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The Pastor's Windshield

What’s with the Title?

"The Pastor's Windshield" for Sunday, June 12, 2022

How is your windshield looking this summer? Is it caked with dead bugs? Dusted with pollen? Or are you looking through your windshield much at all these days? With the price of gas, perhaps you’re staying home more often or riding your bike in place of hoping in the car.

Several times I heard a friend of mine compare windshields with rear-view mirrors. Think about what you do with a rear-view mirror. As you’re driving down the road you take an occasional glance at it to see what the traffic is like behind you. Perhaps you see a car following too closely. Oftentimes, though, you look back and see nothing important, so your eyes return quickly to the road.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, you should be looking forward at the road ahead of you. Your eyes should be scanning everything you can see through your windshield, both the things that are close to your vehicle and the sights that are still far up the road, perhaps even on the horizon.

Your windshield is many times larger than your rear-view mirror or your side mirrors on your vehicle, and for good reason. For your safety and for the safety of your neighbor drivers and pedestrians, your eyes should be fixed ahead as you look through your windshield.

That can be a metaphor for life as well. Sometimes we need to glance back and reflect on things that we have undergone or accomplished in the past. It’s good to remember. That being said, we’re not living in the past anymore. We take that glance in the mirror looking back, but then we need to return to looking forward at the road ahead of us.

As we look forward in life, we ask questions such as, “What do I need to accomplish today? What’s going to be important in this season of my life? What are my priorities going to be? Who am I becoming? How can I continue growing and challenging myself? How can I make a difference? What can I do to serve my family and church family? How can I be a blessing to my neighbors and community?”

There are many other forward-looking questions we could ask ourselves. What about as a congregation? How can we “look through the windshield” as a church? 

A tendency in many congregations is to spend more time and energy looking back to years past than to what the future holds. Declining churches may hearken back to their “glory days,” remembering such things as full Sunday school classes, large choirs, or many more members than today.

It's good to look back, but some people (and some churches) can get stuck looking backward. Instead, let’s follow the example of the Apostle Paul who described his attitude to the Philippian Christians in this way: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). 

By the time Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church, he was already in the final season of this life. These were among his last written words. Although Paul had decades of his life and ministry to look back upon, he was much more focused on what was still ahead: ongoing ministry in this life until the Lord delivered him to the life eternal.

Paul’s words set an example for us. If we were to focus on doing just one thing, what would it be? For Paul, it was finishing his course faithfully and fruitfully. 

As we “press on” in the Lord’s mission and ministry that He has given His Church, we look forward to all that He has in store for us. With that in mind, I invite you to join me during the Bible study hour, especially on Sundays, June 12 & 19, as we join in looking through our “windshield” and consider how we can imitate St. Paul in faithfully pressing on toward the goal!

            Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

Basic Training

On July 4, 2022, we’ll be celebrating our nation’s 246th 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’ve often thought about my grandpa’s Naval service during World War II. As with about a million other sailors in WWII, his journey began with several weeks of basic training at Great Lakes Naval Station. This training helped men like my then teenage grandpa 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. Young sailors would have practiced everything from marching to following their officers’ commands to knot-tying. However, this was only the tip of the iceberg compared to the on-the-job experience that followed.

My grandpa was assigned to a ship in the Pacific (the USS Vestal), 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 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’m grateful for the Christian instruction I received in my youth, 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 this Christian faith and life, 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, God’s Good News for us in Jesus Christ. We learn the basics of it as we sing “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 each day to continue trusting You, to grow in the truth of Your Word, and to put my faith into practice through what I think and say and do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

The Shepherd's Staff

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, 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

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