Articles from Pastor Kory

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Remembering 9-11

In a few days, we will reach the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Like other monumental days in American history, such as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, those who lived through such occasions can vividly remember the details and emotions of the day.

            For me, there are many moments from that day that feel just like they happened yesterday. However, one part of the day is especially on my mind: going to church. My home congregation at the time hosted a brief prayer service on the evening of 9-11. Parishioners gathered to turn to the Prince of Peace as we reflected on the vicious attacks of that day.

            The service began in prayer: “Heavenly Father, God of peace and harmony, You would have Your children on earth live together in peace and quietness. Nevertheless, in Your wisdom You have permitted this attack of terror to be unleashed against our nation. Watch over, we pray, all those whose lives have been impacted by this tragedy. Heal the injured, comfort those who mourn, and give patience and strength to those who must now wait to learn the fate of their loved ones. Give endurance to all police, fire, and medical personnel as they struggle to attend to the needs of the injured. To all those involved in the investigation of these attacks, grant patience and diligence as they go about their important work of identifying those who have brought about this great suffering. Frustrate any further attacks that may be planned, and guide the leaders of our nation so that they may act wisely in response to this crisis. Above all, enable Your holy Church to speak Your comforting Word of peace in Jesus Christ, so that in the midst of this dying world we all may know the true source of our hope; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

            While that prayer is specific to the situation of 9-11, much of it still applies. We continue to pray that peace will prevail, that violence will be prevented, and that those in authority will have the wisdom needed to respond to crises. 

            Following 9-11, many churches around America saw a surge in attendance. 9-11 was a jarring reminder that we are not guaranteed safety and security in this sin-wracked world. Many people saw 9-11 as a call to “return to the Lord your God” (Joel 2:13), and understandably so. Such events remind us that true security is found not in earthly safety nets but in the loving, everlasting arms of Jesus. 

            From the ongoing pandemic, to the many natural disasters unfolding around the world, to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, we are being reminded on an almost daily basis to look up to the Lord for help and hope. Life is full of these wakeup calls. May God grant that we pay attention to such things and see them as reminders to return daily to Him!

            When asked about the reason why a particular ancient tragedy happened (a tower collapse that killed 18 people), Jesus chose not to offer a reason. Instead, He turned to His hearers and used this teaching moment to remind them that they too needed to live in repentance and faith toward the Lord. (Luke 13:1-5) And so do we. 

            We will remember many things on this 20th anniversary of 9-11: personal recollections, the impact of these terror attacks on our nation, and much more. First and foremost, though, let’s remember to look up to the Lord.

Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

Destination Dig

Our 2021 Vacation Bible School, “Destination Dig”, is now just a few days away! (It begins, Monday, August 2.) We’re grateful to have the opportunity to gather once again with children from our congregation and community and to share the message of Jesus with them through the lessons and activities at VBS. The theme of this year’s VBS involves history and archaeology. While we’ll be focusing on the life of Jesus from His birth to His resurrection, we’ll also think about some of the other real people and places that we learn about in the Bible.

I think it’s important for both children and adults to consider that Bible stories are more than just stories. They are true stories. The Bible tells us how God worked in real time and space, especially when He sent Jesus to share our humanity and to take away our sin. Because the Bible tells us the truth, it has real implications for our lives. God’s Word about sin and grace, Law and Gospel, heaven and hell, and so much more is all true!

Here are just a couple examples of archaeological discoveries that back up what we read in our Bibles:

The Pilate Inscription – Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea for about ten years, including the years of Jesus’ public ministry, His death and resurrection, and the beginnings of the church. However, history outside of the Bible has little to say about Pilate’s life and tenure as governor. While Pilate’s role in history is described in all four Gospels in the Bible, skeptics questioned whether Pilate even existed. A 1961 discovery changed that. An ancient stone step was overturned in Caesarea Maritima. On the underside of the step, was an older inscription from the time of Jesus. The inscription referenced “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea” and his role in the construction of a building called the Tiberium, possibly a temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Tiberius. The stone had been recycled as part of a later construction project, but its brief message made an important point: Pontius Pilate was indeed a historical person. When we confess that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate”, we can be confident that it actually happened!

The Dead Sea Scrolls – How can we know that the Old Testament we read today is reliable and reflects the original Old Testament writings? A 1947 discovery helped answer this question. A shepherd boy stumbled upon a series of caves just northwest of the Dead Sea. This led to the discovery of jar upon jar containing ancient scrolls. In the years afterward, archaeologists would discover almost 900 scrolls written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The scrolls included portions of all but one Old Testament book. The scrolls were written and stored there likely more than 100 years before Christ’s birth. As Biblical scholars analyze the Dead Sea Scrolls, they compare the writings to the Old Testament that has been handed down to us. Their findings show that the Old Testament we read today is reliable and reflects the ancient message that God delivered to Abraham, Moses, David, and the Israelites. The Dead Sea Scrolls will be one of the discoveries that children will learn about at VBS this year.

While our faith does not rest on archaeological discoveries like these but on God’s promises in the Gospel, archaeology does help to illustrate the world of Bible times. Discoveries such as the Pilate Inscription or the Dead Sea Scrolls provide added confirmation that what we read in God’s Word reflects true history. This is also added confirmation that Scripture delivers Christ’s Word of truth and grace for our hearts and lives today. 

Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

Basic Training

This July 4th, we’ll be celebrating our nation’s 245th birthday. As with other national holidays such as Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, Independence Day is another time to remember and give thanks for all the men and women who have served our nation and defended our freedoms throughout America’s history.

Whether military members enlist for several years or for a long career, it all begins with an intensive but relatively short time of basic training. 

I think often of my grandfather’s naval service during the Second World War. As with about a million other WWII sailors, his journey began with several weeks of basic training at Great Lakes Naval Station. This training helped men like my then teenage grandfather to get fighting fit and sufficiently versed in naval protocols. I’m sure that each military member learns a lot during their weeks of basic training; however, it’s only the tip of the iceberg compared to the on-the-job experience that follows.

My grandfather was assigned to a ship in the Pacific, and then his learning began in earnest. His basic training had given him a foundation for what he would learn and do in his ongoing service. Out at sea, the concepts that had been instilled back at Great Lakes had to be put into practice. 

We also have times of “basic training” in our Christian lives. As young believers, participating in Sunday school helps to familiarize us with the basic events and characters of the Bible. In catechism classes, we emphasize core messages of the Bible, such as God’s Law and Gospel, along with God’s gifts of Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and more. Adults make take refresher courses or basic Christian instruction classes as well.

These are all good places to start. They lay a foundation for our ongoing Christian life. But rather than completing our growth as Jesus’ disciples, these times of basic training are meant to mark the beginning of more maturing and “on-the-job” development as we live out our faith in our daily lives and callings. 

I give thanks for the students who completed catechism instruction this past spring and for those who will be continuing or beginning that process this fall. I’m grateful for the instruction I received in my youth as well, but in looking back, I can see how it was only “basic training.” In the years since, God has provided many more opportunities to grow in Christian faith and living, and I know He will continue to do so.

No matter what stage of our Christian life we find ourselves in, whether at 9-years-old or 99-years-old, walking with the Lord is a daily journey of growth and maturation. Oftentimes that happens in simple ways, like reading little daily “Portals of Prayer” devotions. Sometimes God grants us growth by helping us navigate changing and challenging times. God also grants us growth by having others walk alongside of us in our journey of faith – our fellow servicemen and women in the Lord’s crew! 

Along the way, God keeps returning us to those same truths we learned back in our basic training as believers: we are God’s baptized, beloved children. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ. We are forgiven and restored for Jesus’ sake. We are fed by our Lord at His Altar.

This is the Gospel. We learn the basics of it as we learn things like the words of “Jesus Loves Me” as children. But then for the rest of our earthly lifetimes and beyond, we get to continue to plumb the depths of this life-changing and eternity-granting Good News!

A prayer: Lord, thank you for times of “basic training” in my Christian faith. Lead me and teach me each day to trust You, to grow in the truth of Your Word, and to practice my faith through what I think and say and do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

Divine Design

Divine Design

The Gospel of John opens not with Jesus’ birth or baptism but with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:1-3)

John refers to Jesus as the eternal “Word” of God. Jesus is the Word who spoke at the outset of creation, bringing light, sun, moon, stars, creatures, seasons, man and woman, and all things into existence (Genesis chapter 1). Jesus is the Word who also “became flesh” for us (John 1:14). He became one of us to save all of us through His holy life, death, and resurrection. Because of Jesus, we also look forward to life in the new heavens and the new earth which He will unveil on the Last Day, when He will return to take away sin and all its effects forever (Revelation 21:1-5).

During spring and summertime, we enjoy seeing creation renewed in more ordinary ways: re-emerging flowers and perennials (and weeds!), baby birds in their nests or waddling behind their mothers, rain showers which cause our yards and pastures and fields to be filled with lush, green grasses and crops, and so much more. 

In our summer travels and vacations, we get to witness the beauty of other places and scenery within God’s creation. My family and I just returned from a getaway in the Door County, WI area, where we marveled at the crystal blue waters, sunsets on Green Bay, orchards in bloom, and much more. I hope that you have the opportunity to see and appreciate the marvels of God’s handiwork this summer, whether nearby or faraway.

As I think about this marvelous world, the mysteries of space, and the intricacies of living things, I can’t help but think about the “Divine Design” that made it all possible. King David expresses this sense of wonder in Psalm 139:13-14 as he reflects on God's gift of life: “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

Wonderful ARE God’s works! He IS worthy of praise for the gift of life, the riches of His creation, and especially for the gift of new and eternal life through His Son!

On Sundays this summer, I hope that you’ll join me for our new Bible Study, “Divine Design”, as we discuss the wonders of God’s creation. Beginning June 6, we’ll gather each week at 10:30am in the Fellowship Hall to take a closer look at God’s Word in Genesis regarding His creative work, as well as other passages in Scripture which illuminate more about how, when, and why God created all things. In our Divine Design study, we’ll reflect on the creation of the world and the universe, our fellow creatures, man and woman, marriage, the family, society and community, and more. We’ll discuss how these gifts of God have been impacted by the curse of sin. And we’ll also look forward to the final restoration of God’s creation on the coming day of our Lord. 

Please join us this summer for Bible study this summer – a great opportunity to grow in your relationship with your Creator and with your fellow members of St. Matthew. And may our good and gracious God open our eyes each day to the wonders of His Divine Design all around us!

The Lord be with you this summertime,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

Confirmation - Sights and Sounds

I was confirmed on April 16, 2000. Thinking back to that day 21 years ago, I was a pimply-faced kid in a white confirmation gown standing before the congregation at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Steeleville, IL. It’s easy for me to remember the date because I was given a study Bible with my name and the date inscribed on it – otherwise, I’d be bound to forget it!

This Sunday, May 2, 2021, we celebrate the confirmation of five of our young people here at St. Matthew: Kendalyn, Anna, Brelee, Cade, and Jacob. Over the past two years we have gathered Wednesday after Wednesday to grow in understanding God’s Law and Gospel for our lives, to discuss basic questions and answers about our Christian faith through Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, to prepare for faithful reception of the Lord’s Supper, and more. 

I am proud of these five young adults as they are confirmed this week and as they move forward in their faith in Christ! My sincere hope and prayer for each of them, and I know yours as well, is that they continue to trust their Savior through all the ups and downs and comings and goings of life in the years to come.

Here are some of the “sights and sounds” of confirmation to look and listen for this Sunday: two members of our class will be sharing “Statements of Faith” with the congregation. They will be sharing about Jesus, what He has done for us, the importance of their Baptism, and their chosen confirmation verses. Three members of the class will be sharing their Statements at our services in the next several weeks. 

Speaking of confirmation verses, one confirmation tradition is that a certain Bible verse is either assigned to or chosen by a confirmand. This year, each of the students has chosen their own verse. They’ve chosen a wide variety of Scriptures (Matthew 10:22; John 17:21; John 15:5; John 3:16; and Philippians 4:13) which will be read as part of Sunday’s service. A confirmation verse can be a great blessing over the course of life. My confirmation verse, Psalm 23:4, continues to be very meaningful for me. I’m sure many of you could say the same about yours!

White gowns or robes are a confirmation tradition as well. This is a visual reminder of our Baptism, in which we were washed clean of our sins through Christ’s forgiveness. The traditional color associated with confirmation is red. Red is associated with the Holy Spirit who came upon the first Christians at Pentecost as “tongues of fire” (Acts chapter 2). God the Holy Spirit is responsible for kindling and fanning our faith in Christ into flame.

Finally, the “Rite of Confirmation” itself is a time in the service when the confirmands profess their faith in the Lord and promise to remain faithful to Him no matter what – even in the face of potential suffering and death. 

May the Holy Spirit grant that we all remain faithful to our Lord all our days, and finally, receive His crown of eternal life!

Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

Created for Community

“It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). The first thing that we hear in the Bible that is “not good” is loneliness. Adam had no companion. But God had a plan: He created Eve. And so began the first human community, marriage, family, and the multiplication of the human race.

God’s statement about Adam remains true in every age. It is not good for us to be alone. We need one another. We need support, conversation, and fellowship. We need shoulders to cry on. We need hands to high five when we’re celebrating. We need our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord in this family of faith called the Church. We need good neighbors and community leaders. We need to see friendly faces wherever we go, from the hallways of our schools, to the checkout line at the grocery store, to the folks around us in worship and Bible study. We need one another! It’s how God has wired us as His human creatures – for community.

Beginning on Sunday, April 11 at 10:30 a.m., we’ll be starting a new Bible study experience called “Created for Community.” Each participant will receive a copy of Jane Fryar’s book by the same title. Each Sunday morning during the season of Easter, we’ll gather and chat about community – both in the life of the Church and beyond. We’ll learn more about how the Bible was written for Christians in community. We’ll realize that God does not call us to be “Lone Rangers” as we follow Christ, but to walk together. In fact, that’s what the word “Synod” means – “walking together.”

Let’s walk together as we renew our life of Christian community at St. Matthew. Let’s be intentional about fostering fellowship – it’s more important than ever before! The Covid-19 pandemic has had many challenging effects, one of which has been the lack of community life over the past year. Video-based options, such as live-streamed worship services, at least offer some degree of connection. However, there is no replacing face-to-face and side-by-side interaction with others, from our family members to the members of our church family.

In our Created for Community Bible study, we’ll gather in the Fellowship Hall each Sunday and consider a different aspect of fellowship and life together. Masks are welcome. Social distancing is encouraged. But your presence is especially important. It’s a step toward rebuilding our community life as Christ’s people. All youth and adults of the congregation are invited to participate!

On that note, another aspect of fellowship will be re-starting on Sunday, April 11 – Sunday School. This will be offered for children in Pre-K through 6th Grade immediately after the Sunday worship service from April 11th – May 23rd. If you have not done so already, please contact the church office or sign up in the entryway if your child will be participating in Sunday school. Please contact Amy Sharpe or the church office if you would be willing to assist with Sunday school in any way.

Last but not least, the Lord bless you this Holy Week and Easter as we gather together around Christ’s cross and empty tomb!

Blessed Easter,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

(April 2021 Newsletter Article)

Holy Week Devotion

The Palm Sunday parade as Jesus entered Jerusalem for the week of Passover was exciting. It was also a little strange - Jesus' steed being a little donkey. And it was ominous as well. Watching the parade were Jesus' opponents, the Pharisees, who would see to it that He would be silenced by week's end. While the multitudes were captivated by Christ, Jesus' enemies were plotting how they would cancel Him, once and for all. They were willing to do anything to make this happen - arranging backroom bribes, cooking up false testimony, even freeing a murderer in exchange for Jesus. 

In their minds, Christ HAD to be cancelled, killed, crucified! Religiously, they saw Him as a blasphemer - pretending to be the Son of God. Personally, they saw Him as a threat and a competitor to their power and influence ...

"Cancel Culture" has been a hot-button topic over the past year. Celebrities who say or do politically incorrect things, or who may have said or done such things in the past, risk losing roles, contracts, opportunities, and more. The same can happen to average folks, too.

You could get "cancelled" in some way or another just for believing and referencing the Bible. And this "Cancel Culture" doesn't show any signs of letting up anytime soon.

Should we be surprised? Didn't Jesus say that the world will try to cancel Christians, that we will face tribulation, hatred, or potentially worse just because we belong to Him?

From mid-afternoon on Good Friday until early Sunday (Easter) morning, Jesus' enemies thought they had bested Him and gotten rid of Him for good. But the Good News in Jesus' case is that those who thought they had succeeded in cancelling Him were dead wrong! They had nothing on Jesus!

What a shock when the news began to break on Sunday morning: Jesus was Risen - not cancelled! And the Risen Jesus changed the lives of His disciples forever. The message of their Living Lord would consume them for the rest of their days. They knew that this Gospel had to get out, far and wide! Jesus commissioned and empowered them to take the message of His death and resurrection to the ends of the earth.

We still hear the Good News proclaimed by the Apostles as we read their words today in the New Testament. They share the Good News with us that Jesus voluntarily died an excruciating death for you and me on the cross. (In our day, when volunteerism is on the decline, can you imagine volunteering to die in place of someone else?)

But the Good News gets better: Jesus overcame death on Easter Sunday, He is alive forevermore, and He has prepared eternal life for all who trust Him! This is God's Greatest News - for you.

As Christians, we may be looking at today's culture with wary and even fearful eyes. One of Jesus' promises from the original Holy Week is fitting for us: "In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world!" (John 16:33)

Amazingly, in being overcome on the cross, Jesus was working toward overcoming death itself - and He did! In truth, He overcomes everything that stands in His way.

Not even Satan at his "best" can overcome Jesus at His "worst." When Jesus was fasting in the wilderness to the point of starvation, Satan threw his best temptations at Him, but Jesus just swatted Satan away by speaking the truth of His Word. 

Another Word of promise from Jesus to His people is this: the gates of hell shall not overcome His Church (Matthew 16:18). The world can try to cancel Jesus' message, but it will not ever fully succeed. Jesus is un-cancelable! You can't cancel your Creator. You can't silence Almighty God ...

Jesus' Palm Sunday parade was ultimately His parade to the cross, and we thank our Lord that it was. A week after Palm Sunday, there was another parade, a victory parade through hell itself, as the Risen Jesus showed Satan and the forces of evil that they did not and cannot cancel Him!

Christians, your Savior is on your side and at your side in whatever struggle or opposition you are facing as you follow Jesus today. In Him, you will always be free to be faithful! So fear not! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Amen.

(based on Pastor Kory's Palm Sunday sermon, 3/28/21)

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