Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Thankful for My Earthly Dad and My Heavenly Father

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


This week I have been thinking about my dad.  This past Monday, July 29, was one year from the last time any of us Alaskan Rockey’s saw him, except my time beside his bed at the end of his life when he was in a coma.  But on Sunday, July 29, 2018, my daughter, Mary, was visiting family in Florida.  Mary had lunch with my dad and I have a picture of the two of them on that day after lunch outside the place where Dad lived.  My dad was taller than I am in adult life.  But, in this picture he is somewhat stooped, and his head is not quite as tall as Mary’s ear.  He has a half grin on his face.  My dad had a sense of humor.


While Mary and Dad were visiting, he told her something she has often repeated to her Alaska family.  Dad informed Mary, “Martha (my sister) is in charge.  But, when Martha’s not here, you’re in charge.”  Mary has reminded us of my dad’s words many times.  And, since Martha lives in FL, and Mary lives in Alaska . . . Well, you get the idea!


My dad was a little over 90 years and 10 months when this picture was taken.  He would have been 91 on September 22, 2018.  But, he contracted a urinary tract infection, which led to other complications, and he passed away around 5:25 a.m. on August 25.  I was by his bedside.


As Monday July 29th approached, I was thinking about my dad because I knew the date of that picture of Mary and Dad.  I used to phone him on Monday’s.  Obviously, I don’t call Dad anymore. Now I call my sister, Martha.  Since we live in Alaska and he lived in FL we did not get to spend the holidays together.  But, this was the first year I didn’t send my dad a Father’s Day card and gift for the occasion.  Obviously, since he died almost a year ago, he was no longer home to receive the card and gift for this year’s Fathers’ Day.


Perhaps another reason I was thinking about my dad is the St. John Alaska Mission for Christ Vacation Bible School in Eek, Alaska, last week.  It was a very good trip again this year.  We had about 75 children who attended 4 days of VBS.  Eight members of St. John flew to Eek, including Rod and Temple Christiansen, and their son, Aaron, Sara Guhl, and her grandson, Gaelen Swigart, Marilee Nufer, Margaret Runser, and myself.  This year, we also added basketball camp at night, led by Rod Christiansen.  That camp was a BIG hit.  I also offered an adult Bible Study at the same time, based on the lessons we had taught the children that day in VBS.  I did not get the attendance Rod got in basketball camp, but I had at least 5 folks a night.


One other phenomenon we experienced again was the regular visit of children to the place we were staying.  Some children especially came to visit every day.  They seemed to crave our attention.  Interestingly, some of these children always seemed to show up around meal time.  One day our village contact and friend, George Alexie, was present during one of these visits.  He said, “I’m glad these children are coming to visit you.”  George explained that, at least for a couple of these children, home life was not all that good, and the children were often hungry.


Do you realize what a blessing it is that many of us have had loving fathers who worked to provide for us, and care for us, and laugh with us, as best they can?  In Matthew 7 Jesus talks about the care of fathers. 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? In God’s plan for the world fathers take care of their children, even if that does not always happen in our world.  Thinking back to my dad, He did provide, and he did love, and he did teach.  He especially taught us about our Lord, which is the main responsibility Scripture gives parents.  ( See Deuteronomy 6:6-7, Proverbs 22:6, and Ephesians 6:4).  Thank you, Dad!


But, dads are human as all of us are, and all parents struggle at times in raising our children well.  So, I am thankful for the rest of that Matthew verse which indicates we also have a Heavenly Father, whose love and provision even surpass the love of our earthly Fathers.  Jesus tells His disciples at the end of that section of Matthew, “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!” (Matthew 7:11)


And, if our Heavenly Father loves His children and cares for them, consider the meaning of the best known verse in Scripture, John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (NAS)  Our Heavenly Father obviously loves His “only begotten Son.”  So, if our Heavenly Father “gave” His Son that we might believe and have eternal life, how much does our Heavenly Father love us??!  Actually, this truth further explains the words of Psalm 103:13, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” God gives us fathers to love and care for us.  But, the love of our Heavenly Father surpasses the love even the best earthly dad can give.


Like my father, I am the dad of 4 children, and now I am also grandfather to 6 grandchildren.  I have tried to love, and to provide, and to teach.  But, I know at times I have struggled.  In the end, I am thankful.  I am thankful for a dad who did love me, provide for me, and teach me about Jesus.  I am thankful for the privilege of loving and caring for my own children and grandchildren.  And, I am especially thankful for my Heavenly Father whose love even surpasses the love of my earthly dad.


Do you have good memories of your father?  If so, be thankful, not everyone has that blessing.  But, everyone does have a Heavenly Father who loves us so much He sent Jesus.  Thank You, Dad!


A Child of God, Thankful for My Earthly Dad and for My Heavenly Father,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.  Here is the picture of Mary and my dad.


P.P.S.  Here are some pictures of the Basketball Camp that Rod Christiansen conducted during our time in the village of Eek.  While Rod was running a basketball camp for youth, I was teaching an evening Bible Class for adults.  (He had a bigger attendance than I did.  J )


P.P.P.S.  Our Church Publishing House, Concordia Publishing House (CPH), donated 50 children’s bibles for the St. John team to hand out in Eek.  Here are some pictures of children with the Bibles, discussion about the Bibles in worship, and pictures of adults taking the Bibles.


P.P.P.P.S.  Gaelen Swigart and I did get to go fishing with George Alexie, Eek resident and head elder at Eek Moravian Church.  Here are some pictures from that fishing trip.


P.P.P.P.P.S.  Here are all the pictures from our trip to Eek, to provide VBS for the children of the village.








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.





IMPORTANT - When I retire I will continue to write these devotions, but I will no longer send these e-mails as a St. John newsletter.  I will post these devotions on my Facebook page, but not on the St. John Facebook page, for now at least. I believe the articles will also continue in The Frontiersman.  However, if you want to continue to receive these devotions by e-mail please send me an e-mail TO ME at to let me know to send them to you.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Thankful that God Loves and Strengthens us for the Trials of Life

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


As I write this devotion a group from our church is being strengthened by a “mountain top experience.”  This group of 10 youth, 4 adult leaders, and 5 volunteers have been part of the National Youth Gathering (NYG) of the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).  A total of 22,000 youth and adult leaders registered for this event.  In addition there were thousands of volunteers and presenters giving of their time to help the participants grow in their relationship with their Lord, Jesus, and in their relationships with one another.  Thankfully, in many ways these efforts worked.


Alexis Barfield, one of the volunteers from St. John, asked me one day how I liked this Gathering.  I’ve attended 11 National Youth Gatherings since 1986.  Each has a different theme. In many ways it is hard to compare one gathering to another.  But I told Alexis, “Anytime 20-25,000 people gather together to grow in faith and serve their Lord, that is a wonderful experience and opportunity.”  (In all honesty, some of the presentations of this Gathering were especially relevant and inspiring to me personally.)  So, through the hours of lost sleep, through the stresses of schedule, and the frustrations of transportation, and through waiting in long security lines at the stadium, this gathering was an overwhelmingly joyful experience again for me, and I believe, for most of the people who attended.  It was indeed a “mountain top experience.”


The term “mountain-top experience” comes from the story of Jesus’ transfiguration.  Jesus was preparing to go to Jerusalem, preparing for His suffering and His sacrificial death on the cross. Part of Jesus’ preparation was to go up on this mountain with His disciples, Peter, James, and John.  On the mountain Jesus’ appearance changed; His face shone and His clothes became dazzling bright, confirming that Jesus was indeed the Almighty Lord.  On the mountain Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah, who discussed with Him His coming “departure” (Exodus), His death.  (See Luke 9:31)  On the mountain the Heavenly Father spoke words which strengthened Jesus and His disciples, re-affirming that Jesus is the Son of God and also re-affirming the love of the Father for His Son.  "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (Matthew 17:6) This time on the mountain brought joy and strength to Jesus and His disciples.


But Jesus and His disciples did not stay on the mountain.  Jesus had work to do.  There was still a welcoming of the little children and a meal at Zacchaeus’ house.  Jesus would still teach about the kingdom of God and raise Lazarus from the dead.  Jesus would still enter Jerusalem triumphantly on Palm Sunday, and spend time in the temple teaching God’s love and power, opposed by the religious leaders.  Jesus would still institute the Lord’s Supper, pray in the Garden, and face betrayal by one of His own disciples.  Jesus still faced a sham trial, beating and flogging, and the agony of His cross.  All this was necessary for Jesus to fulfill the prophecies concerning God’s promised Messiah.  All this was required to fulfill all righteousness and to pay for the sin of the whole world.  And in addition to Jesus, His disciples would also walk the road of trial and opposition.  After their time on the mountain, life was still full of suffering and challenge so that Jesus could accomplish the purpose of His life.


Therefore, this “transfiguration” on the mountain-top was just what Jesus needed as He faced this overwhelming, difficult task of suffering and dying for the sins of the world.  This experience on the mountain-top was also just what Jesus’ disciples needed for their coming trials, and even for their failures.


Our group from St. John has been on the mountain-top.  But, now is time to come down the mountain.  There is work to do as a child of God.  There are jobs and school, where people are not always affirmed in the love of our Creator, Father.  There are personal challenges of health, finance, and relationships that we are called to face with faith in God’s love and grace in Jesus.  There are people to love, people who do not always love us back.  So, at the Gathering the participants and our youth have been strengthened for the suffering and the challenges of life.


The Gathering focus came from Psalm 46, especially verse 1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”  Following the theme taken from this verse, “Real-Present-God”, participants learned that in a world of real problems, God and His love and power are real.  They learned that in a world where people wonder where God is in the midst of sin suffering, through Jesus, God is always present in the midst of our trials and struggles.  In a world where our problems are often bigger than we are, the Lord is God, HE is in charge.  So, God tells His people in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God!”  In the midst of these trials and the suffering of life, we have the “Real-Present-God!!”


Actually, Alaskans may understand time in the mountains better than people from other locations.  The mountains are beautiful on a clear day, all year round.  That mountain beauty can fill the soul and give strength to face the ugliness which life brings.  Our youth and the participants have been on the mountain.  Hopefully this time has given them strength to face the challenges life will bring them as children of God. 


So, when do you spend time with God on the mountain, preparing for the challenges of life?


A Child of God, Thankful that God Loves and Strengthens us for the Trials of Life,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.    As I write this devotion, Kathy and I still are in Minneapolis with our group following the National Youth Gathering, just starting our return.  Here are some updated pictures from the Gathering and the time following.


P.P.S.  Here is a picture of each of those people who was called and served as DCE at St. John over the years.  We all ate together on Monday night after the gathering.


P.P.P.S.  Here are some of the many friends we saw at the 2019 LCMS NYG.


P.P.P.P.S.  This presentation, –“God Made Carl” - was a favorite of the youth at the Gathering.


P.P.P.P.P.S.  Here are some of the MANY T-Shirts we saw at the Gathering.





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 9, 2019

Witnessing to Jesus' Love Through Acts of Kindness

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


Charles Dickens begins his book, “A Tale of Two Cities”, with an oft-quoted assertion about the time of the French Revolution.  “It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.”  Well, to a lesser degree, I had a Monday like that last week.


I was fishing on the Little Susitna River with my daughter, Mary, on June 28.  The river had recently been opened to fishing for king salmon.  While on the river I talked with fishing guide, Andy Couch.  Andy saw me early in the day, and then much later.  So, he asked me if I had been fishing in a specific hole way upstream.  Well, the answer was, “No.”  But Andy’s question got me to thinking, and dreaming.  I had caught my first salmon, my first king salmon in that fishing hole in 1991.  But, the spot was indeed a long way upstream, so I had not fished there since 1997.  However, Andy’s question put the idea in my mind.  I wanted to get back there again.


Sunday afternoon, June 30, not being able to find anyone else to go with me, I put my boat in the water at the Little Su.  I had 3 goals.  I wanted to find that fishing hole again.  I wanted to camp at that hole.  And I wanted to catch a king salmon.  Well, it took me a while, but I did finally find the fishing hole again, arriving a little after 11:00 p.m.  I set up camp and actually enjoyed the sleep I got.  Fishing is only allowed between 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m., so I got up around 5:30 and made some coffee on the Coleman stove.  Then I started fishing.  I actually caught a small king salmon around 6:15 a.m. 


That was the best of times.


But, the fish I caught was relatively small for a king salmon, only about the size of a silver.  I never took the fish out of the water, removed the hook, and let the salmon swim away.  I did have 2 more bites, but I never did actually catch another fish.


It had still been a pretty good day, so I started the boat downstream, fishing and taking care of business on the way.  I got back to the Burma Landing boat ramp around 12:30 p.m.  As I climbed out of the boat. I reached into my pocket for my cell phone, with pictures from on it from my trip.  But, my phone was not in my back pocket.  I had tripped in the boat, so I checked out that location.  I looked everywhere I could think, but I still could not find the phone.  Then I remembered using the bathroom about an hour upstream, not far from that fishing hole.  Could my phone be there?  Unfortunately, I had already used a lot of gas on my trip and I didn’t think I had enough fuel to go that far upstream again.


That was the worst of times


Another fishing guide had seen me up the river. We began talking.  In our conversation I shared that I had lost my phone, and I thought that I knew where it was.  I thought my phone was way upstream, and I would need to go get some more gas to look for it.  We talked some more and this other guide, whom I had never met before, told me he had 5 gallons of gas and offered it to me.  But, I had used my last check paying launch fee.  I had $5.00 cash in my pocket, but not enough to pay for 5 gallons of gas.  I told him my predicament and he said, “No, I’ll give you the gas.” 


I gratefully accepted his offer for the gas and ran my boat upstream for an hour looking for the place I had stopped.  I found where I had gone to the bathroom, and there was the phone laying on the ground right beside the toilet paper.  Whew!  My good day, turned bad, now turned good again!


Do you know how much this act of kindness helped me?  Can you understand how thankful I was?  A number of years ago there was a book that became popular, entitled, “Random Acts of Kindness.”  I have personally tried to be kind to others, to show kindness.  But, this kindness was shown to me and made a difference for good in my life.


In Ephesians 4:32, God moved Paul to write, Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Kindness from a Christian shows the love of Jesus to the other person.  Kindness received by a Christian reminds us of Jesus’ undeserved love.  Our rebellious and sinful lives call for God’s judgement.  But, Jesus willingly sacrificed himself so that we might have forgiveness.  Jesus died on the cross for us, and rose again, so that we might have the treasures of eternal life.  When someone shows us unexpected, undeserved kindness, those acts of mercy remind us of Jesus’ saving kindness.


You might ask, “But, Pastor, that Bible verse talks about “forgiving each other.”  Why did you need forgiving?”  Well, I had not done something hurtful against the guide who gave me the gas.  But, my carelessness caused me to lose my phone.  I felt pretty foolish.  (Of course, this is not the first time I’ve done something foolish.)  The reason the guide had to help me was my careless behavior.  But, the guide heard my story.  He saw my need.  And, he gave me just what I needed at that moment in spite of my foolish actions.  And, again, we had not even met each other before this incident.


Have you helped someone with a random act of kindness?  Or, has someone ever unexpectedly helped you?  Did that kindness remind you of Jesus’ love?  Thank you, Lord, for kind people!  Thank you even more for Your kindness that You gave us forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus.


A Child of God, Reminded of Jesus’ Love by the Kindness of Another,

Pastor Jonathan


P.S.    St. John has a weekly hiking fellowship and ministry during the summer months.  Here are pictures from the hikes from the last two weeks.


P.P.S.  Our garden and flowers continue to do well.  Here are some recent pictures.


P.P.P.S. Here are some pictures from a Family outing on July 4.


P.P.P.P.S.  Kathy and I are in Minneapolis with 22,000 people registered for the National Youth Gathering, and thousands of volunteers.  Nineteen members of St. John are in Minneapolis for the Gathering.  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, July 3, 2019

Praying for America and Our Leaders

Dear Members and Friends of St. John,


You know the old saying.  “There are two things not to discuss in public - religion and politics.”  Yes, I know I’m treading on dangerous ground, but religion, or better termed, “faith” has to do with our relationship with our Creator and Lord.  Faith has to do with our eternal welfare.  Therefore faith, or religion, is of ultimate importance and it is good to discuss.  The question is whether people can actually talk about faith in a civil manner when there are differences of opinion.


Similarly, politics affect our temporal well-being.  If a nation, or state, or city, or organization, is well-governed, all involved benefit.  Likewise, bad leadership hurts all involved.  So, it is also very important, and it is good, to discuss political issues.  Again, the question is whether people can actually discuss politics in a civil manner when there are differences of opinion.


That is why I wish to share some faith views on our nation and state.  We are celebrating the birthday of our nation this week.  It is worth considering God’s teaching on citizenship.


Honestly, when we moved to Alaska in 1991 I was surprised by attitudes held by many Alaskans concerning government and its reach.  More than in any place I had previously lived, and I had lived around the eastern half of the United States, attitudes in Alaska toward the government were antagonistic.  Attitudes were especially negative concerning the federal government.  However, each region of our country is different.  There are reasons people feel the way they do.  (I have since run into even more negative attitudes toward the federal government in Louisiana.)


When I was in school, my study of US history taught me that our founding fathers saw government as a ‘necessary evil.’  That is one of the reasons for the three branches of government, so each branch could balance and even hold back the power of the other branches.


With all this in mind, this week we celebrate the founding of our country, a nation that has been blessed with freedom and prosperity.  But, our country currently faces real challenges.  We are divided in ways I have never previously experienced in America.  Often, when someone has a different opinion on a political issue, others are not willing to listen or discuss that issue.  Leaders are suspect in today’s negative climate, and are often even hated.  I personally confess that I have had differences of opinion with many of our leaders, including both of our last two presidents.  But, if our country is going to continue in a healthy manner, the office must be respected, and the people holding that office given the proper honor.


We are blessed, therefore, that God tells us in Scripture He has a purpose for authority.  Excerpts from Romans 13 tell us,

“1  . . . for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”  (Romans 13:1 b – 4, see below for other references).


Did you hear that?  God Himself established authority.  The Lord gives us rulers and leaders so that those doing right are rewarded, and so that those who do wrong are punished.  God knows that His people need law and order to exist, so He established government.  But, WHAT do we do when a leader seems to lack wisdom, or if a leader even appears evil???


Children of God who seek God’s will do have recourse.  Actually, we do the same thing for troubling leaders that we do for those who appear to do good.  We pray.  Please read with me one other section of God’s Word on “those in authority.

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. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  (1 Timothy 2:1-4)


We pray for everyone, and especially for leaders because they are human, and need help.  We pray for our rulers because they face difficult issues.  We pray for good rulers, and those we may consider to be bad rulers, because everyone can use the wisdom and guidance of God.  We pray for those in authority because when there is law and order God’s Church can do its work and we can share Jesus’ love.


So, this 4th of July, and time surrounding the holiday, I ask you to join me in praying for our country and our leaders.  I ask that you pray for wisdom, for justice, for righteous, for peace, and for unity.  I know God listens to prayer.  Will our leaders and our country listen to God?


A Child of God, Praying for America and Our Leaders,

Pastor Jonathan   



P.S.  If you want to read more Biblical teaching on government you might also want to read Romans 13:1-7, Matthew 22:15-22, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Acts 5:27-29


P.P.S.  Here are some photos from a fishing / camping trip on the Little Susitna River, Sunday night, Monday morning.


P.P.P.S. Here are some pictures from a fishing trip with some of the grandchildren on Tuesday evening at a local lake.


P.P.P.P.S.  My family was “taking bets” on the topic of this week’s article.  This is not the article they expected.  Timeliness is important.  Those other articles can be written later.






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.