Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Thankful for ALL of God's Healing

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


On Tuesday, February 12, I made my yearly visit to my doctor.  At this annual checkup I learned I was in good health.  In fact, a number of years ago the doctor had some concerns about my blood sugar, but on February 12 my blood sugar reading was in the “normal” range.  My blood pressure and cholesterol were also healthy.  I was feeling pretty good when I arrived at the office, but the good news made me feel even better.  As I talked with the doctor, I suggested that perhaps my hard work of watching my diet and exercising regularly was paying off.


So it was humbling when I went back to the doctor on Tuesday, February 19 and I was diagnosed with influenza A, a truly unwelcome diagnosis.  After all, I had received a flu shot in early January.  A week earlier I had been feeling so good about being healthy.  But, when the flu hit what surprised me was how quickly I became ill, and how horrible I felt.  There were body-aches and headaches.  My cough caused my ribs to ache.  My nose dripped and I had night sweats.  My throat turned raspy and my voice croaked.  Unfortunately, I was not the only one who contracted this ailment.  My sickness hit after the annual Confirmation Retreat, and we know of at least six others who became sick at or after the retreat weekend.  For someone who had been feeling so good about his health, my illness was a humbling blow.


On Tuesday, my doctor also informed me I would be contagious until Friday, or as long as I had symptoms.  So, even though I usually keep going when I am ill, I stayed away from my Tuesday Kiwanis meeting and the Tuesday night Promise Keepers study.  These folks did not want what I had.  I did not attend Wednesday Lifelight Bible Class nor Confirmation Classes.  These students did not want influence A.  I asked around and Gerry Zellar led worship for me on Wednesday evening.  Worship should be a place to share God’s love, not an opportunity to share contagious illness.


I had expected the flu symptoms to last for about a week.  But, the doctor gave me a number of medicines.  I took the medicine as directed and also took time to rest.  In addition, many people also made a point to share that they were praying for me.  By Wednesday evening I was feeling significantly better.


This short bout with the flu both humbled me, and gave me a thankful heart.  To go from feeling so well one week, to feeling so badly just a week later, reminded me that health can be a fleeting gift.  Yet, to go from being so ill one day, to beginning to feel better so quickly, led me to see again the merciful hand of God in the returning health I began to experience.  Perhaps you have felt miserable, and then recovered health and strength.  Because I had been ill I felt even more thankful for the health that returned.  And knowing that God has His hand in all healing directed my heart in thanks toward God.


Psalm 103 gives a list of reasons to thank God.

1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-- 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.  (Psalm 103:1-5)

Did you notice that one of God’s blessings is healing, however and whenever that healing occurs?!


Beginning next Wednesday many Christians will begin observing the season of Lent.  One of the most famous prophecies about the suffering of Jesus is found in the well-known Isaiah Scripture about the coming Suffering Servant.  This verse also talks about healing, another kind of healing.


4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:4-6)


The return of my physical health worked grateful thankfulness in my heart.  How much more thankful the children of God can be when the wounds of Jesus accomplish healing of our spiritual ailments which separate us from God.  Jesus was crushed on the cross for our iniquity.  The suffering and death of Jesus takes away our guilt and heals our rift with God.  What a relief!


There are times I don’t realize how much a blessing my health is, until I become ill that is.  The illness reminds and teaches me the gift and blessing we have in our health.  But, we face an eternal, spiritual, illness in our guilt and sin.  Thanks be to God that in the blood and the wounds of Jesus, we are healed!


A Child of God, Thankful for ALL of God’s Healing,

Pastor Jonathan   


P.S.  Kathy and I are on vacation. 

·       We attended the funeral of a friend in Jacksonville Beach on Saturday, and then drove home by way of the beach.  Here are a couple of more pictures.

·       We visited my dad’s grave on Sunday, February 24, after worship.  His plaque is now on his grave stone.   Here are a couple of pictures.

·       I was able to go fishing with my sister’s husband, Mark Reaves, and niece KJ Fogarty on Wednesday.  We fished on Orange Lake.  (Margerie Kinnon Rawlings, writer of “The Yearling” lived on Orange Lake.)  We saw wildlife, and everyone had at least one bite on their line, but we only caught one small fish.  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, February 20, 2019

Bringing Children to Jesus, and Jesus to Children

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


Last weekend, February 15-17, 32 people attended our 2019 Confirmation Retreat at Victory Bible Camp.  This year the retreat theme was about “Christian Relationships.”  We had sessions that studied about our “Relationship with God”, our “Relationships with Others – Friends,” our “Relationships Between Boys and Girls,” and our “Relationships that are Difficult – A Sacrifice.”  We always wonder how much these middle school boys and girls actually retain from the lessons that are taught.  But, when the 7th grade class shared, in Sunday worship, a skit which they had written about gossiping, and about forgiving others because of Jesus’ forgiveness, we knew that something had gotten through.


Sometimes I and others in leadership have asked the question, “Is it worth the time away from the rest of the church, is it worth the extra effort to produce a retreat program, and is it worth the expense of using Victory Bible Camp to justify a retreat?  This year half of our confirmation students attended.  There were two others who registered but became sick.  There were another two students who would have attended, but were traveling out of state.  At the same time a number of other students chose not to attend.  Is it worth all the extra effort to hold the retreat?


But, this year as in past year we had students who were sad the retreat ended.  One sixth grade boy asked me, “When is the next retreat?”  I had two eighth grade girls ask, “Can we come along next year and serve as counselors?”  We even had a ninth grade member of our youth group asking to attend the retreat this year, but we had trouble finding the right place he would fit in.  Obviously, the large majority of the 6th – 8th grade students truly enjoy the retreat, even though we spend perhaps 8 hours of the retreat in study of God’s Word and His plan for our lives.


There are some obvious reasons the retreat touches the lives of the children.  I’m not sure there is a more beautiful place than Victory Bible Camp in the winter.  The lodge and cabins are set between shear mountain cliffs that surround the camp, and beside two quiet lakes.  The children get to play in the gym, skate on one lake, and tube down a steep hill to another lake.  They even find great delight in falling down and climbing up steep hills of snow!  The food is great.  It is invigorating and mind-clearing to be outdoors in the beautiful winter our Lord has created. 


Another key to making the retreat work is that the students aren’t coming to class after a full day of school.  Wednesdays works well for us for confirmation classes.  These confirmation classes have been held on Wednesday afternoons at St. John for over 30 years.  But, when the students arrive they have already spent a full day learning and studying, a full day of dealing with teachers, and a full day of dealing with other students.  There are times that Wednesday classes can make Confirmation just seem like a really LONG school day!  But, when sessions are held on Saturday, even though there are 2 times of worship and four sessions of Bible Study, the minds of the students are fresh.  They seem to participate more and to learn more.  And, it seems from observation that the lessons don’t just teach the mind, but also touch the heart.


We do have questions about the value of all this time and effort to put on a retreat.  But, perhaps Jesus answers those questions best.  Last week I read to the 3 and 4 year old pre-school classes about “Jesus and the Boys and Girls.”  You can read this account in Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-15, and Luke 18:15-17.  The disciples of Jesus knew that Jesus’ ministry was important, and that Jesus was very busy teaching and healing.  These disciples tried to send the children away when parents brought them to Jesus.  But, in each of these accounts we hear Jesus scold the disciples and welcome the children with these words, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  (Luke 18:16)  Jesus did not just come to die and rise for adults.  Jesus specifically calls the children to Himself.


Every year at the retreat there are some “new” experiences.  A young boy asked me something this year I have never been asked.  When we got to camp and gathered about 7:30 p.m. to start our program this boy asked me, “When do we get to go to bed?”  In 25 years of retreats, I’ve never heard that question before.  I have heard, “Do we have to go to bed?” but never the question this boy asked.  I told the boy that our schedule said lights are out at midnight.  And when he continued to question me I told him that “We are to be in our cabins at 11:00 p.m., and devotions are over at 10:30 p.m. if you want to go to bed then.”  His response surprised me, “Can’t we go to bed now?”  Yet, through the weekend this young man participated, answered questions appropriately, showed he was learning.  And at the end of the weekend, this is the boy who asked me, “When is our next retreat?”


When we ask the question, “Is it worth it to hold the Confirmation Retreat?”, I wonder if we are not like Jesus’ disciples.  Even though people in Jesus’ day weren’t all that sure about taking time for children, they were important to Jesus.  We will continue the confirmation retreat because it is a way that we do what Jesus said.  "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”


A Child of God, Seeking to Bring Children to Jesus, and Jesus to Children,

Pastor Jonathan   


P.S.  Confirmation Class was lively on February 13 as the days are getting longer and the weather was clear and sunny.  Here are some pictures of our “lively” students.


P.P.S.  Confirmation Camp was held at Victory Bible Camp from February 15-17.  We had a good Retreat. 

In fact, this year the Lawton family attended the whole retreat, from 3rd grader, Lorelai, to high school juniors Rebecca and Isaac, and confirmation student Nathaniel, along with mom and dad.  We are thinking that next year our Confirmation Retreat might also serve as a family retreat.  J

Here are some pictures from this year’s retreat.


P.P.P.S.  During Confirmation Camp Reuben Carlson and Pastor Rockey went fishing.  Here is the catch.


P.P.P.P.S.  I came home from the retreat, coughing.  It got worse.  But, on Monday I went fishing to check things out for Shane Woods Ice Fishing Outing, March 31.  (On Tuesday the doctor diagnosed me with influenza A.  I know of 5 others who left the retreat and became sick.  Nonetheless, here are some pictures from the Monday fishing excursion.





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, February 13, 2019

Asking God to Help Me Always Trust His Providing

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


As I spend devotional time in the “Today’s Light Bible”, my reading for February 13 included Exodus 16 and 17.  God had delivered the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt through His power shown in the Exodus.  These chapters relate how the Lord then provides food for His people.  About a month into the wilderness after leaving Egypt, these 600,000 men, plus their families, need something to eat.  At first the people God had saved grumbled.  "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." (Exodus 16:3)  God had helped them escape slavery, but now they needed food.  Where would they find it?  Their grumbling shows they doubted that God would feed for them.


So, God taught His people by providing food.  In the morning He gave bread from heaven, called “manna.” The Lord gave quail for meat to the people in the evening.  12 "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, 'At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.'" (Exodus 16:12)


But, God knew the people He saved would struggle to trust The One who provided the food.  God knows that doubt and unbelief are common temptations to all people, even to those who follow the Lord.  So, in Exodus 16-17 God patiently worked to teach His people to trust Him, because He does and He will provide.


The Israelites were to gather the correct portion of manna each day for each person in every tent and eat it all.  They were to trust God to provide again the next day and not try to gather extra manna and save some.  But, even with these explicit instructions, some of the people gathered extra manna and did try to save it.  The next morning the manna they saved was full of worms and stunk.  (Exodus 16:19-20)


However, the Lord gave different instructions for the Sabbath. God instructed the people of Israel to gather twice as much manna on Friday mornings, so they would have enough food on Saturday and could rest on the Sabbath. Even though God instructed them how to trust Him, some of the people still went out on the Sabbath looking for manna.  There was none.  Again, they trusted their own wisdom, and their own efforts, instead of following the instructions God had given.  (Exodus 16:27)


In this lesson God was teaching the Israelites about following Him.  God wanted them to know that He provides, and that they could and should trust Him.  God also taught them that because He provides, they could rest and they could worship on the Sabbath and trust His provision.  Trusting and obeying were hard lessons for the Israelites to learn.


It is easy to look back on the people of Israel and criticize their doubt and their disobedience.  But, as I was reading, it struck me how much all of us worry about providing for our own lives.  We often forget that God is The Provider.  We trust our efforts, and we doubt, or we even forget that our Lord loves and cares for His people.  (Consider just some of the verses in Scripture about God providing.  Genesis 22:13-14, 1 Kings 17, Matthew 5:44-45, Matthew 6:25-33).


However, in Jesus God gives even better news.  He does not just provide for our “daily bread” and temporal needs.  The Lord provides for our eternal welfare in Jesus.  When God sent Jesus, when Jesus lived and died and rose for us, God has accomplished eternal life for all who believe in Jesus.  This eternal providing in Jesus should also remind us that God even provides for our today, no matter our needs, no matter our trials.  Listen to Romans 8:31-32.  31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”


The Christian faith is just that – it is faith.  We are called on to trust God to provide food and clothes. We are called on to trust God to provide protection and love.  We are called on to trust God to provide forgiveness, grace, and eternal life.  But often our faith is like that of the Israelites.  We find it hard to trust our Loving Lord.  We don’t see how our needs will be cared for.  So we also find it difficult to obey God’s loving direction.


The lesson that Exodus 16 has taught me again, is to pray for faith.  I know God provides for me, now and eternally.  But sometimes, like the Israelites, I forget.  It is easy to forget that God provides in the wilderness of this life.  Lord teach me the truth of 1 Peter 5:7.  Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.”


A Child of God, Asking God’s Help to Always Trust His Providing,

Pastor Jonathan   


P.S.  We went fishing in a new lake this past Monday.  We had trouble finding the lake, but finally drilled holes with water.  We had no bites, and caught no fish. But there was some great winter beauty.



P.P.S.  On Thursday evening, February 7, as we sat down to eat, our two dogs were feeling needy.  My dog, Mat, and Mary’s dog, Solomon, wanted some attention, or some food.





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, February 6, 2019

A Goal for My Life - Recieving and Giving an Example of Faith

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


What goals do you have for your life?  Often when asked that question we may think of big things.  Athletes may want to win championships.  Leaders may want to see great accomplishments for those they lead.  Perhaps pastors think of large growing churches.


However, my wife, Kathy, a very wise woman, has been known to tell other nurses,  “A lot of people can be a nurse, but I’m the only one who can be my husband’s wife.  I am the only one who can be my children’s mother.”  So, as you look at your life goals, how are you doing in your relationships with those closest to you?


I ask this question because I was reviewing some things I learned at my dad’s death.  Actually, when my dad died last August, I learned some things I had never heard, or realized.  I learned he had served in every position of leadership at his church, First Lutheran in Gainesville, FL.  Yes he had been president, vice-president, treasurer, financial secretary, elder, trustee, etc.  I hadn’t realized he had also served as Sunday School Superintendent.  In addition, my dad’s financial advisor told my siblings and me a story about a conversation he had with my dad about his estate.  None of us had ever heard that story before.  Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.  After my mom passed, and after Kathy’s mom passed, in both cases we learned things we had not previously known.  We learned of struggles.  We learned of perseverance.  We learned of faith.


Last November I was in FL to visit family and take care of business after my dad’s death.  While there I attended a concert with Pastor Bob and Elaine Besalski.  Bob was pastor of First Lutheran in 1965 when our family moved from Massachusetts to Gainesville, FL.  In many ways Bob is still our family pastor, and my pastor.  As we were at the concert a man came over and talked with us because he knew Bob.  His name was Daryl Pring.  As we visited Daryl shared a story about my dad I had never heard.


Daryl told me that one night, when he was serving as an Elder at First Lutheran with my dad, they had an especially long and difficult meeting.  They made it through the meeting and my dad told the other elders, “This was a tough one.  I think we need to spend time together.  Let’s go to (a local restaurant) and I’ll buy everyone a beer.”  Daryl said everyone went and it was an important bonding time for these men who were dealing with difficult spiritual and congregational issues, simply as committed volunteers.  I had never heard that story of struggle, of perseverance, and faith about my dad.


Back to my opening question.  “What goals do you have for your life?”  Looking back I know that I have been blessed by the faith and the example of my parents and grandparents, blessed in a way that no money could buy.  I also know that what my wife says is true, “A lot of people can serve as a pastor, but I’m the only one who can be my wife’s husband.  I am the only one who can be my children’s dad, my grandchildren’s paternal grandfather.”  Even more than accomplishing what others may think are great accomplishments, my goal is that I want to give an example of facing struggle, of persevering, an example of faith in Jesus to my family.


In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul, a founder of the church in Corinth and spiritual father, wrote to the people, Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  Peter wrote to the Christians of the dispersion and encouraged them in their trials, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”  (1 Peter 2:21)  In both of these churches, the believers were asked to look to others’ as examples of Christian faith and living.  They are especially called to look at the example of the love, at the sacrifice, and the suffering of Jesus.  These Christians are then called to follow these examples.


But, perhaps the writer of the Hebrews says best how we benefit from the example of faith and perseverance of others, especially Jesus.  “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. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  (Hebrews 12:1-3) After writing in chapter 11 about the faith of God’s Old Testament people, the writer calls the believers to whom he is writing to follow their example of faith and perseverance.  As they face persecution and trials, He especially points to Jesus, and encourages them not to lose heart, but to believe and persevere.  Examples of faith make a difference in the lives of those who witness this faith!


I pray regularly that my children and grandchildren know and believe in the saving love of Jesus.  I pray that they follow Him in their personal and professional lives.  So, “What goals do I have for my life?”  I continue to hope to leave my children and grandchildren an example of perseverance in times of struggle, and an example of not only believing in Jesus, but living my faith.


“What goals do you have for your life?” 


A Child of God, Thankful for Examples of Faithful Perseverance from Those who Loved Me!

Pastor Jonathan   


P.S.  the St. John Evangelism Board met on February 3.  Here is a picture of the Evangelism Board this year.


P.P.S.  On Monday, February 4, I went fishing with Gerry Zellar.  We caught 9 rainbow trout and kept 5.  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.