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What does God want from me?

The Pastor's Windshield for Thanksgiving 2023

Here come the holidays! As Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and the New Year approach, I know that there are many preparations, purchases, and plans on people’s minds. With so much to think about, it’s easy to miss the purpose of Thanksgiving (giving thanks to God!), much less the meaning of Christmas (the wonder of Christ’s incarnation!).

Each November we may hear or say little things like “Count your blessings” – and the Thanksgiving holiday certainly is one good occasion to recognize God’s gifts, but isn’t every day a time to give thanks and be mindful of our Lord’s blessings?

Perhaps you’re familiar with Martin Luther’s morning and evening prayers. They offer us simple ways of entrusting both our days and nights into God’s gracious care. The prayers both begin by saying, “I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son …” Simply incorporating prayers like these into our morning and evening routines can be a starting place in practicing Christ-centered thanksgiving each day.

A particular Scripture passage which I associate with thanksgiving is Psalm 116. (You might recognize some of its words from the Offertory song in one of our orders of worship, Divine Service Setting One.) The Psalmist asks, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?” (Ps. 116:12) In other words, “What does God want from me?” God has given you and me so much – our physical lives and everything to support them, new life in Christ Jesus, the Gospel, the Sacraments, the blessings of our church and loved ones and neighbors, and far, far more. Taking all those benefits into account, what does God want from me? What do I owe Him?

Here, we might tend toward Law-focused answers: “He wants me to be a good Christian.”  “He wants me to be a better person.”  “He wants me to be more loving.” While God does want us to grow in faith and love, the Psalm offer a different response.

After asking what he should give the Lord in return for all His benefits, the Psalmist then answers, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:13). Notice that this response is rooted in the Gospel! What shall I render to the Lord? I will take His gift, lift it up, and receive it! 

What God wants from you and me – more than anything – is simply for us to trust and receive and celebrate His salvation!

“The cup of salvation” for the Old Testament believers was an element of the Passover meal which celebrated God’s salvation from their enslavement in Egypt. The salvation which Christ won for us came by means of His drinking the “cup” of God’s suffering and wrath in our place (Matt. 26:39). Now, your Savior provides “the cup of salvation” for you at His altar. As you take and drink the body and blood of Jesus, you get to lift up His cup of salvation and gratefully receive Christ’s gifts for your forgiveness and assurance. 

The Psalmist also goes on to say, “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 116:17-19)

What does God want from me? According the Psalm, the “sacrifice” He seeks is thanksgiving. Yes, we also make sacrifices out of the time and resources the Lord has given us, but first, He would have us give thanks, remembering that every good thing comes from above. And what about paying our “vows”? Martin Luther reminds us, “We can return nothing to God except the vows of praise and confession, for we have all things from Him and he needs nothing of our goods.”

We “call on the name of the Lord” when we pray to and praise Him, both individually and “in the presence of all His people.” As Christians, we gather in our local congregations on the Lord’s Day and unite our voices in prayer and thanksgiving, just as the Old Testament people of God gathered in the Jerusalem temple and in their local synagogues. But we also call on Him in our homes, at our Thanksgiving dinners, and every day and night!

Gratefully receiving God’s gifts of salvation and responding to Him in prayer and thanksgiving – these are the things that He most wants from us. 

As we journey through the coming holidays, may the Lord help us to not overlook simple “sacrifices of thanksgiving” for His forgiveness, life, and salvation and for all His benefits to you and me!

Grace & Peace,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

O Come, Let Us Worship Him!

The Pastor's Windshield for October 2023

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; 
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
(Psalm 95:1-3, 6-7a)

The Psalmist invites us to come before the Lord, our Maker, in worship. Public worship is one of the most basic elements of practicing biblical faith, both for God’s people in Old Testament times and for us living in the New Testament. However, it can be easy for us to take the content of worship services for granted or perhaps never even learn what certain things mean and why they matter.

Think about the following questions: Why do we do what we do in a worship service? What does God’s Word teach us about the “essentials” of Christian worship? What is meant by the title often used in our Lutheran circles, “Divine Service”? Why do Lutheran worship services look and sound different from some other Christian congregations? There are many important questions like these regarding Christian worship in general and our Lutheran theology in particular. To discuss these questions and explore the meaning and practice of worship in greater detail, we’ll be focusing on Christian worship as our new Sunday Bible study, beginning on Sun, October 22 at 9:00am.

In our study, we’ll take a closer look at the overall purpose of public worship, the individual elements of the service, the flow of the Church Year, the schedule of Scripture readings (known as the “Lectionary”), and Christian hymns. We’ll also learn more about the types of services in our Lutheran Service Book hymnal along with some of its additional features. The study will also be tailored to your questions and the aspects of worship that you have questions about. 

A hymn which is new in the Lutheran Service Book is #602, “The Gifts Christ Freely Gives.” I think it does a great job of portraying what is happening when we gather each Sunday: we’re receiving Christ’s gracious gifts! Yes, we’re glorifying and praising Him, but that is only one dimension of the service. Notice how the hymn traces Christ’s gifts through the flow of the service, from our Baptism (and baptismal remembrance with the Invocation), to Confession and Absolution, to God’s Word read and proclaimed for us, to the reception of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

1 The gifts Christ freely gives
    He gives to you and me
To be His Church, His bride,
    His chosen, saved and free!
Saints blest with these rich gifts
    Are children who proclaim
That they were won by Christ
    And cling to His strong name.

2 The gifts flow from the font
    Where He calls us His own;
New life He gives that makes
    Us His and His alone.
Here He forgives our sins
    With water and His Word;
The triune God Himself
    Gives pow’r to call Him Lord.

3 The gifts of grace and peace
    From absolution flow;
The pastor’s words are Christ’s
    For us to trust and know.
Forgiveness that we need
    Is granted to us there;
The Lord of mercy sends
    Us forth in His blest care.

4 The gifts are there each day
    The holy Word is read;
God’s children listen, hear,
    Receive, and they are fed.
Christ fills them with Himself,
    Blest words that give them life,
Restoring and refreshing
    Them for this world’s strife.

5 The gifts are in the feast,
    Gifts far more than we see;
Beneath the bread and wine
    Is food from Calvary.
The body and the blood
    Remove our ev’ry sin;
We leave His presence in
    His peace, renewed again.

6 All glory to the One
    Who lavishes such love;
The triune God in love
    Assures our life above.
His means of grace for us
    Are gifts He loves to give;
All thanks and praise for His
    Great love by which we live!

Text: Richard C. Resch, 1947
Text: © 2001 Richard C. Resch. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110018755

Again, as the Psalm invites us, come and worship the Lord. Come and receive His gifts, both in weekly worship and Bible study. Come and gather with His saints. Come before Him in thanksgiving. Come and receive His forgiveness and refreshment.

Grace & Peace,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

What Is Humility?

A Reflection based on the Sermon from Sunday, October 1, 2023

What is humility? We probably tend to think that humility is being down on ourselves, even putting ourselves down. However, this may be more indicative of depression or other struggles rather than having a humble spirit. We know that humility is the oppostive of pride, being puffed up with our own sense of self-importance. But what is it like for someone to be humble in everyday experience?

I find the insights of Christian author C.S. Lewis helpful here. His definition: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." In other words, humility isn't about our level of "self-esteem." Humility doesn't stem from either a low/high view of ourselves, nor does it come from what other people think or say of us. In practice, humility is simply thinking of ourselves less of the time. Instead of contstantly focusing on my opinions, my reputation, my tasks, my feelings, and so on, to be more humble would be to think less about all these things pertaining to my ego and to think more about God's verdict of me, and more about the lives and needs of other people.

Humility, then, could be defined as "self-forgetfulness." Tim Keller spoke of humility this way. He writes in his book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, "This is gospel-humility, blessed self-forgetfulness. Not thinking more of myself as in modern cultures, or less of myself as in traditional cultures. Simply thinking of myself less."

Paul spoke this way to the Philippians: "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4) Paul paints a needed picture of humility for the Church and for everyone. This other-centered humility is needed in Church relationships, marriage and family life, friendship and neighborliness, and beyond.

However, must must always be clear that efforts at humbling ourselves do not make us Christians or bring us salvation. God must do that for us from the outside. Only Christ Jesus saves us! Only in Him do we see the ultimate truth about ourselves - that we are lost and condemned sinners without Him, but that in Him, we are beloved and forgiven children of God. God issues that verdict - He makes us right with Him through Christ alone, who humbled Himself for our salvation, even to the point of suffering and dying for us on His cross (see Philippians 2:5 and following).

Forgiven by Christ and justified by God by faith, we need not worry about what people think of us, nor even what we think of ourselves. We know that the Father sees us as His forgiven children through Jesus, and that is more than enough. Because of that, we are free to focus not just on ourselves, but on others and their needs and interests, just as our Savior has done for us.

A Prayer:  Lord Jesus, just as You thought not of Yourself and Your own interests but of me and and reconciling me to God when You gave Your life for me, help me to live not only for myself and my interests but for You and Your kingdom, as well as for my neighbors and their lives and needs. Help me to take a real interest in others just as You showed such great interest in me and my salvation. Amen.