Saturday, November 28, 2015

Anticipation and Waiting for Christ . . . mas

Dear Fellow Children of God,


Have you seen the Christmas displays in the stores?  Actually, Christmas decorations and gifts have been on display in stores since just after Halloween.  I do not like it when the commercialization and materialization of the cultural Christmas holiday drowns out the Christmas message of the birth of God’s Son, our Savior.  But I don’t mind the anticipation and the waiting. People live in anticipation of Christmas, because Christmas is worth waiting for.


Anticipation is part of the Biblical story of the people God waiting for the coming of God’s promised Savior.  From the beginning of time God had been promising to send a Savior who would defeat the enemy of His people.  Sometimes God’s people forgot that their greatest enemy was not so much other nations and people.  Satan and the temptations to sin are the ultimate enemies of all people in the world.  Sin brings suffering and pain and death.  But people still  anxiously waited for the promised Savior who would bring deliverance. 


In the time of John the Baptist the people knew a Savior was coming and you can hear their anticipation.  Listen to the words of Luke 3.  15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  They were “waiting expectantly” for God to fulfill His promise.  John lets them know that he is not the one, but John points to Jesus, the Son of God, who came as God’s Messiah to save the people.  Jesus was worth anticipating and waiting for.


What are you waiting for?  What is on your Christmas list this year?  Children like toys and bikes, dolls and sporting goods, or maybe some new computer game.  Adults enjoy things for the home or music, or something to enjoy in the outdoors. 


But more important than material gifts, what are the deepest hopes of your heart?  What would really fulfill your dreams for your life?   Personally, my deepest prayers are for God and His grace in the lives of those I care for.  I pray for faith and peace and eternal life for myself and my family.  I pray fervently for God’s love and grace for the people of St. John.  In fact, many of our efforts at St. John are aimed at sharing God and His saving grace and love with others.  I pray because God is worth waiting for.


With this in mind, do you know the words of anticipation from Psalm 130?  5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. 7 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 8 He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.  The Psalmist knows that the things of this world may bring temporary happiness.  But, it is the Lord who brings love, forgiveness, redemption, and life.  So, he waits for the Lord to reveal Himself in this life and forever.  You see, God is worth waiting for!


While stores around us are building up anticipation of Christmas, God’s Church is observing the season of Advent.  Advent is a Latin word that means “coming.”   The anticipation and waiting of Advent point to the coming of God’s Son, our Savior.  We constantly live in hope and anticipation for Jesus to come in our lives.  The anticipation tells us that Jesus and His gifts of love and forgiveness, redemption and life, are worth waiting for. 


A Child of God, Waiting Every Day to Experience God and His Love in my Life,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  I thought I might have fishing pictures for this message.  On Monday I took Henry fishing, which he had been asking to do.  But, when we got to Seventeen Mile Lake and I opened the door the wind was blowing and blew in Henry’s face.  He told me it was cold and didn’t want to get out.  I drove to a closer lake, Walby, where the wind was not blowing and asked Henry if he wanted to fish there.  Henry answered, “Poppy, I told you we can fish the next day!  I want to go to your house and drink hot chocolate.  So . . . no fish pictures this 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 regularly 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, November 20, 2015

Reasons for Thanks

Dear Fellow Children of God,


When you gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, do you take time to share with one another the reasons you are thankful?  We have followed this practice now for a number of years as 12-20 folks gather at our home.  Most of those people are family, but we also have some folks from church that join us too.  If someone asked why you are thankful, what would YOU reply?


One of my favorite Psalms (I have trouble picking one Psalm) is Psalm 103.  This wonderful Psalm about the grace and forgiveness of God seems to begin with a list of reasons for thanks.  Please look with me with me at the first five verses of this Psalm of David.


1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—

3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.


Do you see David’s list in these verses?  After words of praise David where reminds himself not to forget to give the Lord thanks, he shares the things for which he is thankful


First, David is thankful for forgiveness.  David was one of the most faithful of the Old Testament kings.  But in Psalm 32 David also describes the physical and spiritual agony of carrying guilt.  David had come to know God as the Lord who mercifully forgave him.  No wonder David is thankful for forgiveness.  It is worth noting that forgiveness is the first reason David mentions for giving thanks!


Next, David is thankful for healing.  This doesn’t mean that David did not ultimately die.  He did.  But, David recognized the hand of God in past healings.  Last Sunday at St. John we were asked to pray for a member’s granddaughter who was deathly ill.  On Wednesday we heard the granddaughter had been to the doctor and was better.  We are thankful for doctors and medicine . . . and we are also thankful for the healing hand of God.


David is next thankful to be “redeemed from the pit.”  Redemption is the act of paying for something, or buying it back.  David knows that God has redeemed him from death.  God bought David back from the grave.  God redeemed David from the pit.   (The pit is often a Biblical description of hell.)  David knows God has redemption in his future.  In fact, God’s plans for David include eternal joy in God’s presence.  Christians know this redemption ultimately comes to us through Jesus.  No wonder Peter quotes Psalm 16 on Pentecost Day as He tells the people of Jerusalem about the risen Jesus.  We might think redemption would be David’s first reason for thanks, but it is not.  Nevertheless, David adds redemption to the list of things for which he is thankful.


Next on David’s list of reasons for thanks is that he knows God has “crowned his life with love and compassion.”  This love David experiences is the love of God which caused Him to send His Son to save the whole world.  But, love and compassion of family and friends, and even of strangers, are also gifts from God that bless our lives.  I personally grow more and more amazed at the blessings love and compassion God has given me in family!  What a great reason for thanks!


Finally, David gives thanks for material things.  God satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.  In other words, by His mercy God provides good things, material blessings, that make life pleasant.  This might be food, or homes, or clothes, or whatever makes our lives pleasant as we serve the Lord.  Thank you Lord, for these gifts!


There are two things about David’s list that strike me personally as a child of God.  First of all, most of the gifts for which David is thankful are spiritual gifts rather than material gifts.  That fact reflects the Lord’s Prayer as well, in which Jesus teaches us to pray for spiritual gifts for His family in 6 of the petitions or requests, and to ask for material needs in only one petition.  Maybe this should teach us about our lists and our prayers to God as well.


In addition, every time I meditate on these words of truth from Psalm 103, I too am overwhelmed with how God has blessed me.  I want to make sure I do not forget to give Him thanks and praise.  I want to make sure that I worship Him and serve Him in all my life, because everything I have comes from Him.


This year I expect we will again go around the table at our Thanksgiving feast and let people share their reasons for thanks.  But, I think this year instead of just one reason, maybe we can share two reasons for thanks, a spiritual blessing and a material or physical blessing.


God is Good!  Thanksgiving blessings to each of you!


A Child of God, THANKFUL for the blessings and benefits of our Lord,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  I am feeling especially thankful this year for “family”.  I am thankful for God’s family, the church.  I am thankful for my immediate and extended family.  I am blessed.    Thanks be to God!





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 regularly 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, November 13, 2015

Faithfully Facing Christian Persecution

Dear Fellow Children of God,


I was listening to Christian radio recently and heard lyrics to a song that asked the question, “When did it become against the rules to speak your name out loud in school?”  So, are those lyrics exaggerating the situation in our culture today?  Well, last year while teaching Confirmation students about Christian witnessing, I asked the students in our class what happens when they told others in school that they believed in Jesus.  A couple of students said, “We’re not allowed to talk about Jesus in school.”  I suggested they probably didn’t totally understand the rules in school.  But, their perception of the rule was that Jesus is not to be mentioned.


Unfortunately many around the world are facing persecution of a much more violent kind.  The same day I heard that song I read a magazine article entitled, “The Deadly Sting of Persecution.”  The article recounted the shooting of 15 Christians in Egypt this past summer.  It talked about gruesome beheadings in the Middle East.  The article also told the account of a suicide bomber in a Christian church in Nigeria, and of much more persecution of people who believe in Jesus. 


All those events occurred across an ocean.  But, recently a troubled man shot fellow students at Umpaua Community College in Roseburg, OR.  According to reports, if students denied Christian faith they were shot in a limb.  If they confessed faith in Jesus, they were shot in the head.  That happened in America!


Having lived in a time when faith in Jesus and the Christian church were often at the center of our society, Christians can be shocked and amazed that such events are happening.  Many thought that persecution ended thousands of years ago.  But, such wishful thinking is in error.


We shouldn’t be surprised when persecution arises.  Jesus tells his disciples, Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. . .”  (John 15:20)  And, we hear in the book of Acts how Stephen (Acts 7) and James (Acts 12) were put to death for their faith in Jesus.  Other references to the cost of following Jesus are found throughout the New Testament.


The early history of God’s church is full of stories of people who were tortured and martyred as they chose to remain true to God.  Then, in the Middle Ages, people like John Wycliffe, John Hus, and Martin Luther faced persecution and the threat of death for confessing Jesus.  And in 1957 an American missionary, Jim Elliot, was killed in the Amazon as he worked to bring God’s love to the Auca tribe of Ecuador.


So, persecution is not just a thing of the past, it is all around us in the world today.  How should Christians face trials that come as we follow Jesus?  Scripture gives some real direction.  First, remember Jesus himself. We are following one who loved us enough to die for us.  Paul wrote, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  If we remember that Jesus died to save us, that helps us face our trials.


Second, we should not be surprised.  Rather, we should be prepared to struggle for the privilege to share Jesus.  Peter tells his readers to “rejoice to participate in the sufferings of Christ.” (1 Peter 4:13)  But, first, even knowing persecution is coming, Peter calls the church to be prepared, But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”  (1 Peter 3:15)


Third, we need to encourage one another.  We need to listen to, comfort, stand by, and help those who are suffering for their faith.  That is why worship and Bible classes are so important.   Paul tells the Thessalonians about preparing for the end, Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:11)


Finally, Jesus calls us to pray about the trials that will come our way.  We pray so that we are strong enough to endure.  We pray for each other.  We pray so that God will deliver us, in this life and eternally.  Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:36)


Speaking about persecution of Christians might seem alarmist.  But, when persecution is actually happening all around the world, and to a lesser extent is occurring right here in our own midst, speaking about persecution is just dealing with reality.  And, when I hear a song and read two articles on the topic of Christian persecution on the same day, it is time that we consider this very real issue. 


A Child of God, Praying for all facing persecution because of faith in Jesus,

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 regularly 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, November 7, 2015

God's Call - Problem or Adventure?

Dear Fellow Children of God,


As I look out my office window and I am surrounded by a beautiful view of majestic mountains.  Lazy Mountain and Beyers’ Peak bring beauty matching any painting into my office from the right or east side of my desk.  Pioneer Peak, and also Twin Peaks, fill my office windows with beauty behind me, on the south side.  We are truly blessed to live in such a beautiful setting!


Now, if while you were admiring the beauty of Pioneer Peak someone told you that you had to climb this mountain, how would you respond?  Pioneer Peak, after all, is almost 6400 feet in elevation.  The train depot in Palmer says that, only 10 miles away, downtown Palmer sits at only 242 feet above sea level.  That is a steep ascent!  How would you react if climbing this mountain was something you were required to do?  For those of us who are older, climbing this mountain might present a challenge.  For others who have trouble getting around, the task of climbing this mountain might seem an impossible problem.  But, for the younger and healthier among us, climbing Pioneer Peak could simply be an opportunity for some enjoyable outdoor recreation, or an even adventure.  How would you face the task before you?


Last week St. John celebrated our 80th anniversary as a Christian congregation in Palmer.  God has been good to the people of this congregation over the years, and we have worked to serve the Lord.  We have sought to share the love of Jesus with our lives and our witness.  But doing God’s work and being His people in the 1930’s, and 40’s, and 50’s, is different than living as children of God today.  As our preacher for our anniversary celebration, Hunter Richards, said last Sunday, “The world around us no longer supports God’s church.”


So, the task before St. John, and the task before all Christian Churches, is “How do we live as God’s children, sharing God’s love, in a culture that is apathetic or even antagonistic to God’s church and His message of saving love?”


A big part of facing this calling from God is attitude.  Do we, on the one hand, see sharing the love of God as a challenge, or even as a problem?  Does God’s call seem too big?  Does sharing Jesus today seem too dangerous or uncomfortable? 


Or, on the other hand, do we see the call to share God’s love in Jesus with those around us as an opportunity to serve the one who died and rose for us?  Do we perhaps even see God’s calling as an adventure in faith?  Perhaps like St. George, we fight dragons, foes that are larger and stronger than we are.


After Jesus’ ministry, and his crucifixion and death and His rising, He sent His disciples into mission work.  Most Christians have memorized Matthew 28:19-20, 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."  This is not only an overwhelming call today.  “Going and making disciples of all nations” was also overwhelming to Jesus’ followers in their day as Jesus left this world.  Imagine a small band of followers being called to make disciples of the whole world!  That is indeed a challenge!


But, many times when we look at Jesus’ “Great Commission” we start our consideration with the word, “go.”  So, we miss the “therefore.”  You see, before Jesus gave this “Great Commission” or this overwhelming calling, he first spoke a word of truth.  "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore, go . . .”  The one who lived for us and died for us and rose for us, as the Son of God, has all authority and power.  Because of his power and authority, and because of His love for all people, “therefore” he sends us.  This authority of Jesus can change how we see His calling and sending, the opportunity to serve that lies before us.  It is the all-powerful Lord of the universe who is sending us.


And, Jesus not only shares the truth of His power and authority before sending His disciples, He also makes a promise after His sending.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.  The Son of God who has all authority is with us as we go baptizing and teaching so that God can use us to make disciples. 


St. John and many of the churches in the Mat-Su Valley have been here for 80 years, mostly in a culture that supported God’s Church.  Today the world is different.  So, now what?  The one who sent the 12 apostles still has “all authority in heaven and on earth.”  He still promises, “ . . . surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  So, we have the challenge, and the opportunity, and the adventure of living as beloved children of God and sharing His love.  Yes, this can seem an overwhelming challenge, a problem even.  But, the one with all power is with us.  Let’s accept the adventure.  Let’s go share God’s love and let Him work through us to make disciples.


A Child of God, Looking forward to the Adventure of Faith before us,

Pastor Jonathan




P.S.  Here is a link to some pictures of the mountains around us.



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.