Friday, February 24, 2017

Lent - Intentionally Working to Grow in God's Grace

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


Most people, even those who are not active Christians, know that this coming Wednesday, March 1, is Ash Wednesday.  People know about Ash Wednesday because the celebrations around the world of Mardis Gras, or Fat Tuesday, are so well-known.  Mardis Gras always occurs the day before the church season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday.


However, as Ash Wednesday begins the church season of Lent, I find that the whole idea of Lent is somewhat of a mystery to people.  Some might ask, “What is so special about Lent?”  It is not the season of Lent which is so special.  What is special is that the Almighty God gave His Son for us.  During this season we gaze on the awe-ful suffering and death of the Son of God Himself.  We are astounded at the sacrifice of love that takes away our sin.  On Easter God’s Son rises from the dead and defeats all our enemies of Satan and sin and death.  This sacrificial suffering and death of Jesus and His victorious resurrection is the most special, most important event in history!  That is what makes Lent special.


Yet, today this world-saving gift of Jesus’ dying and rising is often remembered with eggs, with chocolate, and with bunnies.  The danger is real that the greatest event in history could be trivialized and even forgotten.


Very simply, the bottom line is that Lent is intended as a time of repentance, as a time of preparation for the coming celebration of Jesus’ Easter victory. 


Therefore, since Christians recognize the struggle of faith we have, churches around the world have used the season of Lent to remember and to observe the great love, the ultimate sacrifice, and the joyful victory of our Lord.  That effort to remember and celebrate the sacrificial love of Jesus is why St. John and other churches celebrate Lent with extra worship services. 


The need to remember and grow in the love of Jesus is also why individual Christians sometimes take personal steps to remind themselves of God’s saving love.  Since it is our sin that made Jesus’ death necessary Lent becomes a time of repentance.  Repentance is a common theme in Scripture and from our Lord Jesus Himself.  Jesus begins His ministry with a call to repentance.  Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matthew 4:17) 


Repentance is not just a feeling of sorrow over sins committed against God and others.  To repent means to change, or to turn.  We turn from following our sinful desires and turn toward the grace of God and serving Him.  People admit their failings to God and to themselves.  They turn to God for strength to live holy lives. 


During this ‘penitential’ season some people make the personal commitment to give up something they like or enjoy, such as coffee, or desserts, or even chocolate.  This may seem like a small sacrifice.  Compared to Jesus’ enormous sacrifice, our small acts of self-denial pale by comparison.  But, every time someone might have enjoyed that daily indulgence and they choose not to indulge, these Christians hope to be reminded of the greater sacrifice of Jesus.  They pray God strengthens them to know His love and to live for Him.


My personal plan this year, as in many years past, is to give up TV.  However, I don’t just plan to give something up.  I also plan to do something positive.  I plan to spend the time I would have watched TV by listening to good music and reading some good books.  It is not that I think these personal actions make me more holy.  But, I do hope to be more mindful of the sacrifice God has given for me in Jesus.


I encourage each of you to make an effort to observe Lent.  Take advantage of the extra worship and fellowship opportunities.  Take time to focus on the amazing love that led Jesus to suffer and die for our sins.  Prepare yourself for the joyful celebration of Easter. 


I pray that this Lent you again grow in knowing God’s amazing love and grow in your relationship with Him.


Yours in Christ, Intentionally Working to Grow in God’s Grace,

Pastor Rockey


P.S.  Our Lenten schedules are listed below.  We REALLY need some folks to sign up for Lenten Meals!


P.P.S.  Here are some pictures from the Confirmation Retreat last weekend at Victory Bible Camp.


P.P.P.S  Here are pictures from Monday fishing at a favorite lake.







Friday, February 17, 2017

Acknowledging and Confessing Jesus in My Local Congregation

Dear Fellow Children of God


Last Sunday, February 12, six new families joined St. John during our worship services.  (A seventh family who is joining St. John was out of town.) These six families stood in front of the congregation and stated that they believe in Jesus as their Savior, that they want to serve Him with their lives, and that they want to serve Him in this congregation.


In some ways, joining a Christian congregation is not so unusual an occurrence.  For centuries and millennia people have made similar statements of their belief in Jesus as their Savior and have committed to serving Him with their lives.  For centuries and millennia individual Christians have made similar statements of their belief in Jesus as their Savior and have committed to serving Him in local Christian churches. 


However, people today often seem hesitant to make the commitment of joining a congregation.  Perhaps modern Americans are so busy that they feel they don’t need or don’t want one more commitment.  Perhaps people have seen troubles in organized religion and don’t want those troubles complicating their lives.  Possibly people are afraid that a church might ask for or expect money or time.  Whatever the reason, it is not uncommon today that people may attend a Christian congregation, but when it comes to joining, that is a step they are hesitant to take.


In one way, this hesitancy to join isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  In the past people may have joined churches not thinking of the commitment they were making to our Lord and to that local church.  So today, when people know there is commitment expected and still join a congregation, perhaps that membership means more than it meant for some in the past.  I remember one current member of our congregation who attended for many years before she decided to officially join.  But, when she did join, she shared her joy at her commitment to Jesus and her commitment to His work in this place.


Why would someone want to join a Christian congregation anyway?  Actually, scripture never talks of ‘joining’ a church.  Jesus calls his followers to make ‘disciples’, not members.  But, there are reasons that Christian discipleship has taken the form of congregational membership.  These reasons are found in part in the 3 Bible verses below.


In 2 Corinthians 5:15 St. Paul writes, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”  This verse says that, because Jesus died and rose for me, I want to live for Him.  Considering the commitment and sacrifice of Jesus, I should not be afraid of commitment to Him, but should want to serve Him in His Church.


In Romans 1:16 we read, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes . . .”   Because I believe that Jesus is my Savior from sin, and because I believe that God saves me for eternal life in heaven and for a life of joy and peace in this life, I am thankful to God.  I am not ashamed or afraid of the commitment that comes along with receiving this gift from God.


Jesus teaches us about God’s continual, protecting love for us in Matthew 10:29-32.  And then Jesus teaches about what our response should be. “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 32 Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”  Jesus calls us to acknowledge God before others.  One way the Christian church has traditionally chosen to express that acknowledgment is through publicly stating our faith by joining a local Christian church.


But, acknowledging Jesus is never just having our names on the membership book of a local church.  Acknowledging Jesus means living for Him, speaking of Him, and serving Him.  Acknowledging Jesus means that we work with other Christians to do the work of God’s kingdom which Jesus has given His people to do.


So, if you are a Christian, that means that you believe that Jesus lived and died to take away your sins.  If you are a Christian, that means that you believe that Jesus rose to win victory over sin and death for you.  When you are a Christian you believe that Jesus is your Lord and that He is your Savior.  Therefore, how are you putting your faith into action?  How are you living for Jesus?  How are you acknowledging Jesus to others? 


A Child of God, Acknowledging and Confessing Jesus in my Local Christian Congregation,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  On Sunday, February 12, we rejoiced in the baptism of Kaiah Ann Richards.  Here are a couple of pictures.  However, Kaiah entered the hospital later that afternoon with RSV, and now has pneumonia.  Please keep Kaiah in your prayers.





P. P. S.  Welcome new members of St. John!  On Sunday, February 12, six new families were received at St. John by adult confirmation, by transfer, and by re-affirmation of faith.  Welcome

·         Chris and Kitty Kasper,

·         Scott Manke,

·         Josh and Becky Nance and children Jack and Josie,

·         Christine Peake,

·         Sue Toth, and

·         John and Angie Werner.

·         Also being received are Ryan and Carrie Trivithick.  They were in New Zealand on February 12.


P.P.P.S.  This past Monday, February 13, I went fishing with St. John member Kym Miller, and St. John friend, Don Welty.  Here are the fish we kept.




P.P.P.P.S  FINALLY, After supper on Thursday night my wife, Kathy, read me an article by another pastor entitled, “Boring Church Services.”  I thought this article was worth sharing.





Thursday, February 9, 2017

Learning My Shortcomings . . . But Seeking to Serve My Lord!

Dear Fellow Children of God


If you read the last verse of the book of Judges you may think that this verse is talking about our western world today.  The English Standard Version of the Bible translates this verse as, “In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 25:21) If there were 1 million or more Israelites in Canaan, and we are told that 600,000 men and their families were part of the Exodus, then that means that each person determined right and wrong for themselves.  Do you see how over one million versions of what is right and true can lead to confusion and disagreement? 


Today the estimates are that there are 325 million people in the U.S.   It often seems like every person in our country has his or her own definition of right and wrong.  Even Christians can disagree.  No wonder our nation, and our churches, can be so divided!


My wife has lamented at times, “Why, if I disagree with someone, do we automatically have to stop talking?  Why in today’s world can’t we discuss differences?”  Personally, I have found that if I disagree with someone, but if we can find an area of agreement, we can start at that area of agreement and then proceed to discuss even disagreements.  However, sometimes it is difficult to find that lowest common denominator.  My personal hope when discussing a difficult topic with someone is that the individual might agree with me that the Bible is the Word of God Himself, and gives us the truth of God.  (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  If we agree that God’s Word speaks truth, then we can probably at least discuss any issue, even if we end up agreeing to disagree in the end.


The gospel reading in most traditional churches for this Sunday, February 12, will be Matthew 5:21-37.  We will hear Jesus speak in The Sermon on the Mount about God’s standards for behavior in regard to loving one another, in regard to sexual behavior, and in regard to how we talk.  Actually, Jesus is teaching people about God’s ultimate demands concerning three of the Ten Commandments.  If we listen to what Jesus says, we will find that God sets His standard high.  God’s standard is one of perfection, of sinless hearts and actions.  Unfortunately, we all fall short of God’s calling as His children.


One of my daily devotions is from Dr. Dale Meyer, President of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  His devotion for Thursday spoke to this Sunday’s Gospel lesson.  I find that preparation ahead of time can help in understanding what we discuss or study on Sunday.  So, for all who will hear Matthew 5:21-37 read this Sunday, I share Dale’s thoughts.  Perhaps these thoughts can prepare your hearts and minds to hear these challenging words of our Lord.


Claiming to be Christian carries responsibilities, and a chief duty is to obey the words of Jesus. St. Paul says that grace brings about “the obedience of faith” and St. Peter says Christians are people “having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth” (Romans 1:5; 1 Peter 1:22). However, we often follow our impulses and rationalize our disobedience.  

If you go to church Sunday… Why go? It’s so irrelevant! But if you go, here are some words that we would have liked Jesus to say. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ You haven’t murdered, so you’re good with God. I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother should post his anger on Twitter and Facebook. Whoever insults his brother should carry a grudge. And whoever says, ‘You fool’ should be celebrated for courage. Don’t come to terms quickly with your adversary, lest your anger turn into bitterness so deep-seated in your soul that it may be impossible to repair the damage your anger has done. Truly I say to you, go with your impulse and do not fear being handed over to the Judge.”

Jesus didn’t say that, did He? You can review His real words in Matthew 5:21-26, part of Sunday’s Gospel reading. Anger, grudges, slamming others on social media, going public when something should be private… Washington D.C. is putting the worst on display, further degrading our life together.  Sin multiplies sin. People who follow Jesus are different. The Spirit takes His words down into our being and changes us. Or does it? If it hasn’t [changed you ]yet, His word can. Who says church is irrelevant? It’s not, if you come in “the obedience of faith.”


Living as a child of God is wonderfully affirming because God loved us enough to send His Son, Jesus, to live and to die and to rise for us.  In love God saves us from sin and death and judgment through Jesus. 


But, because God loves us enough to send His Son, our lives should be different.  We should live lives that are more holy and obedient than if we did not know God’s love.  Our love for God should lead us to seek to live in obedience to His law.  God’s law calls us to love our Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind.  God’s law calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  (Mark 12:30-31) 


If we can agree that Jesus speaks the word of God, we can find ways to discuss matters about which we might have disagreement.  Together, as God’s children hear and follow His word and His teachings, our lives will be different and will make a difference in this world for righteousness and for good. 


Prepare to be challenged as you hear Jesus speak this Sunday.


A Child of God, Learning my Shortcomings, yet Seeking to Serve My Savior,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  On Sunday, February 5, we rejoiced in the baptism of Jack and Josie Nance.  Here are a couple of pictures.




P.P.S.  This past Monday, February 6, was a beautiful winter day and produced some good fun ice fishing with friend and St. John member, Herman Griese.  Here are some pictures from our fishing trip.  We even threw back many, many 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.