Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Responding to God's GRACE in Christ, Through Life AND in Death


Dear Fellow Children of God,



Paul’s second letter to the Christians in Corinth is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  Paul speaks with faith, from the heart, about personal suffering, about deep anguish, about care for others, and about the mission of God’s Church.  I have personally found comfort, strength, and direction for my life many times in the God-inspired words of Second Corinthians.  Therefore, a Bible verse I asked every confirmation student to memorize, understand, and to put into practice is 2 Corinthians 5:15.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Because Jesus, the Son of God, died and rose for me, I am called to live for Him, not for myself.  That verse is an excellent description of the life of a Christian disciple.



Later in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul shares the amazing grace of God with this congregation.  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 Corinthian 8:9)  Paul shares this undeserved love of God while encouraging the Corinthians to participate in a financial offering of love for the suffering Christians in Jerusalem.  His basic line of reasoning goes like this.  “If Jesus left the riches of life with His Father in heaven, if Jesus took on the poverty of this world, with it’s sin and death, so that you can have the riches of His blessing in this life AND receive eternal life in heaven, how will you respond to this amazing grace?”  Paul’s hope was that the hearts of these Corinthians would be moved by our Lord’s love and His grace, and that these Christians would want to serve God with all their lives (2 Corinthians 8:5), including their resources and their finances.



Yes, as we respond to the unbelievable love God has for us, we want to live for Him, even with our finances.  But, . . . have you ever thought of what we might do for the Lord when we are no longer living on this earth? 



Kathy and I have been working on our wills again, and setting up a trust for when God calls us home.  Don’t worry, we don’t have any medical harbingers of our imminent departures.  But, when my dad passed in 2018, at the age of 90 years, and 11+ months, he set an example for us of leaving his legacy to his children in a trust.  We decided to follow his example.  While working on these documents (This is our 5th will in our married lives.) we wanted to leave more than possessions.  Our greatest gift and possession is God’s unbelievable grace, which we receive through faith in Jesus.  So, how can we leave our faith, how can we continue to serve our Lord, even when we are dead? 



In actuality, Kathy and I already had a statement of faith in our last will, but we both thought that one was clumsy, and poorly worded.  Kathy, however, found another statement of faith which we adapted.  Perhaps, this can give you some thoughts for your response to God’s love, now and eternally.  Perhaps our Christian Preamble can help you consider the question, “How can we leave our faith, how can we continue to serve our Lord, even when we are dead?”  Following is what we are including in our wills and in our trust. 



PREAMBLE

In the name of the True God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

First, I want my loved ones to know that I place full confidence and trust in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who promised: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." (John 11:25-26)

            Second, knowing that the wages of sin is death, I believe that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, suffered and died for the forgiveness of all my sins, which I neither deserve nor merit, but I receive it as a free gift of God, Who is rich in grace and mercy.

Third, I leave to all of my loved ones the promise of eternal life, because Jesus rose from the dead, and I leave with them the truth and comfort of the words of our Savior, found in John 3:16; "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  I leave those who survive me the assurance of knowing that I have died in this faith and now have joined my Lord in eternal glory.        

Fourth, I praise God for giving me a loving, caring, Christian helpmate in my wife/husband. They have been a blessing to me, and a wonderful parent to our children. Knowing that we both share our faith in Jesus as our Savior, we will praise the Lord forever in Heaven.     

Fifth, I pray that the Lord would guard and protect my children. You are very special to me and I thank the Lord for you. Through your baptism you have been received into God's family and I urge you to remain faithful to Christ until you are called home to be with the Lord. I love you and I look forward to eternity with you in heaven.

Sixth, I pray that the Lord would shower His blessings upon my grandchildren. May the Holy Spirit guide you along the narrow path of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. I urge you to respect your parents and honor them as your parents have honored me.     

Seventh, I recognize that all my earthly possessions are a gift from God. Therefore, I have made provisions in my will to continue my Christian stewardship after I have gone to Heaven to be with the Lord. I trust that what I offer as a gift will be blessed many times over by the Lord in sharing the Good News.     

Eighth, my heirs will receive, through me, gifts from God. Our greatest temporal blessing has been our family.  May you always remember that everything you have is a trust from God. Be good and wise stewards of His blessings, managing wisely and returning to Him a generous portion for the work in His Kingdom.  Please especially take care of one another.  God bless you, and I love you.



Kathy and I have been thinking on the question, “How can we leave our faith, how can we continue to serve our Lord, even when we are dead?”  Perhaps our thoughts can be a blessing to you as well. 



A Child of God, Responding to God’s GRACE in Christ, Through Life AND in Death,

Pastor Jonathan



P.S.   Here are some fishing pictures

·       Surf casting at Crescent Beach, 2-12--2020:  https://photos.app.goo.gl/o2LQaZntWrkbzWBJ8

 

·       Fishing on the Suwannee River with brother, Stephen, 2-15-2020.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/vS8DSr5ox8swCivG6



·       Fishing on Orange Lake with new friend, Randy, 2-18-2020. https://photos.app.goo.gl/jckHt4x1k5FBf9Mz7



*****



ABOUT THIS DEVOTION - I am now retired as senior pastor of St. John Lutheran in Palmer, AK.  This devotion was previously titled, "Thoughts from the Pastor."  However, with life's changes I will now call it "Journeys Through Life as a Child of God."  I am only sending this message to those who have asked o receive it.  If you know someone else who desires to receive this message, have them e-mail me at jonrock53@mtaonline.net.  You can also view this message on my Facebook page.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Working to 'Give Thanks in ALL Circumstances'


Dear Fellow Children of God,



My heart is heavy as I write this devotion.  I received word on Monday, February 10, that Concordia University – Portland will be closing its doors and will cease operation at the end of this semester for Spring of 2020.  Concordia began teaching and preparing students as Lutheran Church workers in 1905.  But, when classes end this Spring, that service will be finished.



Perhaps it is surprising for me to feel this way about a college I did not personally attend.  I began preparing to serve as a pastor at Concordia College in Austin, TX.  But, I know many people who did attend Concordia-Portland, including Dave and Marilee Nufer, Pastor Paul Birner, President Paul Linnemann and his wife, Cindy, Pastor George Rakos, my daughter Mary, and many more.  Mary graduated with her Masters Degree in Social Studies just last year, in May of 2019!  Over the years, Concordia Portland has prepared church workers, educated lay people, helped equip congregations, and shared the Gospel of Jesus with students who did not know Him.  Now these blessings will cease.  My heart is heavy.



Concordia had, in recent years, even reached out into the community and worked with Faubion School, the PK-8th grade public school next door to them.  This school, with the highest proportion of free lunch recipients in the Portland School District, worked in partnership with Concordia students.  Concordia students received experience at Faubion.  Faubion students benefited from tutoring, help with their studies, and use of the university library and facilities.



In recent decades Concordia prepared a large percentage of the teachers who taught in Oregon schools, even at times more than the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.  A law school was even opened in Boise, ID. 



However, the world around us has changed.  There are few church work students at Concordia today.  When Concordia began operation 115 years ago as an institution of the Lutheran Church, it received financial support from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  Financial arrangements and financial realities have changed drastically.  And, the culture in which the university operates is much different.  Concordia is an institution of a conservative, Bible-believing church body.  Portland is one of the most progressive cities in the United States.  There are differences of opinion, sometimes extreme, over today’s hot button issues.  When all these realities combine with financial struggles, the University Board of Regents decided that operating the university was no longer feasible.  With this May 2020 closing comes loss of the continued service and blessing which Concordia has been to the church.  My heart is not the only one which is heavy.



A number of Scripture verses speak to me in this time of Portland’s closing.  Perhaps most appropriate is Psalm 137:1.  “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”  The people of Jerusalem and Judah were in exile in Babylon.  Their temple, their city, and their nation had been destroyed.  So they wept over and grieved their loss. 



But, I am also continuing to read the Mitford books, currently the book “In this Mountain.” In this book Father Tim suffers serious injury, trials, and depression.  He struggles with these issues for most of the book.  But, as he works through his struggle, God’s truth from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 helps him.  “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Father Tim comes to grow through his trials as He learns that God is with us and blesses us, even in times of heavy hearts.  He learns that, even in his failure and loss, God’s grace is present, and is reason even to give thanks. 



Universities are not the only institutions whose life can end.  Congregations also have struggles, and sometimes close their doors.  I have known a number of congregations over the years who struggled, and could no longer afford to operate.  There were also tears from those who remembered the past blessings of these churches.  Yet, during their time of serving, those ministries helped grow faith and build faith in God’s people.  During their time of serving, those congregations witnessed to Jesus’ love in their communities.  Even in the closing of these churches, there was reason to give thanks because God had worked His purposes during their time of operation, AND these blessings continued through the people who had been served.



The blessing of Concordia-Portland will be missing in the future.  But, there are other gifts for which we can give thanks.  We can give thanks for the pastors and teachers and DCE’s, trained at Concordia, who have served the Lord and His people in the church, and who continue to do so.  We can thank the Lord that churches were strengthened, and Christians grew in faith.  We can thank God that the good news of Jesus was shared with people who did not know Him.  And, we can thank the Lord that the good news of Jesus continues to move forward through people touched by those who attended Concordia.



Perhaps we should not be surprised that a church university closed.  Actually, it has happened in our denomination before; in Oakland, CA, in Winfield, KS, and in Selma, AL.  Remember, Jesus tells His disciples, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  (Matthew 24:35)  Everything in this world is temporal.  But, in Jesus, the promise of God’s love, the assurance of forgiveness through faith in Jesus’ death and rising, and the sure hope of eternal life are unshakable and immovable! 



My heart is heavy.  But, even in this time of loss there is reason to give thanks.  God worked through Concordia Portland to bring faith to people.  That faith and God’s blessings in Jesus continue to spread and grow. So, I’m working to learn this truth of God.  “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” 



A Child of God, Working to Give Thanks in All Circumstances,

Pastor Jonathan



P.S.   Here are some articles from the Internet.  Please remember, just because something appears on the internet, does not make everything reported necessarily true.

·       About the Closing of Concordia

o   Here is the statement from Concordia-Portland.  https://www.cu-portland.edu/closure

o   Here is a letter from President Paul Linnemann about the closing of Concordia.  http://nowlcms.org/sites/www.nowlcms.org/files/CU%20Closure%20Letter%20to%20the%20District.pdf



·       About Concordia’s relationship with Faubion School.  https://www.cu-portland.edu/3-phd-power-possibilities




P.P.S.  Here are some fishing pictures from a fishing trip on the Suwannee River February 11.   https://photos.app.goo.gl/UYFCFfNSHA1L4k1F9





*****



ABOUT THIS DEVOTION - I am now retired as senior pastor of St. John Lutheran in Palmer, AK.  This devotion was previously titled, "Thoughts from the Pastor."  However, with life's changes I will now call it "Journeys Through Life as a Child of God."  I am only sending this message to those who have asked o receive it.  If you know someone else who desires to receive this message, have them e-mail me at jonrock53@mtaonline.net.  You can also view this message on my Facebook page.



Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Blessing of Friends


Dear Fellow Children of God,



On Tuesday of this week I received a text from Pastor Bob Besalski.  He was my pastor when my family moved to Florida in 1965.  But, since I’ve become a pastor, Bob is not only my pastor, but my friend.  In fact, Bob and, his wife, Elaine, have been for Kathy and me both mentors and a safe place to deal with and discuss the issues of ministry and of retirement.  They are good friends.  Over the years we have had the opportunity of eating together, attending concerts, and even walking together major family events.  What a blessing to have a friend who will listen, encourage, counsel, and pray for you!



In November and December Kathy and I enjoyed a long-planned trip to Europe, where we spent time visiting Christmas markets and Luther sites, and where we attended many concerts.  But, on this trip we also experienced the privilege of traveling with friends.  Dave and Marilee Nufer, and their daughter Kaycee, traveled with us, along with Jim and Kathy Summers.  In fact our daughter, Mary, also one of one of my wife’s best friends, came with us.  And, new friend, Diane Michal, joined us on the trip.  Together we saw the sights, enjoyed the food, and listened to the music.  We read Scripture and prayed together over where we traveled and what we had seen.  What a blessing to have friends who listen, encourage, counsel, and pray for you!



When we left Palmer in January, we first traveled to California.  Pastor Tony Schultz and Pastor Kalvin Waetzig preached and led my retirement event in August of 2019.  Tony and I started college together in August of 1971.  Kalvin and Tony and I have worked together on Kaleidoscope youth camps, and other ministry activities since 1992.  In California, together with our wives, we celebrated Kalvin’s “30-30”, his 60th birthday.  The three of us even shared God’s word together with the people of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Tracey, CA, during sermon time in worship on January 12.  While in California we golfed together, considered ministry issues, shopped, and visited San Francisco.  We also sat around and reminisced, and we shared where our lives are now, and our hopes for the future.  We intentionally asked prayers for personal issues we are facing as we walk through life as children of God.  What a blessing to have friends, Christian friends!



Since Kathy and I have been in Florida we have been visited by Pastor Tony, and his wife Ronelle.  When they left California they traveled to Florida for about a week to spend some more time with us.  Together we toured, and fished, and visited.  While they were visiting, Tony also ended up in the hospital with gall bladder issues, and Kathy and I tried to help them navigate that challenge.  About two weeks later, good Palmer friends, Herman and Linda Griese, visited us while touring the south.  We spent a few days together, watched the Super Bowl, fished, and ate together.  We shared prayer requests and discussed devotional practices.  What a blessing to have friends who share, encourage, counsel, and pray for you!



As I write this devotion, Kathy and I are in Clearwater, FL, with Pastor Rick and Kristi Armstrong.  Rick and Kristi started school with Tony and me in 1971 at Concordia Lutheran College in Austin, TX.  In fact, Kristi and Kathy attended nursing school together in St. Louis, MO, and Rick and Kristi introduced Kathy and me, and participated in our wedding.  Together we have continued our friendship over the years.  Now Rick and I, Kristi and Kathy, are sharing retirement and ministry stories, nursing and family stories.  What a blessing to have friends who listen, share, encourage, counsel, and pray for you!



Life is difficult.  God’s plan for life’s struggles are that we have family and friends to stand beside us to help us.  Thankfully, Kathy and I are truly blessed with our families.  But, we are also richly blessed with many good Christian friends, even more who are not mentioned above.  Do you know what God teaches us in Proverbs?  Solomon shares this wisdom from God, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  (Proverbs 18:24)  Good friends are a gift from God!



However, there is someone that we often forget is our very best friend.  Listen to the words of Jesus in John 15.  13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  (John 15:13-15)  If friends who listen to us, who share and encourage and counsel are blessings, consider the blessing which Jesus is to those who believe in Him and follow Him!  The Son of God, God Himself, cares for us, and is interested in our lives.  In fact, Jesus is so interested He DID lay down His life for us!  Maybe another friend would endure that sacrifice, but perhaps not.  Jesus did die for us, and thankfully, He rose again.  And, Jesus is not only with us in this life, He gives eternal life in heaven to all who follow Him by faith.  Jesus is our best friend!



Who are your friends?  What blessings have you received because of their friendship?  What blessings have they received through you?  Are they Christian?  Together, do you know your greatest friend?



A Child of God, Thankful for the Amazing Blessing of Friends,

Pastor Jonathan



P.S.  Here are some recent pictures we took with friends.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/pkXAyTsQnQgVrZMq6



P.P.S.  Here are some fishing pictures from this past week.  Surprise!

·       With brother, Stephen, and nephew, Nathan, on February 1. 

https://photos.app.goo.gl/JG5AFBYLP2qCbc4h8



·       With Herman and Jonathan on the Suwannee River, February 3.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/TyPz4Rcm5TjbRf8G8





*****



ABOUT THIS DEVOTION - I am now retired as senior pastor of St. John Lutheran in Palmer, AK.  This devotion was previously titled, "Thoughts from the Pastor."  However, with life's changes I will now call it "Journeys Through Life as a Child of God."  I am only sending this message to those who have asked o receive it.  If you know someone else who desires to receive this message, have them e-mail me at jonrock53@mtaonline.net.  You can also view this message on my Facebook page.


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Seeking Answers for Helping Those in Need


Dear Fellow Children of God,



A week or so ago my wife, Kathy, and I were driving to the store.  When we reached a red light at one local 4-lane intersection, we noticed a man standing with a sign, looking into the windows of the cars.  This man’s sign caught our attention; “Everybody Needs Some Help Sometime.”  The light turned green and I was humming the old Dean Martin tune, “Everybody Needs Somebody Sometime” as we drove through the intersection and saw another man on the other side of the light.  He too was carrying a sign.  That sign said the same thing as that of the man on the other side of the light.  I scratched my head.  It looked like a group effort.  In fact, we later saw people standing in all 4 directions of this intersection.  What does a child of God do?



It made me think of our trip to Europe last fall.  Especially in Austria and southern Germany, we saw people requesting money for themselves and their families.  I asked one of our city guides about those requesting help.  She had been a local legislator in Salzburg, and I figured she might understand this situation better than I did.  This guide’s advise was, “Don’t give them anything.  It is an organized effort.  We have places for them to sleep and places for them to get food, and they won’t use them.”  After her advice, as I walked around I noticed similarities among those asking for help, and similarities in the signs they used to request this help.  Kathy and I did, however, share leftovers from a large meal with a man we had seen multiple times in Munich. Yet our guide had said, “Don’t help them.”  What does a child of God do?



I also recently met a lady in a Home Depot parking lot.  As I got out of the car she asked for help with food for herself and her 2 grandchildren.  There was a Subway restaurant in the parking lot, so I took her in there and let her order what she wanted and I paid for it.  But, after this lady got her food, she sat down and started eating.  I never saw the grandchildren.  That made me wonder.  Of course, in the Mat-Su Valley we also have people in need.  That is why agencies such as Family Promise and My House exist.  But, what does a child of God do when we see another in need?



Let me say, this question does not have an easy answer!  Therefore, it is good to listen to what our Lord says about life’s difficult questions.  Perhaps the most well-known verse from Jesus’ mouth on this topic of helping others is found in His parable from Matthew 25.  35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  (Matthew 25:35-36)  Jesus encourages us to help the needy.  Then, my daily devotional readings on January 29 had me reading from Isaiah 58-59, where Isaiah chides the people of Judah because they worshiped God outwardly, but not with their hearts.  Part of his declaration of their sinful spirits included these words, 6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”  (Isaiah 58:6-7) However, helping others is not the only way, according to Isaiah 58, that God’s people would worship the Lord with contrite hearts.  They would also “keep from breaking the Sabbath.”  (Isaiah 58:13)  Helping others is part of our bigger relationship with God!



Yet, as I said earlier, this question does not have an easy answer.  Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’"  (2 Thessalonians 3:10)  Also, the book of Proverbs is full of direction to be diligent in work.  Proverbs 6:6-11, encourages the lazy man to consider the work of the lowly ant, and to follow that example.  And, if you want to read more in Proverbs on this topic, just look up the word, “sluggard.”  Helping people in need is not a cut and dried issue.  In fact, I can remember times as a hospital chaplain when the social workers arranged for people without housing to have a warm bed and warm meals.  But, the offer was sometimes refused.  There were times that those in need preferred the freedom to do what they wanted while living in their car in the Alaskan winter, to the need to obey rules in a place that would provide shelter and food.  What does a child of God do when we see another in need?



However, when life situations and the word of God seem confusing, God’ children are still called to act with faith in our Lord and Savior and to act in love for one another.  Perhaps some principals I have come to believe to be true, through experience and study of God’s word, can help you as you consider, “What does a child of God do when helping those in need?”



First, God wants us to help those in need.  How to help is not always clear.  But, God does want us to help.  Consider also the parable of the Good Samaritan.  (Luke 10:25-37)



Second, as in Salzburg, supporting agencies which help others might be the best way to help those in need.  These agencies can and do work toward long-term solutions, not a momentary fix.



Third, helping someone does not always mean giving them what they want.  Need and want are different.  However, when helping an individual, giving the things they need, such as the meal I provided the lady in the Home Depot parking lot, is often better than giving money.



Finally, however, I try to be humble and consider how God has helped me.  We don’t always know the difficulties a person faces that leads them to ask for help.  Many on the streets fight mental illness.  Those on the street can come from homes which are places of chaos, or danger.  But, when I needed help with my rebellious pride, with my fleshly desires, and with my incorrigible sin, God sent Jesus.  “ . . . God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  And, the night before Jesus died for our sin, after washing the feet of His disciples, he gave them these instructions, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  (John 13:34)  So, if Jesus, the Son of God, went to the depths of dying the agonizing death of a convicted criminal FOR ME, how should I love others?  I do not always know how to help well.  But, Jesus loved me, and I am called to love others.



What should we do the next time we see a person at a stop light with a sign asking for help?  That’s a good question!  As a child of God I want to act wisely, trusting in God’s love for me, and seeking to share that undeserved love with others.



A Child of God, Seeking Answers in Helping Those in Need,

Pastor Jonathan



P.S.  Here is a picture from a family gathering on January 18.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/w9tDVJsyTpBZ2jiM7





P.P.S.  Here are some pictures from a fishing trip on the Suwannee River with my brother in law, Mark Reaves.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/mJnA6o6ymc3T5oge8







*****



ABOUT THIS DEVOTION - I am now retired as senior pastor of St. John Lutheran in Palmer, AK.  This devotion was previously titled, "Thoughts from the Pastor."  However, with life's changes I will now call it "Journeys Through Life as a Child of God."  I am only sending this message to those who have asked o receive it.  If you know someone else who desires to receive this message, have them e-mail me at jonrock53@mtaonline.net.  You can also view this message on my Facebook page.


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Overwhelmed that the Lord Who Created All, Knows and Cares for Us!

Dear Fellow Children of God,

Kathy and I are spending time with family in Florida.  While here, we are hosting our friends Pastor Tony and Ronelle Schultz for a visit.  We scheduled some time so they could see some of the local sites.  Tony and I golfed and we fished.  We all went to the beach.  But we also did something which is rather unique to Gainesville.  All of us visited the Butterfly Rainforest at the Natural History Museum of the University of Florida. 

I'm sure such exhibits exist elsewhere, but this is the only place I've been where various species of live butterflies and moths fly around you, and a person gets to observe them more naturally than if they were in a display case, dead.  So Tony and Ronelle and Kathy and I wandered through this exhibit, a screened in area of trees and flowers.  As we walked around we observed the various species that were present.  We saw smaller butterflies and moths, and larger ones.  We saw some of these insects with stripes, and some with spots.  We saw butterflies that were yellow, and some that were red, and others that were blue.  Perhaps my favorite was a large butterfly that was brown on the outer side of its wings, but brilliant blue inside.  I guess, the brown allows for camouflage, and the blue displays the beauty of this species.

As we were looked around, somewhat separately, observing and taking pictures, Kathy and I turned to each other and said almost the same thing.  I told Kathy, "The diversity and beauty of God's creation is really on display."  And, as I was saying that, Kathy simultaneously started to tell me, "How can a person not believe in God when you see all this?  It can't just be an accident!"

Scripture is full of testimony about the glory of God found in the world around us.  Psalm 19:1 teaches us, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim the work of his hands."  Or, said in another way, when we look at the skies we can see God's work. 

Also, my recent daily devotions have been in Isaiah.  Therefore, I recently read in Isaiah 40:12, "Who has measured the water in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountain on the scale and the hill in a balance?"  The creative power of God is beyond anything we can do! 

And, in Job 38-41 the Lord tells Job and his friends of the many wonders of God's creation.   Chapters 39 and 41 especially reveal truth about God's hand in creating the living creatures of the world.   Job has no answer to the Lord's revelation concerning His creative power.

Yet, all of this focus on the wonders of God in the world around us ignores the crown of His creation - people!  Psalm 8 reminds us, "3 When I consider  your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?  5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.  6  You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:  7 all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas."  The Psalmist marvels at man's unique place in the Lord's creation.

Not all people come to the same conclusion which Kathy and I reached.  But, I am constantly in awe when I look at the wonders of creation.  Kathy and I were brought to that same conclusion as we came face to face with the beauty and diversity of just the few species of butterflies and moths on display.  The colors, the shapes, the different sizes, captivated our minds, and made us realize there is much that is beyond our human knowledge and ability.

Realizing this, the truth of Psalm 8:4 becomes even more obvious.  4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?  Yet, the God who created the universe, who made the various species with all their beauty and diversity, the Lord of all wisdom and power, does care for us.  As Jesus taught Nicodemus, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life."  (John 3:16)  Imagine that!  God fashioned the incredibly beautiful world around us, and this all-powerful, all-wise God, also cares about each of us!

How about you?  Does the grandeur of our world ever strike you?  Does the beauty found in the colors in the world bring you joy ?  Does the diversity of wildlife ever bring humility to your heart?  And just think, the God who made the world in power and wisdom, by the Word of His mouth, also knows each of us individually!   He cares for us.  And, when we rebelled and sinned, God even sent His own Son to die for us and save us.  How can we not echo the last verse of Psalm 8?  "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"  (Psalm 8:9)

A Child of God, Overwhelmed that the Lord Who Created All, Knows and Cares for Us!
Pastor Jonathan

P.S.  I'm having computer issues again and these links to pictures don't seem to be working.  If you copy them and paste them as a url they seem to work.

P.P.S.  Here are some pictures of our visit to the Butterfly Rainforest.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/NsfKiVNoT1u1WmGy6


P.P.P.S.  Here are other pictures of the visit of the Schultz's.
  • Here is time at the Beach and Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine.   https://photos.app.goo.gl/gCXCn7TfsurPqjbW6

  • Here are pictures from our fishing and golf outing.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/6QyFTG7CvEsrDLwP9
  • Here are pictures from the rest of our tour in the Natural History Museum.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/G3JxKScET4VZw7UC7


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ABOUT THIS DEVOTION - I am now retired as senior pastor of St. John Lutheran in Palmer, AK.  This devotion was previously titled, "Thoughts from the Pastor."  However, with life's changes I will now call it "Journeys Through Life as a Child of God."  I am only sending this message to those who have asked o receive it.  If you know someone else who desires to receive this message, have them e-mail me at jonrock53@mtaonline.net.  You can also view this message on my Facebook page.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Who do You Pray for? WHAT do You Pray?


Dear Friends and Fellow Children of God,



Who do you pray for? What do you pray?  These can seem simple questions.  But in many ways these questions are deep matters of faith.  Perhaps the first prayers on my lips each day are for those in trouble, or who are ill.  I pray for the church of God, and these days I pray specifically for St. John Lutheran during its vacancy and search for a new pastor.  I pray for our leaders, civil and spiritual leaders.  I pray for friends, and also for those who might be considered enemies.  I go fervently to God concerning my own life of faith as a child of God.  But, most of all I pray for my family, and loved ones.



When I pray for my children and grandchildren, and for those I love, my primary prayer is for faith in Jesus.  I want them to know that Jesus is their Savior.  I want my children to know that Jesus lived for them, died for them, and rose again.  My desire is that they know God’s grace in and through the joys and the trials of life.  My hope is to live in heaven with my loved ones.



But, when I pray for loved ones to know Jesus, what do these prayers look like?  I was intrigued in recent weeks by a verse from Psalm 119.  This Psalm tells the life story of a Jewish man of faith through the struggles of his journey as a child of God.  As I read this Psalm, the writer makes statements of commitment, promising to serve the Lord faithfully.  But there are also times of struggle.  In the middle of this journey of faith, the Psalmist declares, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”  (Psalm 119:71)  No one ever wants struggles or afflictions.  When we go through trials of health, or struggles in relationships, or when we suffer times of doubt in our faith, we often find ourselves in anguish because of the affliction.  But, as we continue to cry to the Lord, He uses our struggles to strengthen us.  That is what the Psalmist is saying.



I do NOT pray that God brings struggles on those I love.  But, we are sinful people in a world of sin.  We all face failure, pain, and suffering.  We all need forgiveness.  These life struggles point us to our real help, to our Lord and Savior.  Our afflictions point us to the cross of Jesus!  And, God works in our lives through these afflictions to teach us, to guide us, and to strengthen us.



Recently, in one of my morning devotions, as I was thinking about praying for others, I was encouraged to read from 1 Peter 1.  God moved Peter to write to believers in Jesus who had been scattered throughout the Mediterranean world.  These people of faith had faced trials and needed encouragement.  Please read with me, Peter’s opening words.  3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-- kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith-- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.



I do NOT pray that those I love face trials in their lives.  In fact, as Peter writes, by His power God “shields” His people who believe in Jesus.  (1 Peter 1:5)  I DO pray that God shields my children, my grandchildren, my friends and loved ones from the evils of this world.  But then, when griefs and trials come, I pray these struggles act to refine us.  (1 Peter 1:6-7)  Trials can remind us what is really important - our relationship with our Creator and our Savior.  As we walk through the struggles of life, the cares of this world can be burned away, and the love of God can be refined in our hearts, by God’s power. Therefore, I pray that God walks beside my loved ones through the fires of life and refines their faith so that they see His love even in their struggles.  I pray that in life’s difficulties my loved ones are led to see and to believe in the cross of Jesus, so that they finally live in His love in heaven.



I mentioned a month or so back that I am again reading the Mitford books about Father Tim, his wife Cynthia, and those around them.  Through the trials of life these fictional characters are quick to pray, even when all seems hopeless.  They often refer to “Praying the prayer that cannot fail.”  Ultimately that is what I pray. 



In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)  In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches His disciples and also teaches us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10 b)  I pray that God’s will is done in the lives of my loved ones, in spite of the trials of life.  Paul does, after all, tell us what the will of God is.  “God . . . desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  (1 Timothy 2:3 b - 4)



I am often in prayer for my wife, for our three sons and our daughter.  I pray regularly for my three grandsons and my three granddaughters.  I pray for my friends and loved ones, for the church of God.  I do pray that God would shield them from the evils of life.  But, more than that, I pray God would see them strengthened in faith through the trials of life.  “Thy will be done.”



A Child of God, Praying for God’s Gracious Will in the Lives of my Loved Ones,

Pastor Jonathan



P.S.  Here are some pictures from our visit with Pastor Kalvin Waetzig and family while celebrating his 60th birthday in Tracy, California, last week.  Pastor Tony Schultz and his wife, Ronelle, were also part of the celebration.  https://photos.app.goo.gl/fNvfeH8xsrdE25397







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ABOUT THIS DEVOTION – I am now retired as senior pastor of St. John Lutheran in Palmer, AK.  This devotion was previously titled, “Thoughts from the Pastor.”  However, with life’s changes I will now call it, “Journeys Through Life as a Child of God.”  I am only sending this message to those who have asked to receive it.  If you know someone else who desires to receive this message have them e-mail me at jonrock53@mtaonline.net.  You can also view this message on my Facebook page.



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A couple of other Bible verses to consider . . .



Romans 5:3-5  3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.



2 Corinthians 1:8-10  8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,



1 Peter 4:12-14  12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.