Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Pondering and Treasuring Christmas 2017


Dear Members and Friends of St. John, 

 

That very first Christmas, after the angels appeared to the shepherds, those shepherds went to Bethlehem to find Mary and Joseph, and to find Jesus.  God tells us in Luke 2 that the shepherds shared with Mary and Joseph what they themselves had been told.  Then, after the shepherds left Jesus and his family, there is an interesting sentence about what Mary did with this information from the shepherds.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  Mary thought about the things that had happened. Mary purposely stored these thoughts in her memory.  So, let’s ponder and treasure this past Christmas ourselves. 

 

What was your favorite Christmas present you received this year?  My wife and I did not buy presents for each other this year, again – sort of.  I did buy Kathy a dated Christmas ornament again, for the 41st year in a row.  But that ornament is not a large gift, and after 40 years she knows that this gift is coming.  Kathy also says I have purchased her Christmas gift earlier this year in a number of ways.  However, I don’t like to count those other gifts of love for Christmas.  Anyway, Kathy and I planned to put our resources into giving gifts to others this Christmas.

 

I do have 4 grown children with 2 (almost) spouses.  Each one of them did give both Kathy and me a nice personal gift, which I can tell they thought about before giving.  In fact we have already used most of these gifts in one way or another.  Truthfully, however, I believe I am even more thankful for the gift of family.  On Sunday night we were blessed to worship together at the Children’s Christmas Eve Candlelight Service.  (There is a picture link below from that service.)  Then, on Monday night, after picking up my sister Martha and her husband Mark from the airport, we had a family Christmas gathering at our home with 16 people, including 6 grandchildren.  We were able to catch up and visit and just enjoy one another’s company while watching the children open their gifts.  When Kathy and I buy gifts for our grandchildren we often stay away from giving toys.  We try to buy gifts that will last, gifts that have faith or educational value.  We gave Josh’s children and Andy’s children each a telescope this year.  One of my favorite moments at our family Christmas was when we asked the grandchildren to pull the blankets off the telescopes as a way of unwrapping these gifts.  There was a group reaction from the grandchildren.  “Woooo!”  I enjoyed their excitement.  But, again, even more than the gifts, the greater blessing was just the time to be family.

 

A 2017 Christmas blessing for which I am thankful is the worship we experienced on Sunday and Monday at St. John.  Including Sunday morning worship, Sunday evening Christmas Eve services, and Christmas morning worship, the family of St. John gathered in one way or another 5 different times.  Some expressed concern for me as pastor because I led all those worship services.  But, I have developed a philosophy over the years.  I try not to wish Christmas celebrations to be done and over because of busy schedules.  I work to enjoy the worship and to receive the blessings of the reason for the celebration.  Each worship service this Christmas had a different group of people.  In each service someone attended who did not attend the other services.  For me, Christmas worship was not a chore, but a gift from God, another gift for which I am thankful. 

 

Part of the gift of Christmas worship is also the opportunity to spend time with our church family.  Over the years we have worshiped and served our Lord with some truly special children of God.  In many ways, especially here in Alaska, God’s people have become our extended family.  When we get to enjoy the gift of God’s Son together, and when we encourage one another through worship and through the encouragement of just catching up, I receive the relationship of family with my fellow Christians as another wonderful Christmas gift.

 

As Kathy and I grow “more mature” I also become more thankful for our relatively good health.  When I attended my 45th high school re-union in the summer of 2016 there was a list of over 80 classmates who are no longer with us. (Of course, my high school class numbered almost 1000 people.)   Some of my classmates died by accident.  But many of my classmates, including some good friends, were called home by cancer or other illnesses.  Yes, Kathy and I have both spent time with doctors this past year. Thankfully, God has blessed the doctors in caring for us.  A real gift we received this Christmas is the gift of health.

 

As I personally ponder and treasure this past Christmas, I feel guilty, in a way, to be so blessed.  I know that some people, perhaps many people, have none of these blessings.  But, there is one blessing or present that each of us have received, a blessing I haven’t mentioned yet.  The angel told the shepherds, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  (Luke 2:10-11) God has given the gift of His Son as our Savior.  Actually, all the Christmas gifts I mentioned above, the family gatherings, the worship services, even our health, can be traced to God’s love for us in Jesus.  I am truly most thankful for the gift of my Savior, Jesus! 

 

And, as the angel said, this good news of a Savior from sin and death, this gift of a Savior who brings us back to our Heavenly Father, is a gift to “all the people.”  Receiving the gift of Jesus helps us to see all the other blessings which God gives! I am thankful that even those who did not receive a present or have family, are part of the “all people” to whom God gave His Son! 

 

When all the parties are done, when the worship services are completed, and when the presents are unwrapped, the greatest gift this Christmas and every Christmas is Jesus.  So, where do your ponderings and treasurings take your mind and your heart this Christmas?

 

A Child of God, Thankful for all the Blessings Surrounding Jesus’ Birth,

Pastor Jonathan

 

P.S.  I was tempted to write this week about the upcoming wedding of my daughter, Mary, to our new son-in-law, Aaron Smith, this coming Saturday at 2:00 p.m. at St. John.  I’ve been told, however, that sometimes my family stories may embarrass.  So not today, maybe next week.

 

P.P.S.  Here is a picture taken at Christmas Eve worship of our Alaskan Rockey family.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/4wNzubLNi3lqezQR2

 

P.P.P.S.  Here is a picture taken last Thursday morning of the sunrise as seen from my front porch.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/Dsg4bghyj4azFdP93

 

P.P.P.P.S. It seems a long time ago, but last Wednesday was our last Advent Fellowship Meal.  Here are some pictures  https://photos.app.goo.gl/h6fDJQlYwcQWnkmh1

 

 

 

 

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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 do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.

 

 

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wishing Jesus to You This Christmas


Dear Members and Friends of St. John, 

 

I was personally convicted recently as I read a devotion from my friend, Pastor Dale Meyer of Concordia Seminary.  In his devotion he has stated what we all know about the traps of the Christmas season.  The busy-ness of these days before Christmas easily frays our nerves and we pop off against one another.”  Yup, he’s right,” I thought to myself, realizing I had just been short with my wife and my daughter.  It wasn’t a big thing.  I’m not even sure they knew I had “popped off” at them.  I was wondering to myself, “What’s making me irritable?”  I decided there was no one irritant.  I suspected I was reacting to the accumulated busy-ness of church, of family, and Christmas expectations.  But, I sensed an impatience in myself that caused me to treat those I loved with less patience and love than I desired.

 

We are near the culmination of our preparation to celebrate the birth of God’s Son.  Unfortunately we all know that sometimes all the preparations can obscure the reason for the season.  The songs about Jesus’ birth can become irritable when we hear them in the stores starting in October.  The buying of gifts can deceive us into forgetting THE Gift.  The busy-ness of the season can lead us to act unlovingly in the season of love.  Our “frayed nerves,” as Dr. Meyer wrote, can steal peace when the angels proclaim “Peace on Earth.”  And the unreasonable expectations from society and the media concerning Christmas can cause us to lose our joy when this is a time of “great joy to all the people.”  Is anyone else needing to confess with me?

 

But, while it is good to prepare to receive our servant-king, our Savior, Jesus, it is not our preparation that makes the season.  Nothing we do, and nothing we fail to do, can take away the fact that Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, was born.  Satan may seek to use the busy-ness of this season to hide the light of the world under a bushel basket, but the light is still there.  The rays of light and love and peace seep through the holes in that basket and still bring life and love to our world, and to us.

 


Nothing can take away the fact that, in Jesus, God Himself came to earth that first Christmas to help us, to love us, to save us. 
 

None of our busyness can make the fact go away that Jesus is Savior of “All People.”  After all, the angels did not sing of his birth to kings and priests, but to shepherds, to common people at work.

 

None of our own irritable, prideful, or sinful behavior can deny the Christmas love of God.  The angel told Joseph, you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) Jesus was born knowing our sin, because we need a Savior.

 

When the world seems to fight against us and tell us we are worthless, nothing can take away the fact that the birth of Jesus is a gift of love. 

 

Not the stress I bring on myself, nor the antagonism and distraction of the world, can take away the gift, God’s Son born for us.  So, whether your presents are bought, your house is decorated, or whether you have made amends with those you have wronged, I encourage you to remember that Jesus is God’s gift of love.  We don’t earn a gift, we receive it.  Therefore, there are some simple ways we can all receive the love, and the peace, and the joy with which God gifts us again this year.

·       Take time to attend worship this Christmas with your family, your friends, your neighbors, or by yourself if no one else will go.  When we thank and praise God it opens our hearts to receive this gift of Jesus.

·       When you worship, LISTEN to God’s Christmas good news as the Christmas lessons are read from Scripture.

·       Consider how God’s love is bigger than any disappointment, heart break, or problems you may have today.

·       Then, like the shepherds give joyful thanks and praise to God for this priceless gift that changes our lives for good, not only at Christmas time – but through eternity.

 

The angels told the Shepherds, 10. . . "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  (Luke 2:10-11) That is the reason for all the preparation and the celebration.  And this gift is not earned, it is received by faith.

 

May the light of Jesus shine through the darkness of your “frayed nerves” and disappointments this Christmas.  May Jesus light up your home and your life with God’s love and peace and joy.

 

A Child of God Wishing Jesus to you this Christmas

Pastor Jonathan

 

P.S.  Please note the schedule of Advent and Christmas services in the next few days.

·       Mid-Week Advent Worship – Worship is held on Wednesday, December 20, at noon with Hunter Richards, and in the evening at 6:30 p.m. in our final Advent Worship Service for 2017.  A Fellowship Advent Meal is served at 5:30 p.m.

·       There is only one worship service on Sunday morning, December 24 at 11:00 a.m.  (However, adult Bible Classes will be held at 10:45 a.m.)

·       There are 3 Christmas Eve services:

o   Children’s Christmas Candlelight Service – This 6:00 p.m. service is earlier, a little shorter, and has a children’s message to make this a “kid friendly” worship experience.

o   Christmas Eve Candlelight Worship is held at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m.  Two soloists and two choir numbers help us thank and praise God in these candlelight worship services.

·       Christmas Day worship with communion is held on Christmas morning at 11:00 a.m.

 

COME AND JOIN US IN WORSHIPING OUR SAVIOR! 

 

There are postcard invitations in the back of the church which you can use to invite others to join in this celebration!

 

P.P.S.  This past week was another busy week of preparation and activities at St. John!  Here are some pictures.

 

·       Confirmation classes last week made Christmas stockings.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/btT0VFCtT6mt0Zof1

 

·       Here are some pictures from our Advent Meal last Wednesday, https://photos.app.goo.gl/N5Lo2863GtMaxIMH2

 

·       I intended to go ice fishing, but last minute chores before Christmas and before a wedding kept me going till about 7 p.m.  It was too dark then to go fishing, so no fish this week.

 

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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 do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.

 

 

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Thankful for Family Faith in Jesus





Dear Members and Friends of St. John, 

 

This past Sunday late worship was a little different for me.  Yes, as pastor I led parts of the worship at the beginning and at the end of the service.  But, the main portion of the worship was the presentation by the Sunday School children of their Christmas program for this year.  The children read Bible verses, explained symbols, and sang songs.  So, I was not in robes for this service.  Also, I did not sit up front in order to lead worship.  Instead I sat in the back of the church with my family  The back two rows were full of 2 Rockey parents or grandparents, Kathy and myself.  Also three of our four children were in that row (one had taught Sunday School and then went skiing), in addition to 6 Rockey grandchildren.  When you put that many Rockey’s in one place it tends to be noisy, and maybe a little rowdy, even in church.

 

I heard my wife talking after the worship service, maybe complaining a little.  She was in the kitchen with Becky Nance who had commented on the fact that I got to sit with my family.  (Becky was operating the screen for worship, so she had a close-up view.)  Kathy said, “Yes, in fact one of the grandchildren even asked why he was there. . . But, he was the worst of them!  He was picking on them and egging them on – in church!”

 

I confess.  I’m guilty as charged.  My grandson, Jackson, asked me, “Poppy, Why are you here?”  Most of the time I do sit up front and lead worship.  I explained to him, “Today is the children’s program.” And then I poked him.  Well, maybe I poked him a couple of times.

 

I’m not sure there is anything that brings more joy to my heart than worshiping with my family.  Actually, I think Kathy is even more warmed by sitting in the back of the sanctuary and herding her brood.  What a joy to both worship our Lord AND to love our family all at the same time!

 

Once Jesus was asked how best to keep God’s commandments.  His answer is helpful and instructive for our lives as Christians.  In Mark 12 we read about Jesus, 28 One of the teachers of the law came and . . . asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31)  So Jesus is telling us that we live out our calling as God’s children best when we love God and when we love others.  Is there any better way to answer God’s call than by worshiping Him along with our family???

 

When I visit family in Florida I have a similar joy because I get to worship with my dad and with my siblings and extended family.  We all grew up attending First Lutheran Church in Gainesville, FL.  One of my brothers is pastor of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Oxford, FL, south of Ocala.  And my sister is a leader at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Chiefland, FL.  When Kathy and I visit we again get to worship with our family.  What a JOY!!! 

 

God’s Church has traditionally observed the season of Advent before Christmas so that our hearts are ready to receive Jesus.  During this season of Advent, as we prepare for the coming of our Savior, is there any better way to prepare for Jesus than by worshiping with family?

 
A Child of God, Thankful for Family Faith in Jesus,

Pastor Jonathan

 

P.S.  This past week was a BUSY week of preparation and activities at St. John!  Here are some pictures.

 

·         Confirmation classes last week made signs for the Family Promise Van and went Christmas caroling.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/seo6fxBtTTcTiK5h2

 

·         VPA Play outing – We had 20 tickets for the Valley Performing Arts play, “A Christmas Carol” and 22 people attended.  Here are some pictures of some of the folks eating at Piccolino’s (Marcellos) before the play - https://photos.app.goo.gl/Z2MI46X00QaUrK8y1

 

·         Sunday School Christmas Program – The Sunday School Christmas program was a blessing to all who attended.  Here are some pictures from this year’s program. - https://photos.app.goo.gl/NrvDtXB7LtsVwu1E3

 

·         Jamie Farewell – Last week we had an opportunity to say farewell to Jamie Walters who has served as DCE at St. John for over 13 years.  (She will continue through December.)  Here are a couple of pictures - https://photos.app.goo.gl/VlR6orI0FdiqyB9l2

 

·         Ice fishing 12-11-2017 – And of course, here are some pictures from this past Monday’s ice fishing trip – 3 bites and 2 fish - https://photos.app.goo.gl/CVnj514ABbhPI2zt2

 

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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 do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.

 

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Watching, Praying, and Waiting for My Lord


 Dear Members and Friends of St. John, 

 

Alaskans know about an “inevitable coming.”  Each autumn the days grow shorter.  Leaves turn yellow and then drop from the trees.  Temperatures decline . . . and then plunge.  Winter is coming.  I have learned that we never know exactly when the signs of winter will arrive.  But we do know that sometime during the dark days of the season temperatures will drop below freezing and we are very likely to see snow.

 

Knowing that winter approaches it is wise to make certain preparations for its coming.  Personally, I bring in my hoses, my sprinklers, and my garden tools.  I store the lawn furniture in our shed.  I remove the batteries from the boat and lawnmower, and change from summer tires to snow tires on our vehicles.  My plan is to be prepared and to get all this preparation done before the arrival of winter.  At least I intend to prepare.  Yet, whether I am prepared or not, winter will come.

 

We are in the church season of Advent and week after week in our Scripture readings we hear the voice of our Lord and His messengers call us to preparation.  In our Gospel the first week of Advent Jesus Himself warns us, 32 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. . . 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'" (Mark 13:33, 37).  Next week the voice of John will cry out, echoing the words of the great prophet Isaiah, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" (Mark 1:3).

 

Why this need for preparation?  It is sort of like winter.  We know that the coming of the Lord at the end of time is inevitable.  We do not know when He will appear.  But He will come, not only as Savior but as Judge.  Jesus will come and make Himself visibly known to all.  Jesus comes to usher in God’s victorious, heavenly kingdom.

 

So, when the holy and righteous Judge does come, how do you want to be prepared?  Peter answers this question in his second letter.  11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives . . . 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”  (2 Peter 3:11, 14)

 

Are you feeling holy and godly?  On our own we are weak and sinful.  We fail our Lord and we fail ourselves with our selfishness and sin.  We fail our Lord and ourselves by giving in to the desires of the flesh.  Such sinful behavior may be obvious, or our sin can be hidden.  But, because of our sin none of us can face our judge on our own.

 

However, there is good news!  Jesus is not only inevitably coming again, He has already come!  Born as a man, submitting Himself to torture and death, rising from the dead, Jesus came to pay for our weakness and sin.  He came to defeat sin and death.  Jesus came to save weak and sinful people like us.  The way we “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” is when we receive Jesus as Savior and when He forgives us and gives us peace with Himself.

 

Therefore, I encourage you to spend time in preparation again this Advent, and throughout the year, preparing yourself to receive our Lord.  Here are some of the suggestions of our Lord himself on how His children should prepare for His inevitable coming.

 

Humble yourself – Admit your shortcomings and your weaknesses.  Confess your sins.  Don’t trust in yourself.  Turn to our Lord.  He loves you and will forgive you through faith in Jesus.  God will make you clean in His sight.

 

Spend time with our Lord – We have the command, but even more we have the encouragement and the example of our Lord to worship.  God intends for His people to be in His presence and to encourage one another in faith and preparation.  How is your worship life at this time?

 

Watch and Pray – As life brings blessings and challenges consider how God may be acting to touch you.  Be in regular times of prayer.  But, be ready to pray whenever you see a blessing or a challenge to your faith.  And being ready, actually go in prayer to the Lord with praise and requests.  He hears and He answers!

 

Winter is not only coming, in many ways it has come and is here.  (Though, personally I am a man who likes snow . . . and LOTS OF IT.)  There are consequences, however, if we do not prepare for winter.  Jesus is surely coming again.  But thankfully, He has come Himself to prepare us.  Strengthen your relationship with Him so that when He comes again you have let Him make you holy and at peace with Him.

 

A Child of God, Watching and Praying and Waiting for My Lord,

Pastor Jonathan

 

P.S.  THANKS- Thanks for a good and a short Voters’ Meeting this past Sunday.  The meeting was well attended with 60 people signing the attendance list.  We had people volunteer to serve for all boards and positions.  And we passed the proposed budget.  Thanks to all for the unity, the fellowship, and the commitment to God’s work at St. John as we conducted our Voters’ meeting in . . . only 1 hour!!

 

 

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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 do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.

 

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Are You STILL Thankful?


Dear Members and Friends of St. John, 

 

You know that the Thanksgiving Day national holiday was observed last week.  So, what are YOU thankful for?  You might be shaking your head and asking, “Pastor, isn’t that holiday past?  Shouldn’t we be focusing on something other than Thanksgiving?” 

 

The Thanksgiving holiday may be in the rear view mirror for this year, but God’s children are called to give thanks to Him at all times.  God “reminds us not to forget” thanking and praising Him, even when it is not Thanksgiving Day.  One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 103.  The first 5 verses of this Psalm from David use these words to call us to thank and praise God:

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.  (Psalm 103:1-5)

 

David must have been especially aware of God’s grace in his life when, inspired by God’s Spirit, he wrote this Psalm.  So in Psalm 103 we are called to praise God with all that we are.  We are “reminded not to forget” ALL God’s blessings in our life.  And, God, speaking through David, even gives us a list in this Psalm of reasons for thankfulness.  We can be thankful for forgiveness and for healing (v. 3), for eternal life and for spiritual blessings (v. 4), and we can be thankful for material blessings (v. 5).  God is good and gracious at all times and we, in turn, want to be thanking Him all our lives.

 

So, back to my beginning question, What ARE you thankful for?” 

 

First of all, even after a holiday with moist turkey and family gathered, I am eternally grateful for God’s grace and love in Jesus.  I am a sinner and deserve none of God’s love.  But, as I read Psalm 103 I know that my forgiveness, my salvation, and that all my blessings are given because of God’s saving grace in His Son Jesus Christ.  God’s love in His Son helps me to see and to receive all my other spiritual and physical blessings.

 

At this time I am also especially thankful for faithful doctors and modern medicine.  On Wednesday, November 22, I had arthroscopic surgery on my left knee.  This was not a major knee replacement.  But I had this surgery before on my right knee and it took me from 6 months to a year to fully recover.  This time my left knee had failed worse before surgery than my right knee did before the previous surgery. However, after surgery this time, I was able to be active and out of the house each day.  I even went fishing on Monday after the Wednesday surgery (and caught a few fish).  So, I am thankful for our local hospital, and for God’s gifts in modern medicine.  I wrote the last few weeks about our culture crumbling.  But I am thankful for all who continue to faithfully serve God and who serve each of us on a daily basis with their chosen professions and jobs.  I’m thankful for doctors and nurses, for honest businessmen and for those who work hard in government offices to help others.  I’m thankful for faithful teachers, for office managers, and those picking up our trash.  God blesses us with other people in our lives who serve faithfully and honestly. And I am thankful.

 

I am thankful for the grace of God when unexpected trials happen.  This past Tuesday, November 28, five local Lutheran pastors were driving to the Kenai peninsula for an early morning meeting.  As they left Potters Marsh and were driving along Turnagain Arm they hit a patch of black ice and ended up colliding with the rock cliff across the highway.  Two pastors ended up being treated at the hospital and released, but no one received life-threatening injuries.  Today I am thankful there was no on-coming traffic, that there were faithful first responders, and that my friends and God’s servants are safe.  God is good and gracious, and I am grateful.

 

I am thankful for the grace of God seen in worship.  On Sunday, November 26, God acted in the baptism of Remington Nelsen.  What a joy to see God reach down and call a child to His eternal family! But God is present every time two or three gather in His name.  So I give thanks!

 

I’m thankful for family.  In the midst of preparing for a busy Thanksgiving Day our new son-in-law to be, Aaron Smith, put up new shelves in the little space under our stairway.  This cramped space that had stored a “pile” of stuff is now organized and accessible.  It seems like a small thing, but to a neat freak like myself, this new organization touched my heart.  Even better, is having a young man who loves our daughter, who is joining our family, and who wants to help.  God is gracious and I give thanks.

 

I have many more reasons for thanks.  I know others who have recently received good news from doctors.  I visited a young man in prison on Tuesday, and it is a blessing to see how his faith has matured.  We sadly lost a friend to death on Saturday, November 25, but this child of God knew her Lord and is with Him now.  I give thanks for each of these gifts of God.

 

Actually, giving thanks AFTER Thanksgiving Day may be even more meaningful than going around the table on Thanksgiving Day and stating reasons for thanks.  That is a worthwhile exercise, but on Thanksgiving Day thankfulness is expected.  However, we always have reason to thank our Lord.  Right now, like David my heart overflows.  Thank you, Lord!!

 

A Child of God, Overwhelmed by the Grace of God and Giving Him Thanks,

Pastor Jonathan

 

P.S.  Remington Nelsen was baptized on Sunday, November 26.  Here are some pictures.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/0CICLDi3VbSkCkD02

 

P.P.S.  I am thankful that the five pastors traveling to Funny River are safe after their vehicle spun out of control into the rock wall just past Potter Marsh.  Here are pictures of the vehicle.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/hczPTqCj9vrdO0IW2

 

P.P.P.S.  Here are some pictures of our daughter Mary and her fiancĂ©e, Aaron.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/6WWL9gx14zlYUJKm1  Their wedding is December 30 at 2:00 p.m..  The December newsletter will include an invitation to all St. John members. Also, in this family picture, Aaron is on the right standing behind Mary.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/woHZVweoHL3QdtoT2

 

P.P.P.P.S.  (whew – That’s a lot of “PS’s”)  After arthroscopic knee surgery on Wednesday I got to go fishing on Monday.  Here are the two rainbow trout I kept.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/Swvv0hwPjIuW7lS92

 

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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 do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.

 

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Building Churches on Jesus, THE Rock


Dear Members and Friends of St. John, 

 

Do you ever worry about your children, or grandchildren?  The world in which I was raised lived with the fear of nuclear war.  But, at least from my perspective as a child, it seemed that the values of our country were pretty firm.  Now, we live in a world where drugs are rampant and hurting our families, sexual harassment accusations are coming out in all sectors of our society, and citizens have valid concerns about the integrity of our government.  What kind of world will our children and grandchildren inherit?  I confess, I am more than a little concerned.

 

As I have written the last two weeks, I don’t claim to be able to change our world personally.  But, I do know the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings.  Changing the world is beyond my ability, it is God’s hands.  God does promise a new heaven and a new earth after this life.  For this world, however, even though I can’t personally change the world, I can have a positive influence for good on individuals and smaller groups of people.  Two weeks ago I wrote about “Building Lives on Jesus, our Foundation.”  Last week I wrote about “Building our Homes on Jesus, the Rock.”  This week I want you to consider with me, “Building Churches on Jesus, our Rock.”



Please do not think that Christian congregations and churches are perfect.  From the very beginning of Christian history, congregations had conflicts.  (See Acts 5, 6, 15 for examples of  conflict in the early church.)  Christian congregations still have issues today.  You see, churches are God’s plan for sinners who need a savior.  But, Christian are sinners who acknowledge that they need Jesus as their savior, and churches composed of sinful people are not perfect!!

 

God, does have a plan, however, for how churches are to be built so that they are the blessing which our Lord intends for His people.  Very simply, churches are to be built on the truth of God found in Scripture, with Jesus as the center of that truth.  Consider please Ephesians 2:19-22.  19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but 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. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”  So, God’s church is built on “the foundation of the apostles and prophets” - the Bible, and Jesus is the center of God’s revealed word.  It is by finding Jesus in that truth of God that Christians and Christian congregations grow.

 

I’ll add to that thought, what is also implied.  God doesn’t just intend for truthful teaching from Scripture.  He also calls for faithful living.  In Luke 11:28 Jesus tells His followers.  " . . . blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"  (See also James 1:22) 

 

Maybe I can state those points about building Christian congregations in this way.  At the end of each year of Confirmation Classes, I ask students in my class to answer questions that lead to a life plan.  I want them to consider how they will live their faith when they have grown up and moved away from home.  For many, adult life will even mean living in another town or state.  I ask them what their worship habits will be, and I encourage them toward weekly worship.  But I also give them advice on finding a Christian congregation.  I tell my classes, “Look for a church that teaches what God’s Word says, and seeks to live according to God’s Word.”

 

The point is that churches built on God’s word, churches that focus on Jesus’ saving life, death, and resurrection, churches where people are changed by the love of God, these churches can and do impact the world around us.  These churches can be a safe haven in a world of corruption.  Such churches can be places where people who have fallen away and damaged their lives can return to the Lord and grow healthy again.  Faithful churches are places that influence God’s people so that each Christian can make a difference in the lives they touch around them.

 

In a world that seems to be rapidly declining, God’s people can build their Christian congregations so that they build people up in Jesus, even as the world around us is falling apart.  I pray that St. John is faithful in working to be such a Christian congregation, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”

 

A Child of God, Seeking to Build God’s Church on Jesus,

Pastor Jonathan

 

P.S.  DCE INTERN – We have been assigned a DCE Intern by Concordia University Nebraska who will work with Youth and Children at St. John when Jamie leaves to be a full-time mom. 

Ethan Mirly is from Cape Girardeau County, MO.  He has worked at Concordia to receive a double major.  So in addition to his DCE Internship, he has a teaching certificate.  He is currently doing an internship at a Lutheran High School in Metro East St. Louis, teaching PE and Theology.  Ethan played baseball at school and likes the outdoors.  Ethan is looking forward to working with children and youth for our Lord at St. John. 

Pastor Rockey went to Seward, NE, November 17 to meet with Ethan and start Ethan’s relationship with St. John.  Ethan currently plans to arrive in Alaska on January 5 or 6.  Present plans are for his first day in the office to be Tuesday, January 9.  Here are some pictures of Ethan.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/FbRl5AugVUPf7NRA2

 

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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 do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.

 

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Building our HOMES on Jesus, our Rock


Dear Members and Friends of St. John, 

 

In my devotion last week I mentioned a comment from Bible Class where a member of the class had noted that, “The foundation of our society is crumbling.”  Some people might question that assertion.  “Really?  What do you mean society is crumbling?”  Well, on October 1 we witnessed in horror as a man in Las Vegas shot and wounded over 600 people, according to the last count I saw.  On November 6 a man entered First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX, and shot worshipers, killing 26.  This past week, on Tuesday, November 14, a man in California killed four people, wounding nearly a dozen, as he tried, but was prevented from, attacking a school.  That is evidence to me that our culture is changing for the worse.

 

My wife, Kathy, commented, “Obviously, something is different that all these shootings are happening.”  Please consider recent past history.  The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted by Congress in 1942, and in 1954 the words, “one nation, under God,” were added.  Is the Pledge of Allegiance even spoken in schools these days?  Our national motto found on currency is, “In God we trust.”  This motto was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1956.  Ignoring for a moment the arguments about Church and State, these actions show that 50-60 years ago the people of the United States held dearly to faith as the foundation for their lives.  Most would say our country stood on a Judeao-Christian ethic.  But, for many reasons, today public faith is often dis-allowed or rejected.  When the soul of a nation rejects the guidance of God who created and who saved us, we should not be surprised when our culture falls apart.

 

Changing a culture so that it is once again healthy is a big job for an individual, or for a small group of individuals.  God can accomplish such a change, and He does answer prayer.  But, there are other areas where we can be more effective, and in fact, areas where we are more needed.  When our culture is falling apart, it is even more important that we build our homes and families on Jesus, our Rock.

 

Please don’t think this is a new idea.  Throughout Scripture God calls people to live their faith and to teach this faith to children.  In Proverbs 22:6, for example, God’s wisdom teaches us, Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.  (See also Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:18-22, Proverbs, 22:15).  Through Paul, God instructs parents, specifically fathers, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)  Throughout time God has called for homes to be built on faith in His love, and for parents to teach children about Him.

 

How can we build our homes on Jesus, our Rock?  I saw recently where the pastor of King of Kings Lutheran in Wasilla suggested, on this 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, that we need to continue the Reformation, or start a new one.  I hear God saying that this Reformation, or revival even, needs to start in our homes.  The Scripture reading usually read on Reformation Sunday is John 8:31-32.  Here Jesus calls disciples of all time, saying, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  We build homes on Jesus by holding to Jesus’ teachings.

 

So, how do we hold to Jesus’ teaching in order to build our homes on Jesus?  First, we cannot just speak our faith in words.  We need to live our faith in actions.  In 1983, when I became pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, FL, I visited the homes of members.  One home I visited had two recently confirmed daughters who were not attending worship.  The dad said, “I’m not sure why they don’t attend church anymore.  I dropped them off at church every week.”  I asked him, “Did you attend yourself?”  “Well, no” he answered “But I dropped them off.”  Faith is taught best when it is “caught,”  In other words, parents need to set an example for children.  Wives and husbands need to set an example for each other.  When one roommate is regular in worship, it influences the roommate who may not have an active faith.  So, in order for parents to teach children to have Jesus as their Rock, parents need to live this reality.  Regular worship by parents teaches children the importance of God for our lives.  Regular attendance in Sunday School and Bible Class by one spouse, influences the other spouse.  We build our homes on Jesus, our Rock, when we don’t just speak our faith, but live it.  And, it is never to late to start.

 

If you read the Bible verses above, we learn that faith is spoken not just in the place of worship, but also in the home.  We hold to Jesus’ teaching when we read His word and have devotional time in our homes.  We hold to Jesus’ teaching when we pray individually and together in our homes.  When we allow the wisdom and love of God to speak to us in our homes, through His Word and prayer, this helps build our homes on Jesus.

 

Faith is not just private, either.  When our children and spouses and the members of our homes see us living our faith through lives of honesty and integrity in our community, that example teaches faith in Jesus, and builds our homes.  When our children and spouses and the members of our homes see us willing to witness to God’s love with gentle and respectful words of faith, that example also teaches faith in Jesus, and builds our homes. 

 

There is no guarantee that when we live and teach God’s law and His love that our children or spouses or others will necessarily take that faith as their own.  But, it is guaranteed that if we do not live our faith in words and actions, the members of our households are less likely to know Jesus and build their lives on Him.

 

We can debate whether or not the foundation of our society is crumbling.  But it is obvious, now more than in the recent past, that we need to build our homes on Jesus, our Rock.  The job of reforming our culture may seem too big.  But, we know that it is vital that we not only speak, but live our faith in our homes.  "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

 

A Child of God, Seeking to Build My Life and Home on Jesus,

Pastor Jonathan

 

P.S.  This week I have written about “Building Homes on Jesus our Rock.”  Next week I will write about “Building Churches on Jesus our Rock.”

 

P.P.S.  On Sunday, November 5, We had a baptism for Carl James Button.  Here are a couple of pictures.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/Dcq8TQ02be0XNA5E3

 

P.P.P.S.  On Monday, November 13, I went ice fishing for the first time this year with grandchildren Emma and Henry.  There was a lot of movement of poles when the fish weren’t biting, and a lot of watching poles with no reaction while the fish were biting.  However, we did catch one fish.  Here are some pictures.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/lrJsBkCkle2R3lTv1

 

 

 

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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 do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.

 

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