Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Thankful for the Power of God's Word to Create New Life

Dear Members and Friends of St. John, 


Do you ever worry about the future for our country?  Do you worry about the future for your children or your grandchildren?  Do you worry about the future of the Christian Church?


We live in changing times.  America is possibly the most affluent country to ever exist.  Yet, our material blessings and our affluence can teach us to trust ourselves, or to trust our resources, rather than trusting our Creator, our Provider, our Savior.  That causes me concern for the future.


We are blessed in America with freedom to use the gift of life to live as we believe best.  Yet, this freedom is often used for harmful behaviors such as substance abuse, and for behaviors that can hurt others.  That also causes me concern for the future.


We live in a culture where the heritage of our country is a Biblical heritage.  Even the Declaration of Independence states that we are “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. . . “  But, this heritage that has helped build our freedom and our prosperity is often attacked today as a negative influence in our culture.  And, often if Christians try to engage in conversation about beliefs and values, that conversation is shut down.  This too causes me concern for the future.


Nevertheless, I want to share with you a number of reasons I have of hope for the future.  First of all, this week is Vacation Bible School week at St. John.  There are about 100 preschool to elementary aged children running around learning, singing, playing, and eating.  We have about 50 adult and youth helpers leading the children through the different places of learning.  The children are eager to learn.  I watch the smiles on their faces and their playful interactions with one another, and I have hope for the future.  What a blessing to see these young lives joyfully growing in a knowledge of God’s care and His love.  I am especially thankful that 4 of my grandchildren are also among those growing to know God’s love for them.


But, even in this positive setting, I still see reasons for concern.  Most of these little children have been taught and know that they are special.  This is a Christian truth we do want to teach.  Each of us have been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) by our loving Creator and Father.  However, sometimes I see this knowledge of being a special, unique, child of God, express itself in an individualism that causes concern.  I hear things like, “I know I’m supposed to do craft that way.  But, I want to do it my way.”  Or, “I know we’re can play games now.  But, I don’t want to play.”  Or, “I know it’s time to sing  . . . and dance.  But, I don’t want to do that.”


It is good to know that we are special individuals in God’s creative and loving plan.  But, God has blessed us individually so that we can work together in His Body, the Church, to do His work.  There is a time when individualism becomes a problem because people won’t work together.  There is a time that being a special individual can be a special kind of selfishness.


Yet, as I watch these children . . . I also see myself.  I too know I am a child of God, special because He formed and made me.  But, all you have to do is ask my wife if there are times that my “unique” behavior can lead to chaos in our family, or cause some “issues.”  I do not set out with that purpose, but I know that there are times that my “individual” behavior, even when intended well, needs restraining.


Martin Luther taught in his Small Catechism that all of us, children AND parents, need a new start daily.  In the section on baptism Luther asks, “What does such baptizing with water indicate?”His answer is, “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” As a man who looked first to Scripture for His answers, Luther asks again, “Where is this written?” Luther’s answer from Scripture is, St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)”


In other words, we all struggle with our selfish, individual, sinful nature.  We can see that struggle in our country.  We can see that struggle in our churches.  We can see this struggle in our children.  We can see this struggle with sin in ourselves!  So, every day we need a new start.  Luther teaches that our sinful self, our Old Adam, needs to die every day so God can make us new in Jesus.  According to Romans 6, one source of this new life is God’s work in our baptisms.


But, there is another reason why I am even more hopeful for the future as these 150 people gather to learn about God’s love at VBS through His Word.  In 1 Peter, God inspired Peter to write about a new life based on God’s love.  Listen to another source of this new life we all need.  “. . . love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;  (1 Peter 1:22 b -23 ESV)  All of us need a new start every day.  God works new life in us, we are born again, through His WORD!  And this week, the Word of God is working in these 150 people that together we might die to sin with Jesus and rise to new life with Him.  God’s word works in the hearts of these 150 individuals to live and work together as beloved and saved children of God.


In fact, on Wednesday I saw this new life in action. As I was helping to teach, one young girl from our congregation called me over.  “Pastor Rockey.  I want to be baptized.”  I talked to her mom later that day and we now have a tentative time for her baptism.  See how God’s Word works new life!


So, I have hope.  In a world of individuals who can act selfishly, God is working new life of faith in our young people, through His Word and through the Sacrament of baptism.  Praise the Lord!


A Child of God, Thankful for the Power of God’s Word to Create New Life!

Pastor Jonathan          


P.S.  Here are some recent baptism pictures.  Please join in welcoming these new members of God’s family at St. John.

·       Jack Richard Trevithick, baptized June 17, 2018

·       Araya Hope Sherwood, baptized 6-27-2018

·       Isla Ann Abbott, July 15 late worship.

·       Finn Leland Wiese, July 22 early worship.


P.P.S.  Here are some pictures from the first day or two of Vacation Bible School.


P.P.P.S.  Here are some pictures from a fishing trip my son, Josh, and his kids.  Annabelle, the youngest, was the only one to catch a 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, July 18, 2018

Thankful for Vital Communication that is ALWAYS Open!

Dear Members and Friends of St. John, 


I’ve heard many times in recent years that we live in “The Age of Communication.”  People are “on-line”, “plugged-in”, and “connected” . . . supposedly.  Modern technology exists all around the world.  People in Alaska can talk to and see what is happening in New York City, in China, or Africa!  Even in the village of Eek we saw children on their cellular devices – connected!


But some say, with good reason, that there is too much information available and we experience “information overload.”  Have you gone to Google to find out information on a topic?  Have you visited Wikipedia?  Once you find your information, is it reliable?


Others say that we are so “connected” that there is no real communication.  People communicate by Facebook, or by text message, or by e-mail (like this one).  But, how many people sit down and look another person in the eye, and talk person to person about something really vital or important?  Perhaps in this “Communication Age” there is less real communication going on in the lives of individuals.


These topics fill my mind and heart because we had a communication challenge while our St. John AMC VBS team was in the village of Eek in early July.  I had thought of trying to get a GCI cell phone for our trip, knowing that GCI is the only network that works in much of rural Alaska.  (I learned this fact most vividly when my daughter, Mary, was teaching in Chevak.)  But, I never got around to making those arrangements.  We had no GCI network phone.


So, while in Eek, all our adults had cell phones, but we could not use them to call, or to text, or to get onto the internet.  This created some communication challenges.  Not only could we not communicate with family at home, but also had some challenges reaching people in the village.  For example, our contact, George Alexie, would come by the place we were staying a number of times a day.  We could ask questions and get things taken care when George visited.  But, if we needed to contact George we could not do so.  We did not have phones that worked.


In order to travel by plane to and from the villages, a person gets in touch with the Airline Contact.  Emma was the airline contact person in Eek.  When we wanted to check on our flights out of Eek we were told to get in touch with Emma.  But, we did not have phones that worked.


One of the blessings in Eek is they now have a water system up and working.  George says he got water to his home last summer.  However, there was no running water yet in the place we stayed.  Yet, the village did open up the washerteria for us.  Fritz was the person in Eek in charge of the washerteria and opened it up one night so we could use the showers.  Realizing how much we appreciated the showers, Fritz later came by to tell me, “Anytime you want a shower, just call me up and I’ll open it for you.”  But, we couldn’t call Fritz.  We did not have phones that worked.


Our team is not the only example of people having trouble with communicating, even with all our technology.  How about you?  Have you ever called someone, but they did not answer?  Have you ever text-messaged someone, but they did not text back?  Have you ever e-mailed someone, but have gotten no response?  Listening is the most important part of communicating.  But sometimes we also need to speak.  What if you speak, but you are not heard?


There is one very important communication that does not require cell service, and where the One with whom we communicate always hears our message and always answers.  Listen to what Jesus teaches His disciples about prayer. 


7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!


Jesus tells us that our Heavenly Father always hears us.  The Lord always answers us, even if we can’t understand His answer, at least for the moment.  God’s answer always includes His goodness, even if we have trouble seeing, or understanding God’s goodness.


If communicating with others is important, communication with our Lord, our Creator, our Savior, our Comforter, is even more vital.  God speaks to us first in His Word, in the Scriptures and in His Son Jesus.  But, when we respond and speak to God there is never a network problem.  Our Heavenly Father hears and answers with His wisdom and love.  7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.


A Child of God, Thankful for Vital Communication that is Always Open,

Pastor Jonathan          


P.S.  Here are some pictures from our garden last week.


P.P.S.  These are summer pictures of the flowers in our front yard, this week. -


P.P.P.S.  Here are some pictures of an evening of fishing on a local lake.


P.P.P.P.S.  Here are some pictures of halibut fishing with my daughter, Mary, my niece, KJ, and her husband, Brian.  (Thank you, Fred Vasilie, cousin of Mike Sweeney and Karen Sweeney Johnson!)




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.




Monday, July 9, 2018

Thankful for Smiles and Teamwork

Dear Members and Friends of St. John, 


Well, I can report on another Alaskan Adventure.  A St. John team of 6 people conducted Vacation Bible School in the small village of Eek, a Yupik town of about 300 people along the Eek River, a tributary of the Kuskokwim.  St. John has helped lead Alaska Mission for Christ Vacation Bible Schools in past years in such places as Cordova and Sterling, Eagle and Delta, Northway and Kenai.  But this is the first St. John VBS in Southwest Alaska.


Two impressions stick out in my mind from this adventure: the smiles and the team work. 


The smiles are the easy part.  We count that about 70 children participated in VBS over the week, though there were seldom more than 40 children present at once.  We provided music and Bible lessons, crafts and snacks, and we led games.  Children would come and go throughout each session of VBS.  They especially participated in the crafts.  But, whether we were teaching lessons, or giving snacks, whether they were coming or going, the faces of the children lit up with smiles.  I’m not sure if it was just because of the setting and because they were children, or if the smiles on these children were especially beautiful.  But the smiles of these children touched my heart.


I have a hope that these smiles came from the love of God.  St. Paul wrote from prison, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say it, Rejoice!”  (Philippians 4:4).  It is amazing that Paul could find joy in prison.  But, joy is different than happiness.  Happiness, which is pursued by Americans, is often based on the circumstances and experiences of life.  When life goes well we tend to be happy.  When life goes badly, we can become sad or depressed.  Yet, while in a Roman prison, Paul found joy!  If you read the verse above, Paul’s joy was not found in the circumstances of the moment.  Paul wasn’t happy about being in jail.  But the undeserved love of God in Jesus, His forgiveness and the eternal life which God gives through faith in Jesus as our Savior, this grace was the source of Paul’s joy.  Even when life is bad, God’s love is sure.  Even in prison, because of Jesus, Paul could write, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say it, Rejoice!” 


The children would often arrive at the church where we led VBS 45 minutes early and ask, “Is it VBS yet?”  My hope is that, as we taught the children about God’s creative, saving, and sustaining love, God’s love brought joy to their hearts and that is the joy we saw in their smiles.


But, teaching 70 children about God’s love takes the planned efforts of many people.  In our team, Sara and Marilee led music.  Marilee taught the lessons.  Temple did the crafts and Rod led games.  I helped with the lessons and dealt with the little crises that would arise.  And Gaelen was our evangelist. He went about town and made friends, and then he invited those friends to attend VBS.  We all worked together.


But, it took more than our St. John team to lead VBS. George Alexie was our local contact.  George is a Yupik man who is an active member in the local Moravian Church.  He arranged for our housing in the Ministry House of the congregation.   George got us into the church and showed us around.  George brought us water in trash cans for our dwelling, where there was no running water.  George also took out our trash, and . . . our honey buckets.  Thank you, George!


Cindy Cleveland was the local Eek church member who attended a meeting in Bethel last winter and asked for an AMC VBS team.  Cindy not only came to visit us in the Ministry House one evening, but she also hosted and entertained the ladies of our team in her home.  Cindy’s children also attended VBS.  Thank you Cindy!


There were also parents who helped us teach the children.  Trudi Joshua was present every day to help with all the chores, including directing children and cleaning up each day.  Gail and Edith and Theodora also helped direct children.  We wanted to bring joy to these tender hearts.  Having these ladies present, part of our team, helping to direct the children, made a big difference.


Then, there is the staff of Alaska Mission for Christ.  The AMC staff arranged for the VBS opportunities, provided manuals and information, dealt with the forms necessary in our current litigious world.  The AMC staff also prepared devotions which we used each day. 


Each of us, and many more, had a part in this effort.  But, according to Romans 12, that’s what happens in the lives of Jesus’ followers.  3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Romans 12:3-6)  The different parts of Christ’s body work together, as a team, to accomplish God’s purposes.


All of us worked as a team, as the body of Christ, to bring joy in the Lord Jesus to the children of Eek.  Hopefully the smiles of the children, worked by the joint efforts of so many people, were based on joy these children found in Jesus’ love.


A Child of God, Thankful for the Opportunity to Work as a Team and Bring the Joy of Jesus to Others,

Pastor Jonathan          


P.S.  Here are some pictures from the Eek VBS, summer 2018.  Look for the smiles. 





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.





Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Trusting God When Facing the Unknown

Dear Members and Friends of St. John, 


As I write this devotion a team of St. John members is preparing to travel to the village of Eek.  We plan to lead Vacation Bible School on behalf of Alaska Mission for Christ for the children of this village.  Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this trip is how much we do not know.  Rod and Temple Christiansen, Sara Guhl and her grandson, Gaelen Swigart, Marilee Nufer and myself are traveling to Eek . . . but none of us have been there before.


So, on the flight to Bethel, and then to Eek, we will be facing the unknown.   On Monday night before we left my daughter, Mary, was explaining to me about traveling through the Bethel Airport.  Mary explained that after we arrive inBethel on Alaska Air, and transfer to Raven airlines for the flight to Eek, we will need to get our luggage and take a shuttle to the “Raven Airport.”  I just expected that the Bethel airport would be like others through which I’ve traveled.  It just shows what I don’t know.


We have talked to our local contact in Eek, George Alexi, to ask questions about what we might expect.  We asked George about how many children might attend.  George’s first estimate is 30-40 children.  However, we also talked to Paul Seidel from Saginaw, MI, who had led teams to Eek before.  Paul too says they started with about 30 children in attendance.  But, after a few years 90 children attended.  Of course, then George told me, “I don’t know.  For the last day of Sunday School we prepared 400 hot dogs.  They were all eaten!”  So how many children will attend?  We are prepared for 60.  Do we have too many supplies or too few?  We don’t know! 


We will be staying in the Ministry House next to the church.  We have been told there are 2 beds, and a kitchen in this house, but no running water.  George says there is a town well where we can get our water.  Paul says we should take filters, so we have done that.  But, we will find out the situation better when we get there.  In truth, we just don’t know.


I asked Paul, and I asked George, about fishing.  Paul said the only fishing was done with nets.  But George told me the different kind of fish they catch.  He told me to bring hiking boots, and that if I bring a fishing pole he’ll “have to go with me.”  Mary said that if I go fishing the children will follow.  I’m bringing a little equipment.  Will I really be able to fish?  Will I be able to build relationships through this recreational activity?  The truth is, I don’t know.


So, the six of us are going to Eek for the purpose of teaching children about Jesus, but not having been there, we don’t necessarily know what we will find.  We’re not sure how many will attend.  We are going trusting God will provide.


Have you ever faced life as a child of God not knowing what the future holds? Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 11:1.  Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  We are UNCERTAIN of what we will experience and find.  But, what we trust is that God will provide.  With the presence and help of God we will have what we need to do His work.  We are not trusting ourselves, but we are trusting God and His eternal love.  We are UNCERTAIN of how many children will attend.  But we are certain that these children, as all children, need the savings love of Jesus.


Life is full of “unknowns.” In the midst of life’s uncertainty there is one thing certain, the love of God in Jesus Christ.  So, our team is facing the unknown as we travel to Eek, sure that the Lord who loves us eternally in Jesus will provide what we need to do His work.


A Child of God, Trusting God When Facing the Unknown,

Pastor Jonathan          


P.S.  Here are some pictures of a halibut fishing trip with friend, Pastor Tony Schultz.  We fished on Friday, June 29, out of Seward, AK.





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.