A Few Quotes from Martin Luther

I have been doing some background reading for the October sermon series embracing the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The following quotes come from Gerhard Ebeling’s book, “Luther: An Introduction to His Thought” and I share them here for your consideration and my remembrance.67500

“The time for silence is over, and the time for speech has come.” Opening line of the dedication, “Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation“, 1520.

“I must always drum and hammer and force and drive in this distinction between the two kingdoms, even if it is written and spoken so often that it  becomes tiresome. For the Devil himself never ceases cooking and brewing up the two Kingdoms together. The secular authorities always seek, in the name of the Devil, to teach and instruct Christ how he should conduct his Church and his spiritual rule. Similarly, the false priests and sectaries, not in the name of God, always seek to teach and instruct people how they should conduct secular rule. Thus the Devil is unrestrained on either side and has much to do. May God defend us from him, amen, if we are worthy of it.”

“…from the beginning of the world a clever prince is a very rare bird, and a devout prince rarer still. They are usually the biggest fools or the wickedest fellows on earth, so that one is always well provided with mischief from them and can expect little good of them, especially in godly matters which concern the salvation of souls….If a prince happens to be clever, devout or a Christian, this a great miracle and a most precious sign of God’s grace upon his country.”

“We must be clear that we are not dealing permanently with men in this matter, but with the prices of hell who would fill the world with war and bloodshed, and yet avoid letting themselves be caught by the flood. We must go to work now, not depending on physical power, but in humble trust in God, seeking help from Him in earnest prayer…Otherwise our efforts may well begin with good prospects, but, when we get deeply involved, the evil spirit will cause such confusions as to make the whole world swim in blood, and then nothing will be accomplished. Therefore, in this matter let us act wisely, and as those who fear God. The greater the power we employ, the greater the disaster we suffer, unless we act humbly and in the fear of God.”

“Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ’s people, ‘Peace, peace’, where there is no peace. Hail, hail to all those prophets who say to Christ’s people, ‘The cross, the cross’, where there is no cross. Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells; and let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.”

“It is not the way of a Christian heart to fail to delight in decisive assertions: rather, one must delight in them, or one is not a Christian…Nothing is better known and more familiar to a Christian than decisive assertion. Do away with decisive assertions, and you have taken away Christianity…The Holy Spirit is not a sceptic and has not written doubtful matters and mere opinions in our hearts, but decisive assertions which are more certain and sure than life itself and all experience.”

“Consequently, the utmost care and consideration must be given to true doctrine, contrary to what conventional opinion holds. For doctrine belongs to God, and life to us – if doctrine is corrupt, everything becomes corrupt. If it is sound, everything is in order.”

“What we have to do is to take care that we do not abandon the gospel with which we have come forward to the mockery of the godless, and do not give our opponents any opportunity to triumph over us, as though we did not dare stand up for what we have taught, and were afraid to shed our blood for the gospel. May Christ in his mercy protect us from cowardice on our own part and such boasting on their part.”

“I am already sufficiently burdened with sins; I will not draw upon myself this further mortal sin of neglecting the post in which I have been placed, so that I am found guilty of a criminal silence, and the neglect of the truth and of so many thousand souls. It is hard to stand opposed to all the bishops and princes, but there is no other way to escape hell and the anger of God.”

“In what concerned the gospel, the outward authority of the secular arm was not only incapable of bringing about anything positive, but was not even able to afford any protection. ‘This I have written to Your Grace with the intention that Your Grace should know that I am coming to Wittenburg under the protection of one much higher than the Elector. Nor have I any thought of seeking protection from Your Grace. In fact I consider I could better protect Your Grace than you can protect me. Moreover, if I knew that Your Grace could and would protect me, I would not come. This is a matter in which the sword cannot give counsel or help; God must act alone in it, without any human striving or intervention. Consequently, whoever believes moms, is best able to afford protection.”

“As often as God’s word is preached, it creates a joyful, open and assured conscience before God; for it is the word of grace, and forgiveness, a good and beneficent word. But as often as man’s word is preached, it creates a troubled, cramped and fearful conscience within man, for it is the word of the law, of anger and of sin, and shows what we have failed to do and how much we have to do.”






Justin Martyr Offers Wisdom on Charlottesville.

“We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.”
-Justin Martyr (2nd Century A.D.)

3 Ways to Change The Conversation

It is frustrating to watch the national conversation on race relations devolve into empty rhetoric and self-righteous chest pounding. Yet again, it seems that nobody is really listening to anybody. It is hard to have a conversation when everyone is shouting.

Part of my personal commitment this week, as the national conversation gets pushed and pulled by various voices, has been to do something to impact the local conversation on racial relations. Few of us have a national platform from which we can guide the national conversation. However, each and every one of us has a local sphere of influence which we can, and should, use to impact the local conversation.

Here are three simple suggestions I would offer to practically and personally impact the local conversation.

  1. Intentionally schedule and eat a meal with someone whose racial background andblack and white experience is different than yours. No agenda and no pressure, simply take time to engage personally and intentionally with them. Ask them to share some of their favorite stories from their family or neighborhood. Do your best to listen more than you talk during this meal. And don’t forget to pick up the tab!
  2. Perform a “random act of kindness” for someone whose racial background and experience is different than yours. Pay for the meal of a family at a restaurant, or bring a bottle of cold water to the guys cutting the grass in the medians in town, or offer to roll the grocery cart to the corral for someone in the parking lot. Any small act can have an inordinate impact when it is unexpected by the recipient. As my friend Nathan Crietz pointed out, “Being a good neighbor in a world where people are not good neighbors is a powerful witness.”
  3. Take notice of the positive contribution of someone whose racial background and experience is different than yours and verbally express your appreciation to them. The writer of proverbs states, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11). A simple, “I noticed you holding the door for that elderly gentleman. Thank you for caring for others!” can serve to strengthen their resolve to continue making a positive contribution. Furthermore, the fact that someone who is “different” noticed their actions is a powerful neutralizer of divisive rhetoric.

So while the nation rages, be a local instrument of peace. Amid the storm of words claiming “nothing has changed,” be the calm evidence that something is, in fact, different.


24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25

I Saw Jesus Today (and I am not the only one who did)


I did not quite know what to make of the unusual visitors who quietly slipped into our sanctuary this morning. Frankly, the timing of their entrance disturbed me more than a little, and I was not alone. It was evident that the attention of our congregation was divided: seeking desperately to focus on the weighty and solemn thoughts I was sharing from the pulpit while attempting to ferret out what our furtive visitors were doing provided a dramatic script which demanded our utmost attention.

I felt compelled to begin our service by speaking to the unsettling and heartbreaking events which unfolded in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend. Even as I began to speak of the inherent evil which presents itself in every form of racism, quoting 1 John 4:19-2,

“We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, whoever loves God must also love his brother” 

the back door slowly opened, revealing a young African-American girl and an African-American woman carrying a large, white plastic bag filled with something red. Their entrance was uncertain as they sat first in a pew near the back only to quickly make their way to the front of our venerable sanctuary. All ears were on me as I spoke of the challenge of racial reconciliation, but all eyes were on these two strangers who had come among us. Why were they here and what were they doing?

Please understand, people of color are welcomed among us with regularity, so it was not their color which demanded our attention. There were people of color already present in our sanctuary this morning; African-Americans, Latinos, Phillipinos, and Asians. Serving a church in a community which boasts two colleges affords our church family an unusual opportunity to engage with, and love, individuals from every corner of the world. Our church does not have a “spotless record” when it comes to race relations, few do, but we are increasingly known as a place where all are welcomed. But these two were an evident anomaly and the evident purpose of their presence remained a demanding mystery.

I carried on my denunciation of the evils of racism in places near and far and shared my personal horror at seeing this evil so clearly on display in our country. To help our church understand that this evil exists right outside our doors, I made known to them the difficulty which one of our dearly loved African-American members regularly encounters in our community, from both black and white, for daring to join the “white church.”

As I was sharing these thoughts, the purpose of our guests became clear.

They had come unannounced, and unexpected, to bless us.

Even as I stated that “racism is alive and well in Marion, and perhaps even among the hearts gathered here this morning,” these two beautiful saints began handing each person in our sanctuary a gorgeous rose. I continued to speak while they completed their joyful task and as they finished I invited those gathered to “stand and greet one another, acknowledging the presence of Christ among us.” The stunned joy was palpable.

No living man, woman, or child has ever seen the incarnate Christ; we don’t know what He looks like. However, I know for a fact, on this Lord’s day at Siloam Baptist Church in Marion, AL, He looked like a black woman and a young black girl handing out roses.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12


Bethlehem, by Zitella Cocke (1840-1929)

by Zitella Cocke (1840-1929)

Inside the walls of Bethlehem-town
A new-born infant smiled,
And seraphs bright with song looked down
Upon the Holy Child.

Shepherd their Shepherd saw, amazed,
And bowed them to the floor,
Kings on a mightier monarch gazed,
And gave Him costly store.

But she, whose silent pondering
In paths prophetic trod,
Knew she had borne the Holy Thing
Which was the Lamb of God.

This morning on my way to the office I caught Garrison Keillor’s reading of this poem by Anne Porter. This evening I read it to my bride over dinner. We both agree that it is poignant and full of truth. I share it with the hopes that it may feed your soul as well.


by Anne Porter

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother’s piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I’ve never understood
Why this is so

But there’s an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

“Music” by Anne Porter from Living Things. © Zoland Books, 2006.

The Four Evangelists

The church has carried a love/hate relationship with the visual arts throughout its history with polarities swinging from the veneration of statuary to the destruction of all things that might even hint at idolatry. (This article is an excellent primer for more on this fascinating history.) My protestant roots tended toward the latter, causing me to cast a suspicious eye on any symbol, other than a cross (an empty one, mind you), gracing a sanctuary. My first exposure to “stained glass” was akin to what is pictured here; coloured-window-filmit certainly added some beauty to an otherwise plain space and offered a welcome distraction for a young boy with hints of ADD, but it dared not attempt to communicate something of significance.

This past Sunday I quizzed our solid, and often stolid, Southern Baptist congregation on the iconic representation of the four evangelists and, not surprisingly, they came up empty. By contrast, utilizing only verbal clues, they readily identified the significance of “a blue square with a lowercase ‘f’“. While we are fluent in the iconography of our modern culture we are largely, sadly illiterate when it comes to the rich and meaning-filled visuals that are part of our Christian heritage. Perhaps it is time for us to reconnect with our roots. I, for one, have come late to this treasure trove, and am moved by those who, in an uncertain and difficult world, invested time, treasure, and much creative energy into creating and sustaining the redemption story in visual imagery.


These four symbols have represented the four gospels across Christian history since the 4th century, and I have only recently become aware of them. There are various interpretations of the meaning attached to these images associated with the four gospel accounts. I turn to Jerome (A.D.347-420), known for his translation of Scripture into Latin, who describes these icons in the preface to his commentary on Matthew:

The first face of a man signifies Matthew, who began his narrative as though about a man: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The second [face signifies] Mark in whom the voice of a lion roaring in the wilderness is heard: “A voice of one shouting in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” The third [is the face] of the calf which prefigures that the evangelist Luke began with Zachariah the priest. The fourth [face signifies] John the evangelist who, having taken up eagle’s wings and hastening toward higher matters, discusses the Word of God.

Is there a place for the visual arts in sacred space? In our image driven society I believe it to be just as important as it was for the early church, perhaps more so. The ancient images are still telling a story to an illiterate people in our modern age. We need images that help us connect the redemption story to our lives. I am praying for a renaissance of Christ-centered, Christ-honoring art that will draw our eyes, and our hearts, to the salvation story. I am also praying that in revisiting the beauty and energy produced by those who have gone before us, we will be reminded of a beautiful redemption story worthy of telling in word, in song, in glass, in oil, and in stone.

Soli Deo Gloria.