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.

P.P.S.  Here are some pictures from a fishing trip on the Suwannee River with my brother in law, Mark Reaves.


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  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.

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.

  • Here are pictures from our fishing and golf outing.
  • Here are pictures from the rest of our tour in the Natural History Museum.


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  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.


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  You can also view this message on my Facebook page.


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.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

In a New Year . . . God is WITH Us!

Dear Friends and Fellow Children of God,

A new calendar year has again forced its way into our lives. There are always celebrations during that short period of time when one year ends, and another begins.  But 2020 has now been with us for over a week.  So, after the first rush of excitement of the calendar changing, what else is new?  Or, is the calendar just a piece of paper which hangs on the wall while we experience the passing of time – another year?  I was telling my wife, Kathy, just the other day about the passing of time for our family in Alaska.  We arrived in Alaska in May of 1991, over 28 and ½ years ago.  But, we have actually lived here for parts of 30 calendar years!  Time has rushed by us quickly.  We are getting older.

However, my wife already reminds me from time to time about my age.  I looked up a text conversation we had on November 6 of last year.  I was golfing in a seniors men’s league.  For the first time I was asked  to hit my golf balls from the senior tees, the shorter tees.  Even though I’ll be 67 my next birthday, I had not yet played from that tee box.  Maybe I’m in denial   During my golf game that day Kathy texted me and asked how the game was going.  My response was, “OK, but in this group I’m hitting from the senior tees.”  Her response was quick.  J You are a senior!”  I’m not sure I wanted, or needed, to hear that!  But, I can tell you that I don’t hit my golf ball anywhere near as far, or as long, as I used to hit it.  Sometimes it takes me two shots to get to where I could hit the ball when I was younger.  I do hit my shots a little straighter, though.

I hear people say, “Getting old is tough.”  Yes, there are a few more aches and pains.  I move a little more slowly.  Maybe I don’t have the same energy that I once did.  But, I do believe I have a little more wisdom from years of life experience.  I confess that my faith in God’s love and provision has also grown.  I have seen Him act in my life so many times over the years to love me and to help me.  Life may be challenging, but I have confidence and hope that the Lord is with me, even as years advance. 

At the end of His ministry on earth, Jesus gave His disciples an overwhelmingly daunting task.  18 . . . "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  (Matthew 28:18-20 a) Imagine, eleven men being sent to bring the good news of Jesus’ saving love, and to help grow faith in Jesus, to all the corners of the world.  But . . . BUT, Jesus also made a promise to his beloved followers. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20 b)  As they faced the dangers, the challenges, and even the death that lay in front of them, Jesus was with His disciples in His power and His love.  The one who has ALL authority in heaven and on earth was with His friends as they went, as they baptized, and as they taught.  So, the apostles did not remain in the safety of Jerusalem.  These men did go into all the world.  After all, Jesus had promised He was with them, always!

As we face the challenges of life, whether that be the trials that will come in a new year, or the challenges of advancing age, Jesus’ promise is also that He is with us.  In fact, there is another way in which God is with us.  Do you remember the Christmas story from just a few weeks ago?  When Matthew relates how Jesus was born, Joseph is told in a dream to take Mary to be His wife as she gives birth to the Savior of the world, as she gives birth to the child, Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-21)  Joseph is assured by the angel that Jesus’ birth and all of this is God’s doing.  22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us.).” (Matthew 1:22-23)

What a blessing to know that God is by our side through all the trials and challenges, the joys and blessings of life!  He is with us, in Jesus, to love us, to forgive us, to strengthen and to guide us.  God is with us as we grow older, as we face loss, failure, and disappointments.  He is with us even as we ourselves look into the jaws of death.  The One who created us, the One who gave His life to save us, is WITH US! 

Perhaps the excitement of New Year’s Eve has passed, and the difficulties facing us in this coming year are more obvious.  My wife is right.  I AM a senior.  I am older.  Whatever we face, Jesus promises, . . . surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

A Child of God, THANKFUL for God’s Loving, Forgiving, Helping and Saving Presence,

Pastor Jonathan

P.S.  Here are some pictures from a ski trip to Alyeska on Thursday, January 2.

P.P.S.  Here are a couple of pictures from my first fishing trip on Kelly Lake on the Kenai Peninsula on Friday, January 3.


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  You can also view this message on my Facebook page.


A couple of other Bible verses to consider . . .

10 The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.  (Psalm 90:10-11)

7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 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,  (Psalm 139:7-15)