Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Thankful for Spiritual Fathers Who Pointed Me to Jesus

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


Next Tuesday, October 31, will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing 95 statements for debate to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Luther intended for those statements to be considered in a scholarly debate in the small eastern German university town where he taught.  Instead, “The Ninety-Five Theses” were printed and spread around Europe, beginning the historic movement we call “The Reformation.”  Many churches will celebrate the 500th anniversary of this historic event this Sunday.


Luther was not just a reformer of the church.  Luther’s challenge to the authorities of his time, by appealing to the higher authority of God and His Word, makes him an important figure in Western history.  Luther’s translation of the Bible into German, the language of his people, continues to define the German language until this day.  At the end of the last millennium many lists were made of important people.  Time Life had Luther listed as the 4th most important person of the previous 1000 years.  A&E had him listed as number 3.  Other lists considered him as equally important.


But, it is always dangerous to put a human being on a pedestal.  We are all weak and sinful.  We all fail.  Luther himself said and did things that continue today to point to his sinful humanity, such as his writings about Jewish people.


I am thankful, however, that Luther consistently pointed, not to himself, but to God, who is our only and real hope.  When brought before the representatives of the pope and before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in Wurms in 1521, Luther was asked to recant or withdraw his writings and his words in order to escape punishment and to save his life.  His answer points to God and to God’s Word as the source of reliable truth for the life of a child of God.


“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. [Here I stand.  I can do no other.*]  May God help me. Amen.” (* debated words)


When on his death bed Luther was asked by friend and pastor, Justus Jonas, “Do you die trusting in Christ and what you have taught?”  Perhaps Luther’s answer sums up his work and his life.  Whether the words were spoken, or written, or both, is debated, but there is agreement that Luther’s last words were his answer to that question.  “Yes!  We are beggars.  This is true!”


Thankfully, though he was seldom quiet, Luther consistently pointed, not to himself, but to Jesus.  We are indeed all sinful beggars before our holy and almighty Creator, God.  But, God is gracious and forgives and saves us in Jesus.  So, we trust, not ourselves, but the grace of God in Jesus.


There are many Bible verses that state the truths which Luther taught.  One of His favorite verses was John 3:16, which he called “The Gospel in a nutshell.”  But, for me the words of Galatians 2 express our lives as children of God saved by His grace for us in Jesus.

“20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"  (Galatians 2:20-21) (See also Acts 4:10-12, 1 Timothy 1:15-17, Titus 3:3-5, 1 John 4:10, etc.)


There is a way in which Luther’s words on his death bed could be frightening.  “Yes!  We are beggars.  This is true!”  We don’t want to be beggars.  But, when we realize that, even though we cannot count on ourselves or on our righteousness before God, but we can be SURE that Jesus lived and died and rose for us, it is good to be a beggar!  The grace of God in Jesus is what we need  The grace of God in Jesus is all we need!


A Child of God, Thankful for Spiritual Fathers who Have Pointed Me to Jesus,

Pastor Jonathan



P.S.  Yes, we do have worship at St. John this Sunday at our normal times of 8:15 and 11:00 a.m.  (I was asked.)  This Sunday is our last Sunday in our sermon series on the Reformation and we will have a visit by “Martin Luther” himself (though I am still looking for a Luther). 

ALSO, PLEASE REMEMBER our Alaska celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation held Sunday afternoon at Anchorage Lutheran Church, 1420 N Street.


P.P.S.  The St. John Men’s Group – Promise Keepers, held a beginning of the school year get together at the home of Eric and Chris Wyatt.  Here are some pictures from the October 21 fellowship activity.








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, October 18, 2017

Praying that I Respond Faithfully to God's Goodness and Grace

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


Recently, after going to the post office, I arrived at home and started looking at that day’s mail in the presence of my wife.  I spoke out loud as I perused what we had received.  “Request for money, Request for money, Request for money, Request for money, Request for money, Request for money.  Hmmm, offer to spend.”  I had 6 letters asking for donations, and one credit card offer.  In fact, I had two requests from one place in the same day!  Does that sound familiar?


Actually, I’m thankful to live in a country where not all good causes are paid for by my taxes.  The government doesn’t just take all my money and dole it out to what it considers to be worthwhile causes.  We have the privilege of deciding what needs we want to help alleviate, and which ministries we want to support.  But I confess, sometimes when the mail comes I wonder.


Do you ever feel that way about God’s church?  Does it ever seem to you like the church is always asking for money?  As pastor I get all sorts of advice concering financial issues.  I’ve been told by more than one person, “Pastor, you don’t talk about giving enough.”  Others tell me, “You talk about money too much!”  As you can see, finances are always a sensitive topic. 


As I read through the Bible again in my daily devotions, a September reading from 1 Chronicles 29 really struck me.  David was gathering resources so his son, Solomon, could build a temple for the Lord.  David contributed personally to the temple project and then he gave an opportunity for others to respond.  This is part of what we are told.


6 Then the leaders of families, . . . gave willingly. 7 They gave . . . gold, . . . silver,  . . . bronze and . . . iron. 8 Any who had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the temple of the LORD . . .

9 The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly. 10 David praised the LORD in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, "Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 12 Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. 13 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.  (1 Chronicles 29:6-13)


The leaders and the people of David’s day “gave willingly” and "wholeheartedly."  David not only gave, but acknowledged that “everything in heaven and earth” is really God’s!  (v. 11)  This was one of the few moments of clarity in the history of Israel.  On this day David and the people confessed that all they had belonged to the Lord.  In faith, they responded to the God’s love and returned generously what He had given. 


But, even more than the surprisingly faithful giving, do you hear the praise of God by both the people and by David?  Why do you think they praised God?  Acknowledging God, rather than taking credit ourselves, is rare. And, generosity is not always a natural reaction.  So, on this day of willing generosity, David and the people praised the Lord.


This Sunday at St. John we have an opportunity to think about the grace and provision of God, and to consider our response.  We will consider how God provides us with all we need to live  and more - our "cup overflows.”  (Psalm 23)  We will meditate on how God is gracious to sinful people like us, in Jesus. As Paul writes, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)  God’s goodness and His grace to us in Jesus does not make sense.  But God IS gracious and loving.  God’s goodness and grace call for praise, for a response.


I pray that all God’s people are aware of His goodness in our lives and His grace in Jesus.  I pray that we willingly and wholeheartedly want to respond and contribute to His work, both in our local congregations, and for His work around the world.


Let me share with you about that mail which I recently received, the letters asking for donations.  All the requests I received were from places where I had already contributed.  In fact, the ministry which sent two letters on the same day, Lutheran Hour Ministries, is one of my favorite places to give.  It seems the more we give, the more we are asked.  But, when God’s people recognize His goodness and grace and respond willingly, it is reason to praise God.


A Child of God, Praying that I Respond Faithfully to God’s Goodness and Grace,

Pastor Jonathan



P.S.  Pastor Aaron Spratt was commissioned in Anchorage on Saturday, October 14, to be pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Juneau, and Missionary to SE AK for the Alaska Mission for Christ.  Here are a couple of pictures.





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, October 11, 2017

Concerned and Praying for My Country

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


Do you ever worry about our country?  In recent weeks we have been horrified by a mass shooting in Las Vegas.  Football players protest and our country obviously suffers from deep racial divisions.  There is talk of war, possibly nuclear war, with North Korea.  We find little or no agreement among our leaders in Washington.


As a child, 60 plus years ago, I remember being truly thankful to have been born in America.  America was a land of freedom, including freedom of religion.  Our American culture supported me and others as we pursued our Christian faith.  Many things have changed.  Some changes have been for the better.  But, many of the values and principles that made our country a blessing years ago seem to be hard to find today.


Some may be saying, “Pastor Rockey, don’t you remember that old saying?  ‘There are two things not to talk about: Religion and politics.’  And here you go talking about BOTH topics.”  Nevertheless, I am concerned for America.  As a Christian who is also American, I pray for our country regularly. 


My experience says that 60 years ago there was more agreement among the people of this country.  Most people believed God is Lord of all and Lord of our lives.  Even people who didn’t believe in God, respected the majority who did.  Biblical faith was a major value used by people to make choices and to face troubles.  There seemed to be general agreement on what was right and wrong. Disagreement happened over how to accomplish worthwhile goals.  But I don’t remember whole different groups disagreeing about what is right and wrong.  Unity of values and thought was a blessing to our country.


However, America now finds itself as a pluralistic society and we find few, if any, areas where all agree.  Actually, today’s culture is similar in many ways to the culture in which the early church first existed.  The early church grew in the cradle of the Roman Empire.  The Roman political system and its leaders of that time were growing more corrupt.  All religions were tolerated, to some degree.  In that pluralistic society the church grew quickly, even though God’s people believed that there is only one true God, and that Jesus is the only way to heaven.


It is worth noting that the apostles did not seek to overthrow the corrupt government of the Roman Empire.  Nor did they seek to impose their beliefs on others by force.  Actually, you cannot pass a law that changes hearts.  We cannot legislate faith.  In fact, laws are best kept when people understand why they exist and therefore want to keep them.  Instead of revolution and force, early Christians were called to let their lives and their words witness to God, and then to allow others to consider what Jesus and the Christian faith had to offer.


I believe that Scripture calls American Christians to the same behavior today.  The best thing that Christians can do for our country is not to complain about others, but to be serious in living our own faith.


Jesus calls His followers to lives of righteousness.  “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16)  Christians should seek to live lives of faith and love, worshiping God.  This sets Christians apart as different, not part of the decline in faith and integrity we see around us. 


Through Paul God calls for our work to be a witness   11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)  When God’s children work with honesty, giving an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, that behavior speaks loudly. “


God calls His people to pray for their country.  When the Israelites were carried to exile in Babylon, Jeremiah urged them to pray for the land in which they lived as exiles.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."  (Jeremiah 29:7)  Even though the Roman emperors were corrupt, Paul called on the church to pray for civil leaders.  1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 1:12).  When countries are in turmoil, God calls for prayer.


Of course, if the laws of the land require God’s people to sin against the Lord, then we have to say with Peter and the Apostles, “We must obey God rather than men.”  (Acts 5:29)  But, ultimately, God does not intend for Christians to be a problem for their nation, but to be a blessing, to be the best citizens.  God intends for his people to work and pray for the good of everyone.  Christians look to God to tell us what is good.


I have children and grandchildren.  I don’t just want blessings for America for myself.   I want my family to live in a country where they can also experience freedom and grow as Christians.  I pray for America and seek, by the way I live, to make it a better place for everybody.  I pray that some day my children and grandchildren will also be thankful to live here.


A Child of God, Concerned and Praying for my Country,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  It may be hard to believe but our youngest son, Tim, turned 25 on Monday.  Here are pictures from our birthday celebration.






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, October 4, 2017

Pressing On and Persevering Because of Jesus' Unfailing Love

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


Have you ever heard someone say, “I need a vacation from my vacation!”?  Kathy and I returned on Monday night, Tuesday morning, from visiting my dad and family in Florida.  Actually, after boarding our flight in Florida around 11:30 a.m. Alaska time, the plane landed just after midnight in Anchorage.  We had our luggage around 12:30 a.m., and our heads hit our bed around 2:00 a.m. Alaska time, 6:00 a.m. Florida time.  I calculate that from the time we arrived at the airport in Florida, till when we arrived home, we spent 16 hours traveling.  Monday was a LONG day!


So, I confess I was somewhat in a fog on Tuesday as, in the morning, I tried to pay bills, unpack, and pick up at home.  (Our dog had left some visible evidence that he missed us.)  At noon I attended a Kiwanis meeting, my first as President for the 2017-2018 year, and then also led a Kiwanis board of directors’ meeting.  I spent the afternoon handing out dictionaries at Finger Lake Elementary School, and was also in the office to catch up on phone calls and other tasks.  Finally, on Tuesday evening we held our first Promise Keepers men’s Bible Study for the year.  I went through the motions and tried my best on Tuesday.  But I know that, had I been adjusted to Alaska time and not a little sleep deprived, I might have been a little more functional. 


However, just because we may not be at our peak for functioning and performing, that doesn’t mean we just ignore what lays before us.  There is still work to be done and life to be lived.  We still have people to love and faith to share.  So, even if “we need a vacation from our vacation” we keep going, we persevere.


I find that the quality of perseverance is one that we all need in our fast-paced lives, but one that gets little attention in today’s world of instant gratification.  A few Sundays ago I told our “Basic Teachings of the Bible” class that I hear a lot about “passion.”  We do all need to be convinced, convicted, and committed in our lives.  But passion can be a passing emotion.  Perseverance, founded on godly convictions, keeps going.  For most of us, life is not a short sprint, but a long marathon.  We need to keep going.  We need perseverance.


The virtue of perseverance may not seem attractive or popular in today’s self-absorbed world, but the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, speak a lot of perseverance and endurance.


The Epistle Lesson assigned for this Sunday, The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, is from Philippians 3.  Paul talks of his pursuit to obtain the eternal blessings of God found in Jesus.  In verse 12, Paul tells the people of the city of Philippi of his efforts, and his perseverance. “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”


In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he gives encouragement to the young pastor who is shepherding the people of Ephesus, Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.  (I Timothy 4:16)


In Romans 5 we are told that God’s children can even rejoice in suffering, because suffering produces perseverance, among other virtues.  “3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  (Romans 5:3-4)


And one of my favorite sections of Scripture is found in Hebrews where, after the writer has taught the Hebrew exiles in chapter 11 about the examples of faith found in the lives of God’s people, He then encourages these exiles in chapter 12 to live in faith which shows in perseverance.  1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:1-2)


We all understand why perseverance may be unpopular.  Why would anyone want to continue in struggle and continue in suffering?  But, following the example used in Hebrews 12, we also know that athletes persevere through the rigors of training for the goals of their competition.  We know that God has eternal joy and life waiting for us who finish the race, as the writer of the Hebrews says.  And we know that because of Jesus’ perseverance of living and dying for us, even when we stumble, we have the love of God to forgive and strengthen and encourage.  We may fail, but God perseveres in His love.  Our Lord’s love never fails.  So, we can keep going.  We can persevere because of the love of God shown in the perseverance of Jesus. 


I woke up on Wednesday morning, early because my body is still partially on Florida time, yet more alert and ready to go than on Tuesday.  But, no matter the day, my Lord Jesus persevered for me.  He is with me to love, to forgive, and to save me.  I want to live for Him, even when I may not be all there.


A Child of God, Pressing on and Persevering Because of Jesus’ Unfailing Love,

Pastor Jonathan



P.S.  Here are some pictures of our vacation with my dad and family in FL.


P. P.S.  I know I included these pictures last week, but in case you didn’t see them, here are some pictures from the celebration of my dad’s 90th birthday party 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.