Posts from Pastor Kory

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Renewal in 2021

          Have you gotten used to saying or writing “2021” yet? It’s still sinking in somewhat for me that we’re actually in a new year!

            As we journey through this new year together as God’s people at St. Matthew, I’d like to share a simple theme to focus on with you: Experiencing Renewal in Jesus.” Renewal is a rich Biblical message. I believe it captures some of our hopes for 2021 – Lord willing, the year that we begin to put the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects behind us. But bigger than that, “renewal” captures the hope that is ours in Jesus. 

            Through Holy Baptism, Jesus has worked regeneration and renewal for our once lost souls (Titus 3:5). We’ll be focusing on that renewal on January 10th and 13th at St. Matthew as we remember Jesus’ Baptism and the significance of Christian Baptism for us all. 

            The Lord renews us as well whenever we confess our sins to Him and receive His forgiveness. In Psalm 51, King David confesses his sins to God and gives thanks for God’s cleansing forgiveness. He also prays that God will change him from the inside-out as he goes forward: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

            The Lord renews us in still other ways: granting us new strength (see Isaiah 40:30-31), new minds to discern His good will for our lives (see Romans 12:1-2), and new identities in Christ, realigned with the Image of God (see Colossians 3:10). 

            Certainly, there are many things in daily life we hope to see renewed at some point this year as well – hugs and handshakes and physical connection in place of social distancing; seeing one another’s smiles instead of our masked faces.

            We look forward to seeing events and traditions renewed as well, including community events like the Tractor Pull and Cran Fest, and church occasions such as Vacation Bible School and potluck meals. 

            Where do you need the Lord’s renewing work in your life of faith? Each of us needs His renewing presence for forgiveness, hope, strength, setting a more Christ-like example, and much more. I encourage you to pray for Christ to renew you according to your particular needs. While you’re at it, pray for His renewal throughout the life of our congregation, community, and country! Remember also that receiving Christ’s gifts through public worship and the study of His Word are specific ways He promises to bring renewal to His people. 

            In closing, I’ll share a portion of the New Year’s hymn, “Help Us, O Lord, for Now We Enter”, a prayer for Christ’s renewal in our lives as we go forward into 2021:

 

Help us, O Lord, for now we enter upon another year today.

In You our hopes and thoughts now center; renew our courage for the way.

New life, new strength, new happiness, we ask of You – oh, hear and bless.

 

May every plan and undertaking begin this year, O Lord, with You.

When I am sleeping or am waking, help me, dear Lord, Your will to do.

In You alone, my God, I live; You only can my sins forgive.

Blessed New Year,

            Pastor Kory Janneke

A Different Christmas

Already in these early days of the Advent season, we know it is shaping up to be a “different” Christmas this year.

            In recent days, eager volunteers have been working in socially distant shifts to decorate our worship space at St. Matthew for Christmas. It’s a different way to decorate, but it’s a blessing to see the colors of the season return!

            We expect that Christmas parties, programs, and many other holiday traditions will be cancelled, or altered to work within coronavirus protocols. We also anticipate that we probably won’t get to see everyone in-person this year, either in our church family or our own families. While both at church and in our own homes, we’ll maintain our traditions as best we can (and possibly start some new ones), it will still be different from the Christmases we’ve known through the years. And that’s okay.

            This Christmas will be an adjustment and a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity. As Christians, we’ve long been saying things like, “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” This year is a great year to live out those words!

            Maybe you’ll be doing a little less shopping this season or going to fewer social gatherings. Maybe you’ll be sticking close to home this Christmastime. Gathering, traveling, shopping, and other Christmas activities can be great, but they’re not why we celebrate Christmas. 

            We celebrate Christmas, this year and every year, because Jesus was born for us! We celebrate Christmas because He gave His innocent life for our forgiveness and rose again for our redemption. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus is with us, He is “Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23) even in the bleak midwinter, even at the peak of a historic pandemic.

            Lord willing, we’ll continue to hold all of our Advent and Christmas services this year at St. Matthew. I invite you to participate as you’re able, either through Facebook or in-person. Let’s all continue to take steps to keep one another healthy, and let’s also join in praying for medical professionals, first responders, those who are ill with COVID-19, an all others who are feeling the brunt of this pandemic. 

            It will be a different Christmas to be sure, but not everything has changed. Jesus still gathers with us to comfort us with His Word, forgive us of our sins, feed us through His Supper, and remind us that HE is the Reason, not only for this season, but for our Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, both now and forevermore.

We gather to remember and share the same world-changing news that was shared by angelic messengers on the first Christmas night, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger … Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:10-12, 14)

            I wish you and your loved ones a blessed Advent, and a Merry, Christ-centered Christmas this year!

Peace in Christ,

            Pastor Kory Janneke

Opportunities for Giving Thanks

Opportunities for Giving Thanks

            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

At the Foot of the Cross

           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

Mystery Capsule

 March 21, 2020 was a sunny spring Saturday, in the early stages of the pandemic lockdown. Our family was enjoying some fresh air outside and “tinkering” around the yard. After St. Matthew’s former church building on the hill was demolished last year, the cornerstone was spared and was deposited in our yard in front of the parsonage. Several bricks were still attached to the cornerstone. We removed these and repositioned the cornerstone to a little better spot a few feet away. 

However, in the process of removing the bricks and mortar from the top of the cornerstone, we discovered that there was a layer of a different material in the middle. After carefully chiseling away more of the mortar, it became clear that there was something unusual about this stone. We spent another hour or so slowly working away at this layer of protective material until a piece broke loose and we could look inside the cavity in the stone. Finally, we could see something – the side of a copper box. 

A little later, we were able to fully open the cornerstone and wiggle the copper box free from the resting place where it had been hiding for many years. The box is 9” x 5” and quite heavy for its size. There is no date or inscription on it. The cornerstone is dated “1900” on one face and “1929” on another, referencing the construction of St. Matthew’s first and second church buildings. The time capsule must have been placed in one of those two years. 

Along with its age, there are other mysteries surrounding the time capsule. What did our forebears in faith at St. Matthew conceal in the capsule? If there are written materials inside, will they be in German or English? What condition are the items in? (Materials in time capsules sometimes deteriorate, especially after such a long time.) Why wasn’t there a reference to the time capsule in any of St. Matthew’s historical documents?

Hopefully some of these mysteries will be solved soon! We are planning to open St. Matthew’s time capsule on September 13, 2020 after an outdoor worship service on “Drive Your Tractor” Sunday. I hope you can join us and see for yourself what the pioneers of this congregation preserved for us!

Those pivotal years in St. Matthew’s story – 1900 and 1929 – were not easy times. In 1900, the residents of the area made a living by farming and logging with horse drawn implements. 1929 is most known for the stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression. 2020 could certainly be included on that list of challenging years. 

Lord willing, as we and our descendants look back on this moment in time, we will remember our Spirit-worked endurance and dependence upon Christ. We will look back and see how the Lord protected us and sustained us through one of the toughest times we have faced in our lives. We will see this as the beginning of a new chapter for in our individual walks of faith with Christ and of our church’s story of faith.

In closing, I’ll share a hymn verse which reminds us of God’s guiding hand in history:

O God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Be Thou our guard while troubles last

And our eternal home!

 

Peace in Christ,

            Pastor Kory Janneke

The Joy of the Lord

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.

A Perfect Father

Somewhat forgotten amid the headlines these days is Father’s Day – Sunday, June 24, 2020 in case you forgot too!

Even in calmer times, though, Mother’s Day seems to get most of the attention. Mothers certainly deserve more praise and pampering than they get on one Sunday in May each year, but let’s not forget fathers either.

Fathers, too, are God’s gifts to their families, providing love and security and direction for their wives and children. Kids need time with us dads – playing catch, helping with homework, learning life skills, pursuing shared hobbies, or just snuggling on the couch.

But of far more importance than pursuing hobbies or activities with our children is pursuing God with our children.

God has wired kids to take their spiritual cues from dad. So dads, when you take your kids to church (or have church with them on the couch as many families must do these days), you’re making an impact not just on your children’s morals or values. You’re helping to shape your children’s souls.

Dads, you don’t have to be Bible experts for your family. Start small. When you open the Bible or a devotional book or a Bible storybook with your family, you’re having a greater impact than what can be seen in that moment. You’re bringing “the words of eternal life” into your home! (John 6:68) Lead simple meal prayers and bedtime prayers. Then branch out a little and pray for specific people, needs, and thanksgivings with your family.

You may be a perfectionist when you mow the lawn or when you’re building something in your workshop, but you won’t be a perfect parent. God’s grace is for you, as a far from perfect father, every bit as much as His grace applies to your kids when their imperfections come through in the form of back-talking or rebelling.

The Lord has given you a very important job to do at home: introducing your family to their Heavenly Father and yours.

While our love and energy and attention can all run thin, His never will. His strength and forgiveness and grace toward you for the sake of His Son and your Brother, Jesus, are new every morning!

You and your family have a perfect Father, and with Him, a saving Son of God, and a faith-building Holy Spirit.

May God the Holy Trinity bless you and your family this Father’s Day and every day.

For reflection: What concrete steps can you take this week to grow in Christ with your family?

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