Monday, June 26, 2017

A Lesson of Thanks from a Friend

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,

Recently my wife sent me a text message with the statement, “We are really blessed.”  Kathy was thanking God for His blessings to our family.  Actually, people don’t always remember to thank God for His goodness in our lives.  We can expect good things to happen.  So, when we receive blessings it is not uncommon to forget to say “Thank you.”  Perhaps this truth touches a place in your heart.

Actually, God’s children are called to be thankful at all times, not just when life goes well, but even in times of challenges and set-backs.  St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonika, 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

So, when your car last broke down did you thank God, or did another kind of word escape your lips?  When you stubbed your toe, or hit your hand with a hammer, were the thoughts of your heart thanks?  It might be even easier to see our shortcomings before our righteous Lord in this situation.  It is hard to give thanks when we are facing pain and loss.

There is a reason we can thank the Lord at all times.  Psalm 118:1 says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  God is good and His love blesses our lives forever, even, and perhaps especially, when we face the trials of life.  Even when our troubles are caused by our own weakness or sin, God is there to forgive us for the sake of Jesus.  . . . he is good; his love endures forever.”  Even when we face the ultimate defeat of death, God saves for eternal life those who believe in Jesus.  . . . he is good; his love endures forever.” 

Perhaps this idea of thanking God all the time makes sense to us in our minds, but when our car backs into another car, we may still have trouble immediately remembering the goodness of God.   And the words that escape our mouths are probably not thanks.

St. John conducted an experiment this year and held Family Camp in place of our traditional Vacation Bible School.  I attended and watched about 50 people gather and enjoy the fun of camping as families and friends.  What I also saw was parents and children learning about God’s love together, rather than in separate classrooms.  For those who attended, Family Camp was a real blessing.

Family Camp was open to all members of St. John and one of those who chose to attend was St. John member James “Bim” Hoylman.  You may know Bim.  He worked for years as a bagger at Carrs-Safeway.  About 5 years ago Bim was hit by a car in the parking lot one day while working and he was severely injured.  Bim still suffers pain from the bones that were injured and broken.

Bim needed some help to attend Family Camp so he slept in my tent and I cooked our meals.  We explored the lake together and attended Bible Times as a “family.”  Bim has some challenges in life, but he can also teach us all some lessons of faith.  One lesson I learned from Bim that weekend of camping was the lesson of thanks.  He often spoke his prayers to God out loud, and when I was with Bim they were always prayers of thanks.  After He asked me to pray for our meal, Bim chimed in, “Thank you, Lord, for our food and the fellowship of this camping trip.”  As we went to bed Bim prayed our loud, “Thank you, Lord, for today and for your love.”  As we finished Bible Study Bim spoke a spontaneous prayer out loud.  “Thank you Lord for your love, and for Jamie who put together this camp.”  As we stood looking out at the lake Bim prayed, “Thank you Lord for today and for this fun trip.” 

There are many reasons that Bim could complain.  He still talks about the chronic pain he has from his injuries.  But when I was with Bim on this trip I heard him, time and again, talk personally with God as His friend and Lord.  On this trip I never heard Bim tell God of his trials.  I only heard words of thanks.  There is a famous phrase in Isaiah 11 about the how the world is affected by coming of the promised Messiah.  Isaiah writes, “ . . . and a little child will lead them.”  (Isaiah 11:6 b) Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from the thankful heart of Bim.

Can you look at your life like my wife did, and considering God’s blessings, can you also say, “We are really blessed.”?  In the midst of the trials of life can you echo the words of Bim, “Thank you, Lord.”?  “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” 

A Child of God, Thankful for the Lessons of a Friend,

Pastor Jonathan

P.S.  Here are some pictures from the baptism on Sunday of Everett Gogert, infant son of Lucas and Martha Gogert, grandson of St. John members Dave and Carla Gogert and Richard and Donna Firmstone.  and


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.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Learning God's Love Through the Trials of Life . . . And Fishing!

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,

Recently my fishing adventures have been more fishing than catching.  I have been on four trips this year seeking to catch a king salmon, but so far neither I nor anyone in my boat have caught one king.  I might not even have had a bite!  Perhaps a series of texts between my wife, and I capture fishing so far this year.  Kathy sent me a text message on June 5 asking for a “Fishing Update?”  My first set of messages read, “Cold, rainy, windy, flat tire, No Fish.” 

That message was sent after the trip I took to the Deska River with my daughter, Mary, and our good friend, Dave Nufer.  While fishing on that day we saw about 50 boats and watched only 4 of those boats actually catch a fish.  But, we were not among the four boats doing the catching.  Some people have asked me, “Why would you want to sit in the cold and wind and rain for hours not catching any fish?”  In fact, Kathy herself replied to my text with her own, “Not fun!”

I can understand that there are people who might not have enjoyed that trip.  However, the reply I sent to Kathy had a different tone. “Had fun; Laughed a lot; Helped a family that was stuck; Left boat at Diversified for new tires and bearing grease.”

We didn’t have to catch fish to have fun.  Actually, even on that cold, windy, rainy day we enjoyed the outdoors.  We saw wildlife.  We helped some others.  We enjoyed one another’s company and we laughed A LOT.  There is a reason my hobby is called “fishing” and not “catching.”  But, if you can learn and enjoy from the fishing part of this exercise, then any fish caught are a bonus, and those fish can even be seen as a gift from God.  If you can enjoy the journey, then the destination might even be more sweet.

In a way fishing can be a picture of our Christian life.  At first being a child of God sounds like an easy choice, a “no-brainer.”  The All-Powerful Lord and Creator of the World loves us.  He sent His Son to pay the price for our sin so that, by believing in Jesus, we might live with Him in heaven, eternally.  God calls us to follow Jesus through a life of faith, and obedience, and love.  What can go wrong when we follow the All Powerful God who loves us enough to die for us?  What can go wrong when our end is heaven?

But, even though God loves us (John 3:16-17, 1 John 4:7-10), and even though Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), following Jesus can be a difficult journey.  Time and again Jesus warns and teaches His disciples that when we follow Him we will face trials like he faced.  Consider the words of Jesus in John 16:33, I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." 

Or, consider also the experience and teaching of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.  “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.  The life of a Christian is not just eternal life in heaven.  The journey to heaven goes through the wilderness of this world, a wilderness that is full of failure, pain, and loss.  (See also Romans 5:1-5, 2 Corinthians 2:8-10, etc.)  Just like people ask me about fishing, some have asked about following Jesus, “Why would anyone want the trouble?”

Actually, the answer to why one would follow Jesus can take a lifetime to explain.  But, at the risk of oversimplifying the answer, I would tell you three reasons to follow our Lord in faith, in obedience, and in love.  First, life is full of difficulty whether one follows Jesus or not.  Don’t you want the God who loves you to be with you through the trials of life?  Second, the end of the journey is worth the trials we face.  Knowing that Jesus has “overcome the world” and has heaven waiting, makes it worthwhile to endure the troubles of following Jesus.  Finally, and practically, in this world, there are lessons to be learned and joys to be experienced even in life’s trials.  So, I follow Jesus trusting Him to teach me, to forgive me, and to save me.  I pray you will do the same.

On June 5th, though we did not catch any fish, we did spend time with good friends and family.  That in itself is worthwhile.  We were able to share God’s love by helping a family in need.  And, I did prepare my boat for more adventures by getting new tires, AND new bearings on my trailer.  Maybe we will catch a king salmon later this year.  When you can enjoy and learn from the journey, then the destination is even more sweet!

A Child of God, Learning God’s Love Through the Trials of Life . . . and Fishing,

Pastor Jonathan

P.S.  Here are some pictures from our Family Camp held at Eklutna Lake Camp, June 16-18.


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.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Lord Provides

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,

It is a statement of faith on the lips of God’s people that “The Lord provides.”  Our God freely gives what we need to live.  He provides help in time of need.  The Lord is generous with forgiveness and salvation to people who are sinful and lost without His mercy.  “The Lord provides.”  But, you know as well as I do that it is one thing to speak these words of faith, and another thing to actually trust God’s providing. It is one thing to say, “The Lord provides,” but another thing to live out that faith and that trust. 

I feel a need to share with you God’s provision of the last week or two.  On Wednesday, June 7, as I was preparing for worship I wondered who would play piano for worship that night.  Our normal musician, Sara, was out of town.  I had also received a message that one of our other musicians, Kimberly, could not play the following week.  (Now I realize I did not totally understand that message.)  I called Melanie who plays the piano for worship to see if she was playing that evening.  Melanie told me she hadn’t been contacted and wasn’t planning to play.  However, Melanie said she would call Lorraine and see if she was playing.  We have held worship before with only my loud voice leading the singing, but a piano is soooo much better than my singing.  At one point, however, I was preparing for worship without instrumental leadership.  So, what happened on Wednesday evening?  Both Kimberly (whom Sara had called) and Lorraine (whom Melanie had called) showed up ready to play.  Instead of one musician, or none, we had TWO.  “The Lord provides!”

On Saturday, June 10, St. John again offered a free picnic for the people of Palmer after the Colony Days Parade.  The last couple of years we have fed about 1500 people.  We thought were ready.  All the food was arranged for and purchased.  Volunteers were lined up to cook and to serve, to set up and to take down.  Publicity was printed in the local newspaper.  We were expecting another big crowd, somewhat contingent on the weather.  Then on the Thursday, before the picnic, we had a surprise.  The grill we have used for 10 years to cook the hamburgers and hot dogs for the picnic, and which we were planning to use again this year, was no longer available.  How do you cook for 1500 people without a grill, a LARGE grill?  Ron Svedin who had previously provided the grill frantically looked for another.  But Ron and Ann Marie were leaving town on Thursday night at the birth of a new grandbaby.  As he left town Ron thought he had some possibilities lined up, but was not sure.  So, the pastor and cooks were scrambling for other options.  However, on Friday, instead of one large grill, or none (what a disaster that would be), we had TWO large grills shared with St. John by local businesses.  “The Lord provides!”

This year my wife and I had a personal example of God’s provision.  I plant a garden every year.  The last few years, with warm Spring-times, I had planted around the middle of May.  This year with a busy schedule, and the cold, and the wind, and the rain, I did not get to plant until June 4.  Yet, on Saturday, June 3, Kathy and I had a pleasant surprise.  Last year’s spinach had gone to seed at the end of the year.  So, on Saturday, before I plowed the garden with the roto-tiller, I picked “volunteer” spinach – 2 sinks full.  This was young, tender, tasty spinach.  What great salads it made!  I didn’t plant this spinach, but we did harvest and eat it.  We saw this healthy and tasty food as a gift from God.  I called it the “firstfruits” because it came before anything else was even planted.  “The Lord provides!”

There is a principal called “firstfuits giving” in Christian stewardship, Christian management of the resources the Lord gives us.  In the Old Testament the people were commanded to take from the first crop that came up each year and give an offering to the Lord.  Now, after a long winter since the previous year’s harvest, food stores might be low.  The first fruits of the field would provide for the farmer until the main crop was harvested.  But what if the main crop was a failure?  The farmer did still have the first fruits to live on.  Yet, God’s people were told to give from this precious resource to the Lord.  We read in Deuteronomy 26:2, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name.”   (Also read, Exodus 23:19, Deuteronomy 26:8-10, Proverbs 3:9, etc.)

What this sacrificial offering did was teach the people of God that “The Lord provides!”  When they gave from this precious first harvest they had to trust God would provide the rest of what they needed.  And God did provide.  However, this offering did more than just grow faith that God provides what His people need.  Ultimately, learning that God provides in all situations of life also led the people to love the Lord.

God continues to call His people today to give to His work with cheerful, proportionate, sacrificial, first fruits offering.  The main reason for this giving is not, first of all, to provide for the work of the Lord.  Though, such offerings are part of God’s plan to share His love.  Offerings from God’s people, first of all, teach faith that God does provide, and such offerings also help us to love Him.

Life is full of trials and times that our resources do not seem to meet what we need to face our difficulties and failures.  But, the Lord does provide.  Ultimately, God provides His own Son!  As we are told in Romans 8,

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?” (Romans 8:31-32)

I pray that you may see the providing hand of the Lord in your life.  I pray that you may grow in faith and love for God.  And I pray that you may respond to the grace of God with gifts of faith which share God’s providing and saving love with others.

A Child of God, Thankful for the Provision of God’s Love,

Pastor Jonathan

P.S.  Here are some pictures from our baptisms Sunday.

P.P.S.  THANKS, to Gordy from Humdingers’ Pizza and Butch from F & E Construction who provided the grills to cook for the picnic.


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.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Too Busy NOT to Pray

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,

This calendar year, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the nailing of 95 theses (statements for debate) to a church door in the university town of Wittenberg, Germany, by a Roman Catholic priest and professor.  This seemingly innocuous act on October 31, 1517, began a chain of events we know as The Reformation.  This cataclysmic movement pointed people back to God’s grace as the way our Lord saves sinful people through faith in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, instead of being saved through their own good deeds.  The Reformation pointed people to Scripture for truth and authority, and changed the church and political landscape of the world for all time.

The man responsible for stubbornly standing up for what he read to be the truth of God’s word is Dr. Martin Luther.  (This Luther is not the important 20th century American civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King.  This Dr. Martin Luther lived in eastern Germany from 1483 to 1546.)  Like all of us, Luther had God given gifts.  He also many personal flaws and struggles.

Luther was prolific.  I have an “American Edition” of “Luther’s Works” on the shelf in my office.  There are 56 volumes in this set.  But the Weimar, or German edition, of Luther’s Works contains 150 volumes!  One of the many quotations attributed to Luther is, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”  Obviously, Luther gave advice based on his own experience.

Today I would like the busy people of 2017 America, and Alaska, and God’s Christian people at St. John, to consider another quotation from Luther.  Dr. Luther is attributed with saying, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”  You may be shocked.  Three hours in prayer?  How can anyone find that much time praying, especially a busy person.  But remember, Luther was busy enough to write 150 books which others still consider worthy of reading today.  He was busy, but felt a need to start his day with His Lord in fervent prayer.

I share this Luther saying with you because I am often busy.  On Tuesday, June 6, I was at the gym with my trainer, Doug.  But, on that day I had to stick to my schedule with him and not go over our allotted time.  I had a full calendar following my workout.  He asked about my schedule and said, “You’re a busy man.  I guess summer is your busy time and winter let’s up.”  I told him that, “Summer is sort of my slack time.”  However, my schedule is not slack right now.

I will also share with you that I also try to follow Luther’s advice on the beginning of my day.  No, I can seldom remember praying for 3 hours.  But I do begin each day reading God’s Word, reading some other devotions, and bringing the praise and concern of my heart to my Lord in prayer.  I begin each day in this way not necessarily because of Luther’s words.  I spend time with my Lord each day because I believe what God tells me about His Word.  Please note the words below in italics.

  • “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

  • “14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

  • “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)

As I prepare for a busy day, I need faith.  I need the assurance of God’s forgiveness and salvation in my life.  I need teaching and correcting and training.  Therefore, prior to beginning my tasks each day, I let my Lord speak to me and answer the concerns of my heart.

Actually, Luther’s 3 hours of prayer is not necessarily unheard of.  When I was pastor in Jacksonville, FL, I knew a disabled woman in another congregation.  She told me that because she could no longer work, she considered prayer to be her vocation.  Her goal was to spend the 8 hours of a normal workday praying for others.  Jesus himself is often found in long periods of prayer throughout the gospels. (e.g.  Mark 1:35, Matthew 14:23, Luke 22:39-41, John 17)  If the Son of God spent time in prayer, why would I think that I don’t also need that time?

In this year of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of The Reformation I encourage you to take a lesson from Dr. Martin Luther.  Begin your day with the Lord, in His word and in prayer.  God will bless and strengthen you for the busy-ness and important tasks ahead.

A Child of God, Needing God’s Help to Face a Busy Day,

Pastor Jonathan

P.S.  First Fruits – Here are a few pictures of spinach I harvested on Saturday, June 3.  Last year’s spinach went to seed at the end of the year.  Kathy and I have enjoyed a number of salads with this gift of God we did not plant!


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.