Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Permanent Fund Dividends - Seeking to Be Faithful in Responding to God's Grace in My Life

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


Somewhere during the first part of October, Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends will be delivered to the bank accounts of hundreds of thousands of Alaskans.  You Alaskans know how this works.  When the constitution of Alaska was drafted in the 1950’s, it asserted that the resources of Alaska belong to the people of Alaska.  Though, how this principle is put into practice can be sticky.  When the oil fields opened up in the 1970’s, funds flowed from oil taxes into the state budget.  Through wranglings in the legislature and in the courts the Permanent Fund became part of the Alaska constitution in 1976 under Governor Jay Hammond.  Each year since 1982 each registered Alaskan resident has received a payment.  The first payment in 1982 for each Alaskan resident was $1000.00.  The lowest payment occurred in 1984 of $331.29 per person.  The highest payment made was $2072.00 in 2015.  (While I knew some of this information, I went to Wikipedia for the details I used.  I hope it is accurate.)


Outsiders, those not living in Alaska, think Alaskans must be flush with all these payments of oil funds.  However, they don’t know of the higher cost of living and other challenges of living in the last frontier, such as travel.  Those outside Alaska also do not know how many people have plans for the PFD of each Alaskan.  How many commercials have you heard so far suggesting you buy a vehicle, buy furniture, buy electronics, buy a new snowmachine, or some other item with your money?  How many worthwhile organizations have suggested you donate part or all of your Permanent Fund check to their cause?  The Alaskan economy does see a jump every year when the PFD comes out.  But, Alaskan citizens run a gauntlet around everyone else who wants part of their checks. 


So, as a child of God, how have you used your Permanent Fund Dividends?  How do you plan to use your dividend this year?  I have heard some Alaskans say, “It’s my money, keep your hands off!”  Actually, I understand that reaction with all the appeals Alaskans face for these dividends. 


Pastor Ron Martinson of Central Lutheran Church in Anchorage used to suggest just the opposite.  I heard him say something like, “I didn’t earn this check.  It’s a gift from God.  I give it all to the church.  You should too.”


When she was alive and attending worship, long-time St. John member June Liebing used to stand up in worship and share her thoughts.  (June was born in Sitka in August of 1921, and moved to the Valley with her dad in 1932, before the days of the Matanuska Colony.)  June would stand up and encourage others in worship with words like these.  “These checks come from the oil in the ground in Alaska.  God made the earth.  He put the oil in the ground.  These checks are gifts from God.  I encourage you to tithe (give 10%) off your PFD to the church.”  June backed up her words with her actions.


My wife and I have followed the suggestion of June and tithed to God’s work in our congregation off our Permanent Fund Dividends each year.  When, our children were home, we then put all their remaining dividends into an educational account to save for college, or other future expenses.  When our children came to the time for leaving home, then there were funds available that helped them.  Kathy and I have personally used our funds to pay bills (often medical bills), to travel, and to put into savings. 


So you might think I will have a suggestion for how you will use your dividend this year.  Actually, I simply ask that you think and pray as you receive this dividend, which truly is a gift.  There are some principles however, which apply to all actions of stewardship by God’s children.


First, we are only stewards, or managers, of the all the resources of time and talent and treasure which we have.  Psalm 24:1 says, The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;  God created the world and its inhabitants.  As Creator, all really belongs to God!  We are called to be faithful managers of the resources of God in our lives.


Second, God gives us everything we need through His creative love and through His saving love.  Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount that God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and He also provides for us.  Therefore, we should trust God to provide, and not worry.  (Matthew 6:25-33)  But, Paul shares how, in Jesus, God has provided grace for our lives.   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)  Jesus left the riches of heaven to take on the poverty and the suffering and death of this world.  Jesus sacrificed so that we might receive the riches of heaven through faith in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.  All of life is, therefore, an opportunity to respond to the grace of God which we receive in Jesus!


Finally, God wants us to give all the offerings and sacrifices we make willingly and cheerfully from the heart, as people who know the underserved love and blessings we receive from in Jesus.  Perhaps the best summary of the many verses that speak about God’s desire for how we use and manage the gifts He gives is found in 2 Corinthians 9:7, Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.


So, as an Alaskan, and as a child of God, how will you use this gift which HE provides?


A Child of God, Seeking to be Faithful in Responding to God’s Grace,

Pastor Jonathan   


P.S.  I have been noticing the disappearance of apples and vegetable recently.  On Tuesday, September 18, my daughter, Mary, caught a picture of the culprits at 7:00 a.m. as she was going to work.


P.P.S.  I did go salmon fishing, probably for the last time this year, on Monday, September 24.  We caught quite a few salmon, but did not keep any.  Therefore, no pictures of that beautiful fall day.






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 19, 2018

Realizing that I Need God and His Power, Wisdom, and Love - In Jesus!

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


As I try to catch up from having been out of town for a number of weeks, there are various thoughts and experiences running through my mind.  The experiences are separate and different, but the thoughts have a similar thread.


Just recently I was visiting an elderly member in their home.  This member is truly concerned about a much younger member of her family.  This member’s loved one has struggled with behaviors that are self-destructive.  Thankfully, the younger person continues to struggle and has not given up. 


However, as this member and I discussed young people in general and the troubles of life, two realizations came to our lips. Sometimes the younger the person, the more they think they know about life.  Maybe you’ve run into someone who thinks they know everthing!  Thinking we have all the answers can be dangerous to a healthy life, especially when the unexpected is always right around the corner.  A second characteristic from many young people we know which we discussed is that of thinking they are indestructible!”  After all, it looks like all of life is in front of a young person.  So risky and unhealthy behaviors can just seem like someone else’s needless worry.  But, when the realities of life show themselves, the struggles of life can seem overwhelming!  When those life realities show themselves then even a young person realizes they need help.  In all honesty, they need God, and His power, and wisdom, and His love.


Last week while I was in moose camp hunting, and winding down from the busy-ness of work, and processing my dad’s illness and funeral, the beauty of the world around us struck those of us who were in camp.  I have hunted for over 25 years with St. John member, Gerry Zellar.  This year we were also joined by Gerry’s friend, Tom Anderson.  On a beautiful fall day, with the sun shining and temperature in the 60’s, as the mountain were covered with the red undergrowth of cranberries and fireweed, and as the birch trees glowed with their bright yellow leaves, Tom made an observation.  “All you have do is to look at the world around us to see that God is here.”  The beauty was striking and the hand of God was obvious.  But, as we considered Tom’s statement, we realized there are some who don’t see or know or believe in the loving, powerful hand of God.  We agreed, for those who miss seeing God’s hand in the beauty of creation, they need God, and His power, and wisdom, and His love.


Last year at this time I was in Florida, preparing to celebrate my dad’s 90th birthday.  We held a party for him on September 23 attended by many family and friends.  When the main party was over my dad looked at me and said, “Well, I’ll see you again in 10 years.”  He was expecting to celebrate his 100th birthday!  But, I’m sure you heard my dad died last month.  Yet, none of us live in this world forever.  We are sinful people in a fallen world and we all face death.  The truth for all of us is, we need God, and His power, and wisdom, and His love.


There is a verse of Scripture which talks about those who reject God.  Psalms 14 and 53 share this truth from God.  The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." Denying that we need God, or denying His existence are foolish behaviors and attitudes.  Yet, even if someone thinks they are indestructible, even if someone thinks the world and its beauty are an accident, the realities of the world catch up with us and cause us to see our mortality.


What a blessing that God has loved us and sent his Son, Jesus, for foolish, sinful people like you and me.  For all of us facing our guilt, our foolishness, our weakness, and our mortality, Jesus is God’s wisdom.  Romans 5:8 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible sharing the wonderful truth of God’s love.  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”


As I try to get back into the swing of daily living, I know this truth: I need God, and His power, and wisdom, and His love, especially as He loves me in Jesus.


A Child of God, Realizing that I Need God, and His Power, Wisdom, and Love in Jesus!

Pastor Jonathan   


P.S.  I did go moose hunting September 5-14.  It is always good to get away in the woods.  I also had a special permit that would allow me to shoot any bull this year.  However, while I saw cows and heard bulls in the woods, I did not see a bull to shoot.  Nevertheless, since I’m 65 I gave my proxy to Gerry Zellar.  So, while I did not shoot a moose, my permit did – the day after I left!  Here are some pictures from the hunting trip.


P.P.S.  I got a surprise from my dad recently.  One of my nieces was going through some old documents and found an old yearbook.  In that year book, when asked his plans, my dad said, “Would rather go to Alaska.”  Hmmmm!


P.P.P.S.  Being gone from home can be tough for anyone.  When you are a pastor and you are gone, as I have been, that can be especially difficult.  How can you shepherd God’s people when you’re out of town?  Yet, our elders have encouraged me to take care of myself.  In many ways, that means getting away.  I want to share a BIG THANK YOU to all who kept on while I was gone.  Thanks to Judy and Ethan in the office, to leaders who continued to serve.  Thank you especially to Hunter Richards, Randy Luffberry, Scott Manke, Karl Kopperud, and Carl Jacobson who led Sunday and Wednesday worship while I was gone!!!!






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, September 3, 2018

Praying and Striving to Reflect the Eternal Faithfulness of Jesus

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


I was with my dad when he passed away on Saturday morning, August 25, around 5:30 a.m.  That afternoon my dad’s five children met with staff from the funeral home to plan his funeral.  We sat around the table with the funeral director, Joseph, with his administrative assistant, and with a lady who works on site at the cemetery. Her name was Mary Jo.  During our sharing and planning we mentioned that my dad had visited my mom's grave every day since she died in January of 2011.  Mary Jo asked, "Does he drive a bronze car?"  Well, yes my dad drove a bronze Toyota.  She then followed up our statement by reaffirming, "Yes, he was there every day, and sometimes twice a day.  He'd get out and talk, and then get back in his car and drive away.  We haven't seen him in a while.  We wondered where he was."  Of course, Dad had given up his drivers' license in January, so he could no longer visit my mom’s grave unless someone else took him.


My brother James is Pastor of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Oxford, Florida, just south of Ocala.  James had recently visited with Pastor Bob Besalski, our former pastor for many years at First Lutheran Church in Gainesville, who, in some very real ways, is still pastor to our family.  Bob lives a block or so from my dad’s former house and kept in touch with him.  After hearing the story from Mary Jo, James related that Bob had told him that he had never seen anyone grieve as long for his spouse as my dad did.  After all, you don’t often hear of someone visiting the grave of their spouse daily, more than seven years after their death!


Some might think my dad was grieving.  And in a way he was.  Dad sorely missed my mom since she died.  But, I tend to look at Dad's behavior in another way that tells us about who he was and is.  Dad was faithful.  In his wedding vows he promised to love and cherish Mom "till death do us part."  My dad didn't just take that to mean till my mom's death.  Dad loved and cherished my mom until his death.  So he kept visiting her grave.  Dad was faithful.  Yes, my dad missed my mom and longed for her.  But he kept living his life.  Dad worshiped.  He spent time with family.  He took care of daily chores.  And Dad visited my mom's grave every day until he stopped driving.  Even after he couldn’t drive, he still sometimes he got to her grave.  My dad was faithful.


Faithfulness describes my dad in other areas of his life as well.  At one time or another he served in every office and on every board possible at First Lutheran Church in Gainesville.  Dad wasn't looking for recognition.  He didn't demand respect or privilege.  It was part of who He was as a child of God, part of his relationship with Jesus.  Yes, my dad was faithful in his relationship to his family.  He was also faithful in relationship to His Lord and Savior.  Even after he couldn't drive he was in church most every week.  He continued daily times of devotion and prayer.  After his death his granddaughter looked at his devotional material.  It was open to Wednesday, August 8, the last day before he fell and ended up in the hospital.  Perhaps the word that best describes my dad, in my eyes at least, is “faithful.”


Some may see this faithfulness as a virtue in my dad.  But even more, I'm convinced that my dad's faithfulness is a reflection of the grace and greater faithfulness He knew he received from Jesus, our Savior.  In John 10:11 Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd.  The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."  Jesus’ laying down His life for us is grace.  Jesus’ sacrifice is undeserved love.  My dad knew and trusted Jesus' saving love. 


But then, later in chapter 10, Jesus follows up on this message of grace with a message of His faithfulness.  "27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.  28  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand."  (John 10:27-28)  Jesus doesn't just lay down His life for His sheep.  He gives eternal life to all who follow Him and believe in Him!  Eternal life!  No one can take Jesus’ love away from His followers.  Jesus is eternally faithful.


My dad knew he was a sinner who was unbelievably blessed by the life and the death and the resurrection of his Good Shepherd, Jesus.  Dad believed that this grace of Jesus was eternally true.  My dad heard the voice and the call of his Good Shepherd to follow his faithful savior.  So my dad, as well as he could, sought to live faithfully himself in his relationship with His Lord.  He sought to be a faithful servant in God's church.  And he was faithful to my mom and to our family.


My dad also taught his family faithfulness.  With his words and in his actions he called each of us to honesty and responsibility.  He called us to Christian lives of that put our faith in Jesus into action.  He lived faithfully, and he taught faithfulness.


I hope and pray that I can serve my Lord and honor my dad's memory by serving Jesus and His church, and my family, by faithfully reflecting the grace and eternal love of my Good Shepherd.


A Child of God, Praying and Striving to Reflect the Eternal Faithfulness of Jesus,

Pastor Jonathan   


P.S.  Here are some pictures from Dad’s funeral, 8-29-2018,


P.P.S.  I updated the slide show I put together from my dad’s life.  You can watch it on this link.


P.P. P.S. I returned home from Florida and took some family members fishing on Labor Day.  This was a first salmon for my grandson, Jackson.


P.P.P.P.S.  I drew an “any bull” permit this year and planned to be hunting at this time.  I will be gone for a week or a week and a half.  There may not be a “Thoughts from the Pastor” next 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.