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.


P.P.P.S.  Here is a picture taken last Thursday morning of the sunrise as seen from my front porch.


P.P.P.P.S. It seems a long time ago, but last Wednesday was our last Advent Fellowship Meal.  Here are some 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, 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.




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.


·       Here are some pictures from our Advent Meal last Wednesday,


·       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.




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, 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.


·         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 -


·         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. -


·         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 -


·         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 -




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, 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!!





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.