Friday, February 26, 2016

Does God REALLY Answer Prayer?

Dear Fellow Children of God,


Does God REALLY answer prayer?


That is a question we asked our 11 middle school students last Friday night at our Confirmation Retreat on prayer.  We had read through Luke 11:1-13 in our first devotion of the evening and we were discussing that Bible reading. 


In Luke 11 we had read, “9 So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.(Luke 11:9-10)  After reading those verses it is natural to ask the question, “Does God really answer prayer?”


What kind of answers do you think we got?  Well, these were middle school students, some 6th graders, some 7th grade students, and some from the 8th grade.  We got the kind of answers you might expect from students in that age group.  There were blank stares.  Some seemed embarrassed to answer.  Others looked like they wanted to be doing something else.  But, the question still hung in the air, “Does God really answer prayer?”


I looked around the room at these students.  Only about a third of our students attended the retreat, but this smaller number gave us an opportunity to get more personal about faith issues.  And, this small group gave the opportunity for what happened next.


As I looked around the room I realized that I had prayed for most, no actually, I had gone to our Heavenly Father in prayer for all of the families of these 11 students, even for the family of the guest who was attending.  So I told them, “I’ve prayed for the families of each one of you, and I’ve seen God answer.”  This sort of got their attention.  “What do you mean?” I was asked.


“Well,” I replied to one student who didn’t know his family had been prayed for, “I prayed for your family at the deaths of your family members.  God has given comfort.”  I pointed out that I had prayed for the families of the some students in times of health issues.  I had prayed for others in times of family stress, in times of job issues, and even in times of cancer scares.  They asked me and I was able to remind them of difficult times their family had faced.  Some of these difficulties had been forgotten because they were now in the past.  In some cases the students remembered the concerns vividly.  In some of the situations God’s answers to the prayers can only be considered to be the amazing grace of God.  We might even say God worked miracles!


Then, something happened.  The room got quiet.  Only, now this was not a quiet of indifference or blank stares.  There was a quiet of wonder and awe as the students considered that God could actually have been acting in their lives in answer to prayer.  This moment of silence changed the mood of our whole retreat, and this moment of silence touched my heart as well.


Then, on Tuesday night I shared this experience with the men in our Promise Keepers group.  One of our men jumped in.  “Do you remember when I asked you to pray for my son because he had been laid off?”  We did remember.  This man continued, “Well, he got called back to work this week.  He said he guessed he was lucky.  But, I told him, ‘No, it was not luck.  The men in our church prayed for you.  Others are still being laid off and you got hired back.  That’s not luck.  It’s the grace of God.’”  Another man in our group also shared a similar story about a neighbor we had prayed for who was now employed again.  When I shared these stories another member told me how God had provided new opportunities after we had prayed for help with some issues of stress.  This week has seemed to be an overwhelming week of God answering prayer, or at least a week when St. John members and friends are realizing the answers to prayer that God has been giving.


I want to share some clear thinking here, however.  I have heard people say, “Prayer changes things.”  I agree, but. . . I don’t like that choice of words.  That points to the specific prayer, or even the one praying.  I believe Jesus gives a different emphasis in Scripture to this truth about prayer.  A better way to speak this truth of God’s love is to affirm, “GOD answers prayer.”  answers prayer.”  Jesus assures us time and again that our Heavenly Father acts in love when people come to Him in faith and prayer.  We don’t trust so much in the prayer, but in the Lord who answers our prayers.


But, we should not be surprised.  God has shown greater love for us than even answer to prayer.  In Romans 8:31-32 God tells us through St. Paul, “31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”


God has given His own Son, in love, to save willful sinners like us.  If God has acted in such unbelievable love, yes He takes care of us in other areas too.  So, the answer to the question, “Does God REALLY answer prayer?” is simple.  God always answers.  We may not always see or realize what God is doing.  He may not always answer in the manner we ask.  But when we pray, God answers in His wisdom, His love, and His mercy.


Lord, teach us to pray.  And Lord, help us in faith to see your loving answers.  Amen.


A Child of God, Learning More and More to Trust our Loving Heavenly Father,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Here are some pictures from the Confirmation Retreat.



P.P.S.  Here are pictures we took of Kathy’s repaired feet!


P.P.P.S.  After taking my wife to the doctor on Monday, I took my daughter fishing.  Here are a couple of pictures.  Mary wants you to know “she caught the biggest fish!”







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, February 19, 2016

The Love of God in Jesus for EACH Person - EVEN Middle Schoolers

Dear Fellow Children of God,


This week, as members and friends of St. John worship in Palmer, Jamie and I and some other adults will be leading our Confirmation students in a retreat at Victory Bible Camp.  For over 20 years now we have taken Confirmation students on a retreat because these are such good opportunities to learn and grow.  This year will be using the movie, “War Room” to discuss the power of God in our lives in answer to prayer. 


Something else happens when Jamie and I are in retreat with our middle school aged children.  We get to relate to the students in one-on-one situations.  This is important because, even in small classes, different people receive a message in different ways. 


In Stephen Ministry this past week our Stephen Ministers discussed how people can receive the message of sermons differently.  There are times that I have been asked to preach and give God’s direction on difficult issues.  Often when I have spoken on such issues from God’s Word I have many people thanking me for such clear teaching.  But, there are also often people that I only hear about later who might have had another experience, and perhaps hear this teaching from God’s Word differently than others.  Sometimes people have even been hurt by what was said. 


I share this because our confirmation students come from many different backgrounds.  Their family situations and home situations, their physical and mental development, make each person unique.  Yet, whether a student is a 6th grader, or in 8th grade, whether they are a boy or a girl, whether they are out-going or shy, whether they are athletic, or not so athletic, each one of our students is a child of God that Jesus loves and died for.  So, we want each of our students to know and grow in the love the God has for them in Jesus.


This is not saying that truth of God’s Word is not true.  God’s Word is always the best direction for our lives.  (Psalm 119:105, 2 Timothy 3:16-17)  But, since each person hears and experiences God’s Word differently, sometimes it helps for God’s people to visit in one-on-one situations, or small groups, rather than in large groups or classes, so that the truth of God’s love becomes clear.  That is what often does happen in these retreats.  Our young people learn about God in a camp setting is ways that have not quite hit home in a classroom at church on Wednesdays or Saturdays.


God tells us about His church through St. Paul, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. . . Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27)


In Scripture we see Jesus showing compassion for many different kinds of people.  He was loving toward leaders, and towards outcasts.  Jesus showed compassion to the religious and to those confessing their sins.  Jesus shared the kingdom of God with men and women, Jews and Samaritans, those in need and those who were well off.  The love that Jesus showed is summed up in the truth that He is God’s promised Messiah, the Savior of the World, who came to bring forgiveness and eternal life to a fallen world, and to each person caught in the slavery of sin.  In other words, God wants the whole world, and each individual, to know His love in Jesus and to receive it by believing in Jesus as their Savior.


Please pray for our Confirmation retreat.  Our young people face challenges their parents and grandparents never faced.  But just like their parents, they too need the truth of God’s love in Jesus for their lives.


A Child of God, Praying for our Young People to Grow in God’s Love,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  I did not go fishing last week.  I took my wife, Kathy, for surgery on her foot.  The doctor said Kathy is healthy and the foot should heal well.  Thank you for all the prayers.




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, February 12, 2016

A Little Child HAS Led Us

Dear Fellow Children of God,


I was blessed during worship last Sunday in a manner I had not previously experienced.  After the sermon and communion preparation were completed in the worship service, I was kneeling at the altar.  I received the Lord’s Supper from our Elder, John Lee.  Then the acolyte followed with the basket for me to place my cup there.  As I laid my cup in the basket Brooke Lehman leaned over said quietly said to me, “God bless you always, Pastor!”


People have blessed me before in many ways.  But for a third grade girl, who was not being prompted, to give me such a heart-felt blessing in the middle of worship, I was touched.


I shared my feelings about Brooke’s blessing in an e-mail message with her mom, Kelly, and then I told my wife.  Kathy shared with me, “I went into the sacristy after worship to thank Brooke and Kelly too.  As (our grandson) Henry was placing his communion cup in the basket, Brooke told him, ‘Thank you, Henry!’”


I shared these stories at our men’s Promise Keepers’ gathering on Tuesday night and a number of the men said that Brooke had also thanked them at the altar.  And, all this came from Brooke after her active singing that day of our hymns and worship songs.  Brooke is usually quiet and almost a little shy when I speak with her.  But, on Sunday she bounced up and down and did hand motions to the songs she knew.  She was truly into worshiping God with her heart, soul, mind, and body.  Brooke was exhibiting joy to worship and serve her Lord, Jesus.  And, even as a child her actions were an example of faithful worship and service to the rest of us.


In Isaiah 11, as Isaiah describes the coming Messianic Kingdom, he shares a prophecy.   “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)  That prophecy about a child leading ultimately points to Jesus, the Son of God who came to this world as a child.  But, children can also lead as they teach the rest of us the joy of serving our Lord and Savior.


However, on Sunday, Brooke was not the only one who joyfully and willingly offered their service for the Lord’s work.  Karl Kopperud offered to meet and discuss some church business. When I told Gerry Zellar I had been really busy, but a lot was left to be done, Gerry offered, “What can I do to help you?”  Al Kastar offered to reach out to a father in need.  And, Hunter Richards, without being asked, offered to lead noon Lenten worship services for those who can’t attend evening services.


I share this because we sometimes struggle with joyfully serving the Lord.  Maybe our schedules are busy.  Maybe we have been hurt by a fellow church member or by a congregation.  Maybe we are angry at God about a life tragedy.  Or, maybe we want to be served, rather than to serve.  But sometimes all people, even Christians, can have issues with giving of our voices and efforts and our time to serve the Lord.  We can especially resist serving joyfully.


One of my favorite worship Psalms is Psalm 100.  Listen to what this Psalm says about joy and gladness.  “1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”


God is good.  His love does endure forever in Jesus’ perfect life, in Jesus’ death for us, and in the victory of Jesus over death.  When we realize all that God has done and continues to do to bless us, we really do want to serve Him and worship Him.  And when the grace and mercy of God catches us, our worship and service are a response that the Psalm calls for, glad and joyful.


It is such a blessing to know the love of God and to joyfully serve Him in His church.  And, last Sunday a little child, and many of our fellow brothers and sisters, led us and taught us to “Worship the LORD with gladness!”


A Child of God, Learning Joy again from the Little Children,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Here are two fishing pictures from my Monday ice fishing trip this past 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, February 5, 2016

Ash Wednesday - The Beginning of Lent, A Time of Repentance

Dear Fellow Children of God,


I really enjoy owning and caring for a dog.  Our last dog, Susitna, is no longer with us.  But, when she was alive she brought many hours of fun, love, play, and companionship.  However, Sue also gave our family quite a bit of frustration, especially in her early years.  Perhaps you have noticed that dogs have their own minds.  Sometimes I could see in the eyes of my dog that she knew what she was supposed to do, but some other desire would seem to take over.  My wife, Kathy was convinced that Sue would obey me, but was always willful with her.  But, when Sue would return from whatever bad behavior she had chosen, all I had to do was say, “Bad Dog” and she would look down, bow her head and turn away.  She did not like being scolded.


I tell you this story, not so much to talk about dogs, but because sometimes it is easier to discuss a difficult topic when talking about someone else.  The lesson here is that no one likes to be scolded.  No one likes to be wrong.  No one enjoys being caught doing wrong.  But, let’s get personal now.  We have all done wrong, and whether we know it or not we have also been caught.  God knows our sin.


God is our Creator and our Heavenly Father.  As a loving Father, God has told us how to live.  Jesus summarizes the law of our Father in Matthew 22.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:37-39)  Loving God first and loving others is the summary of the law of God.  God doesn’t give us this law to control us.  We are healthiest as children of God when we have a good relationship with our Creator and Father, and when we have a good relationship with others whom God has created as well.  God gives His law for our good.


But, all of us have often chosen the unhealthy path.  We often choose not to love and obey God, and not to love others.  Instead we indulge ourselves.  That is why God says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."  (Romans 3:10-12, Psalm 14)


So, no one likes to be wrong, and no one likes to be scolded.  But, since we have sinned against God and others, what should we do?


Before I answer this question, let me tell you about our dog again.  Susitna craved love.  She responded so much better to rewards for good behavior than she did to punishment for bad behavior.  I found out that Sue learned better when rewarded than when punished.  But, she still needed to know what was right and wrong. 


Let me tell you about God’s plan for His people.  It revolves around the saving life and death of Jesus.  Jesus came as Savior.  God 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.”


So, here is how God calls wayward people to respond.  “8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  (1 John 1:8-9)  God wants us to admit our sin to ourselves, to Him, and even others.  And God wants us to turn to Him for forgiveness, and to follow Him in the way that is healthiest for our lives as His children.  Turning from sin and turning to God is called “repentance.”  We ALL need to repent. 


I share these round about thoughts on guilt and God’s call to repentance because we are entering the season of Lent.  Lent is a season of the church year before Easter that focuses on the suffering of Jesus for sinful people, and . . . for us.  Lent is a time in the church year that God’s people are reminded of God’s call to attitudes and lives of repentance.


No one likes to be wrong.  But we are all sinful and wrong.  No one likes to be scolded.  We respond better to love.  So, God sends Jesus.  He calls us to admit that we, like everyone else are sinful and need to return to God. 


So, during Lent, Christians have chosen to focus on attitudes of repentance for our sin, and thankfulness for the sacrificial love of God.  One outward way we have reminded ourselves of what we need to do inwardly happens on Ash Wednesday.  If you come to worship on Ash Wednesday you will receive the sign of the cross on your forehead in ashes.  The dirt of the ashes helps us to admit what we don’t like to admit, that we are people who have sinned.  But, the sign of the cross tells us that when we deserved punishment, God gave forgiveness and love in Jesus. 


One last Bible verse sums this all up.  In Romans 6:23 we are told, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  May God bless your observance of Lent that we might grow closer to our Lord through the love and forgiveness of Jesus.


A Child of God, Repenting and Believing in Jesus

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Ash Wednesday begins our Lenten observance this coming Wednesday, February 10.  Our regular mid week Lenten Service will be held at 6:30 p.m.  The first Lenten service is always “Ash Wednesday.”  There is also a fellowship meal at 5:30 p.m. before the service being served by Darell and Brenda Schurman and by Jerry and Diana Christensen.

            HOWEVER, IN ADDITION, Hunter Richards will be offering a very short Ash Wednesday service at noon on that day, specifically for those who cannot come to worship in the evening, but want the opportunity to receive the imposition of ashes.


P.P.S.  Here are two fishing pictures from my first ice-fishing trip after vacation.




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.