet when the ladies arrived at the grave they found the tomb empty, and an angel told them, "Don't be alarmed.  You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.”  (Mark 16:6)


Instead of expecting good and having everything go wrong, the ladies expected grief and were surprised by God’s love.  The ladies were so surprised that they had trouble believing that Jesus had risen.  But, Jesus did rise, even if it took the ladies and the disciples days and weeks to fully comprehend the blessings and victory of Jesus’ resurrection.


In fact, Jesus’ rising from the dead changes all the bad days we have ever faced.  We may have faced loss and sorrow, grief and struggle, but God’s love is victorious.  Jesus took our sins to the cross and paid for them, sins which cause life’s trials.  And on Easter, Jesus rose from the dead defeating sin and death, and promising eternal life in heaven for all who believe in Jesus’ victory over death.


When Kathy came home from work on that Friday in 1981 she instantly apologized after I told her that I had been locked in the basement.  I confess, and the retreat leader saw it, it took me a little longer to apologize, but I did too.  But, as Christians who know Jesus forgives us and has heaven waiting, we know we can face anything.  As Christians who know Jesus’ Easter victory, we are able move forward in faith because, no matter how many bad days life brings, God has forgiven us and has eternal life waiting as we believe in Jesus.


I pray that this Easter you again realize that when Jesus rose He has assured His love for our lives eternally.  Jesus’ rising from the dead overcomes all of our bad days of the past, and all our bad days to come.  We get to live in His love and victory and joy!


A Child of God, Seeking to Live in Jesus’ Resurrection Victory,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Here are pictures from the Basic Teachings of the Bible / Adult Member Class, last Saturday, March 28. 



P.P.S.  Here are pictures from Stephen Ministry Commissioning last Sunday, March 29.






ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ -   I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have.  (I am always adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.)  However, if you don’t want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message. . .