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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)

It Bears Repeating

“Repetition is the mother of learning”, so the saying goes – and there’s a lot of truth to this saying! Skills are learned by steady repetition and by trial and error over time. Important truths, such as Scripture verses and sections of Luther’s Small Catechism, can be learned by heart through repetition. Phone numbers, addresses, and other practical information becomes imbedded in your mind when you use it regularly. 

I have had the privilege of providing spiritual care for some of God’s people who have been severely affected by dementia. However, I’ve also noticed that people who may not be able to remember your name or what day it is or where they’re at can still somehow remember the Lord’s Prayer, the Benediction, and other words from the Lord. Why? Because, through repetition, they learned them by heart. 

There are certain Scriptures that we often hear repeated in Christian worship services. These verses are like sign posts, reminding us of important matters of our faith, things that are worth remembering all throughout our lives.

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). These words come from Jesus Himself. This is His formula for how Christians are to be baptized, as God’s saving name is applied to you along with the water. We hear these words at the beginning of most worship services as an “Invocation” – calling upon our Triune God to bless us with His presence and forgiveness as we gather. Every time we hear these words, it also serves as a reminder of our Baptism into Christ.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9) This straightforward promise from God’s Word teaches us that God stands ready to forgive all those who turn to Him by confessing their sins and seeking His mercy and forgiveness. 

“Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Timothy 1:2). This New Testament greeting makes an appropriate beginning to a sermon. It’s also a reminder of God’s Gospel blessings – Grace, Mercy, and Peace are ours in Jesus!

“And the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Yet another great promise from God’s Word, that His peace will watch over you in all your goings and comings, ups and downs. 

“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26) “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).These Benedictions, or blessings, come from God’s Word through Moses and St. Paul. God told Aaron (Moses’s brother) and his fellow priests to bless His people in this way, putting His name upon them (Numbers 6:27). Notice that the worship service is bookended with God’s saving name. We gather for worship and then we return to our daily callings in the name and in the strength of our mighty Triune God. 

There are many truths in our Christian faith that are well worth repeating regularly – Gospel messages like John 3:16, for example. Each year, come Christmastime, we repeat the same story of our Savior’s coming into the world for us. That story hasn’t changed in 2,000 years, yet we keep telling it because it’s a timeless and world-changing message. 

Soon, we’ll be entering the season of Lent. While themes and emphases change from year to year, Lent continues to be a time focused on Jesus’ cross and the suffering He endured for us – just as the Easter season that follows continues to be a time filled with the joy of Jesus’ resurrection! 

God’s Word bears repeating. It’s how we learn and grow in our faith in Christ and pass that faith along to coming generations.

“I love to tell the story, ‘tis pleasant to repeat

What seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.

I love to tell the story, for some have never heard

The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.

I love to tell the story; ‘twill be my theme in glory

To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.”

Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

Caution or Fear?

In watching or reading the news lately, I’m concerned with how much of the reporting seems to amount to fear mongering. A hint of good news might be mentioned, but then the reporter or journalist will be quick to say, “but there are fears that …”

We can only be saturated with so much fear. A recent study reports that a third of adults are operating in a concussion-like daze due to stress and insomnia. How much are our fears, plus the fears being peddled by the media, contributing to this malaise?

So should we throw caution to the wind? I don’t think so. By all means, take the precautions you need to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy, to prepare for the future, and just to make smart decisions.

Scripture actually teaches us to be cautious, especially about what we listen to, read, and believe – and for good reason. We need to be discerning, and even more so with today’s rapid spread of information – and with it, fear.

St. John teaches Christians to “test the spirits” because certainly not every spirit, prophet, post, article, or word of mouth communication will help us to trust and confess Christ (1 John 4:1-2). We need to be discerning, to separate the legitimate news and information from the fear mongering and sensationalization, to recognize “the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6b).

St. Paul puts it this way: “test everything; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). How do you go about testing everything? Compare what you hear and read to the counsel of God in His Word. Open the Scriptures. Listen to how God calls us to live. Does He want us to be filled with fear, or to take those fears to Him in prayer and face those fears in the strength of the Lord? You will not hear “fear” mentioned in any Biblical lists of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) or characteristics of the Christian.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18)

We need those words from St. John. We need to be reminded of a perfect love, a love great enough to overcome our fears – the perfect love of God in Christ Jesus the Savior.

Through Christ, the fear of God’s wrath and punishment is taken away – He endured God’s wrath and punishment already for us! Through Christ, our fears of life’s “worst case scenarios” can be relieved as well.

You are perfectly loved. That doesn’t mean that when you step outside your door in this world, you will always be perfectly safe from harm. But one of the best ways to overcome our fears and anxieties is to face them head-on. The more we ruminate about our fears (or the fears that are being pushed on us), the more they grow in our minds and the bigger the sway they hold over us.

Be cautious, yes, when caution is reasonable. But don’t live in constant fear. Fear paralyzes. Instead, reach out. Seek help. Admit your fears. Talk to a friend. Come to church. Explore your Bible. Read another good book. Give the fear-filled news a break. Get outdoors. Take a step forward.

A parting word – God’s promise to Old Testament Israel which is also so fitting for us today: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

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

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