Articles from Pastor Kory

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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?

A Future and a Hope

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). This verse is among the most oft-quoted in Scripture. It’s comforting to think that God already knows the good plans He has for our lives.

The picture above is of a little keepsake I received years ago as a high school graduation gift – Jeremiah 29:11 quoted on a sailboat.

This year’s graduates (and all young adults) are sailing into a future which suddenly became uncertain and unsettling 2-3 months ago. The job market went from boom to bust, and in about every sector of society, people’s plans are changing rapidly in this pandemic-altered world.

What does God’s Word have to say to give us hope in the face of a challenging future? The promise of Jeremiah 29:11 certainly encourages us, but it has a different message than we might think.

Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet.” He lived and ministered in the Old Testament’s darkest hour. He witnessed the superpower of the day, Babylon, conquer Jerusalem and Judah, just as the Lord had prophesied through Jeremiah.

At the time God inspired the prophet’s words, Judah’s brightest and best had already been taken as prisoners to Babylon. Jerusalem was still standing, but a few years later, it was besieged and totally destroyed by Babylon.

The future and hope of God’s people was being snuffed out before their eyes. And God’s Word through Jeremiah made it clear that this was more than a political takeover. Babylon was an agent of God’s justice and punishment against His unfaithful people.

Jeremiah chapter 29 is a letter from God to His people who have already been taken as exiles from their homeland to Babylon, hundreds of miles to the east. God encourages the exiles to begin building a new life: have families, build houses, plant gardens, and work for the good of this pagan city which would be their home for the rest of their lives.

The exile lasted for 70 years. Anyone who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem would have been little when they left and gray-haired when they returned. But those who made it back to Jerusalem found a pile of rubble. The life their ancestors had known in the Promised Land was gone.

Where is the hope in this episode of history? Where is the good future? This exile was a major “reset” for Israel. The older generations, who had led the nation astray and worshipped man-made idols, were either wiped out in the conquest or died in exile. It would be up to the younger Israelites to begin again on a faithful foundation.

Here’s the Lord’s message again, but with a little more context:  “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:10-14)

God’s future plans for His people begin with repenting, returning to Him, and trusting Him alone. Call on the true God once again, pray to Him and seek Him – that was God’s message 2,600 years ago, and for us today.

We don’t know (and we don’t really need to know) what God has planned for every step of our lives – where we will live and work, whom we will meet and marry, etc.

Above all, we need to know and trust the Lord Himself. Without Him, we don’thave hope and we don’t have a future. But in Him, we have everything we need!

Where we will go to school and what we will do with our lives are important, to be sure. But even more important is whether we will trust the Lord for today, our future, and our eternity.

Whether you are a new grad, or long past your school days, your hope is the Lord Himself. Through His Son, He has prepared a future for you which outshines the best that this world can offer!

I pray that all your days, you will know this hope in Christ Jesus. May this hope permeate your life, wherever you go and whatever you do, because the future – in Christ – is bright.

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