Articles from Pastor Kory

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The Shepherd's Staff - Pastor Kory's Final Article

During the mid-‘90s, a vacationing midwestern family, the Oberdecks, stopped at Wall Drug in South Dakota. If you’ve never been to Wall Drug, it’s a sprawling series of gift shops all under one roof and occupying a full city block in the little Badlands town of Wall. You can buy about any sort of souvenir at Wall Drug.

Dr. John Oberdeck scanned through the store and settled on one item: a long, wooden shepherd’s staff. It caught his attention and he figured that at some point he could make use of it. He was a professor at Concordia Seminary St. Louis and he thought that the staff might make a good teaching illustration.

That opportunity came when my father asked Dr. Oberdeck to preach for his installation at a new church in 1996. During the sermon, Dr. Oberdeck pulled out the Wall Drug shepherd’s staff and used it as his sermon illustration. He gave it to my dad as a gift and then for many years it hung on the wall of his office.

Fourteen years later, after I had begun pursuing pastoral ministry, I decided to attend Concordia University Wisconsin. By that time, Dr. Oberdeck was serving in CUW’s theology department. I remember taking a challenging class in Christian doctrine with him. I still return to the content from that course as I teach the faith!

On July 22, 2012, I was ordained into the office of the ministry. On that day, Dr. Oberdeck’s Wall Drug shepherd’s staff was re-gifted to me by my dad. He inscribed two Bible verses down the length of the staff, words from the Apostle Paul in Acts 20:28 & 32: 

            “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. … And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

Paul’s words continue to remind us what it means to serve as pastors and leaders in our Lord’s church. The Church is the Lord’s flock for which He, our Good Shepherd, laid down His life. He calls pastors and laity alike to care for the church of God through our words and our service to our fellow members of the Lord’s flock.

Several years later (2015), another veteran pastor from Wisconsin, Dr. Hal Senkbeil, introduced me to a different way to look at shepherding through a story by Christian author Evelyn Underhill. In her essay, “The Teacher’s Vocation,” Underhill uses a sheep dog to illustrate what it means to care for the church of God:

            “That dog was the docile and faithful agent of another mind. He used his whole intelligence and initiative, but always in obedience to his master’s directive will ... The little mountain sheep he had to deal with were amazingly tiresome, as expert in doubling and twisting and going the wrong way as any naughty little boy. The dog went steadily on with it; and his tail never ceased to wag. … His relation to the shepherd was the center of his life; and because of that, he enjoyed doing his job with the sheep, he did not bother about the trouble, nor get discouraged with the apparent results. ... He was the agent of the shepherd, working for a scheme which was not his own and the whole of which he could not grasp; and it was just that which was the source of the delightedness, the eagerness, and also the discipline with which he worked. But he would not have kept that peculiar and intimate relation unless he had sat down and looked at the shepherd a great deal."

How do sheep dogs operate? With one eye on the Shepherd and the other on the sheep. They listen both for the Shepherd’s commands and they listen for the cues of the sheep. 

Serving in our Lord’s church is no different! Like faithful sheep dogs in our Lord’s service, may the Lord keep each of us focused both on Him, our Good Shepherd, and on caring for the needs of His flock around us.

            Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

Transitions and Opportunities

As I announced this past Sunday, I have decided to accept the Divine Call that was extended to me to serve as the pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Conway, Arkansas. Contemplating and either returning or accepting a pastoral call like this is always a weighty thing to go through, both for the pastor and his family and for the pastor’s current congregation as well as the calling congregation.

After five weeks of prayerfully reflecting on this call, the Lord gave me and Heidi both peace and confidence about accepting this opportunity. At the same time, that means the difficult task of bidding farewell to the wonderful folks of our congregation here in Warrens. It has been a privilege and a joy to get to know the members of St. Matthew over the past several years, both long-term members and those who have joined our church family in recent years or months. I am grateful that God gave me the opportunity to serve as your pastor and to be a part of both many joys and sorrows in our life together over the past three years. I look forward to continuing to serve as your pastor through the remainder of the Lenten season and into the Easter season. 

My final Sunday here at St. Matthew will be May 8. I will continue to lead our Bible studies and catechism class until the beginning of May. I am glad that I can still be the officiant for Confirmation Sunday on May 1 when seven young ladies of the congregation will be confirmed in Christ. It has also been a privilege to be their teacher over the past two years!

This will be a big transition for the congregation, but I am confident that the Lord will provide all that is needful and guide St. Matthew forward in the months and years to come! I ask that you commit this pastoral transition to your personal prayers, even as we will be including it in our public prayers in worship. Please pray for our Circuit Visitor, Rev. Don Stein, and our District President, Rev. John Wille, along with our congregational leaders. In the coming weeks, they will be working together to address the upcoming vacancy.

While times of change bring their own challenges, there are some opportunities in transitional seasons as well. Here are a few that come to mind: as already mentioned, please begin praying for our congregation, our future pastor, for me and my family, and for our sister congregation in Arkansas. During this upcoming vacancy I also urge you to continue supporting our congregation through your financial stewardship of God’s gifts. Each member can help St. Matthew to be in a solid financial standing as you prepare to call and welcome a future pastor. Also, there will be additional opportunities to volunteer at church during this vacancy. I have some ideas for several potential volunteer roles. Please visit with me if you would like to discuss this or be involved in some way. 

Finally, I encourage you to bear in mind that this time is also an opportunity to entrust the future, and particularly the future of this congregation, to our good and gracious Lord. With that in mind, I’ll close with the comforting message that God has for us in Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

95 Days - the Seasons of Lent & Easter

Including today (March 2, 2022 – Ash Wednesday), we’ve now entered a period of 95 days in which Christians focus on the two most important events in history: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation.

The season of Lent (which simply means “Spring”) is 40 days in length (not including Sundays). The 40 days of this season recall the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness and enduring spiritual battle against the devil (Luke 4:1-13). Other periods of 40 days or years in Bible times, include the 40 years that the Israelites spent in the wilderness in between Egypt and the Promised Land, and the 40 days that Goliath taunted Israel’s army. These were times of spiritual testing for God’s people.

Lent is a time for repentance and refinement in our Christian faith, which the Lord does through His Word and Holy Spirit. For many Christians, Lent is a time of spiritual discipline, especially fasting in remembrance of our Lord’s fasting in the wilderness. If you are fasting from anything this Lent, remember to do so in order to focus even more on Jesus, prayer, and Scripture.

The time of Lent mirrors our lives on this earth, a place of struggle, suffering, and sorrow. On this Ash Wednesday, a tragic and unjustified war is raging in Ukraine. Thousands of people are dying on both sides of the battle. As we see these heartbreaking events unfolding, we see such a glaring reminder of the need for every human heart to know and live according to the peace that only Jesus Christ brings through His life, death, and resurrection …

Lent is only a temporary season, though, just as we also trust that the sorrow and suffering of this life is temporary and will eventually be no more. As dark as life can be, the light of Easter IS coming!

The season of Easter (April 17-June 4, 2022) reminds God’s people year after year of why we have hope: our Lord Jesus lives and reigns over death, over the curse of sin, and over the scope of history.

Even as we enter Lent and renew our sights on Jesus’ suffering and death, we see beyond them to Jesus’ resurrection and victory.

Even as our world erupts in crisis and bloodshed, we pray for and seek to provide concrete support to those who are suffering, while also looking beyond this present darkness to the everlasting Easter which which we will experience when Jesus returns.

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

Prayers for Ukraine

Social media is filled with prayer requests for Ukraine. Let’s actually pause to pray for the people of Ukraine, for a cessation of Russia’s invasion, and for all those impacted by the humanitarian crisis that is ensuing.

If you’re like me and you don’t always know what to pray, here are some prepared prayers (adapted from hymnals and prayer books), followed by some additional prayer ideas to get you started.

Prayers for Peace: Heavenly Father, it is Your gracious will that Your children on earth live together in harmony and peace. Defeat the plans of all those who would stir up violence and strife, destroy the weapons of those who delight in war and bloodshed, and, according to Your will, end all conflicts in the world. Teach us to examine our hearts that we may recognize our own inclination toward envy, malice, hatred, and enmity. Help us, by Your Word and Spirit, to search our hearts and to root out the evil that would lead to strife and discord, so that in our lives we may be at peace with all people. Fill us with zeal for the work of Your Church and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone can bring that peace which is beyond all understanding; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works, give to us, Your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Prayer for Ukraine: Gracious God and Father, though Your Son, Jesus Christ, came to bring us Your heavenly peace, violence and conflict still rage among Your children on earth. We pray that in Your mercy You would cause this violence against the people of Ukraine to come to an end. Bring a restoration of calm and security, and heal the wounds that have been inflicted. Restore peace so that what has been laid waste can again be planted and built up. Open Your fatherly heart and bountiful hand to help all in need. Deliver us from all conflict and strife, we may live in harmony and safety, and finally, having gained the eternal rest of the saints in glory, may praise and bless, worship and glorify You forever; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, I love peace and yet I now find that nations are entering into armed conflict. I know that wars come because we, Your creatures, are sinners, among whom I am chief. Grant us forgiveness and repentance for our failings in maintaining peace. You, O Lord, make wars cease to the ends of the earth. You break the bow and shatter the spear and burn the chariots with fire. (Ps. 46:9) Grant a speedy end to this conflict in Ukraine. May the horrors of war move the world’s leaders to find a just and lasting solution to the things that now separate us. War so easily spirals out of control, so check the hatred and cruelty of the aggressors. Watch over the families and children and all innocent parties in Ukraine. Instill in us all an abhorrence of war that will make us all work tirelessly to find peaceful ways to solve our world’s problems. May this war against Ukraine, and all rumors of war, remind me that Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, will soon return to bring His kingdom of peace to all who believe in Him. Amen.

Holy Father, God of mercy, God of comfort, as the darkness grows and hatred and violence seem to triumph in this world, embrace in Your tender compassion all who suffer from Russia’s attack against Ukraine. Remember all who have lost loved ones, and the many who are injured or in harm’s way. Grant to them Your mercy, Your healing, Your protection. We remember that in Your Son You have given to us the Love that no hatred can overcome, the Life that no death can destroy, the Forgiveness that exceeds all the violence that fallen humanity inflicts upon itself. Make Your Church a firm witness to this unfailing hope. We pray these things in the saving name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer for Our Armed Forces: Lord God of hosts, stretch forth Your almighty arm to strengthen and protect those who serve in the armed forces of our country. Support them in times of war, and in times of peace keep them from all evil, giving them courage and loyalty. Grant that in all things that may serve with integrity and with honor; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

In Your Prayers, Remember …

  • those who have been displaced by the fighting and are fleeing to neighboring countries
  • those who cannot leave and are sheltering in subways and basement during air raids
  • the children of Ukraine who are enduring the trauma of war
  • President Putin and those perpetrating this war, that they be brought to repentance and justice and cease their aggression against the Ukrainian people
  • national leaders around the world, that they respond with wisdom and courage, preventing this conflict from escalating further than it already has
  • the elected leaders and armed forces of Ukraine as they defend their homeland
  • Christian churches and pastors in Ukraine as they care for their parishioners and communities in the midst of war
  • humanitarian workers, doctors, and others bringing mercy, food, shelter, and medical care to those in need

Assisting Refugees: The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Mission Central of Iowa have established a fund for those displaced from Ukraine and for the mercy efforts of Lutheran partner churches in Eastern Europe. Click here to visit the online donation form.

Lenten Letter

Friends in Jesus,

         “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:2). That ancient Christian greeting from the Apostle Paul to Pastor Timothy still proclaims the Good News of Jesus today. I pray as you read this letter, that you remember and trust God’s amazing grace, mercy, and peace toward you through your Savior Jesus!

         I’d like to share some updates and invitations with you about our life in the Lord at St. Matthew. In just a matter of days, we will enter the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day time of preparation for our remembrance of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection which we celebrate during Holy Week and Easter. Lent begins this year on Wednesday, March 2, also known as “Ash Wednesday.” We’ll have a 6:30pm communion service on Ash Wednesday. I pray that this Lenten season will be for you what it has been for Christians for centuries: a time of renewal in your faith in Jesus and a time of preparation for the “high points” of our church year: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. 

         In our Wednesday midweek services during Lent (March 2-April 6), I’ll be sharing a sermon series called “The Gospel in Seven Words.” This series will be to help us as we learn to confess the Good News of Jesus in our everyday lives in simple, sharable ways – literally as short as seven words. I invite you to join us for Wednesday services this Lent as we renew our focus on what Jesus has done for us and consider how we can share Jesus with those in our lives.

         Lent is a great time to begin, renew, or continue your devotional Scripture reading. In the church entryway we have Lenten bookmarks and Lenten family calendars, each with daily Scripture readings for you and your family to use as you draw near to the Lord this Lent.

         On another note, I’d like to update you about our new church pictorial directory. This directory is being put together “in-house” at St. Matthew. We are asking each household in the congregation to have your picture taken at church or to submit your own photo for the directory. We will continue taking and gathering photos through Easter. A draft of the pictorial directory is available now in the church entryway. We encourage members to take a look at this and verify that your contact information is correct. 

         I hope that our updated pictorial directory will be a helpful tool for members as we re-connect with one another in post-pandemic times. Speaking of that, our ministry theme for this year at St. Matthew is “Connecting with Christ and One Another.” We thank God that He graciously gives us the gift of connection! Through sending His Son Jesus, He reconnects us with Himself and opens the way to eternal life. By gathering us together in His church, our Lord also connects us to one another as members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). May we all seek greater connection this year – first with our Lord (through worship, communion, prayer and reading and hearing His Word), and second with one another (through fellowship and care for one another). 

         Here are some updates and reminders of upcoming services and events in our life together at St. Matthew:

  • Ash Wednesday Service – March 2 at 6:30pm
  • Wednesday Afternoon Service – March 16 at 1:00pm
  • Midwinter Blues Raffle Drawing – Sun, April 3 after the service (This is a fundraiser for our Vacation Bible School & Sunday School.)
  • Spring Cleaning Volunteer Day at Church – Sat, April 9
  • Maundy Thursday Service – April 14 at 6:30pm (followed by the annual pie and ice cream social)
  • Good Friday Services – April 15 at 1:00 and 6:30pm
  • Easter Sunday Services – April 17 at 7:00 and 9:15am
  • Confirmation Sunday – May 1 at 9:15am
  • Vacation Bible School – August 8-12

Finally, please let me know if you’d like to visit about anything, share a prayer request, or have any personal updates or pastoral care needs. I also encourage you to make use of our church website and Facebook page to stay informed about our ministry.

The Lord bless and keep you this year as you continue your journey of trusting and serving Him!

Peace in Christ,

         Pastor Kory Janneke

Confessing Christ

To be a Christian is to confess the Christian faith. This means both personally trusting Jesus and also publicly sharing the truth of the Christian faith when given the opportunity. Confessing Christ is what we see Peter and John and Jesus’ other disciples doing in the New Testament in the days and years after His death and resurrection. Confessing Christ is what we do when we speak the historic creeds of the Christian Church (the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds). Confessing Christ is also what we do when we give voice to our faith in more informal or impromptu ways. 

            Paul writes to us in Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” It doesn’t have to be very complicated to confess our faith. Paul expresses it as simply as saying, “Jesus is Lord”!

            At a pivotal moment of confessing the faith that we hold as Lutheran Christians, a group of Lutheran laymen gathered in Augsburg, Germany in 1530 to declare the basics of their faith before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Appropriately, they began their confession of faith with the words of the Psalms, “I will also speak of Your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame” (Psalm 119:46). 

Confessing the Gospel-centered Lutheran faith in 1530 was something that could get a person killed. However, the presenters of the Augsburg Confession were willing to pay the ultimate price if necessary for confessing the truth that Christ alone saves sinners by His grace. If you’ve never read the Augsburg Confession, I’d encourage you to do so. Click here to see the Augsburg Confession on the LCMS website. The Augsburg Confession is the clearest statement of what we believe, teach, and confess as Lutheran Christians about God, the Bible, Baptism, and the other core teachings of Christianity.

            We continue to confess the God’s timeless truth in our generation. As we enter the next church season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday, March 2, we’ll start a new worship and sermon series under the theme, “The Gospel in Seven Words.” Each Wednesday, we’ll consider a simple way we can confess our faith in Christ in as few as seven words. You’ll have the opportunity to write and share your own confessions of faith to share with your fellow worshippers and with others in your life. I invite you to join us for our 6:30pm services each Wednesday of Lent (March 2-April 6) as we grow in confessing the Good News of Jesus! (We will also have one afternoon Lenten service at 1:00pm on Wednesday, March 16.)

            The Lord bless and strengthen you to do what countless Christians have faithfully done before us: confessing the Christian faith according to God’s eternal truth, the Holy Bible, and confessing the Gospel-centered, Christ-centered Lutheran faith as it has been handed down to us in such rich resources as Martin Luther’s Small Catechism and the Augsburg Confession.

            In closing, consider this amazing promise from Christ: HE confesses your name before God the Father in heaven! (Matthew 10:32) Likewise, may we take courage in Christ to confess His saving name before others.

            Serving Him,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

How to Read the Old Testament

The Old Testament can be a daunting read. There are so many strange names and places and events. How do you fit it all together? Why does God seem so severe in the Old Testament? Why couldn’t the Israelites get their act together?

            We need a key to help us unlock the Old Testament. Thankfully, Jesus gives us one! Jesus says in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” In other words, many Jewish people in Jesus’ time believed that the Scriptures showed them the path to eternal life by living according to God’s Law. Jesus is saying, “You’re missing something. Ultimately, the Old Testament Scriptures are all about Me!”

            That’s the key to reading the Old Testament: look for Jesus!  No, the Old Testament doesn’t directly describe Jesus’ ministry and His death and resurrection in the same way as the books of the New Testament. However, the Old Testament is filled with prophecies about Jesus, and oftentimes, the writers of the New Testament are telling us how Jesus fulfilled these ancient prophecies. For example, in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost Sunday, he preaches from the Old Testament books of Joel and the Psalms, showing how Jesus is the Risen Savior foretold by the Old Testament (see Acts 2). Peter was doing what Jesus taught him to do. Jesus taught His disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). All of the major parts of the Old Testament prophesy about and foreshadow the coming of Jesus and the deliverance He brings us.

            In Old Testament times, God provided forgiveness for His people’s sins through the sacrifice of animal offerings. In the New Testament, we hear the Good News that all those sacrifices were foreshadowing the one sacrifice for all sins of all time: Jesus Himself on the cross. In the Old Testament, we see that God provided numerous prophets and priests and kings to speak His Word to Israel, to offer sacrifices on their behalf, and to reign over them. In the New Testament, we see that Jesus Himself is our Prophet, Priest, and King. He is the One whom those Old Testament offices were pointing toward. He is the Word of God. He is the Offering for our sin. He is the King who brings us into His kingdom of grace.

            There are other practical things you can do to gain a better understanding of the Old Testament. Using a reliable study Bible such as the Lutheran Study Bible or the Today’s Light Bible from Concordia Publishing House can help you navigate the various books and themes and historical backgrounds of the Old Testament. 

            Our Sunday morning Bible study will now be focusing on one of the most prominent books in the Old Testament, the book referenced more than any other in the New Testament: the book of Isaiah. As we read Isaiah’s words together, we’ll not only be seeking a better understanding of life in Old Testament times, but we’ll especially be looking for Jesus! I invite you to join us as we discover all the ways that Old Testament prophets like Isaiah show us our Savior.

            Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke