Saturday, September 30, 2017

Where Do I Find Health?

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


I have been in Florida for the celebration of my dad’s 90th birthday.  We had a nice turnout of family and friends who gathered on Saturday afternoon, September 23, to celebrate with him.  One of my dad’s friends is Larry Christian, who worked with him at General Electric and has been his financial advisor with Raymond James for a number of years.  Larry highly respects my dad and asked us if he could help with the costs of the party.  At Dad’s party I thanked Larry for his help.  He replied, “I just wanted to see how a man makes it to 90 years old like your dad did.  What I see is a loving family and regular exercise.”  I replied, “My dad’s faith life is a big part of his health too.”


For those who don’t know, my mom and dad had 5 children.  My mom passed away about 6 years ago, but all five children were present at Dad’s party, along with many grandchildren and great grandchildren.  My dad has also exercised and worked out regularly for over 20 years.  For the last few years when I have visited I have gone with him on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings at 5:00 a.m. to the local gym where he does some cardio work and lifts weights each visit.  Larry was seeing those obvious blessings of family and physical health.


Actually, Larry had previously worked with my dad and also knew his faith, not so much from his words but more so from his life.  My dad has led his family in regular worship and participation in our local Lutheran Christian congregation.  People around my dad saw his faith in how he lived, and how he worked.


What does give a person good health?  It would be presumptuous to say there is one answer to that question about health.  But I believe my dad has found some answers to health that even doctors would agree with.  Physical health, social health, and spiritual health lead a person to overall health. 


In this world, damaged by sin, there is no absolute answer to health.  Just because a person takes care of themselves does not necessarily mean they will live a long life.  Accidents happen.  Illnesses like cancer and heart disease occur.  Relationship struggles happen.  But, when we choose healthy lifestyles it helps us to meet those challenges of life.


I am also convinced that taking care of our relationship with God then gives direction in other areas of healthy living.  After Jesus talked to the people of His day about length of life and about physical provision, He then told those people, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)


Our life is a gift from God who created us, who sustains us, and who saves us through faith in Jesus for eternity.  Taking care of a healthy relationship with our Heavenly Father gives us health and priorities as we face the trials of life.  In fact, as Jesus says, if we first seek God, He takes care of the rest.  That care happens through the difficulties of life in this world.  That care of God happens when we have made some bad choices, but God reaches out in grace and forgiveness through Jesus to restore us.  That care and love of God is given eternally by our gracious Lord.


So, how do I grow health in my life?  We need to ask ourselves this question because disaster, illness, and death are all around us and are part of life.  From my dad’s long life I believe he found his answer in these words of Jesus.  “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you as well.”


May your relationship with God bring you spiritual, relational, and physical health.


A Child of God, Seeking Health through My relationship with God,

Pastor Jonathan



P.S.  Here are some pictures from the celebration of my dad’s 90th birthday in FL.






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, September 20, 2017

Weathering Life's Storms in the Refuge of God's Church

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,

Perhaps you have been following this year’s parade of hurricanes.  I read somewhere that there had recently been a record amount of time between large hurricanes hitting the U.S. mainland.  However, 2017 seems to have made up for the recent lack of storms.  First Harvey drenched Texas with over 50” of rain in some places.  Then Irma lashed at the Caribbean and made its way up the Florida peninsula and into the southeast US with wind and rain and destruction.  Next Jose threatened the US, specifically the upper northeast, bringing wind and rain to New York and surrounding areas.  Now Maria brings destruction to Puerto Rico and to who knows where else.

You may know that I am currently in Florida to celebrate my dad’s 90th birthday this week.  So, having flown into Orlando, and then driving up to Gainesville, I got to see some of the results of Hurricane Irma a week after it hit.  In some ways central and northern Florida seem to have been spared major damage.  I have family in those areas.  Some were without power for a time.  Others lost trees and shingles.  Thankfully, no one was in any danger.

However, even in North Florida where the storm had weakened when it hit, the results of Hurricane Irma linger.  There are still piles of trees and brush along roads and highways for crews to pick up.  Many of the swamps have become lakes.  My dad lives on a golf course that used to have 3 little ponds.  Each of those ponds have swelled so that each pond now covers part of 3 different holes and a golfer cannot walk from one hole to another.  There have been pumps diverting the water since I arrived on Monday.  I can see the water flowing from the pumps, but I have yet to see any result in how high the water appears.

So, how do you weather the storms of life?  It seems that we have seen trials and tribulations more than normal in recent days.  Sunday, September 17, David Grosz shared in worship about his fight with lymphoma.  Our community is still reeling from the recent tragic fire deaths of 5 young girls in their home.  And, as pastor I know of many other major struggles being faced by members and friends of our congregation.  Sometimes life’s storms feel overwhelming, beyond our ability to stand.  Life can seem like this year’s storm season with storm after storm lashing at the lives of God’s people.  How do you weather the storms of life?

In worship last Sunday David shared two main lessons he learned as he suffered through his illness and treatment.  First, David spoke from experience that, in spite of the ravages of illness that come, God is faithful.  God keeps His promises of love.  No matter the outcome, God is with us.  We have all heard those words.  I thank David that he was willing to share the truth of God’s presence as he has personally weathered the storm of lymphoma with the Lord’s promises and presence.

Second, David shared how God’s church provided support and comfort and help to him and his family during their storm.  David thanked us for our prayers, visits, meals, and other help given.  Being part of a Christian congregation can be a real place of refuge through the storms of life!

Do you remember the account of Jesus and His disciples as they made their way in a boat across the Sea of Galilee?  We are told in Matthew 8: 24, “Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.”  Without warning!!”  That sounds like our lives.  Even though we live in a world ravaged by sin, we don’t expect the diagnoses, the tragedies, the losses, the illnesses, the betrayals, and the struggles.  Sometimes it does seem like Jesus is asleep while we suffer.  But, He is there, present with us as life batters us with its wind and waves.

Did you know that many times the church is pictured as the boat which God provides to help His people ride out the storms of life?  In acolyte classes our young people learn that even some of the names of parts of the church have nautical background.  The storms of life will come, often unexpectedly and with horrible fury.  But God gives His church to help us weather those storms.  Hebrews 10:25 is often understandably quoted to encourage worship attendance.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  But, God also talks in this verse of how His people encourage one another as we see “the day”, or the storms, approaching. 

When we face tragic illnesses, losses, and trials God intends for His church to be a place of relative safety even though the storms of life do rage.  God intends for His Word to assure us of His promised love and salvation.  God’s plan is that through regular worship and fellowship we are encouraged through our tragedies and trials.  God seals us in Jesus for eternal life as we receive His forgiveness in our baptisms and in the Lord’s Supper.  God’s church is that boat that helps us weather the storms of life.

In Gainesville where my dad lives, it will be a while before the brush is picked up and the waters recede and life totally gets back to normal.  Unfortunately, we know the storms of life will come.  Thankfully, God gives His Church as a refuge in the storm to carry us across the sea of life to the shores of eternity.

A Child of God, Weathering Life’s Storms in the Refuge of God’s Church,

Pastor Jonathan

P.S.  In 2007 Kathy and Jamie and I traveled to Israel.  One of the sites we saw showed a boat discovered in the mud of the Sea of Galilee in 1986 during a severe drought.   The boat was dated to the time of Jesus.  Also, many of the characteristics of this boat match the kind of boat that fishermen like Andrew and Peter, James and John, used during Jesus’ day.  Here are some pictures we took of “the Jesus Boat.”

P.P.S.  Here are some pictures of the bounty of our garden picked on final harvest day, 9-16-2017.  The next day we shared much of this at church.

P.P.P.S.  Here are some fish pictures from my last salmon fishing trip of the year.  I threw all these fish back, but the day was beautiful and the outdoors enjoyable -


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, September 13, 2017

Why Did He Have to Die?

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,

In July I bought a new dog.  We had a yellow Labrador retriever, Susitna, from 2000 till September of 2014.  Su was a loving dog who grew as part our family, and lived to go fishing with me.  Su went salmon fishing in the boat, trout fishing in the canoe, stream fishing along various rivers and creeks, and ice-fishing in the winter.  But Su grew old and ill and we had her put down because of her serious health problems.

Even though Kathy tells me she is not an animal person, I personally missed having a dog.  I loved petting other people’s pets.  I sometimes took my daughter’s dog fishing.  But that wasn’t my dog.  Yet, when Kathy and I looked at puppies and thought about bringing one home, we also considered our schedules.  We are often gone for work and travel.  What kind of life is that for a puppy to be home alone.  So, we bought a 5 year old male yellow lab and have named him Mat.  (“Mat-Su”)  In a month and a half Mat has found a home with our family.  And, he loves to go fishing.  When I open the door of the truck he bounces around and jumps into the cab.

However, Mat loves to do something else.  While he doesn’t always eat his dog food, and when he does eat he doesn’t eat much, he does like to pilfer the food that people have. 

On Mat’s first fishing trip, St. John member Kym Miller was along.  Kym was eating a sandwich and didn’t see Mat take the other half of the sandwich from her plastic container. 

Later in August Sara Guhl and her grandson Galen were fishing with me.  I had a can of Vienna sausage to give to the dog as treats. But, when I turned around, the dog had the can of sausage on the beach and was licking the now empty can.  Later Sara found him eating the salmon eggs we had along for bait.  Finally, Sara had to take my plum, which I had brought as a snack, out of my dog’s mouth.

I was fishing with Aaron Smith, my daughter Mary’s fiancĂ©e.  Aaron had prepared some breakfast burritos and offered me one.  I declined, but in a minute we saw the dog with the burrito in his mouth, plastic wrap and all.

I took Mark Ford fishing in early September and we caught a nice bright salmon full of eggs.  I was curing the eggs in a plastic container in the garage so that I could later use them as bait.  I left the container on my workbench, far enough away from the dog who was on a rope, I thought.  But when I looked outside I found the plastic container in the back yard.  The eggs were gone and there was a pink stain on the garage floor from the cure I was using on the eggs.

This past Monday I took Pastor Tony Schultz fishing with me.  I was having a test in the hospital so I left the dog in the truck with my snacks stuffed under the front seat, thinking Mat couldn’t reach them.  But, when I came out of the hospital, the snack bag was on the front seat of the truck, torn to pieces.  The small sandwich bag that had the tiny pieces of cheese, wrapped in wax, was torn open and empty.  Two of my three apples had teeth marks, and one of the three plums was missing.  When I got home I put the two damaged apples into the dog’s food dish.  Soon I called Kathy. Mat was lying in her kennel, chewing on the apples.  Only a small piece was left.

When I told Kathy of the missing snacks, and she knew of other incidents, she snickered and asked, “Should I say something?  You know, it would be alright with me if we didn’t have any animals.”  But, the truth is, I have grown attached to my dog.  I enjoy spending time with him.  I really enjoy seeing his delight as he jumps in the truck and as he runs along the beach when we go fishing.  So, I try to show him praise for good behavior and love him into our family.  Kathy just smiles and shakes her head.

What does all this have to do with a devotion?  I recently read a story about a little girl who was visiting her grandmother and went to church with her.  It was the girl’s first experience in a worship service.  As the pastor stood up front speaking, he said that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  The little girl leaned over and whispered to her grandmother, but not very softly, “Why did He do that?”  Her grandmother put her finger over her lips to encourage quiet during worship.  But the girl would not stop.  She asked again, more loudly so others could hear, “Why did He have to die?”  The grandmother replied this time with a “Shhh.”  Being her first time in worship and not wanting to be denied, the girl asked loudly enough for everyone to hear, even the pastor, “Why did He have to die?”  The pastor stopped speaking.  He could have offered all sorts of theological explanations to the question.  But the grandmother answered the grand daughter so all could hear, “He died because He loves you so very much.” 

Perhaps you know God’s word from Romans 5.  6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

Someday my dog may learn not to take other people’s food.  Until that time I will try to teach him good behavior and love him into the family.  8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

A Child of God, Learning Patience From our New Pet,

Pastor Jonathan

P.S.  Here are some fish pictures from the trip to the Little Su with Mark Ford.  In a very real way this was a Stephen Ministry outing.

P.P.S.  Here are some veggies picked for supper 9-8-2017.

P.P.P.S.  This flower sprung up in our garden.  We are not sure what kind of flower it is.  A Holly Hock??  (Do you see our new Labrador rooting through the compost pile in the background?)


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, September 6, 2017

Stooping Down for Children Because Jesus Humbled Himself for Us!

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


Like many others, my favorite U.S. president is Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln was not necessarily popular during his time of service.  He faced many trials and much opposition.  But, from what I have read, Lincoln sought to lead this country in the direction he believed to be best, trusting in God’s Word to guide him, and trusting his faith to sustain him.  Many of Lincoln’s famous sayings are actually found in Scripture.


One saying attributed to Lincoln, and to others, talks about how we treat children.  “No Man is so tall as when he stoops to help a child.”  Actually, this is not an exact quotation of Scripture, but does reflect the words and the actions of Jesus.  In Luke 18:15-17 we are told about Jesus,


15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."


In a culture where children were to be seen and not heard, Jesus considered children important.  He even welcomed infants.  Jesus called others to "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”


I am excited that this Sunday we will start our school year schedule for Sunday School.  But, this is more than just learning stories.  Sunday School is about bringing children of all ages to Jesus! 


However, offering a Sunday School program takes effort, commitment, and ultimately love.  It takes time and commitment to choose materials and recruit teachers.  To provide Sunday School it takes time and effort to prepare classrooms and lessons.  To offer Sunday School classes takes patience to listen to and teach children who might be distracted with something else.  Teaching Sunday School takes persistence and perseverance to show up every Sunday so that the children and students can learn in a comfortable setting.  What Lincoln said is true, adults “stoop down” to offer time and effort in order to teach children about Jesus.


Yet, in our fast paced world it can be easy to be worn out by the effort and commitment.  Hopefully, then we remember the greater commitment, the greater sacrifice, and the greater love of Jesus.  Philippians 2 says, 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!


Jesus left the glory and comfort of heaven to take on the poverty and suffering of this world.  Jesus put aside His divine nature to take on human form.  Jesus humbled Himself and “stooped down,” and died, so that we might be raised up, loved, forgiven, and saved.  And, that love of God for us is eternal because Jesus did stoop down to help the children of God.


One more thing!  In addition to the effort of church leaders and teachers, there is another group that must give committed effort for children to learn in Sunday School.  That group is the parents and grandparents of children.  Getting kids to Sunday School is not always easy.  But, my wife, Kathy has another way of putting this truth.  This Sunday she and Dave Nufer will begin teaching a Chip Ingram class on Spiritual Warfare.  Being the wife of the pastor Kathy has had to get our family to church on her own, because I was already there.  Kathy says, “If you have ever tried to get a family, especially with small children, ready for church on Sunday, you have probably been involved in Spiritual Warfare.” Yet, we want our children to have the saving knowledge and faith in Jesus so the effort is worthwhile.


So, Sunday School begins this weekend, for children and adults.  Thanks to the church leaders and teachers giving the effort to provide Sunday School to all God’s children in our congregation.  Let me encourage parents and grandparents to do as Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me . . .”  May the stooping down of Jesus for us, give you energy and perseverance to bring your children to Jesus!


A Child of God, “Stooping Down” for Children Because Jesus Humbled Himself for Us!,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Here are fish pictures from a trip to Valdez with Eric Wyatt, and friend Eric Vogel.


P.P.S.  A BIG event happened in our family this last week!!  Here are some pictures that may share the good news.





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.