Dear Fellow Children of God,
This past week our family celebrated my daughter Mary’s birthday. We ate together as a family, gave gifts, and celebrated Mary’s life. Our gathering focused on the good. The next day Mary told all her friends on Facebook about our celebration, “Seriously felt the love yesterday!” We had a good time.
But, just because we can use birthdays to celebrate the good, doesn’t mean there are no struggles. I still remember our first year in Palmer when I brought Mary home from the hospital. She was 3 ½ years old and had contracted pneumonia. Mary is healthy and productive today, but I often wonder about her illness then. The day Mary left the hospital she was not even strong enough to walk on her own. She had been really sick. I confess that I was truly scared at that time. But, today I am truly thankful that we made it through the struggle of that time to a day of celebration and joy.
This Sunday St. John Lutheran celebrates our 80th anniversary as a congregation doing the work of God in Palmer, a birthday celebration of sorts. We have a joyful celebration planned for worship this coming Sunday morning with a special preacher and special music.
But, just because we plan a joyful celebration for Sunday does not mean there haven’t been times of struggle. Of the original families in the Matanuska Colony, only a minority continued in Alaska. Times were tough. And I have heard stories of challenge and struggle from the first pastors and members at St. John. So, today the existence of St. John is a testimony to the faithfulness of St. John members and pastors through the struggles of past decades. Faithfulness through the struggles of the past is a really good reason to celebrate.
We actually see a similar celebration pattern in Hebrews 11 and 12. God there reminds His New Testament people of examples of faith in the people of the Old Testament. We hear in chapter 11 about the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and many others. These men showed faithfulness through times of personal struggles in faith and life. In light of these examples of faith in Hebrews 11, the first 3 verses of Hebrews 12 then call for a celebrative life of sorts. Listen to the first 3 verses of Hebrews 12.
“1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
According to these verses, the faith of past believers is a cause for celebration in the way we live. In response to these past examples of faithfulness through the struggles, Christians are called to “throw off . . . sin”, Christians are called to “persevere”, and Christians are called to “fix our eyes on Jesus.”
And, when we fix our eyes on Jesus, we can rejoice. We can rejoice in the love and forgiveness and salvation God gives freely through His Son. But, these gifts of grace did not come without struggle. We are told of Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame.” Jesus “endured such opposition from sinful men,” dying and rising so we can share in Jesus’ victory over sin and death. This is God’s pattern for celebration, faithfulness through the struggles to receive the joy of His love.
So, as we celebrate the 80th anniversary of St. John it is important to face the challenges of today. All Christian churches do face struggles. St. John faces challenges. Sharing the good news that Jesus is God’s loving and forgiving Savior for the whole world is not always met with joy in a culture that is so focused on self. Christians can be criticized as closed minded for sharing God’s loving guidance in His law. Christians can be considered unloving for sharing that Jesus is God’s way to eternal life. But, fixing our eyes on Jesus we don’t grow weary through the struggles. We see Jesus’ own suffering and death, and then we personally experience His love and forgiveness and salvation. So, we persevere in faith through the struggle.
As St. John celebrates its birthday or anniversary it is a great time to look back at the gift we have from the believers of the past. They struggled so that we can have the gift of Jesus’ love today. This is true for all Christians; we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. So we can struggle through the present to share faith in Jesus with those who come behind us. The words of Hebrews 12 are a good guide for our celebration. “2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
A Child of God, Fixing My Eyes on Jesus,
P.S. Here is a link to an article in our local newpaper, the Frontiersman, about our anniversary celebration. http://www.frontiersman.com/faith/st-john-to-celebrate-years-in-the-valley/article_2fc576e6-7f24-11e5-8190-5fe17de7473a.html
P.S. I was recently visiting someone in the ICU of our local hospital who receives this newsletter, From her hospital bed she asked why I haven’t posted fish pictures recently. Well, here is my most recent catch, from a local lake on October 19. https://picasaweb.google.com/114993745799525883148/FishingSummer2015#6211550259514137618
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.