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Salt of the earth: Part 12

Since we have the peace that flows from God’s love in Christ, we desire peace with others and for others.

Aaron H. Goetzinger

The scene was horrific, but I can only try to imagine it since I heard about it secondhand. What I struggle to understand is the agony parents would feel when they saw their son’s blood watering the ground. Would any parent ever dream it? What started as a sibling rivalry ended in death and, more than that, murder. Cain envied Abel, and that envy grew into anger which then grew into hatred. Conflict was crouching at Cain’s door. It desired Cain, and he did not resist.

It’s difficult for many of us to see ourselves in this account. If we identify with either of the two brothers, we most likely identify with Abel. He was the good guy. He happily gave an offering to God, and God accepted it. We like to see ourselves in that kind of positive light. But the lesson is that after the fall into sin, when people live together, conflict results.

Though I have not murdered my brother, the lesson of Genesis chapter 4 has proven itself to be true right up to today. The lesson applies to all of us. We all innately desire to live in community with one another, yet the problem is that our communities are made up of sinful people. Conflict crouches at each one of our doors.

“Fine!” a wife shouts. “Fine!” a husband screams as he slams the door behind himself.

A father retorts, “You need to do your job and give my daughter more playing time!”—all while wagging his finger in the coach’s face.

“IF YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE, YOU’RE THE PROBLEM!” With this line the woman puts the icing on her vitriolic Facebook post and sends it.

We are heirs of the same problems that have plagued human culture and community since the days of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. Even in a group of like-minded individuals, strife and conflict will rise. This is precisely why the apostle Paul needed to give this reminder to Christians: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

Peace does not take sides

Conflict is a question of sides. Are you a millennial or not? Did you vote for President Trump or not? Are you on the side of right, or are you on the side of wrong? Are you us or are you them? However, contrasted against such a binary view of life, Paul calls on us to live at peace. He does not take sides. Rather, peace looks for common ground and defuses conflict.

Paul takes a wide sweeping view of peace because the peace that Christians have been granted takes no sides. When Paul opened his letter to the Romans, he said “To all in Rome who are loved by God . . . Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7). At the end of Romans, he gave this blessing, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him” (Romans 15:13). Then he closed by saying, “The peace of God be with you all. Amen.” (Romans 15:33).

Christians in Rome all had the peace that flows from God’s love in Christ. Our entire relationship with God has changed. A relationship that was once marked by animosity and hostility is now marked by a declaration of peace (Romans 5:1). Our minds, since they are no longer controlled by sin and death, are filled with life and peace (Romans 8:6). Just as the peace of God takes no sides, it also ushers in wide sweeping change in each of us. We desire peace with others, even in difficult relationships.

Peace is not weakness

Some may wonder if we become pushovers or if there is a certain weakness in peace making. The cynic may snarl, “Well, if you want peace, prepare for war”—as if we become losers when we seek to keep the peace. This is a very worldly view of peace and conflict.

When the disciples were worried about Jesus’ future, he assured them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). Similarly, Jesus assured them that though they may experience strife and trouble the peace that he provides between sinners and the Father transcends and overcomes this world (John 16:33).

Jesus says these things because the peace we enjoy with God can never be taken from us. The peace we have with God is sealed in his blood. Though what your spouse says or does may hurt you deeply, those words cannot impact the peace you have with God. Though someone from a different generation annoys you, they cannot influence the everlasting peace Jesus gives to you. Though you disagree with someone from the opposite side of the aisle, their political statements do not change your standing with God.

Paul understands fully the kind of world in which we live. Christians live in a tense relationship with the world. In Romans chapter 3, Paul says one piece of evidence of sin in the lives of sinners is their lack of understanding of real peace. Later in chapter 12,

Paul acknowledges that Christians will be faced with persecution and evil. This is why he says in verse 18 that we are to live in peace “if it is possible.”

At the same time Paul is not letting us off the hook. He says, “As far as it depends on you.” Though we live in an evil world that fails to understand real peace we are to bless persecutors and not repay evil with evil. We are to live peaceful lives and seek to negotiate peace as much as we are able. Part of that task means we are to share the peace we have because of our Savior with those still trapped in a world of hostility and conflict.

As Christians we are in this world, but we are not of this world. We are salt. We are different from the world. We have peace within. This eternal peace is carried with us in our everyday lives. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9), he is encouraging us to “live at peace with everyone.” We are always Christians and peacemakers before we are defined by our own generation, politics, or nationality.

We have the peace that changes our relationship with our God. We have the peace that now fills us and changes us. We have the peace that helps us to see other people less as a threat and more as those who need peace. We have the peace that causes us to understand that the peace of God is not one of sides, but is for all people.


Aaron Goetzinger is pastor at Redemption, Watertown, New York.


This is the final article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Aaron H. Goetzinger
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Salt of the earth: Part 11

So much death! Why? Evil oppresses us and seeks to squeeze the last drop of hope from us. But we will not be overcome!

Glenn L. Schwanke

“So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?”

So spoke Théoden, the once mighty king of Rohan. He stood mute. He was little more than a husk of a man who held his right arm tightly against his side to stem the flow of blood caused by a spear that nearly killed him. Then came those words that fell from his lips like a whimper.

And the look on his face? It was the haunting image of a man beaten down by life, his eyes betraying a sadness that welled up from the very depths of his soul.

Why? The impossible had happened. Rohan’s army, though aided by the Elven elite, had all but been annihilated. The impregnable fortress at Helms Deep had been overrun by the hellish hoards called the Uruk-hai—nightmarish creatures of immense strength who were “bred from the heats and slimes of the earth” in the pits beneath Isengard, home of the evil wizard, Saruman. One last massive oaken door was all that protected the few surviving defenders. But as the Uruk-hai smashed their battering ram into the door with infernal might, the oak groaned, splintered, and shattered. And Théoden’s courage and hope vanished.

Just a movie of fantasy?

At least that’s how I remember the scene from a movie that is, perhaps, little more than dusty ancient history to anyone under the age of 40. For you see, I’m envisioning a scene from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (2002). The movie was based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous work Lord of the Rings, which was published in three volumes from 1954 to 1955. So, of course, the movie is little more than fantasy.

Well, maybe not.

Tolkien once shared this insight about his epic novel. “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious . . . work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism” (J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 142).

Overcome by evil

Why am I taking you down this memory lane of movie trivia? Because Théoden’s words came flooding back into my consciousness this past week. “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?” I recalled the words the minute I heard about the Valentine’s Day school shooting. Seventeen people were gunned down, both high school students and staff, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida, located in the greater Miami metropolitan area. The alleged shooter: a troubled 19-year old who had earlier been expelled from the school.

The shooting has prompted the usual response in our nation. Calls for more gun control. Passionate pleas for more help for those who are mentally unstable. Demands for better security at our schools. A tighter monitoring of threatening posts on social media combined with some type of proactive action on the part of law enforcement. Outrage. Disbelief. Helplessness. Hopelessness. And a numbness that nibbles away at our collective heart and mind, as we wonder, “Why so much death . . . such reckless hate?”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas (17 killed, Feb. 14, 2018); the Route 91 Harvest music festival at the Las Vegas strip (58 killed, Oct. 1, 2017); Sandy Hook Elementary (27 killed, Dec. 14, 2012); Virginia Tech (32 killed, April 16, 2007).

Our country struggles to find answers to such reckless hate but can’t because we live in a nation that has accepted the notion that people are basically good inside. But I pray you and I know better. These atrocities and so many more that could be listed are the inevitable, nightmarish products of a human race that was plunged into sin by our first parents in Eden.

Why “so much death”? The apostle Paul explained, “So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Sins happen because we are a race of sinners. And sadly, we’re experts at it.

Why “such reckless hate”? Our sinful natures have helped. There is a hellish army headed by Satan that relentlessly seeks to batter us Christians down. As Paul warns us through the inspired Word, “For our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). After a while, even the strongest Christian may sigh with a whimper, “Too much, Lord, it’s no use! I give up.”

Do you want to know why I thought of Théoden when I heard about the Valentine’s Day shooting? Because I looked in the mirror and saw him. Inside I heard him. “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?” Broken. Empty. “Overcome by evil.”

Or maybe not.

Overcoming evil with good

If you remember the Two Towers movie, then you know the battle was not lost at Helms Deep, but rather won. Just as the enemy was about to burst through the door, Gimli the dwarf whispers, “The sun is rising.” As a ray of light breaks through the window, the reenergized survivors ride out into battle, guided by the promise given by Gandalf, the white wizard. “Look to my coming at first light on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the east.”

That’s “the story and the symbolism.” Here is the fact. Our riding out into the wearying, daily fight of faith will not somehow turn the tide of this war with evil. Jesus won this war long ago, all by himself, when he shouted from his cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

Here is the fact. You and I look to the dawn of the third day that we know as Easter. There we see a rolled away stone, an empty tomb, and angelic messengers who announce, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised!” (Luke 24:5,6).

Not death, not hate, not a world filled with devils, not even hell itself can conquer us! Rather, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Jesus’ victory gives us the strength to be salt for yet another day. Not bitter, but bold. Not hopeless, but confident that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

And in this way, dear friends, we will “overcome evil with good.” Victorious salt amid so much death!


Contributing editor Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, also serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


All Scripture references are from the Evangelical Heritage Version.


This is the eleventh article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Salt of the earth: Part 10

When we are hurt, we want to hurt whoever hurt us. God has a different way for his people.

Bruce A. McKenney

It was the ultimate example of not repaying evil with evil.

A lifelong faithful Christian was nearing death, dying of cancer at home under the care of hospice. No matter what we read from the Scriptures or what hymns we sang, he just seemed so restless and didn’t want to listen. He wouldn’t even fold his hands to pray. His wife and I were perplexed at how troubled he seemed.

Finally, when I had a few moments of privacy with him, I asked, “What in all the world is bothering you that makes you so restless?”

Then it came out. Early in their marriage he had committed an act of infidelity and he had never told his wife. And now, as he faced death, his past sin was haunting him as well as the fear of going to hell. I encouraged him to tell his wife and seek her forgiveness.

That moment finally came. Tearfully he confessed to his wife what he had done. He then told her how sorry he was. For him, it was the ultimate act of betrayal, and I didn’t know how she was going to react. I could see her clenching her jaws as he spoke. I thought that, surely, she would start yelling at him or cursing the day she had met him. Or maybe she would just keep silent, making him squirm even more in his guilt and fear.

But she didn’t do either. Although his past act hurt her deeply, she stood up, leaned over, and kissed him, saying, “I forgive you, honey, and Jesus forgives you too!”

The tears came flooding from his eyes. You could almost see the weight of that guilt and shame fall off his shoulders.

Do not take revenge

Although not every wrong committed against us will be as serious as the act of unfaithfulness in marriage, wrongs do hurt, and they can come from friend or foe, from believer and unbeliever alike. When others hurt us, there is a natural tendency to want to get even. The world and our sinful hearts look upon revenge as something sweet. But that is not true, and that is not what our Savior wants from us. We have been called to be salt of the earth and light in the world.

One way we can do this is by not repaying evil with evil, but by repaying it with good. Paul explains it this way “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. . . . Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head’ ” (Romans 12:17,19,20).

First of all, Paul reminds us that we are to love others because we have been loved by God. And how did God ultimately show his love for us? Rather than taking out his anger, his revenge, on us for all the wrongs we have done against him and others, he took it out on his own Son! We were his enemies, and yet he was willing to send his Son to die and take the punishment for us.

Such amazing love from God gives us the reason and the strength not to repay evil with evil. No better example of this can be given than that of our Savior himself. Think of how he responded to those who were beating and crucifying him! If someone ever had justifiable reason to strike back, it was Jesus, the Son of God. But what did he do? He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). That is how we want to be salt and light too. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

Another reason for avoiding revenge is because it is not our place to mete out justice. It is God’s. That is what Paul was getting at when he wrote, “Leave room for God’s wrath.” When we take matters into our own hands by trying to make others pay for what they have done to us, we carry a burden we don’t need to carry and have no right to carry. As God’s people, we are to live at peace with others, always keeping in mind that we are all in the hands of the Lord who will take care of all things and bring everything into line with his justice in his own time and in his own way.

Repay evil with love

Living at peace with our loved ones is challenging enough. Living at peace with our enemies is even more difficult. So, if we are not to repay evil with evil, what are we to do? Repay it with kindness. When our enemy hungers, we feed him. If he thirsts, we quench it. In so doing, Paul says, we will heap coals of fire on their heads.

There are a number of ways to understand these words. Have you ever been touched by a hot burning coal? It can leave a red burn mark. Maybe Paul’s point is that when we repay evil with kindness the person reacts with burning anger: “I meant to hurt you. How dare you try to be nice to me.” Such hard-hearted reaction to kindness can be part of God’s judgment on our enemies. Such reactions make plain to all, especially to God, who indeed is in the wrong.

Or, when we repay evil with kindness that person’s face might blush in shame, possibly leading them to repentance! Isn’t that what happens to us when we sin against God for the umpteenth time, and yet his forgiveness is always there? We sing about that in a Lenten hymn, “Thus might I hide my blushing face while his dear cross appears, dissolve my heart in thankfulness and melt my eyes to tears” (Christian Worship 129:4). Isn’t that what we want most for those who hurt us, especially our enemies? Jesus said that this is the ultimate goal in doing good. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). How much greater our effectiveness as salt when we flavor life with forgiveness and love, and how much greater our light shines in repaying evil with good!

That is what happened that day on my member’s deathbed. He had sinned against his wife. He had hurt her deeply. But she didn’t strike back. She didn’t take revenge. She didn’t repay evil with evil. Rather she forgave. That forgiveness dissolved his heart in thankfulness and melted his eyes to tears. Mine too.


Bruce McKenney is pastor at St. Paul, Lake Mills, Wisconsin.


This is the tenth article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Bruce A. McKenney
Volume 105, Number 4
Issue: April 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Salt of the earth: Part 9

Christian humility gives us the opportunity to show our love as we faithfully serve him and others. 

James A. Mattek 

“Jim, it’s not about us,” the old man blurted out from his bed in his abrupt style.  

No truer words had ever been said. But who it was that spoke them led me to marvel again at the character-sculpting diligence of the Spirit. I had known him for over 40 years. Now, at age 96, he waited as death’s door began to crack, and he knew “it is not about us.” He was an example of humility for me. In a world that numbers accomplishments and rewards those who achieve much, humility is a rare quality. 

It would have been easy and perhaps expected that this man would find some pride in his life’s accomplishments. He was gifted and had been successful in life. He had traveled the world and had an expert’s knowledge of the historic places he visited. He had a photographic memory. His grasp of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions often amazed me. He had interrupted his seminary years to teach at the high school level and later taught for decades as a college professor. He had studied at major universities, including Oxford. During and after his working years the lecture circuit kept him busy. He was also an author and musician. Not a bad resumé. 

Yet he believed “it is not about us.”  

The apostle Paul would agree: “Do not be proud. . . . Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:16). “It’s not about us” he said, because he lived as a believer in Jesus, ready and willing to serve humbly as the Lord directed. 

Do not bproud  

He had retained so much of his mental abilities as age slowly brought him closer to life’s end. During this death watch I found myself reflecting on his life, especially the many conversations we had that made an impact on me. His comment jogged my memory. About 30 years earlier we had talked about a major event in his life. A gathering had been planned to celebrate his 40th year in the public ministry. It would be well attended by friends, family, and colleagues, some who were formerly his students.  Nice things would be said. His accomplishments would be noted with praise. He was not looking forward to all of the attention, but he agreed to attend. He was uncomfortable that his quiet life as a teacher and scholar would be interrupted by the noise of attention focused on him. 

Weeks later I asked him how it went. His response went like this: “As you know, I don’t really care for these things. Many complimentary things were said about me . . . some true, some exaggerated. They arranged for me to be the last to speak. I had dreaded the possibility of applause at the end of my talk and, God forbid, a possible standing ovation.”   

“Well, what happened?” I asked.   

“As my talk came to an end, I announced that we will now all sing the Common Doxology. I started the singing, and everyone joined in. As we sang, I took my seat again at the table. When we were done singing, it was quiet . . . no applause, just the way I like it.”  

He was a humble man who gave all thanks and glory to God for his blessings: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heav’nly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!” (Christian Worship 334). 

“Do not be proud. . . . Do not be conceited.” “It’s not about us.” A bigger event was only weeks away for this fading father figure and friend. Always, it is about someone.  That Someone is now receiving his perfect praise in his heavenly home. I have heard the lesson many times before. Luther wrote in his last hours that we are all beggars. I—all of us—bring nothing to God, but God gives us all things in his Son, Jesus. It’s not about us because we have nothing to offer. Even our best is “filthy rags,” as Isaiah reminds us (64:6). Humility arises in our hearts when we understand that God loves us, makes us his, and gives us both our talents and the opportunity to use them. 

Be willing to associate with people of low position 

When we truly believe that it’s not about us, it’s amazing how important the unimportant people become to us.   

It’s been said that church is not a country club for the elite but rather a hospital for the hurting. It’s not about our position, our power, or our prestige. After all, it’s not about us. We were lost and have been found. We were blind, but now we see. It’s about God and his grace. And God has right-sized his grace to fit everyone . . . even “the least of these.” 

At age 85, she still drove, but not at night anymore. Like clockwork, her Buick pulled up to church every Sunday loaded down with valuable cargo. Edna always arrived a good half hour early for Bible class so she could unload her cargo. She would leave after the late service with the same valuable cargo.  

At the door of church, she slowly got out of the car and helped the others do the same.  One passenger was in his 20s; the other two were elderly widows like herself. She had picked them up at their homes and brought them to hear about their Savior and the permanent home he promised. The young man would never drive a car because of his disabilities. One widow was legally blind; she sang the hymns from memory. The other had recently lost her husband. All of them dealt with loneliness, but not on Sundays. A selfless soul made sure of that. To her, they were important, ever if others didn’t agree.   

I’ll never forget one particular Sunday. It happened near the side door of church. A young woman was attempting to slip into church unnoticed. It didn’t work. Edna noticed and wouldn’t let her go. Why? Because they were locked in a tear-filled embrace. The younger woman felt low and worthless, ashamed that another marriage had failed. Edna assured her again and again, “You’re always welcome here. None of us is perfect.” She was a humble servant of Jesus ready to embrace the forgotten and lowly. 

Later, on a cold January day, Edna was found motionless on her kitchen floor. In her hand was the cross she wore every time I saw her. Her service to the “unimportant people” was over. The One who had been nailed to the cross welcomed her home.  

“Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” I believe that Jesus welcomed them both home with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servants” (Matthew 25:21). 


James Mattek, director of ministry at Christian Family Solutions, is a member at Trinity, Watertown, Wisconsin.  


This is the nineth article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: James A. Mattek
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Salt of the earth: Part 8

Peace! The last word of the Benediction sends us out into the world with the privilege of sharing his peace.

Glenn L. Schwanke

The service is almost over. In a moment, your pastor will raise his hands for the Benediction. The words he will speak are the same as those the Lord first instructed the high priest Aaron and his sons to use as a blessing for the Israelites some 3,500 years ago! Well not exactly. Back then, those words were spoken in Hebrew, but they carry just as much meaning and power when we hear them in English today.

“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor and + give you peace” (Christian Worship p. 37).

Think of it! We’re sent out those church doors and back into our everyday lives with the threefold blessing of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

A powerful reminder

But maybe we haven’t thought much about the Benediction lately. Maybe, because we’ve heard these words so many times over the years, we’ve allowed them to become little more than the obligatory “Amen” that signals the end of our worship. And if the service is running a smidgeon long—because of the pastor’s seven-part sermon—maybe we even sneak a peek at our watch, as we worry, “I hope I can still make the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffet at Bubba’s, because it only goes ‘til 1 p.m.”

Well, maybe Bubba’s will keep the buffet open a little late for us. And if our pastor actually did preach a seven-part sermon, I pray every word was anchored firmly in God’s Word and seasoned liberally with God’s grace. Because then our pastor’s message—as well as the Scripture readings for the day, the prayers, the hymns, the choral anthems, and the liturgical responses—have all prepared us for this mountain-top moment—the Aaronic Benediction!

That Benediction is so much more than an “Amen” that punctuates our worship. It’s so much more than having the Lord, like a kindly grandpa, wave farewell from the porch of heaven as we wave back, jump in our car, and head home. Our God explained exactly what was important about this blessing: “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:27 English Standard Version [ESV]).

What? The Benediction is a powerful reminder of the new names we first received when, through water and the Word, God’s Spirit washed away the filth of our sin and instead gave us pure, clean clothes as we “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27 ESV). Then “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV). Then we were declared “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV). Through Baptism, our Lord adopted us as his own.

The Benediction reminds us of that miracle of grace. It reassures us that we leave God’s house with the promise our Lord once shared through his prophet Isaiah. “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’ ” (Isaiah 43:1 ESV). We don’t need to face Monday alone, empty, and afraid. We don’t need to be consumed with worry over whether the next mass shooting will be in our town, or God forbid, even our church. For with the Benediction, our Lord has served notice to the devil himself: “This one is mine! Marked with the blood of Christ. Hands off!”

This is the lasting comfort that is ours, when our pastor raises his hands for the Benediction and, once again, our Lord puts his name on us!

A solemn privilege

But it’s not just for our comfort, is it? The Benediction also brings with it a solemn privilege. After all, we’re carrying God’s name out into the world. But will we act like it? Will we be the “salt” that Jesus called us to be in his Sermon on the Mount? (Matthew 5:13)

To help us remember the name we bear and the salting we’ve received, in some of our worship services, just before the pastor raises his hands in blessing, he speaks the following words: “Brothers and sisters, go in peace.” That sentence is nothing but the sweetest gospel. For you and I have true, lasting peace. It is the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that no one in this world can earn and no amount of money can buy. It’s peace with God!

Then, “serve the LORD with gladness.” Those words from Psalm 100 remind us why our Lord has given us a pulse for yet another day in this world. We do not live for ourselves, but for the one who bought and paid for us (cf. Romans 12:1; Romans 14:8).

But wait a minute! Didn’t we skip something? “Live in harmony with one another.” That’s the niggling sentence that sometimes catches us and trips us up. Did you know that’s a Bible verse too? It’s Romans 12:16. It was Paul who gave us this inspired command.

But what exactly does it mean? Is “harmony” to be understood the way our society

currently defines it? “Your spiritual truth works for you. My spiritual truth works for me. I’ll accept your truth, but you’ll also need to accept mine, because there is no absolute truth.” That can hardly be what our Lord had in mind, because he also moved Paul to write, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 ESV).

“Live in harmony with one another.” Does that mean if your sister or brother in the faith is walking down a dangerous path of sin, that you won’t get involved? That you’ll let sleeping dogs lie? If that’s what these words mean, then why did Jesus bother to give us the guidance of Matthew chapter 18?

Perhaps if we take a closer look at the rest of this verse, we’ll understand the words “live in harmony” better. Paul continues, “Do not be arrogant, but associate with the humble. Do not think too highly of yourselves” (Romans 12:16 Evangelical Heritage Version).

Now do we get it? By grace, we’re all members of God’s family, but the Lord definitely doesn’t want us to act like squabbling siblings who can’t stand one another. He doesn’t want cliques in the church. He doesn’t want us to look down our aquiline noses at fellow Christians who don’t participate as much as we do or give as much as we do. Such snobbery is little more than stealth self-righteousness. It will undercut our witness. It will dilute our saltiness.

But when we “live in harmony with one another,” then we’re carrying God’s name in a way that brings him glory. And that is what it means to be salt.


Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


This is the eighth article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Salt of the earth: Part 7

Because of everything Christ did, you have been given the perfect perspective on mourning and rejoicing.

Aaron H. Goetzinger

Joe was a young officer assigned to the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in northern New York. Joe’s move there turned his world upside down. He understood that his orders could change suddenly. He knew he faced the possibility of deployment. But life at his previous duty station had been really good. He had gained some success as a young officer. He got along with his superiors, and his subordinates respected him. He also was becoming more serious with his girlfriend.

But Fort Drum changed all of that. He was ordered to go to Fort Drum. It wasn’t on his short list. In fact, it wasn’t even close to being on the short list. He knew no one within hundreds of miles. The area has long winters and shorter summers. He liked having access to shows and live music, but northern New York is not a hot bed for culture. When he arrived at his new unit, it was not what he expected. To compound matters, his superiors had a hard time understanding his perspective. And to make matters worse, his girlfriend dumped him.

When Joe put on his uniform in the morning, he also put on a good face. But once he got home and the uniform came off, he mourned. As a result of his mourning, he started to become skeptical of authority. He could only see what was wrong with his unit. He convinced himself he had been dealt a bad hand. He even began to shut himself off to anyone who could possibly help. He wasn’t fun to be around; matter-of-fact it was downright difficult to be around him.

Our sinful nature objects

How willing would you be to be around Joe and mourn with him? Or if you were Joe, how willing would you be to rejoice in the success of someone else?

On the surface, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” is a nice passage. To borrow words from Solomon, we probably agree that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). We all have those times in life. Yet Paul challenges us to consider someone else’s rejoicing and mourning.

Our sinful nature objects: “Sure, rejoicing and mourning have their proper time . . . as long as each is within my time.” We know how difficult it is to rejoice when we don’t feel like it and to mourn when we want to rejoice.

Ever encounter someone who is down in the dumps when you are high on life? It can be hard to relate, can’t it? Why would a person who is loving life and rejoicing in its blessings want to get down into a pit of mourning? Not many of us want to because we’re so focused on the happiness and joy we feel. We don’t want anyone to bring us down.

Consider the opposite, rejoicing when it seems you can only mourn. Ever encounter someone who, in your estimation, is unrealistically chipper when all you want to do is wallow? It can be hard not to see that kind of joy and optimism as grating. When the darkness of life comes creeping in, it’s easy to see darkness as our only reality and the light of rejoicing to far away to be realistic.

Both mourners and rejoicers have their excuses. The rejoicer might say, “The mourner just needs to suck it up and get on with his life.” Whereas the mourner might say, “Why does the rejoicer get all the happiness?”

God’s mercy moves us

But the apostle encourages us to see things differently. He simply says, “Rejoice! Mourn!” If we struggle with mourning and rejoicing along with others when it doesn’t fit within our timeframe, then all we can say is that we fail at it because considering the needs of other people in addition to ourselves is so foreign to us.

Earlier in Romans chapter 12, Paul focuses his readers’ attention on God’s mercy. That’s what moves God’s people to action: “In view of God’s mercy” (v. 1). Those words point to the source of our Christian life. In his mercy God not only consoles us, but he also gets down into the pit of life with us.

In mercy God saw our sin-filled situation, wept with us, and then entered into our world. He thought of us. In mercy he sent Jesus, who took on our selfishness and our tears and went to a cross with them. In mercy he gave us his righteousness so that we may rejoice in the heights of heaven. Jesus come to mourn and rejoice with us in order to save us. He came to turn our tears to joy, to take our broken hearts and fill them with his love, to remove our sorrow and give us eternal happiness, and to one day permanently change our mourning to rejoicing.

Because of everything Christ did, you have been given the perfect perspective on mourning and rejoicing. Because of Christ’s mercy you can see a person as a soul loved by God, and then you are enabled to either mourn or rejoice with them. You can help

them see life’s highs and lows for what they are: opportunities to help, to share, to witness. The sooner your eyes focus on God’s mercy for you, the sooner you will make yourself available to others and be present in their lives.

When the Spirit breathed spiritual life into us, one result is that we become compelled to live for others. In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminded Christians that each of us, with our unique gifts and abilities, serve as irreplaceable parts within the church. He wrote, “Its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (12:25,26). Any one of us can provide this kind concern for others.

And notice when Paul said, “Mourn and rejoice,” he said simply that. It doesn’t mean that you have to solve the situation. It doesn’t mean that you have to fix the person. Just mourn. Just be with them. Likewise, rejoicing doesn’t mean that you have to be the emcee at the party. It doesn’t mean you have to be the lead cheerleader. Just rejoice. Just support them.

Because Christ’s mercy is so rich, deep, high, and free we look for opportunities to rejoice and mourn not only with people in our congregations but also with everyone in our lives. Rejoicing and mourning with others then always have their proper time. Each and every time is a proper time to show someone the love and mercy that is theirs in Christ. We can be salt in this world and provide help, compassion, love, and a Christian witness to others who need what we possess—Christ.


Aaron Goetzinger is pastor at Redemption, Watertown, New York.


This is the seventh article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Aaron H. Goetzinger
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Salt of the earth: Part 6

I must find strength in God’s promises to carry out his words to bless—to bless, even those who persecute.

Mark W. Henrich

I looked out at the congregation, and I hesitated. The text, short though it was, had been difficult for me. Too many hours during the week had been spent staring at these words: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14). The thought kept coming, Persecution? What do I really know about persecution?

Persecution isn’t just when bad things happen—someone cuts you off on the road, your supervisor has a bad day and takes it out on you, or even the heartaches that you have living in a world of sin. There is a difference between problems and persecution. Persecution is hostility or ill treatment designed, intended, targeted to injure, grieve, or afflict. Persecution is normally defined as something that happens because of race, ethnicity, political persuasion, or religious beliefs.

Modern-day persecution

I may have difficult times in my life journey, but persecution has been—can it be?—absent. Yet I know persecution has not been absent in the lives of my spiritual brothers and sisters.

Walter—How can I not think of Walter? He grew up in an orphanage; served in World War II; and received a scholarship, sight unseen, to play ball at a major university. He arrived on campus, and the scholarship was taken away.

“Why, Walter?”

“They didn’t know the color of my skin. What could I do? I had to go south to find a school.”

Walter graduated, married, got a good job, and moved to a new neighborhood.

I commented on what a nice street it was. “Oh, Pastor, it wasn’t always so quiet. We were the first people of color on this street. I can’t tell you what things happened to me, my wife, and my children. And it kept happening. Pastor, you wouldn’t know.”

No, I wouldn’t. Persecution.

Michelle—Michelle was 16 when the phone call came. “Come quickly.”

The family was in tears because the announcement had come from the father: He had arranged for Michelle to be married in his home country. The plane ticket was in hand to leave that same week.

Along with the arranged marriage came the further pronouncement. Michelle must give up Christianity and convert. If not? From her father’s lips came the words, “I never want to see you again. You will not see my wife and the other younger children. Decide now. Obey me. Agree to marriage and your new religion or never be in my life again.”

An ultimatum I’ve never been given. Persecution.

Avery—the 20-something-year-old—came to the church office to talk. So much had already happened in his life. In order to find a better life, he left his home country and traveled to South Africa, then to South America, and finally to Toronto. Here he came to know Jesus and became a Christian. How wonderful to share the joy of being brothers in Christ!

I asked Avery when he thought he would ever get home to visit family and friends. His words shook me. “Oh, I can never go home. Because I am now a Christian, my family has rejected me, and in the area I am from, I will be killed for following Jesus. And my community here now shuns me.”

Rejected by family, not allowed home? Not me. Persecution.

Jesus, persecution, and Paul

I don’t know much about persecution. But the Bible speaks often and openly about it. The word is used more than 50 times. Jesus himself talked about the reality of persecution and how his disciples are to respond. Recall his challenging words from the Sermon on the Mount? “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you. . . . Rejoice and be glad.” (Matthew 5:10-12). “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20).

And so it happened. The apostles were arrested because they spoke about new life in Jesus (Acts chapter 5). Stephen was martyred for his faith. (Acts chapter 7) Then we read, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church” (Acts 8:1). Paul suffered persecution. He was flogged, stoned, threatened by his own countrymen, and imprisoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

What does Paul write about persecution? “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” How is this possible? Bless, that is, to think well of or to wish God’s blessings on those who cause pain? Our hearts say no. Our hearts say to get even, to get revenge, to let others feel the pain they themselves have inflicted.

But Paul saw Jesus—the one who taught about persecution and the one who was persecuted. “When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’ ” (1 Peter 2:23,24). Paul saw the cross and forgiveness. He was healed. Paul could face whatever came his way. He would live for Jesus as Jesus had lived, died, and rose for him.

Soul searching

To the congregation in front of me that Sunday, I paused, prayed, and spoke more quietly than normal, “Persecution . . .”

I must soul search. I haven’t seen persecution in my life. Not really. Is this because I am a spiritual wallflower and am better at blending in than speaking about my Lord? Or perhaps God has given me grace to live in a time and place where persecution has not been in my life story. Thank you, Jesus!

I must soul search. Have I been the persecutor, the one who has made life difficult for others? Am I quick to put down, in words or actions, those with whom I do not agree? God, have mercy on me a sinner.

I must soul search. Have I been blind to the persecution, in all its forms, that goes on all around me? Have I stepped in? Have I stepped up? Have I spoken for those who are put down? Have I helped?

I must find strength in God’s promises to carry out his words to bless—to bless, even those who persecute.

Walter did. “Pastor, I’ve seen a lot of ignorance in my life, but I’ve also seen how God worked things out in my life for good. And I know this. Jesus has never let me down.”

Michelle received this strength. In the midst of tears in the room that night came her words, “I choose Jesus.”

Avery has been renewed. He will never go home. His community had ostracized him. “But, Pastor, it’s okay. I know Jesus, and I have never known such joy.”

And I am humbled—and strengthened. This is a hard verse. It is a beautiful verse. It is given to each of us.


Mark Henrich is pastor at Hope, Toronto, Canada.


This is the sixth article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can the salt in this world.

 


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Author: Mark W. Henrich
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Salt of the earth: Part 6

The poor and needy are opportunities to help and be hospitable. 

John Huebner 

“I thought he was going to kidnap me!” said my 11-year old grandson after I had given a few dollars to the man in the Home Depot parking lot, asking for rent help.  

I’ve read the articles about enabling addicts and homeless people and teaching a person to fish versus giving him a fish. And I, probably just like you, try to avert my eyes when I’m at the stoplight with someone two feet away from my car window with a hand-printed cardboard sign asking for money—the sign that often also says, “God bless you.”  

But Jesus says I should help needy people. Who and how are questions for which each of us needs to find answers. 

Who? 

In the same Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus taught the large crowd about being “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), he also said, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret” (6:3,4). You notice that he expects God’s people to give to the needy. He didn’t say “if.” He didn’t break the needy down into classes—“a bit needy,” “a lot needy,” or “most needy.” He just said, “Needy.” 

St. Paul explains that this is especially true when God’s salty people show loving concern toward one another: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13). Practicing hospitality literally means “striving or aspiring to be one who loves the stranger as a friend.” It has something to do with providing a welcoming, safe place, as Abraham and Sarah did for three strangers when they entertained angels and the Lord without knowing it (Genesis chapter 18). We understand that helping fellow Christians is not optional.  

Katie Luther and her husband, Martin, who had six children of their own, also accommodated nieces, nephews, tutors, monks, nuns, indigent pastors, students, and others at their home. They even took in a fugitive pastor on their wedding night and sick people during the plague! Their home was definitely a hospitable place. 

In his Treatise on Good Works (Luther’s Works, Vol. 44, p. 17-114), Luther told the world why Christians care for those in need. “For because a man trusts God, he is generous and does not doubt that he will always have enough; on the other hand, a man is covetous and worries because he does not trust God.” Our trust in God warms our hearts to be hospitable and care for the needy. 

Being hospitable involves our attitude toward those in need. Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). Moses said the same thing (Deuteronomy 15:11). I’ve sometimes wondered why the street corner beggar isn’t working at McDonald’s or why the Section 8 housing occupant doesn’t take better care of the place they are being provided. But Jesus never addressed the social/economic reasons behind poverty. He simply said to help.  

How? 

We want to exercise good judgment. We feed a starving person food for the body but also provide God’s food for the soul—without being or appearing manipulative.  

Good judgment also requires caution. We can’t, nor should we, give to every person, charity, or cause that comes along. Our own WELS Christian Aid and Relief is charged with the dual role of providing disaster relief and building bridges to the gospel through long- and short-term humanitarian aid projects. This is the best place to start when sharing our wealth outside of our local area.  

The early Christians knew the value and dignity of work, but it appears they didn’t ask the poor why they were poor. Rather, they sold their own things so they could give to anyone who was in need. And they did more than send a check to a charity or drop a dollar in a hat. They invited fellow believers into their homes and “ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46,47).  

Notice how hospitable they were! They realized the importance of getting into relationships with one another, rich or poor, so they could joyfully share the gospel with one another. I’m guessing you have also discovered that personal faith conversations seem to go deeper with someone you have come to know than with a stranger whose motives and integrity you don’t yet know.  

Not long ago, some of us from our church were asked to help a single mother whose older home badly needed a new roof. As we spoke with one another, realizing the importance of our work together to repair and replace that roof, Jesus was in those conversations and blessed them. Acquaintances in Christ became friends in Christ. 

As a congregation, we continue to work at being hospitable and creating a welcome environment for all who enter our doors. There is food and coffee to gather around. We’ve been trained to look for the guest and help them experience Christ’s love. We have a very special man in our congregation who recently brought a friend to church and then invited him and about 25 of us to a restaurant after worship so that we could get to know him better. A number of members provide $25 gift cards to various grocery stores and gas stations so that our pastor, at his discretion, might help some who request aid. 

My wife works hard at creating a hospitable home. We still laugh when we remember the time some seminary students called us one evening on spring break because the house they had thought was available turned out to be occupied and they needed a place to stay. They ended up camping in our backyard, and my wife made sure there were towels, food, and showers available for them. We are blessed to have some of our grandchildren near us, and my wife has turned our home into a haven for them, complete with devotions when they stay over. Countless missionaries and WELS school choir members have found shelter here as well. 

It was Jesus who showed us what perfect hospitality is and looks like. He left the place of perfect peace in order to provide eternal peace for us. As we observe him on the pages of Scripture, we see him giving his time and attention to little children, grieving widows, the sick, the poor, and those disabled. Anyone could come to him for help. He personally fed two crowds of thousands. He had no home while ministering on this earth but has made it possible for the entire world to have a heavenly home forever! 

By the grace of God, we believe in him and long to see him. While we are waiting, there is a growing desire in our hearts to be hospitable to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, and all others in need. It’s not because we’re going to earn a place in heaven—Jesus has already provided that precious gift. Rather, we just want to hear Jesus say those wonderful words, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). 


John Huebner, a retired pastor, is a member at Victory, Jacksonville, Florida. 


This is the sixth article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: John P. Huebner
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Salt of the earth: Part 4

After making several communion calls, a pastor is encouraged by his members’ faith, hope, and patience.

Glenn L. Schwanke

The door is partially open, so I step into the room at the Omega House. There sits one of our shut-ins, picking with a fork at some late breakfast. I pause and call out, “Diane, it’s Pastor!” It takes a second or two for her to register who I am, but then her eyes sparkle and a warm smile covers her face.

Be joyful in hope

“May I visit with you and share the Lord’s Supper with you?” I ask.

“Of course!” she responds.

“Diane,” I continue, “my heart breaks over what you and your family have gone through in the past few weeks. First, your husband dies. And then less than a week after his funeral, your house burns down! Now here you are in extended care at the Omega House. How are you holding up?”

Still smiling, she responds, “Jesus has always taken care of me. Every day, no matter what. I know he will take care of me now too.”

I struggle to hold back a tear at such simple, childlike trust. After a moment, I respond, “I want to reassure you that Jesus has made a promise to you, guaranteed in blood. He will be with you always.”

“Oh, I know he is! He talks to me through his Word, and I talk to him—all the time. Every day!”

Another tear fights at the corner of my eye. Then I open my communion kit and prepare the Lord’s Supper. We celebrate the Supper using the words Diane has heard countless times before. However, age strips away the inhibitions of her youth, so Diane adds commentary along the way. But I don’t mind.

“Take eat, this is my body.” “I know it is! I know he loves me.”

“Take drink, this is my blood.” “Oh, he died on the cross for me!”

“For the forgiveness of all your sins.” “I know he paid for my sins. He loves me! He has always been with me. He always will.”

After the Supper is finished, we visit a bit more. Then I pack up my communion kit and leave Diane. I leave a richer man, for I have been with a child of God who is living what the apostle Paul encouraged: “Be joyful in hope.”

Endure trials patiently

It’s Sunday evening, and I’ve been puttering in the shop. I glance at the clock and notice it’s almost 7 p.m. It’s time to make a communion call. As I pass through my home office, I grab my communion kit, agenda, and Bible. But I don’t go out to the garage and jump into the car. Instead, I walk to the living room and sit down in one of the recliners. The communicant, my wife, Teresa, is already seated in the other recliner. She’s been patiently waiting for me.

We begin with the “short sermon” I promise all the sick and shut-ins I visit. It’s far less structured than the message I shared that same morning in church. With my wife, it’s even more so. Our devotion is more like a dialogue based on Scripture, as we discuss God’s plan for our lives and the reason he allows affliction to come into our lives.

As our devotion continues, it’s nigh onto impossible for me to rigidly control my emotions. Tears start to trickle down my cheeks, while tears stream down my wife’s. But Jesus’ words help dry those tears. “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that you may also be where I am” (John 14:2,3). We know heaven waits. Our mansions have already been bought and paid for in full.

But what about the road ahead on this side of the grave? How many U-turns will it hold? How much longer will we be pressed down by the pain? Again, our Savior’s gentle whispers help dry the tears.

“And surely I am with you always until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

“But God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tested beyond your ability, but when he tests you, he will also bring about the outcome that you are able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Then I add, “Jesus knows all about what’s going on in our lives. The cancer, the treatments, the pain, the setbacks. And he knows all about our weaknesses, our fears, our worries, all our sins. That’s why he came, lived, and died. And that’s why he has made us another promise, guaranteed in his blood. “If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14).

“I know,” my wife responds. “I am praying all the time. Every day.”

Then it’s time for the Supper, a final prayer, and the benediction. I get up from my chair a humbler man, because I’ve been with a child of God who is living what the apostle Paul encouraged: “Endure trials patiently.”

Persist in prayer

“I talk to him—all the time. Every day!”

“I am praying all the time. Every day.”

It strikes me that both my shut-in and my wife have taken Paul’s admonition to heart: “Persist in prayer.” Sometimes—first thing in the morning or late at night—our prayers may stretch to an hour or more, as we petition our Father on behalf of friends, neighbors, family, coworkers, and classmates. At other times, our prayers last longer because we’re wrestling with our Father during a personal crisis—whether it be work, health, family, or faith. Then there are times when our prayers are little more than a sentence or two or even nothing but a sigh or a groan (Romans 8:26).

Concerning our prayer life, Dr. Martin Luther once wrote, “A Christian is always praying, whether he is sleeping or waking; for his heart is always praying, and even a little sigh is a great and mighty prayer. For so God says: ‘For the sighing of the needy now will I arise, saith the Lord’ (Psalm 12:5)” (What Luther Says, Vol. 2, #1087).

We keep praying to our “Abba, Father,” trusting that he answers every prayer in just the right way and at just the right time. We keep praying because we know prayer is a healthy exercise for our Christian faith.

And a healthy, active faith? That will be salt for those around us, just like my shut-in’s and my wife’s faith have been for me.


Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


At the author’s request, all Bible verses are from the English Heritage Version.


This is the fourth article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Salt of the earth: Part 3

As Jesus renews us through his grace and mercy, we can be zealous in sharing that hope with others.

Jeffrey D. Enderle

My phone buzzed. Checking it revealed a text message from a dear sister in Christ, Lavinia. She texted a prayer request on behalf of her family. Lavinia’s sister had died, and Lavinia was on her way to the memorial service. I sent a quick message expressing my condolences and assured her I would keep her family in my prayers. I would pass along the prayer request to the rest of the congregation as well.

Then it hit me. Her text message sounded really familiar. Hadn’t she just sent me a similar message not too long ago? I pulled out my phone again and started scrolling through the messages. There was another message a few weeks ago just like this one. Was this the same person? I fired off another quick text asking for clarification.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the same family member. This was another painful death close to home. As we went back and forth, it came out these weren’t the only ones. Additional family tragedies had struck. In all, there had been six deaths in her family over the past few weeks. A sister. A sister’s husband. One had gone suddenly, unexpectedly. Another had been suffering, in declining health for such a long time. Still another had been the result of mounting health issues. And one had been run over by a car. Intentionally.

This was a lot for Lavinia. I had been praying and sharing prayer requests on behalf of her family. Now I turned by attention to Lavinia herself and prayed that God would allow her to endure all this personal tragedy.

Worn down and exposed

You’ve probably experienced enough tragedy of your own to understand some of the side effects. Your tragedies don’t have to be as many or as dramatic as Lavinia’s. You wrestle with the emotional fallout. You find it hard to concentrate. You are distracted from your normal routine. You can’t keep all the doubts and questions from bouncing around in your head. Sometimes it even robs you of sleep, zapping your energy. The whole experience becomes such a burden. Joy gets suffocated out of your life.

In our part of the country, climate conditions can be brutal. The high desert sun can beat down oppressively from above. Winds commonly whip up a frenzy of sand and dust. Without shelter, you can start to feel dried out, cracked, and brittle. You wonder if you’re about to get swept away or crumble in the extreme environment.

I couldn’t help wondering if that was happening to Lavinia—and not because of the weather. I was wondering if all the tragedy was starting to pile up on her and about to crush her. It can all be so brutal.

She is such a quiet, gentle soul. But she’s a tough lady too. That’s because she’s always such a rock to the people around her. She’s there for her husband and daughters. She’s always helping with her grandchildren. Her siblings rely on her for support. Nieces and nephews and cousins rely on her strength. She is always ready to reach out with a kind word, a caring gesture, or her calming presence.

But that kind of care and concern for others can wear you out. It grinds down your enthusiasm when the needs keep piling up. When you keep giving and giving and giving, it uses up your capacity for compassion, leaving your tank empty.

Zeal feels impossible. Enthusiasm appears unattainable. Any kind of energy for other people has already evaporated.

In those cases, the danger is similar to the risks accompanying extreme weather. Exposure is the issue. Exposure to deaths, tragedies, and defeats are issues for our souls. Trying to weather them alone is dangerous. Souls are at risk.

Sheltered by God’s grace

So that became my prayer focus for Lavinia. While I continued to bring her family to the Lord in prayer, I shifted to include prayers for Lavinia’s exposure to spiritual extremes as well. If she was exposed to all those tragedies, they could inflict real damage to her soul. Cracks could be created in her confidence in the Lord. Weaknesses in her trust could be exposed. She could end up crumbling under the weight of everything going on all around her.

After the funeral, I decided to give Lavinia a call, just to check how she was holding up. She admitted things were taking their toll on her. But she was thankful she was able to be there to support her family in their time of need.

She was feeling a little worn out. That’s also when we realized the Lord was using her at this difficult time. Her hope in Jesus was so rare amid all the gloom and despair. She didn’t have to do anything amazing. She didn’t have to change the circumstances for her family. She simply had a chance to share her hope in Christ.

Lavinia took her refuge under the shelter of God’s grace. Her Savior had done more than just be present for her in her struggles. Jesus had completely dedicated himself to her spiritual rescue. He never let up for a moment. He never took a break from serving sinners. His life was one huge commitment to living the perfection God demands of every human being. In his most helpless and most agonizing moment, he still was able to cry out: “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). He knew exactly what sinners needed. Jesus never came up short in giving peace and strength to his people.

Refreshment came from the Lord. Like a cool mist after a punishing desert wind, the Spirit comes to God’s children. The Holy Spirit makes Christ’s victory your victory. Jesus defeated death and hell, which rob lives of joy and hope. The same power that brings faith to hearts brings confidence to Christian lives. Gospel promises well up in hearts of faith. Blessings bubble up from God’s words of peace.

In times of trial and tragedy God’s people get to be that cool, refreshing breeze for others. We get to be instruments of God’s restoration. We have the chance to share real hope with people going through genuine hardships. Our words and example are real, forged in the fire of our own trials. The good news of what Jesus has done for us is the basis of everything we do for the people in our lives. His power works through us to bring his unconditional love and forgiveness to the people in our lives who are also struggling, perhaps even more than we are. God’s mercies restore and refresh us so we might share his love with others.


Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico.


This is the third article in a 12 part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: August 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Salt of the earth: Part 2

Acts of love and devotion can create opportunities for us to witness about the one who gives us strength—Jesus.

Steven J. Pagels

Ann wasn’t just a member of my congregation. She was a woman I had come to deeply respect and admire. She had grown up in a loving Christian home, but that didn’t prevent her from experiencing some significant setbacks in her life. When she was just a child, her mother suffered a stroke, and from that day on Ann became the matriarch of the family. To make a difficult situation even more so, her father died suddenly and unexpectedly when she was in high school.

Instead of complaining about her lot in life, Ann went into the workforce after graduation. She poured herself into everything she did, and in time her hard work was rewarded. Ann eventually became a business executive, and she enjoyed the perks that went along with the job.

Being devoted in love

But no matter how successful Ann became, she never forgot where she came from, and she never forgot her family.

When her mother could no longer live on her own, Ann brought her to live with her in her own home. That arrangement lasted for several years until it became necessary to find a place where she could receive around-the-clock care. Even though Ann was forced to relinquish her role as her mother’s caretaker, she remained a devoted daughter and visited the nursing home after work almost every night.

You don’t have to be a Christian to do what Ann did. Lots of people, including lots of people who don’t believe in Jesus, take care of their aging parents. They will say, “You do it for family.” But that’s not why Ann did what she did. As much as Ann loved her mother, she loved her Savior even more. And it gave her great comfort to know that Jesus loved her more than anything.

A few years later Ann’s mother passed away, and in a perfect world that would have finally given Ann more time for herself and her own life. But we do not live in a perfect world, and it wasn’t long before Ann’s husband took the place of her mother. His decline was a long and slow process, but even as he grew weaker Ann’s resolve grew stronger. She remained devoted to her husband in sickness and in health until the Lord called him home.

Ann never asked me the question, so I will ask it for her. Why? Why is life so full of heartache and headaches? Why didn’t God give Ann a break after her mother died? Maybe you ask similar questions. Why would God allow me to suffer or expect me to give up so much to help another person who is suffering? Why does God seem to be asking me not just to go the extra mile but to run a full-length marathon?

The Lord may not always give us the answers we are looking for, but he does give us promises. He promises he will never leave us or forsake us. He promises he will make every situation in our lives work out for our eternal good. He promises that the challenges we face will stretch us, and, when we turn to his Word, he will strengthen our faith.

In addition to all of God’s promises, the obstacles in our lives also present us with opportunities to share our faith. In fact, some of the most difficult situations give us some of the best opportunities to be salt in the world.

Being salt in the world

A story like Ann’s can lead us down two very different paths. We can be inspired to follow her example, or we can become depressed because we know we will never be able to follow her example. If you are leaning toward the latter, you need to know something about Ann. As much as she loved her family and as much as she was devoted to others, Ann wasn’t perfect. There were times when she became frustrated. There were days when she was tempted to give up. Instead of being some kind of superwoman, Ann was a sinful human being who sought refuge in the loving arms of her Savior.

Jesus gives rest to weary souls. Jesus assures sinners burdened by guilt that they are forgiven. Jesus gives us the peace we could never go out and get on our own. And by his perfect life our Lord also gives us a perfect example to follow. No one was more devoted to others than Jesus. Nobody ever put the needs of others before their own like Jesus. And at no time was that selfless love on greater display than on Good Friday.

The Lord of heaven and earth had been sentenced to death. Even though he was innocent, even though he could have called down angels to rescue him at any moment, Jesus willingly went the way of the cross. And even though he was suffering in ways that we can’t even imagine, he remained focused on the needs of others. He asked his Father to forgive his enemies. He assured a dying criminal that they would be reunited in heaven. He wanted to make sure that his mother would be taken care of after he was gone.

In Jesus’ sinless mind, the pain and persecution he endured were never reasons to withdraw from the world. Instead they created opportunities for him to reach out. It is a radically different and liberating way to look at life. The daily challenges we face are more than problems that need to be solved. Our struggles may lead to conversations, and those conversations may give us opportunities to witness, to be salt in the world.

Think about Ann’s struggles but now look at them the way Jesus did. Imagine all the people Ann encountered every week—her family, friends, coworkers, even the staff at the nursing home. They knew how much was on her plate. They could see how she was holding up. And if anyone ever asked Ann how she was doing, if anyone asked her how she did it, she could tell them. She could tell them about the source of her strength—Jesus.

When you look down at your own plate, when you consider the sacrifices God is asking you to make in your life, when you see the faces of all the people the Lord has called you to love and serve, you can ask the question. In fact, as a follower of Jesus who wants to follow his example, you should ask the question. Why? Why has God brought this situation into my life? What is Jesus telling me? What doors is the Holy Spirit opening for me? How can my acts of love and devotion create opportunities for me to witness, to be salt in the world?


Steven Pagels is pastor at St. Matthew’s, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.


This is the second article in a 12 part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Steven J. Pagels
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Salt of the earth: Part 1

As disciples of Jesus, we are to love others. The apostle Paul directs us to put our love into action.

Peter L. Unnasch

On Christmas Eve of 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, a Northern commander asked for volunteers to take part in a special mission. The mission was dangerous, but vital. Men raised their hands. Soon those men boarded two ships and quietly steamed south. By Christmas morning they had reached their objective—a place called Bear Inlet, North Carolina. If successful, this team of volunteers would put a dagger into the Southern war effort. Through good timing and good fortune, the team succeeded. And as a result, that entire region of the South moaned in distress.

The Northern soldiers’ objective, however, was not some supply depot or warehouse. Their objective was salt. The Bear Inlet Salt Works produced salt for the Confederacy. Such a loss was disastrous.

When you and I sit in a fast-food restaurant and shake the white shaker on our fries, it’s easy to forget that cheap, plentiful salt is a very recent thing. It’s easy to forget what a profound necessity salt is. For thousands of years, salt was humanity’s refrigerator. It was the only way to preserve food and prevent starvation. Salt was essential for tanning leather. It promoted the healing of wounds. And salt held the priceless magic of making the tasteless taste good. For this reason, salt possessed the power to establish the location of major cities, lay out trade routes, even spark wars. Often it served as currency.

And the need for salt remains profound. At last count, there are more than 14,000 known uses for it—including what salt does to keep our bodies alive. You and I cannot survive without it.

With all that in mind, perhaps Jesus is saying more than we realize when he proclaims, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13).

This article is the first of a series that will consider how you and I, by God’s grace, are here on this earth to impact people through the message of the gospel. We’ll look to the words of Paul from Romans 12:9-21 to help us see how we can be God’s salt in our daily lives.

“Love must be sincere.”

Has sincerity vanished? If you were to ask people to say one word to describe our society’s attitude for the last 20 years or so, no doubt many would choose the word, cynical. A pure cynic is distrustful of everything. A pure cynic takes pleasure in mocking someone instead of listening and learning. A pure cynic is always looking for the next punch line at someone else’s expense.

Recently, however, some observers of our culture have suggested that we have begun to enter what they call “post cynicism.” This is simply their way of saying that maybe, just maybe, our society is getting tired of assuming that everything is a big joke. After all, if you spend your life only making fun of other people and their ideas, when the day is done you still have no answers.

Perhaps there is a hunger for something more after all. For example, have you heard the true story of Marty Martinson? Marty was an elderly gentleman who worked as a check-out clerk at a Wal-Mart. Whenever Marty was behind a register, the manager couldn’t help but notice that a lot of customers chose to get into Marty’s line—even when that meant a longer wait, and even when other registers were wide open. What drew them to Marty’s line was a deceptively simple thing. Each time Marty got done ringing up your items, he would come around from behind the register, look you in the eye, shake your hand, or give you a hug. In other words, it was an unhurried moment of sincerity. It was an authentic moment of genuine caring. And the people in Marty’s line couldn’t get enough of it.

The Greek word for sincere means, “without hypocrisy.” Christian love is not about putting on an act. But when the Lord, through Paul, tells us that “love must be sincere,” he does it with the understanding that each of us still has a sinful nature, an old sinful self. And our old, sinful selves are very, very good at insincerity.

In fact, it’s no secret that the charge of insincerity against the church has been around for a long time—people going through the motions, outward actions devoid of any gratitude for Christ or love for others. And as you and I know, the charge of insincerity can often be right on target in your life and mine. Every time I give in to that sinful impulse to put on an act, I let down all the people who are waiting in Marty Martinson’s line. I stand in the way of the gospel. I fail my Lord.

When Jesus entered our time and space, he wore no mask. He put on no act. Rather, in full sincerity of heart, he looked at you and me and said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Then he went to the cross to make it so. It is that life of perfect sincerity on our behalf that empowers you and me to give unhurried, authentic moments of genuine caring to others.

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”

Simple words, aren’t they? Simple, clear, concise, short. To see a forgiven soul taking those words to heart, however—that is to see a life that cannot help but impact the lives of others.

Some time ago it was my great privilege to watch the good news of Jesus season such a soul. Troy had grown up in a difficult and angry household. He dulled the bitterness and filled the void with alcohol. Years passed. Eventually the alcohol abuse spilled over and began to poison other parts of his life. He wound up in prison. When he completed his sentence, all he knew was that he did not want to go back to what his life had been. Nevertheless, the emptiness persisted.

Enter Jesus. The message of what we possess in our Savior brought quiet tears to his eyes. So overwhelming was the proclamation of God’s grace—God’s undeserved love on the basis of Jesus as our substitute—that it took time for him to grasp it. From then on, however, Troy spoke openly about where his focus now was. His focus was on keeping his back turned on the dark things of this world and keeping his face where it could bask in the light of Jesus. This single-minded determination began to radiate. It began to touch others. Rescued in Jesus, Troy was now God’s salt.

You are too.


Peter Unnasch is pastor at Saint Lucas, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


This is the first article in a 12 part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Peter L. Unnasch
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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