As we enter into the month of November, we have much to be thankful for – even in this very challenging year. We give thanks for the opportunity to participate in our nation’s election process. Your vote for elected leaders both in our region and all the way to the highest office in the land will help to shape our nation’s direction for years to come. It’s a tremendous privilege to cast your vote, and it’s an opportunity to apply your Christian faith in your decision making.
We give thanks a little later this month for our veterans and the sacrifices they’ve made in service to our country and our freedoms. To all of our St. Matthew members who have served in the Armed Forces, I thank you and I wish you a blessed Veterans’ Day this year!
As we look ahead to the Thanksgiving holiday, we thank the Lord for all the blessings we’ve received individually, in our families, in our nation, and especially in our Savior Jesus. Even in a year of hardship, illness, and division, the truth still stands that God is the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). As Christians, we heed the call of God’s Word to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We give thanks that none of the challenges of this past year and nothing that is yet to come can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:38-39)
We also thank the Lord for the blessings of a Church family. We thank the Lord for the service and sacrifice of the many St. Matthew members who have come before us over these past 126 years. We thank the Lord for our brothers and sisters in Christ at St. Matthew who join with us in confessing Christ. Even though many of us may be physically separated due to the pandemic, we remain united in Christ.
An additional opportunity to demonstrate your thanks to the Lord this November will be the collection of a Debt Reduction Offering at St. Matthew. While we have marked Nov 8th and 11th for this additional offering, you can certainly make a debt reduction offering at any time. I would encourage you to consider this as a way of serving future generations of St. Matthew members. By paying down our church’s debt, we can help them to have more options and flexibility for ministry in the future.
If you would like to make a special offering for this purpose, you can do so by adding a check to your offering envelope and marking “Debt Reduction” on the memo line. You can also use the Debt Reduction envelope in your 2020 offering envelope box. Additionally, you can make a designated offering for debt reduction through the “Giving” tab on our church website. I encourage you to give as you are able and as the Lord leads you.
Finally, let me share my personal word of thanks with you. Thank you for being part of the Lord’s family that we call St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Thank you for your kind words and gifts during Pastor’s Appreciation Month in October. Most importantly, in the words of St. Paul, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:3-5)
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Kory Janneke
On Sunday, October 18, we look forward to welcoming Dave Anderson and Roger Walck to St. Matthew for the 9:15 a.m. worship service and for a program to follow during the Bible study hour. (Please plan to join us either in-person or online that morning!) Both Dave and Roger have spent decades serving as musicians and ministry leaders in the church. In addition to leading us in praise and worship on the 18th, Dave and Roger will be representing the ministry of Shepherd’s Canyon Retreat, a Recognized Service Organization of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod located in Wickenburg, AZ.
Shepherd’s Canyon Retreat provides week-long counseling retreats for professional church workers and their spouses. These church workers may be dealing with conflicted ministry situations, marital issues, mental health crises, or other challenges. Each retreat is staffed by two licensed Christian counselors and a pastor serving as the retreat chaplain. While serving as a retreat chaplain in 2017, I was able to witness firsthand the healing that takes place at one of these retreats!
The closing ceremony for a retreat at Shepherd’s Canyon takes place in a prayer garden. Each participant is given a smooth river rock and a permanent marker. They are asked to write down one thing that they are leaving behind. Then, each rock is laid at the foot of a large wooden cross. Hundreds of these rocks are now gathered beneath the cross in the prayer garden. Some of the rocks say things like “Fear”, “Depression”, or “Uncertainty.” Other participants draw a picture on their rock – representing something between them and the Lord. Some of the rocks reference a Bible verse.
The next day, the retreat participants travel home and begin implementing an action plan that they have developed over their week at Shepherd’s Canyon. However, they go home as changed people, with a more hopeful outlook and having, at least symbolically, left something behind at the foot of the cross which was inhibiting or hurting them in some way.
What do you need to leave behind at the foot of the cross? Perhaps it is the guilt of a past sin which needs to be confessed to your Lord. Perhaps it is a person who hurt you. Perhaps it is a persistent behavior or destructive habit.
The Good News is that at the cross, our Lord gave His life to forgive every sin you’ve ever committed. They’re nailed to the cross forever! (Colossians 2:14) He gave Himself for us to also bear our griefs and carry our sorrows – the hurts we’ve endured, and the sins that have been committed against us (Isaiah 53:4). As those who have been made new by Christ in Holy Baptism, we can leave yesterday at our Savior’s cross and live each new day in His strength and grace.
A prayer: Lord, show me those things in my life that need to be left behind at the foot of the cross, and help me, through Him who strengthens me, to move forward in faith. Amen.
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Kory Janneke
Are you feeling the joy? Or in this topsy-turvy 2020, are you feeling more stress, anxiety, and uncertainty? Many of us would probably say the latter. I need a dose of joy – how about you?
One of my favorite Biblical messages about joy occurs in Nehemiah 8:10: “Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink the sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.'”
To provide a little background, these words are spoken after a remnant of God’s people returned to Jerusalem after decades of exile in Babylon. They are engaged in the painstaking process of rebuilding the city of their ancestors after it had been reduced to rubble.
In a public assembly, Ezra has just read God’s Old Testament Word for the people, particularly the Books of Moses. For many of the people, God’s Word was new to them after spending much of their lives in a foreign land. Priests fanned out through the crowd to help explain God’s Word so that they could better understand it.
The people of Jerusalem understood enough that the Law caused them to grieve over their sin. They were confronted with just how rebellious the previous generations had been against the Lord and his holy will and with the reality of their own sinfulness.
To this grieving people, facing the seemingly never-ending task of rebuilding Jerusalem, their beautiful capitol city which had been razed because of their people’s idolatry, Ezra shares a word of Good News – “the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
The Lord’s character toward us is described in the next chapter: He is ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and does not forsake His people (Nehemiah 9:17b). In other words, despite our shortcomings and struggles, God is still our God and we are still His beloved people.
God’s people in Nehemiah’s time were surrounded by ruins, afflicted with guilt, and plagued by uncertainty. But in the midst of it all, they were comforted by the Good News that the joy of the Lord is our strength.
This joy is tied not to your feelings, circumstances, or future prospects. The joy of the Lord can affect our feelings, but it is not bound to their fluctuations. Your joy flows from your unchanging, eternal Savior, from His unconditional love and unlimited strength.
Jesus faced and endured the cross for you, Hebrews 12:2, tells us, because of “the joy set before Him” – the joy of returning to our Father’s presence and the joy of gathering all who trust in Him into the house of the Lord forever. And Jesus speaks His Good News of salvation to us for this reason: “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). In other words, there’s joy for the taking in God’s Word and promises for you!
Jesus came to share His joy with you. He came to be your joy! In a fallen world that feels like it can suck the joy right out of us, Jesus came to bring you joy that transcends the world and our troubles.
The joy of the Lord is the joy of being loved and forgiven and saved in Jesus. That joy is yours today. And when Jesus welcomes His faithful people into the life everlasting that He has earned for us, your joy will be full in Him forever.
Lord, may the present joy of Your salvation and the promise of full and forever joy with You give us strength to face each day in the assurance of Your love. Amen.