Dear St. John Saints, The month of May is now upon us. There are a number of things that are observed and celebrated in May—just like there are every month. I’m sure the children are happy about this year’s school ending for the summer. The weather is getting warmer and we are looking to do outdoor activities. Farmers are getting ready to plant wishing they had been able to start—maybe they finally have. And for each of you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m sure this month holds something special in store for each of you.
Whatever it is you are looking to enjoy in May, I pray that first it will be the Lord’s mercy. Then, an appreciation of His creation. And third, still setting time for worship and prayer. This gives a good witness to the world as we called to do by our gracious Lord and King.
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." - Lamentations 3:22–23 (ESV)
God’s love and forgiveness are “new” every day. As one draws closer to God, a person will see that he/she is unholy and sinful before God. Yet, we also see the mercy of God who forgives our sins in Jesus Christ. This is something that we should remember and give thanks for every day. Don’t let the rush of all your activities distract you from the most important and eternal things—your relationship with Jesus Christ your Savior. Remember that His whole live was lived for you and His sacrifice saved you from an eternity in hell. Devote time each day for prayer—confession and repentance, remembrance and thanksgiving for God’s mercy, and asking His guidance in life according to His commandments.
"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." - Psalm 19:1 (ESV)
The One Who loves you and wants to be in relationship with you is the One Who made all that you get to enjoy. Ball fields—God made that grass. Camping trips—God made the woods and the rivers and the sky and the stars and the creatures, etc. Beach—God made the sand and the waters. Mountains, parks, pools, plains—all are His and made by God for you. Thank God for them. Be good stewards of these gifts of creation—don’t litter and recycle. Appreciate the wonders God has made and let them remind you of God’s favor and blessing to you.
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together (gather for worship), as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." - Hebrews 10:24–25 (ESV)
As summer rolls around—and it will get here—it is easy to shrug off worship time. I encourage you to make that commitment to time for worship. God has given you all your time. Acknowledge His gift of time by setting first that time for worship. Jesus Himself was in that gathered time for worship every week. As God has given you the gifts of precious time and beautiful spaces, thank and praise Him for them. This month and every month. Today and everyday. Praise God for all His gifts in Christ Jesus.
Peace, Pastor Toensing
©Jews for Jesus; from the September 2017 Jews for Jesus quarterly. Reproduced with permission.
The Yom Kippur service includes a prayer known as the Al Chet (pronounced “all KHET”). It’s a lengthy recitation of sins, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet. This theoretically helps worshipers to confess their sins from A to Z. A person may not have committed all of the sins mentioned in the prayer, but at least they are not in danger of leaving anything out!
For many Jewish people, this will be the only time of year when the idea of sin is given much thought. Dr. Heshy Friedman, a Jewish faculty member at Brooklyn College, gives a typical assessment of how Jewish people are taught to regard sin in his article, "I’m Sorry". He writes, “Judaism emphasizes ‘healthy guilt’—where you maintain the sense that you’re a good person, while acknowledging that in this case you used bad judgment and made a mistake.”
How different this is from the words so painfully and poetically articulated by King David, as he recognizes his sin as evil (Psalm 51:4) and something that has been a part of his nature from birth (v. 5).
Unbiblical as a typical Jewish view of sin may be, it is no different from how the secular culture all around us treats the problem of sin. The difference is that religious Judaism recognizes, as King David did, that any “mistake” made against another person is also made against God. Say the word “sin” to the average person and they might expect a lecture on all kinds of do’s and don’ts. Such lectures have no traction on a mind made morally mushy as it swims through a sea of relativism.
This weak understanding of sin makes it difficult for people, Jewish or otherwise, to see a need for salvation. If you have found that to be the case when you try to share the gospel, you might find that people are more likely to see their sin if you speak frankly about your own. And by that, I don’t mean a recitation from A to Z of all the evil things you have thought, said or done!
When I talk to people about my sin, it’s usually something like: “If I’m honest, by nature, I don’t like the idea of God being God. It means Someone Else knows better than me what I should or should not do. It means that Someone Else has a right to want things for me and from me that may be different from what I would choose. And finally, it means any relationship I could possibly have with God has to be on His terms, not mine.”
Normally at this point, heads are nodding, wry smiles appear. They can relate to my “natural” dislike of all these things. At that point you can go to Genesis 3 to show how these feelings began when the first man and woman were not content to believe God or depend on Him for the knowledge of good and evil. I usually add, “Believing that lie that God was somehow trying to cheat us while ascribing to ourselves rights that are uniquely His, that is what the Bible calls sin, and it’s behind all other sins. Sin twists our view of ourselves and makes us see God as less than God. How could you have a relationship with me if I treat you as less than human? No more can God have a relationship with anyone who treats Him as less than God. And everything bad and unjust between people begins with our broken relationship with God.”
By humbly describing our own natural inability to give God the trust and worship He deserves, we can help others recognize the problem of sin that separates all people, themselves included, from Him. That helps build a platform for telling the wonderful story of God’s merciful love and gracious solution in Jesus.
Author’s Note: I’m not advocating that we shy away from recognizing specific behaviors as sin. But in witnessing to people who don’t have a basic understanding of sin, it’s helpful to start with the root of the problem.
Pastor Toensing’s note: Jews for Jesus is not associated with the LCMS. Apple of His Eye (AOHE) Mission Society, however, is a Recognized Service Organization (RSO) of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) that seeks to proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior to the Jewish people.
Dear St. John Saints, I have enjoyed working through the book of Job for our Lenten services. I, myself, have learned about patience and dealing with affliction. I have been encouraged more to trust God in things I cannot fully grasp. I have been strengthened in my faith that all things are in God’s hands. And yet, I do continue to struggle that though many terrible things happen in this world we still don’t get clear and full understanding from God about why these things are allowed to be. But I do know the comfort I find in God and in His promises. He is with us—always—even when we feel like He isn’t. I know because His Word says so. So, I will believe God’s Word regardless of how I feel.
I think we can be blessed by our fellow believers as well. It is a blessing when we are surrounded by our brothers and sisters in the faith and we see how they handle their afflictions in faith. David S. Smith, St. Louis, MO, writes in Concordia Pulpit Resources:
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.” - James 1:12
We all have trials. I can certainly remember mine. There was first a seven-hour brain surgery. The surgery went fine. Then every complication the doctor mentioned happened. I was in the hospital four times for a total of sixteen days. In the midst of that time of trial, I remember that I wasn’t angry with God because of what was happening to me. I don’t even remember asking why this was happening to me. What I was asking was this: “God, where are you?” In times of trial, which we know will come, we wonder where God is and what he’s doing to help us through that particular trial. Then it dawns on us. At the cross! That’s where he is. At the cross! Jesus suffered the trials of the whole world when he hung on the cross, and his death has reconciled us to God so that he’s always with us. At the cross is where we’ll find our God during our time of trial. There we will find his comfort, his understanding, his power, and his victory.
Of course, this isn’t always easy to grasp. But God is with us and we know His love in the sacrifice of Jesus that purchased eternal life for us. God is with us now and always and we will be with God forever. This what our hope holds on to. Jesus knows our suffering for He Himself suffered. Jesus was forsaken by God so that we never have to be apart from God presence. The thing to remember is this: take God at His Word. He promises that He is with us. So He is. He says so and He keeps His Word. When you don’t feel God’s presence—and often we don’t feel it—we nevertheless know that He is present because He promises to be. And that is faith—trusting in God and taking Him at His Word. Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b ESV). Pastor Toensing
Dear St. John Saints, I love you. I do. Yes, I’m saying that because Valentine’s Day is coming. And Valentine’s Day is a time for expressions of love. Usually, Valentine’s Day is thought to be an expression of romantic and affectionate love.
But there is a love that is greater and deeper than that. Consider God’s love for us. The Bible is clear that God loves and that God is love. But God’s love is not just an affectionate love for us. God’s love goes much deeper. God shows love—He doesn’t just say it. God shows His love in keeping His promises. He promises to grant you what you need today: food, shelter, water, clothes, family, and friends. If you have these—God has fulfilled His promises to you.
But God’s love is also shown to us in mercy and forgiveness. God gave up His most precious and beloved Son to death for you to save you from your sins. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for you is the greatest love every.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” - John 3:16 (ESV)
God’s love is so much more deeper and foundational than a simple expression of affectionate love. God’s love is according to His decision and will to love us.
Consider when couples are married. The groom and the bride make vows (promises) to each other. To uphold those promises to be faithful and to love in all situations is a love that goes way beyond affection; it goes to will and choice and decision. Husbands and wives are faithful when they keep their promises made on their wedding day. And if we are honest, we know that spouses might not always feel loving or affectionate. But when we are true to our vows, by choice, by our will, because we once said so, that is love. And from love that is the intent of the will affectionate love is kindled and renewed daily.
This reminds us of and reflects our relationship with God. God loves us by His will and by keeping His vows to us faithfully. And He doesn’t just say; He shows love. He puts His love into action by taking care of us and this world every day. God put His love into action when Jesus did the love of the Law for us. Jesus showed us God’s love by suffering and dying in our place for sins. God fulfills His promises and will fulfill them when this world ends and He takes us into eternal life with Himself.
We show love for God not by saying so, but by keeping His commands. The summary of the 10 Commandments is love— love for God and love for each other. Love doesn’t just say it. Love does it. It shows it by actions. So, I pray that we show each other love by loving each other—really showing love for each other in our actions. And if you want to see what true love is this month as you prepare for Valentine’s Day, look to the cross. The cross, where Jesus died for you to save you from your sins—that is true love. True love is sacrificial. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died to save you. True love shows it. And God shows love for us in Jesus and He continues to show it by His wonderful gifts to us each and every day. First, in the forgiveness of our sins, and then in His blessings to us each and every day.
I love you. But more than that—so much more—God loves you—and He shows you in Jesus.
In Christ Who loves us, Pastor Toensing
"For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be." - Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV)
Life. There is nothing like living life. Sure, it can be hustle bustle at times. It has its challenges. Over time some things change. We experience all kinds of emotions and situations. But … life is good. Life is to be lived in the joy of God’s creation and in His grace.
God made life. God invented it. He gives it. It is His to take away. Jesus came to save our lives from hell. He came that we might have good lives now—that is, lives of peace knowing that we have a Savior who cares for us and wants us to have a good life. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).
The Gospel of John has a number of passages that proclaim to us that God loves life and gives life. It is sad, then, when there are those who want to destroy life. Some destroy it in the beginning with abortions. But what is in the womb is a human life. That life—that person—in the womb comes there by the wonderful process that God created in the beginning. We see that because we believe that God has made all things. Such life is to be protected and nurtured and served.
God cares for all life. The suffering and dying person with a terminal disease is a person with life that God cares for—one for whom Jesus died to save from hell. It is not for us to end life, but to serve that person with care and dignity until the Lord calls one out of this life. But there are many who reject God and do not see that begins at conception. There are many who seek to end life on human terms, rejecting the Creator and failing to live according to the love God has for a person even in horrible and painful and difficult situations. It is the genuine love of God that overcomes all that is destructive in life.
So we commit ourselves to protecting life and serving others in their deepest needs. We speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8 NIV). We love with sacrifice. We love abundantly just as Jesus came to give us life and love in great abundance. God loves life.
So do we. God grant us good life and help us to care for life and show His love to those struggling in life. Praise God who has given us life to the full and life everlasting through Jesus Christ our Savior. Rejoice that Jesus Christ gave His life sacrificially in suffering and death so that we might be forgiven and saved. To God alone the glory who gives us life in abundance.
In Christ’s Love, Pastor Toensing
We wish you a very blessed Advent and a truly merry Christmas! God grant that your homes are filled with joy and peace.
Jesus is our King. Our King came to be born among us and with us so that He might deliver us from sin and death.
We rejoice in our new church family and the blessing you are to us. Shelley and I pray that the celebration of our Savior's birth shines God's Light and love into your home this season and all the year 'round.
May God keep all our family of St. John Kramer in His eternal, loving care and grant us a safe, healthy, blessed Christmas. With all our love in Christ Jesus, Merry Christmas - Pastor & Shelley
I am truly blessed and grateful for the work God is doing in our congregation through His redeemed children. As I work among you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I see your faith in Christ overflowing in love. Love is faith in action. I appreciate the work of our boards and committees and groups. I appreciate the participation of many in Bible studies and worship. I enjoy seeing so many people committed to the ministry of this congregation. You are giving. You work among one another serving. I see and hear the positive attitudes. And there is love and concern for one another. I am thankful to God for you and your service.
Such acts and service of love reflect the service and love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. There is no greater service and act of love than the sacrifice that God made for us on the cross. St. John tells us that God is love. And God shows us that true love is action. Love does not just say, “I love you.” True love has hands and feet—that is, love is not a feeling, but acts that serve another. The Son of God taking on human flesh and living according to God’s law for us was an act of love. Jesus, giving Himself up to suffering and death on the cross was the greatest act of love. And Jesus being raised on the third day was an act of love which shows His acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and the desire to give us life eternally.
God continually shows love by giving us what we need as His creatures. He put all things in place in creation and sustains them in their ways. The planets run their courses and we have sunshine each day. The seasons continue by the hand of God. God provides rain and sun and all that makes the plants that grow for food for us. God gives life and wisdom to man that he might use his skill to build and to provide services that help fill the needs of others. And for all these things we are thankful.
November brings the wonderful celebration of a national day of thanksgiving. I’m certain that you have heard this before, but hear it again: thanksgiving should be every day, not just once a year. When I think of thanksgiving and of Thanksgiving, I think about rolling out the scroll. I picture a scroll hundreds of feet long with a never ending list of everything to thank God for. I could spend a whole day doing nothing but listing off things that I am thankful for. True thanksgiving, thanking God for all His blessings, is something that will never end. God is so gracious and kind and full of love—and He is willing to act on my behalf. Jesus—on the cross. The Lamb of God sacrificed for my sin is the act of love that deserves our eternal thanks.
I pray you have a month and a time of thanksgiving that recognizes the true Giver of all gifts. The sacrifice of Jesus that saves us from sin and death is the greatest act of love for which we should be eternally thankful. Roll out the scroll and thank God for all His blessings to you. In Christ’s Love, Pastor Toensing
Names. There are some portions of Scripture where there are a lot of names. Each name is for a person that God cares about. God cares about you. God knows your name—you are important and precious to Him. His own name is to be honored and rightly used (see the Second Commandment).
You are important to me. I have been trying to learn your names. I have found that I still need to think on many; some are starting to become second nature. But, if I try to get your name and get it wrong—tell me and correct me. It helps me to get it right sooner. And I do want to get your name right. Some names stick right away. Some—I don’t know why—just take a while. And sometimes I will momentarily forget your name even though I know it. Of course, the more I see you and can call you by name, the better I will get your name.
So, I would be glad to see you in worship often where we receive the precious gifts God delivers to us. God knows you and your name. You are a precious lamb of His flock because of Jesus who brings us into harmony with the Father. As your pastor I look forward to getting to know you, to know you better, to call you by name, and to serve you faithfully as we share the love of Christ together. In Jesus’ name, Pastor Toensing
The summer is coming to an end and boy has it been quite full of events! I have now been among you for three months and it has been exciting to learn about you and to get to know you. Shelley and Steven and I have been warmly received by you all. We have been tremendously blessed by your care and support and sharing of gifts. We are truly grateful for your kindness and generosity.
I am very encouraged by this congregation’s desire to receive the gifts of God in worship and sacrament and study of God’s Word. What a blessing it has been to begin my work here with caring Elders, support and involvement and participation in missions, excited educators in VBS, SS, and Midweek, various groups committed to study and service and mission. There are plans to look to the future and improve the mission and ministry of St. John. And I am blessed to be partnering with you in all of this to God’s glory and the salvation of souls in Jesus Christ. And there is more to do—there will always be more to do. Jesus said, “For you always have the poor with you.” (Mark 14:7) There are the poor in spirit and there are the earthly poor. The mission of Christ is to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10) and the poor in spirit (Matthew 11:5) and to care for those in need. God help us to continue doing what we can to serve one another and to see to the needs of others in the love of Christ.
God bless you for caring for your pastor and his family. I pray that I may serve you faithfully in the Gospel of Christ. And God grant that we expand and grow Christ’s mission to love and teach, to worship and receive God’s gifts, and to share what we have with others. In the love of Christ, Pastor Toensing
At a recent men’s Bible study, we read a passage that was filled with names—most were unfamiliar and hard to pronounce. It was Jeremiah 36. In Matthew chapter one and at the end of Luke chapter 3 you will find genealogies of Jesus with lots of names. If you go to the book of Numbers, such as chapter 26, you find a census was ordered. And there you will find many names and an accounting of the numbers of their clans. Such long lists of names are hard to work through. And you say, “So what?”
Well, they are in the Bible—God’s Word—so that must mean something. It does. God is interested in individuals. God knows all of His children by name and loves every one of them. As you come across such lists of names, consider that God knows your name. He knows you as an individual. He knows you intimately and He loves you—even though He knows everything about you, yet He loves you and wishes to be in communion with you. You are loved by Him and He knows you and He knows your name—you are not a number to God. You are His redeemed child in Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is the Son of God who came to live, suffer, die and rise again for every single person—for every sinner.
Jesus came to be your individual Savior—yes you—and to bring you into communion with God. God calls you out of sin and calls you to faith in Jesus. As you believe in Jesus, your sins are forgiven, and you are adopted into God’s family to be His own, dearly loved, child. God then knows you intimately. He is able to know every one of His children intimately and individually. That is what all the names in the Bible should tell us. God knows the names of all His children and God knows your name and He loves you in Jesus Christ. God grant that you remain in faith in Jesus Christ as live as the child of God that you are. –Pastor
We cannot begin to express how blessed and warmly welcomed we have felt since accepting the call. Your generosity began before we even moved with contacts and messages welcoming us and offering prayers on our behalf. There was a tremendous amount of work done on the parsonage that helped make it home for us. Since arriving we have been welcomed with an installation service and reception, a tea for Shelley, and filling-the-food-pantry shower. We are grateful not only for your generosity, but for the time and effort put into all of these.
Many of you have reached out personally with a welcome gift or with food; some of you stopped by just checking on things; and a number of you have been helpful in answering our many questions. We are thankful for the help of the trustees with a number of needs at the parsonage since we arrived. To say that we are thankful is an understatement. We are truly humbled and blessed!
Above all we thank God who brought us here and we look forward to working and living among you to worship and serve our Lord Jesus Christ. In humble gratitude, Pastor, Shelley and Steven
Thank you to everyone last Sunday, and over the last two weeks, for welcoming me and my family. Thank you for the gifts of food and the reception following the installation. Most of all, thank you for the warmth and fellowship we share in Christ our Lord. We look forward to getting to know you all, our dear brothers and sisters in Christ. - Pastor, Shelley and family