Saturday, July 25, 2015

Remembering God's Grace

Dear Fellow Children of God,


Perhaps you know that we are in a planning process at St. John.  We have not only studied God’s Word to remind us of His call to serve, BUT we are also examining and planning ways that we can be most effective in serving the Lord.  (A wise man once told me, that when there is a “but” in a sentence, it is the message after the “but” that is most important.  Please remember this as we look at the Bible verse below.)


So, in worship the next 3 Sundays we are looking at ways St. John, as a congregation, can more effectively do the three verbs found in our new proposed mission statement.  How can we intentionally and effectively serve our loving Lord by “Praying,” “Serving,” and “Encouraging Knowledge of Christ’s unfailing Love.”?


As we discussed in worship on Wednesday evening how to more intentionally and effectively serve our Lord as a congregation by praying, St. John Member, Aaron Werning, made an interesting suggestion on how we can do this.  He asked if there were ways we could not only pray for needs and concerns, BUT also give THANKS  for the everyday blessings we receive from God’s gracious hand.


As that comment was considered in an Elders’ meeting on Thursday night, Karl Kopperud responded by talking about one of the everyday blessings we can often overlook or forget.  Karl talked about dandelions, of all things.  He pointed out that in the Spring, as the snow is melting and hearts are eager for green, the yellow dandelion flower is often the first color we see.  Karl reminded us how beautiful the dandelion bloom really is when one picks the flower and examines it.  But, he also pointed out that the rest of the year we curse the dandelion and try to kill it.  I personally responded that I had recently put two kinds of herbicide on the dandelions in my own yard.  I guess it is easy to miss or forget the beauty right in front of us.


How often is that the case in our hearts and minds concerning the love of God?  God’s love is sure through Jesus.  Perhaps because we can count on the grace of our Lord, we take it for granted.


Please consider God’s words through Paul in Ephesians 2, and please notice the “but.”


“1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

4 BUT because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-- it is by grace you have been saved.”


All people, all of us, live with the struggle between giving into our sinful desires, or serving the One who created us in love.  We often lose that struggle, and so what we deserve is punishment.  Because of our sin we were even “dead” to God.


BUT, according to God’s words in verses 4 and 5, in love, in mercy, by grace, God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, as Messiah or Christ.  By Jesus’ life and death and resurrection we are forgiven and made alive.  It is by grace, through undeserved love, that we are saved and can live each day in the assurance of the gifts of God.


Karl says it is easy to overlook the dandelion.  I do.  BUT, we do not want to overlook the love and mercy and grace of God which He gives us in Jesus.  That is an everyday blessing for which we want to continue to give thanks and praise!


A Child of God, Seeking to Remember God’s Grace,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Here is a picture of the baptism of Samantha and Danielle Wyatt on Sunday, July 19.




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. . .




Saturday, July 18, 2015

How Commited are You to the One who Died for US?

Dear Fellow Children of God,


Now that I am back from vacation with family, and the 4th of July holiday and Vacation Bible School are completed, I am trying to catch up on visits of people who are ill or confined to their homes.  One person I am visiting now was in the hospital previously when I visited, and then released as they improved.  However, her health has now put this person back in the hospital.  I’m talking about Mary Colberg’s mom, Pat Mills.  Please keep Pat in prayer.


Pat has heart problems that make breathing difficult.  In addition, her health problems can make talking a real effort and chore.  She is often exhausted after speaking and needs to take time to catch her breath.  But, when I visited Pat during her last stay in the hospital she had a roommate who really wanted to hear about God’s love.  So, during my visits we included Pat’s hospital roommate in devotion and prayer.  I also left some written materials for Pat and for her roommate.  Then, after I left Pat would share God’s love with her roommate in times they were alone.


Mary pointed out to me about her mom, “She’s using her precious breath to share the love of God.”  Imagine, having trouble breathing or talking, and using what little breath you have to serve God and share His love!  That is faith and commitment! 


Actually, I also remember a similar incident with now deceased, long time St. John member, Lillian Stamm.  In her last days I visited Lillian in Valley Hospital once with my son, Timothy.  Lillian also had trouble breathing and talking.  But, she used the little breath she had to remind Tim about how much Jesus loved him, and how important it is for Timothy to live for Jesus.  Lillian too is an example of real Christian commitment!


What is your level of commitment to our Lord?  I have recently had a number of conversations about this issue others.  It seems to me that in America people are trading in one “C” trait for another “C” trait.  I wonder if people have not given up “commitment” for “choice.” 


I personally see that attitude when it comes to marriage.  God’s plan for marriage and family is for a man and woman to commit to one another in marriage before living together.  I know that is not the practice of most today.  Often, the freedom of “choice” replaces the responsibility and blessings of commitment. 


I also see similar behavior when it comes to God’s Church.  Being part of the family of God in a local congregation can include responsibility, and can be scary.  So, people at time choose to attend and participate as they feel able, but may still refrain from commitments to the church for various reasons.  I understand that no local congregation is perfect.  I understand that people have been hurt in Christian churches.  I also understand being overly busy with multiple commitments.   But, what best serves our Lord and His work?


However, please think about Jesus and His commitment to us. Paul writes, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”  (2 Corinthians 8:9)


Jesus left the presence of His Father and the joys of heaven to take on the poverty, the suffering, and the sin of this world.  Jesus was so committed to us that He suffered and died so that we can have the blessings and abundant grace of eternal life with our Lord.  Even more than Pat and Lillian, this sacrifice of Jesus shows the love and commitment Jesus has for us!!


As a called and saved child of God, one who knows the sacrifice and love of Jesus for us, how is your level of commitment for Him?


A Child of God, Seeking to Live a Life COMMITED to my Lord!

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Here is a picture of the baptism of David and Leif Neslund on Sunday, July 12.




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. . .



Saturday, July 11, 2015

VBS Causes Me to Remember God's Love for Children

Dear Fellow Children of God,


This past week St. John has offered Vacation Bible School to the children of St. John and the Palmer community.  The theme for VBS was “Hometown Nazareth- Where Jesus was a Kid.”  What a blessing to see children growing in their knowledge and understanding of Jesus!  What a blessing to see children singing and dancing to songs of faith!  What a blessing to see young children hug each other with joy as they arrive each day, and to see them hug as they say good-bye at the end of each session!


As a parent and grandparent I have a personal interest in our Vacation Bible School.  I had a daughter helping, and 5 grandchildren attending.  Mary helped to lead the Preschool children.  The preschool group was full with 25 in attendance, and others were wishing they could have attended.  Josh and Erin’s oldest three children, Jake, Emma, and Henry attended classes for their age level.  Andy and Justine’s children, Jackson and Kendall, made the trip from Peters’ Creek each day to attend.


And, this year I had a VBS experience that was both humorous and heartwarming to me.  On Wednesday I got a text from Andy saying that Jackson had an ear-ache.  The only doctor’s appointment they were able to schedule was during VBS, so Jackson and Kendall wouldn’t be attending that day.  I responded, hoping that Jackson would feel better and I hoped to see him on Thursday.


But, to my surprise, as I was teaching I turned around and there were Justine and Jackson and Kendall.  Justine told me Jackson said he was feeling better.  Kendall, who is four, told me about her brother, “He cried because he couldn’t go to VBS.”


I don’t like to see my grandson cry, but Kendall’s words bring joy to my heart!  I believe that the greatest gift that parents and grandparents can give their children and grandchildren is the grace and love and life of Jesus.  Take a moment sometime and read Matthew 18:1-14 and listen to all the ways that Jesus talks about His love for children.  Jesus calls others to the faith of children. (Matthew 18:3-4)  He warns against leading children astray.  (Matthew 18:6)  Jesus shares the special attention of angels with which God cares for children.  (Matthew 18:10)  Then, in the parable of the lost lamb, Jesus shares how God loves each child and wants none to be lost.  (Matthew 18:12-14)   


A number of years ago at a sharing session in a Church Workers Conference Kathy shared with those present her favorite Bible verse.  3 John 4 says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”  It is a JOY when our children and grand-children know Jesus, who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” 


On Tuesday night Jackson and Kendall stayed with us for the evening and went with Kathy and me to a wedding reception.  On the way to the party I heard Kendall singing.  She was singing VBS songs about Jesus.


As a parent and grandparent who is a Christian I know that the greatest gift in my life is the love of my Savior Jesus.  I want my children and grandchildren to have this gift too.


A Child of God, Thankful for Jesus’ love for Children,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Here are pictures of the baptism of Hudson Eric Luthi in early service last Sunday, July 5.



P.P.S.  THANK YOU 2015 St. John VBS teachers and helpers!  Thank you, DCE Jamie, and St. John Board of Education.  What a blessing to offer Jesus to the children of Palmer so that they grow as Jesus’ little lambs and sing about Him as they travel!  There is nothing more valuable than Jesus in the heart of one of His children.  Here are some Vacation Bible School pictures from this week.



P.P.P.S.  The St. John Facebook page has 5 videos posted, one for each day of  VBS.  Go here to see the videos.  Did you know there is information about St. John on our Facebook page AND on our webpage?!





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, July 3, 2015

"How I'm Responding to the Recent Supreme Court Decision"

Dear Fellow Children of God,


A number of people have asked me my opinion of the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.  A pastor is called to shepherd the sheep of God.  My goal as pastor is to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus.  That means speaking where God speaks, even if those areas are sometimes sensitive.


Lutheran Christians believe that Scripture has two main teachings, God’s Law and His Gospel or good news. The Law tells us what we should and should not do and points each of us to our sin.  The Gospel shows us God’s mercy, forgiveness, and redemption through faith in the righteous life, the sacrificial death, and the victorious resurrection of Jesus.


Scripture is very clear about God’s teaching and law on sexuality.  God gave sex as a gift for marriage between one man and one woman to strengthen families.  (Genesis 2:24)  So, when sex is used contrary to God’s plan there are often painful results, such as broken hearts, unwanted disease, or struggles for children.  The Supreme Court of the United States has declared that marriage outside God’s plan is legal.  Actually, similar ideas were accepted in the Roman Empire in the early days of Christian Faith.  But, ultimately, the Supreme Court cannot change God’s plan in creation for marriage.  However, God’s most important plan is for His children to have a loving and faithful relationship with Him! Christians are called to witness to what God says. 


But, while Christians are called to speak the truth of God and the health of His plan for life, God does not want His children to act in self-righteous arrogance.  We are called as children of God to “speak the truth in love.”  (Ephesians 4:15)


There are many accounts in Scripture where people of faith addressed Jesus about what they perceived to be issues in the lives of people other than themselves.  The response of Jesus was similar in all these situations.  Jesus indicated, first, that He came to call, forgive, and save those who had strayed from God’s plan.  And, everyone, all of us have strayed.  (Isaiah 53:6)  Secondly, Jesus often teaches and even scolds those who look down on others, pointing rather to the sins of those doing the accusing. 


Please look with me at many of the responses of Jesus in Scripture.


When Jesus was criticized for eating at the home of Matthew, or Levi, whom Jesus had called from being a tax collector into service as a disciple, Jesus responded to His critics in Mark 2:16,  "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."  Jesus came for sinners in need of a Savior.


In Luke 13 Jesus was asked about the horrible, demeaning death of some from Galilee at the hand of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  Jesus replied in verses 2 and 3, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  Jesus tells the people of His time and the people of today that instead of judging others we should consider our own sin and our own failings and we should personally repent.


In Luke 15 Jesus was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners.  Listen to the criticism of Jesus in verses 1-3. “1 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 Then Jesus told them this parable:”  Actually, Jesus told 3 parables in response to this criticism. He shared the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.  Finally, Jesus told the parable of the lost son or prodigal son, which can also be called the parable of the unforgiving brother.  Jesus calls those who criticize him to welcome their straying brothers and tells these religious leaders in verse 7, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  Jesus came to call and save those who have strayed, and HE wants us to do the same.


In Luke 19 when criticized for eating in the home of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho, Jesus’ response was simple, For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."  (Luke 19:10)  Do you see the pattern?  Jesus’ life work is to redeem the lost!


And, in John 8 the religious leaders tried to trap Jesus by bringing to him a woman caught in sexual sin, in the act of adultery.  Jesus’ response to the religious leaders of His day is famous, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Everyone left without stoning the lady.  BUT, Jesus’ instruction for the woman is also important.  10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."  (John 8:10-11)  The lady may have escaped punishment but that did not mean she should continue her behavior that was contrary to God’s plan for men and women.  Because of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus she is called to the new life of faith and forgiveness.


Do you see what God teaches in Scripture?  Jesus was merciful and redemptive.  Every time Jesus comes in contact with people who have transgressed God’s plan for life, Jesus works to restore. (Look also at Luke 7:36 ff, and John 4.)  Jesus came to forgive, to save, to redeem, to love those who had strayed from God’s plan for life in all areas. 


The Christian faith is not about self-righteous pride, but about redemption through Jesus.  But, when Christians are self righteous they can fail to share the forgiveness and redemption that God gives in Jesus.


How can Christians respond to the recent decision of the Supreme Court?  God’s plan for this world is God’s plan, and no court decision can change that plan.  But, God’s ultimate plan is forgiveness and redemption and salvation for people who see their sin and repent, believing in God’s Savior, Jesus.  Jesus says in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”


How will I respond to the Supreme Court decision?  I will study the Word of God and continue to learn God’s plan for my life and of God’s love for me in Jesus.  I will confess my sins, and seek to serve the one who lived and died and rose to forgive me.  And, rather than judging others who stray, I will seek to share the teaching and saving love of Jesus. 


A Child of God, Seeking God’s Guidance and Wisdom,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  I know this week’s devotion is longer than normal.  Because this is a sensitive topic I wanted to speak clearly, sharing God’s truth in all the love He has for sinners.


P.P.S.  I returned to the office from vacation this past Wednesday.  Here is a link to some vacation pictures.




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. . .