Friday, August 28, 2015

Seeking to Have Faith and Give Thanks

Dear Fellow Children of God,


Do you ever catch yourself being unthankful, or even complaining?  I have recently made some comments that, even though they were not meant that way, could be taken as complaints.

·         I’ve had the privilege of doing a lot of fishing again this year.  But I have shared that I haven’t caught as many fish this year as I did last year.

·         We have had a beautiful summer in Alaska this summer.  But I have commented that the fish don’t like to bite when the sun shines brightly on the rivers.

·         I told some people that I recently saw a bull moose, a nice big one, and I had my harvest tag and my gun.  But, the moose was standing right next to a “Posted, No Hunting” sign.


Those words weren’t meant to be complaints.  I was responding to questions and sharing stories that interested those with whom I was talking.  But, even if I had not meant to complain, you know as well as I do that my words could be taken as complaints and even being ungrateful.


I share my comments knowing that fishing and hunting are not really that important in the big scheme of life.  Sometimes people can complain, myself included, even when things are going well.  Shouldn’t I be grateful for the opportunity to fish, for good weather, and for the privilege of seeing wildlife?  Yet, even when things are going well, we can still complain.


I share this because this past week I heard just the opposite from members and friends of St. John.  I heard one family tell me about the blessings they have received from a stroke.  Another family shared their thankfulness at God’s goodness in the middle of the recurrence of cancer signs.  I heard another family thank God for the joy of being part of our congregation in the middle of many, many trials.  Now these people had something to complain about!  But in the midst of the trials of life they saw the presence of God, trusted His help, and spoke words of thanks and praise.


In 1 Thessalonians 5 God speaks through Paul to give instructions for Christian living.  Verses 16-18 tell us, “16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Did you hear that?  Give thanks in all circumstances.  The truth is that God can and does take even the trials of life and make them blessings.  We know that deep down.  God took the suffering and death of His son, and used Jesus’ dying and rising to bring forgiveness to sinners and eternal life to people who face death.  That’s us.


God is present even in our difficulties and tragedies.  We may have trouble seeing God’s blessings at first, but sometimes when we look back we can see God’s hand.  I know a pastor friend who once had a horrible auto accident.  But when he was in surgery the doctors found cancer that he didn’t know he had. The accident actually helped the doctors treat him for the cancer early, and may have saved his life.  Looking back, this accident showed God’s presence in the midst of trouble.  This experience helped build faith and character for my friend, and for me.


God promises He is always with us.  Faith helps us to remember God’s presence and trust His blessings even when life is full of pain and loss.  I witnessed that faith this last week as I heard words of thanks and praise in the middle of life’s trials.  When we know God is with us we don’t have to complain, we can “Give thanks in all circumstances.” 


A Child of God, Seeking Have Faith and Give Thanks,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  All our grandchildren were at our home on Sunday afternoon.  Here is a picture.



P.P.S.  On Friday I only kept one of the fish I caught, but it was my biggest salmon of the year.






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, August 21, 2015

The GIFT of Marriage and of Love

Dear Fellow Children of God,


In my first year as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in St. Louis, MO, Harold and Wilma Knedel were among the members of our congregation.  They lived in St. Louis County and St. Paul was in the deep inner city, but Harold and Wilma loved their church and cared for their pastor.  When the temperatures climbed into the humid hundreds, they bought Kathy and I a room air conditioner for the brick parsonage in which we lived that had no insulation in the walls. 


Then Wilma became sick and entered the hospital for a heart by-pass operation.  The doctors expected a full recovery.  But in 1980 medical science was not what it is today, and Wilma’s heart was in worse shape than the doctors realized.  Wilma died on the operating table.  I still remember the horrible grief and loss, the shock and bitter tears, that Harold experienced and shared with me.  They had been married 35 years and Wilma was Harold’s best friend, his wife.  In 1980 I had been married 3 years and remember thinking that 35 years was really a pretty long time.  I now better understand Harold’s love for Wilma, his loss, and his lost-ness at Wilma’s death.  Tonight as I write this, Thursday, August 20, is the 38th anniversary of when Kathy and I were married.  We celebrated with an anniversary dinner.


But, in our modern, affluent culture, it seems that love and marriage can be rare.  There are so many heart-aches, so much pain, and there is so much divorce.   I’m convinced that many people live together outside of God’s plan for marriage because they see so much failure and brokenness in marriages that they don’t want to experience this pain themselves.


God’s creation plan for marriage is found in Genesis 2, especially verse 24.  In creation God describes marriage in the following way. 


“22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman, 'for she was taken out of man." 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”


God’s plan for marriage is one-ness that blesses the husband and the wife, and all those around them.  This one-ness is shown when a couple share dreams and fears, love and loss, troubles and joy, trusting in the promises and mercy of God.  God’s love in creation, and the love of God in Jesus, is the source of the love that Harold and Wilma knew, and that others still know today.


I gave Kathy a card and some flowers on Wednesday night.  On Thursday morning I found a card on the breakfast table from Kathy.  I hesitated sharing this for various reasons.  But, I share Kathy’s words because I want people to know that God’s love still works in marriages and families.  Kathy’s words brought tears to my eyes.


Your love for me has made me such a better person than I ever would have been without you, and we are better together than we were when we started.  Thank you for loving God, and me, and our family the way you do.”


We are not perfect, but God is.  Genesis 2:24 may talk about God’s plan for marriage in the beginning, but in Ephesians 5:31 God also uses these very same words to describe the forgiving and saving love of Jesus for His church, His people.  God cares for us and He still takes imperfect people and grows love in marriage, love that blesses those around the married couple.  Love in marriage may be a miracle, but it still happens regularly even today, because God continues to love His people in Jesus.


A Child of God, Thankful for my wife and for God’s gift of Marriage,

Pastor Jonathan





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, August 14, 2015

God's Simple Wisdom

Dear Fellow Children of God,


Sometimes, the best wisdom comes from the mouths of babes.


Life can get complicated, really complicated.  It would be wonderful to find a simple solution to life’s complex problems.  This reminds me of a fishing trip last February with my grandson, Henry.


Henry and I went ice fishing at Long Lake at mile 85 on the Glenn Highway on a Monday afternoon in February.  It was a cold and windy day, so Henry stayed in the truck while I started the fish to biting.  We did not stay long, but we caught fish.  (You can look at the pictures.)


As we drove home I was pointing out animals and land marks.  “That’s King Mountain, Henry,” I told him as we passed the large tent looking mountain across the river to the left of where we drove. 


The thought patterns of a 3 year old can be mysterious.  Henry’s response went something like this.  “Poppy, do you see that mountain.  We could take our sleds up there and slide down.  Do you see where?  Or, if we can’t go there, the mountain next to it would work.  We can ask King.”


“We can ask King.”  After all, it was King Mountain.  I sort of understand his logic there.  And, the solution is very simple.  If the mountain belongs to King, as Henry thought, we just ask him.  Surely he would listen and help us out, as any reasonable person would.  That was Henry’s logic at least.


There is a simple wisdom to Henry’s logic.  If I have a question of someone, just ask them.  Such a solution is simple, direct, and assumes the best of the other person.  It’s such a simple solution!  How many times do we become distraught because we have trouble going to someone else with our questions or concerns?  Perhaps our thought or request might seem to be pushing the envelope. Maybe we are asking more than might be comfortable for the other person.  Or perhaps our question might be considered criticism.  So, we hesitate in our communication.  But, the first simple solution is, “We can ask King.”


Actually, God tells us the same thing that Henry assumes about our relationship and conversations with Him and others.  Listen to these verses that follow.


Psalm 50: 15 “and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me."  That’s pretty simple.  If we have trouble, call on or ask God!


Matthew 7:7, 11 7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. . .  11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  Again, God calls us to simply ask Him, about anything.  God will answer as a loving father.


Matthew 18: 15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”   Before talking about someone, I go and talk to that person.  That’s pretty simple.


John 16: 23 b, 33  I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. . . 33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  The world is full of trouble. We can go to the Father in Jesus’ name.  He has overcome the world and its sin when He died on the cross and rose again!  He will listen and answer.


I confess to worry at times.  I do worry about personal issues and I do worry about church issues and I do worry about people issues.  Jesus is saying that He has some simple solutions for our complicated worries.  When we talk directly to God and to others as our first line of communication we often do away with life’s complexities before they happen.  You see, God wants what is best for His people.  God wants His people to live together in love.  And, Our Heavenly Father answers prayer.


A Child of God, Trying to Live in the Simple Wisdom of God,

Pastor Jonathan

P.S.  Here are some pictures of that fishing trip on February 2 with Henry.


P.P. S.  These recent fishing pictures have had additions in the last week.






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, August 8, 2015

Casting My Cares on Him

Dear Fellow Children of God,


What do you do when life’s trials are bigger than you are?  It is not a pleasant place to be.


On Wednesday night a member shared with me what I have personally learned through trials, failure, and the grace of God.  In Wednesday worship we were discussing how we can personally grow in “Encouraging knowledge of Christ’s unfailing love.”  The last discussion topic was, “How can we grow personally in this discipline of faith?  How can we grow in being encouraged and in encouraging?” 


On the way out of worship I was told, “Pastor, the way I can grow is to quit trying to solve my problems by myself, and turn them over to God.  Every time I try to handle problems myself it is a struggle.  Every time I turn them over to the Lord, He takes care of them.” 


I have actually been praying for some members and friends facing truly difficult trials.  The turns of life are sometimes overwhelming.   I wish I could take away the struggle, the pain, the loss.  But I am not God and I cannot fix the problems.


There are two things I can do, however.  First, I can be there for our members and friends.  I can check on them and listen.  All Christians can do this when a friend or family member suffers.


The other thing I do is pray.  I believe that God answers prayer.  I don’t always know the answer.  I don’t always understand what God is doing in response to my prayer.  But, when my abilities cannot solve a problem, I have seen God’s answer to prayer bring grace and mercy to a difficult trial.  And, I truly believe that God can and does take the trials of life and use them for good.


God tells us in 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”


God doesn’t just tell us He cares.  God the Father sent His Son into this world.  Jesus, the Son of God took on the suffering and death we deserved, and defeated the pain and death of this world when He rose again.  God, the Holy Spirit lives in us and strengthens us for the struggles of life.  In other words, God really cares.  He is really there with power and love.  So, when life’s trials are overwhelming we can, Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.


I wish I could fix the problems some are facing, but I can’t.  But, I can be there for them, and I can give my worries and troubles to God.  When I turn my struggles over to God, He takes care of them in ways far surpassing anything I could do.


A Child of God, Remembering to Cast my Cares on Him,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Here are some recent fishing 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.



Saturday, August 1, 2015

Hearing AND Keeping God's Word

Dear Fellow Children of God,


I have been officially mentoring a number of people recently, including Pastor Eugene Larmi of Lamb of God Lutheran in Wasilla.  Eugene and I meet weekly and consider questions the seminary asks us to discuss.  I believe that it is not only Eugene who benefits from this relationship, but I benefit as well as Eugene and we get to know one another, and as I re-examine my faith, my life, and my ministry.  I benefit as I see the grace of God at work in a sinner like me. 


One of this week’s questions for discussion might be somewhat difficult to understand, but let me share with you the question, and then the essence of my answer.  The question from the seminary was, “What hermeneutical principles does your mentor find operative in the lives of his people in Bible studies?”  That’s a lot of big words.  But, what the question basically asks for discussion about is, “With what beliefs and attitudes do people approach God’s Word?”


My answer was somewhat long, but the bottom line I shared with Eugene is, “My goal for teaching Bible classes is first knowledge, then understanding, and then changed lives.”  We can all learn more about what God says.  We can all grow in personal understanding of what God’s Word means for our lives.  But, the real test is, “Do we live in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus?”


This might all be summed up in one verse from Jesus’ teaching.  In Luke 11:28, Jesus says, "Blessed . . . are those who hear the word of God and obey it."  As a child I memorized that verse as “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”


The truth be told, the reason God established Israelite worship at Sinai, and the reason Jesus established the Christian Church, is that we all struggle both hearing and keeping God’s Word.  Reality is not as some Christians would like to think, that “We are faithful and those outside the church are not.”  The truth is not as some outside Christ’s church think that “All Christians think alike and act alike and look down on the rest of us.”  In truth, we ALL struggle.  We all need direction from God and support from other believers.  We all need to grow in knowledge of God, in understanding of the difference His love and direction make in our lives.  We all need to grow in not just hearing but in keeping the teaching and direction of our Lord.


But, there is another “secret” that many don’t understand. We don’t live changed lives because we just do what we are told to do.  We live changed lives when our hearts are changed and we want to live differently.  In other words, going to worship or trying to keep God’s commandments because I am supposed to do so only works for so long.  But, when I want to worship, when I want to serve God, that is new life.


How does God create new hearts?  Have you heard about the mother who found her child stealing?  After he returned what he stole, she told him punishment was needed.  He expected the punishment.  So, she told him to take the ruler and slap her knuckles 3 times.  The boy looked in surprise.  He had stolen, not her.  She explained she did not want him to be hurt, so she would take the punishment.  But, loving his mother he did not want to hurt her.  She asked him if there was another solution.  Out of love for his mom he said, “Mom, I don’t want you to be hurt.  I’ll work really hard not to do that again.”  Now he had motivation, his mother’s love for him and his increased love for his mom.


In Ezekiel God is dealing with the stubbornness of the Israelites.  He promised, “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”  (Ezekiel 11:19).  How does God give us hearts of flesh in place of hard and stubborn hearts of stone?  If we listen and understand, the sacrificial love of our Heavenly Father in the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus are totally unexpected.  We struggle to obey and deserve the punishment our sins deserve.  But, instead God Himself pays for our sin through Jesus.  When we realize that surprising love, our motivation changes so that we want to serve our Loving Lord.  Hopefully, we hear the Word of God AND Keep it!


A Child of God, Seeking to Serve My Lord in Willing Love,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Here is a picture of the baptism of Josiah Lentes-Moore on Sunday, July 26.





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. . .