Friday, May 27, 2016

Thankful That Jesus Does Not Change

Dear Fellow Children of God,


Computers are supposed to make life simpler.  At least that is what I have been told.  But recent computer changes have caused me many complications and frustrations.  Maybe you’ve had similar experiences.


A couple of months ago our internet provider changed their e-mail system.  I’m told the change was to make the system safer.  But, these changes caused problems for me in sending my e-mail devotions.  I have spent much time on the phone with technical assistants.  So finally, after multiple calls, including last week, I think we have the issues taken care of . . . for now.


But, my internet provider is not the only one making changes.  In the past month my bank changed their web page for accessing my accounts.  The changes required a new password.  I also spent time on the phone with bank employees figuring out the new system.  After years of conducting banking online, being unable to access my account was inconvenient.  I think I understand the changes and can use the new website . . . for now.


In the same time period my Facebook and Google accounts required new passwords.  So, with new passwords required for my internet, and for my bank, and for Facebook and Google, I have had to write all the passwords down so I don’t forget them, because there are so many.  Do you have the same issue with passwords?


After these changes were taking place I got a new computer with a new operating system, Windows 10.  For some reason some of my software did not work the same with Windows 10 as it did on my old computer with other operating systems.  One of those programs that wouldn’t work was my Quicken program for my personal checking account and finances.  I was on the phone for over an hour and a half with a representative from my Quicken program.  Part of that hour and a half on the phone was 40 minutes that we talked while my computer downloaded a “fix” to the Quicken program.  It seems they had seen this issue before.  Computer changes were causing issues for the computer industry as well for individual users.


I was also having another problem with my e-mail.  So, after sharing the problem, the technical representative got on my computer remotely and deleted an address file.  But, the next time I got on my computer the address was there again.  Hmmm.  This IS frustrating.


One of my family’s favorite movies is “Grumpy Old Men.”  In that movie one of the main characters, Max Goldman played by Walter Mathau, tells his friend, John Gustafson played by Jack Lemmon, “I hate change!”  Not all changes are bad.  Sometimes change can be good.  For example, I’m always happy when I have been ill, but my illness changes and I am well again.  But, at times I can understand the sentiments expressed in that movie.  Change can cause frustration, confusion, and can even cost us money.


So, let me share good news with you.  Scripture tells us about Jesus, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)  We live in a world where the changes of life can bring confusion, frustration, and trouble.  Some changes are more serious than others.  In the movie I quoted, the change Max hated was the death of a friend.


But in a world of frustrating and troubling changes there is something we can count on.  God loves us so much that He sent His Son.  That doesn’t change.  As we believe in Jesus we are forgiven.  That doesn’t change.  Because of the unchanging grace of God, those who believe in Jesus will live with Him forever, where there is no pain, or death, or tears – where there is no change! (Revelation 21:4) 


When we aren’t sure anything in life will remain the same, we can be sure of God’s love, in Jesus.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”


A Child of God, Thankful to be able to count on God’s love 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.




Monday, May 23, 2016

Praying for Today's Students and Graduates

Dear Fellow Children of God,


On Friday morning I attended graduation for the 8th grade class at Palmer Junior Middle School.  I happened to have the privilege of presenting outstanding student awards on behalf of the Palmer Kiwanis Club.  In the program I counted 242 names of 8th grade students who graduated.  I was impressed by the general courtesy, and the obvious accomplishment of the students. 


As pastor here in Palmer I also happen to personally know and have taught a number of these students in Confirmation Classes.  In addition, even though my children are now past this age, I have met a number of the other students through our own members and in the community.


One thing that has struck me over the past years is that today’s students face many challenges that those of us who grew up 50 years ago did not face.  Maybe America has invited the world to our country and to our freedom, and some of the problems of the world have come along.  Obviously our world and our culture are changing and becoming more complex.  But, there are difficulties facing today’s students that were not the norm years ago.


When you face a challenge in life, what do you hope for?  Personally, when I face a challenge I hope for a listening ear and a helping hand.  Having someone listen concerning the troubles or the difficulties we face helps us to think through the struggles ahead, and helps us to act in the most faithful and effective way.  But, having someone who really listens can be rare.


And, we can all use a helping hand.  If we are honest with ourselves we know we have weaknesses and shortcomings.  It is always good to have assistance from someone whose strengths fill in our weaknesses.  It is always good to have a partner or partners in facing life’s difficulties.  Then the challenge is divided and can seem smaller.


So, I would like to share what I couldn’t share at the graduation.  Even I know that graduations are not the place for sermons. 


First, students, you already have obvious God-given help when life presents trials.  The student speakers on Friday all thanked parents and teachers.  Imagine that, students thanking teachers!  I was impressed.  Family, friends, and responsible adults are a real help when life throws a curve.  Don’t be proud, but go to these people who care about you when life is hard.


But, (here is the sermon part) the best help we have comes from our loving, all-powerful God, and from His church.  Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”


When troubles come along in life, God has not left us.  In times of trouble he is really there.  He is “an ever-present help in trouble.” 


God is willing to listen without end, and His wisdom surpasses any in this world.  In 1 Corinthians 1:25 God tells us, For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.”


And God’s wisdom and help and strength are found, surprisingly, in the cross of Jesus.  God also moves Paul to write in 1 Corinthians 1, “. . . we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)


When life brings trials, what a blessing to have the Almighty Creator, what a blessing to have the Savior of the World who gave His life, and who is willing to listen and to help!  What a help and strength God is for students facing new and more complicated challenges.


However, there is one other source of help when facing the trials of life.  I know a local social worker who often sees people who have big troubles, and little help.  I and others have heard this person say, “Everyone should join a church.  Then when you have troubles there are people who care about you and who can help.”  God’s plan for His church is that we are a family who can face the failures and trials of life together.  Paul tells the church in Thessalonica which was facing persecution, Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:11)  That is God’s plan for all people as we face the trials of life.  And, what a blessing when we can encourage one another with the all-powerful, all-loving grace of God in Jesus. 


So, 2016 graduates, congratulations.  I am proud of you and impressed.  And, 2016 graduates, remember, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”


A Child of God, Praying for today’s students,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Sven Maakestad preached on Wednesday, May 18.  After worship, instead of a “selfie”, Sven asked to have a “robie.”  (That’s Sven!)  Here is a link to one of his pictures.


P.P.S.  THANK YOU to everyone who helped make last Sunday’s “Sharing Jesus Together for 25 Years” celebration such an encouragement!!  The plan for this celebration was always that it would celebrate how GOD has worked and blessed pastor and people for an extended period.  However, I personally feel blessed and loved by so many who helped make this a celebratory event.  Thanks to:

  • Those organizing, Donita Odland, the Christensens, the Elders, and others.
  • The cooks and kitchen help.  (I saw so many!)
  • The Youth who helped serve the meal.
  • Those who set up, decorated, and took down from the meal.
  • Those who helped in worship, Pastor Allen, Hunter Richards, Gerry Zellar, President Linnemann, our Elders, Acolytes, Altar Guild, and Ushers
  • Those who provided special music, Moli Ellis, Grace Miller, Dave Nufer and Garry Forrester, our accompaniests, Joyful Noise, and the St. John Choir.
  • Those who shared at the meal, and those who shared in cards and gifts.


The celebration was a blessing to me and my family.  I pray the event was a blessing to you. 

Here are some pictures people took that I can share.  I hope others have pictures to share.




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.



Sunday, May 15, 2016

Thankful to Be Sharing Jesus Together with the People of St. John for 25 years

Dear Fellow Children of God,


There is an old parable that says, “Those who walk around looking at the ground all the time miss seeing the glory of the heavens.”  I pray that in looking at one blessing this weekend, we do not miss the biggest and most important blessing.


This Sunday St. John is celebrating, as our bulletin, newsletter, and mailings have said, “Sharing Jesus Together for 25 Years.”  We are celebrating the fact that, as pastor and people, we have worked together and that God has worked in and through us and accomplished His gracious goodness in our midst.  The grace of God is always worth celebrating.


But, there is a danger that this celebration can focus on the pastor, because it is 25 years of his service in this place, even though the congregation has been here for 81 years.  Actually, for a pastor to stay in one place for 25 years is somewhat rare.  (Though, I do know others have who served that long and longer.  Our neighbor, Pastor Tim Carrick, will have served at the Palmer United Protestant Church for 25 years this coming October.)  People celebrate twenty fifth anniversaries of marriage.  In many ways when a pastor and people work together it is like a marriage.  So, twenty-five years together as pastor and people is worth celebrating.


Yet, even celebrating what a congregation has done can become sinful pride.  Jesus faced and pointed to the pride and hypocrisy of the people in His day.  The Christian Church is the people of God in whom God lives and through whom God works.  Actually, the focus of the church should always be on God, not on as much on the church.  At the same time the Church gives thanks for God’s blessings and grace among us.


God moved St. Paul to remind the church in Ephesus of who they are, and what their focus should be.  He wrote in Ephesians 2:19-20, “19 Consequently, you are . . . fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  Do you see the emphasis on God and on Jesus in this verse?  Paul talks about the church as being “God’s people and members of God’s household.”  According to this verse the Church is built on the God inspired teaching of men, the teachings of “the apostles and prophets” found in the Bible.  BUT, the center of this teaching and foundation is Jesus, “the chief cornerstone.”


Wonderful things happen as God’s people work to live as God’s household.  Prayers are offered by God’s people for all, and God listens and answers.  God works through the church to serve those in need with His love.  The lost and hurting, young and old, are encouraged with the knowledge Christ’s unfailing love.  As God works through His Church people are healed in body and spirit and saved by the grace and power of God. 


But, even though all these wonderful things happen in God’s church, the cornerstone and the focus is not the people of the church.  The cornerstone and focus of God’s Church is Jesus!  His obedient and loving life, Jesus’ sacrificial death, and His saving resurrection, give purpose and meaning and life to God’s people as they work together as God’s family.


So, not only this Sunday as we look at the blessing of serving together as pastor and people, but in all the Church does, I pray we do not look at today’s blessings but miss the biggest and most important blessing, the eternal love and grace of God in Jesus that takes many different people and forms us into the family of God.


I will not be preaching Sunday.  But, I’m told I’ll have an opportunity to say a few words at the end of the day.  You will hear me share Paul’s important words in 2 Corinthians 4:5 “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.”


A Child of God, Thankful to be Sharing Jesus Together with the People of St. John for 25 years!

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Even though there is only one service Sunday at 11:00 a.m., Jamie asked me to remind everyone that there IS Sunday School this week.  In fact, this is the last Sunday of Sunday School for the 2015-2016 school year.



Friday, May 6, 2016

Thankful for the Prayers of God's People

Dear Fellow Children of God,


Last week I was sitting at the desk in my office at St. John and one of our faithful church members stopped by.  (I must confess, I spend less time at my desk these days and more time in meetings, classes, and in making calls.)  Linda Griese gently said to me, “Jonathan, you pray for all of us.  I want you to know that I’m praying for you.”  I don’t think I showed the tears in my eyes, but her simple words of Christian love touched me.  I do have a couple of personal issues of concern on my heart these days that Linda knows about, and she wanted me to know that I’m not dealing with these issues alone.  She is behind and beside me.  Better yet, the Almighty, loving God, is also behind us and with us.  This is true, at least in part, because of Linda’s prayers.


God calls His people to pray for all leaders.  (1 Timothy 2:1-2) Think about how wise this is.  There are no perfect kings, or presidents.  No senator, or congressman, or judge, no governor or mayor always has total wisdom.  We naturally want God to help our leaders to make wise decisions and to lead in just and righteous directions.  Our leaders need God’s help for their difficult jobs.  So we pray for them.  That makes sense.


How much more do pastors need prayers?!  Pastors are charged with shepherding (that is what the word pastor means in Greek) or leading the people of God.  The goal of a pastor is not just the temporal and worldly welfare of their people.  Pastors are primarily concerned with the spiritual and eternal welfare of the children of God. However, there is no perfect pastor.  Pastors need the Savior from sin just like the other members of a church.  Pastors need God’s wisdom and God’s guidance and God’s help.  We pastors need people to pray for us so we might be godly and effective job in our calling.  We need prayer.


St. Paul often asks for prayers.  In Ephesians 6 he writes, “18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”


In 1 Thessalonians 5:23-25, Paul again brings God’s blessings and asks for prayers. “23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. 25 Brothers, pray for us.”  Paul knows his limitations.  He knows the limitless grace and love and power of God.  So Paul asks for prayers.


Those who seek to follow God by serving His people (like pastors) need God’s help to do God’s work.  Linda is not the first person who has prayed for me as pastor.  One day I was visiting with Arlene Fox and prayed for her after our time together.  Then to my surprise, Arlene asked God’s blessings and help for me.  Once when I visited Cathy Smith she did the same thing.  I have received e-mails from Karen Wood and Ardith Richards, and others, indicating they are praying for me as pastor.  Others in church have said, “Pastor, I’m praying for you.”  And, every Sunday and Wednesday before worship our Elders gather with me and others leading worship and say a pray for God’s blessing on the worship service and for the worship leaders.


Maybe the bottom line is this.  The older I get the more I realize my weaknesses, my shortcomings, and my failings.  Therefore, the older I get the more I realize how much I need the love and the forgiveness and the help of my Lord.  I not only need His love eternally.  I need the love and help of Jesus today.


So, Linda quietly let me know, “I’m praying for you.”  Thank you Linda!  I pray that all Christians will pray for their pastors so that God will help and guide in the important work of His Church.


A Child of God, Thankful for the Prayers of Others,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  The Alaska Mission for Christ held a continuing education event at St. John on April 29-30.  The topic of this class was “Metaphors of the Gospel.”  Here are two pictures of those attending.


P.P.S.  As we prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of pastor and people serving our Lord together, I took out some old pictures.  Here are pictures of my first seminary graduation, of my ordination, and my installation as Pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in St. Louis.  These pictures were taken in May and June 1979.




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.