Tag Archives: Martin Luther

What Kind of Work Does God Appreciate?

Have you ever heard someone say that the only kind of work fully approved by God is “full-time Christian work,” you know, like pastor or missionary? The corollary to this idea is that your “secular” work matters, but it only matters as you give to the church, or to others who are doing full-time Christian work.  On our college tours last year with Elisabeth, we heard this idea loud and clear at a Christian college she decided not to attend. Basically, the administrator who was holding forth spoke of how some of their students would make their lives count by supporting others who were doing the “real work” in the world. Whenever you hear a Christian speak like this, you know that person has missed one of the most important teachings of the Reformation: the doctrine of vocation, which Gene Edward Veith defines

“When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And he does. The way he gives us our daily bread is through the vocations of farmers, millers, and bakers. We might add truck drivers, factory workers, bankers, warehouse attendants, and the lady at the checkout counter. Virtually every step of our whole economic system contributes to that piece of toast you had for breakfast. And when you thanked God for the food that he provided, you were right to do so.” 

In the same way, God protects us not by placing angels with flaming swords outside our homes, but with men and women who have the vocation of police. And though He can miraculously heal us, usually He does so with doctors and nurses, people who have a medical vocation. And how does He nurture us? Not by magically infusing knowledge into our heads and making us feel loved, but with people who answer His call to be parents…so being a mommy or a daddy is a vocation too, and vastly important in the eyes of God. In other words, there is no such thing as “secular” work. All work is God’s work. And oh, how we need to keep this in mind.

Shredding at Saputo

This summer, for instance, Elisabeth labored in the “shred” department at Saputo Cheese in Alto. It was third shift, from 11 p.m. – 7 a.m., and hard work. I would often drop her off, and a few times, before she headed into the factory, I would remind her that she was a part of making food (pizzas!) to feed the world, and that therefore her work was noble and important. She was in fact, part of the way that God was answering the prayers of His children, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In this way, her work was no less important than my work of studying God’s word and preparing a message for His people. Both the cheese, and the sermon, are necessary for the sustenance of life. So now we understand why Paul wrote to the Colossians…

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)

So, today, if you are discouraged about your work as an accountant, or prison guard or landscaper, remember who you are serving. If wiping runny noses is wearing you out and getting you down, keep in mind not only that you are serving your unappreciative child, but that you are raising the next generation for Jesus…and therefore everything you do matters deeply to God.

For Thursday, August 13th: Colossians 4


Posted by on August 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Why I Love a Good Cemetery

cemetery tombstoneI’ve been a fan of cemeteries for a long time; they keep you grounded.

But seriously, Ladies and Gentlemen, they do. After all, unless our Master returns (Come, Lord Jesus), we are all headed to a cemetery for long term storage. So they do have a way of keeping you…if not grounded, then humble. You see, when pride sneaks in, cemeteries remind me that in 100+ years, no one will remember me. I can imagine my genealogy-oriented descendent: “Oh, yeah, I had a great, great grandpa, Roger Knowlton, who was in the helping professions, I think. Maybe he was a social worker?”

(By the way, tell me the name of your great, great grandpa…yeah, I thought so.)

And one more thing about cemeteries – I love to walk amidst them and read the tombstones. I like to try to discern if the dearly departed was a believer and therefore, I trust, a future friend. Of course, with the limited data of a grave marker, such discernment is admittedly a tricky proposition, but some folks have made it easier than others. Take one of my favorites: many years ago, I was walking through the cemetery in Champaign, Illinois (where I received my Business degree at the University of Illinois) and I discovered my life verse:

“Christus ist mein leben, sterben ist mein gewinn.” Philippians 1:21 (Martin Luther’s translation), translated, of course, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (ESV)

I like the starkness of the German translated literally into English: CHRIST IS MY LIFE. DEATH IS MY PROFIT.

The logic behind this verse is impeccable. First, Christ is my life, and hearing this beautiful prose, every part of me wants to scream out – “Yes, yes, by God’s grace, yes He is!” And then, in the second half of verse 21, Paul uses financial terms: Gain and forfeit, Profit and loss.

You see, the majority of people around us consider death to be a loss, and they are absolutely right. For those who do not live for Christ, dying will mean the loss of everything, the loss of family, the loss of friends, the loss of peace and pleasure and all joy. Like a car crashing headlong full-speed into a semi, life itself will be a TOTAL LOSS.

But Christians also sometimes think of death as a loss, and that’s a mistake. Of course, in a very real sense, we don’t want to die. No one wants to say goodbye to dear loved ones. No one wants to go through the pain of disease or the wasting away of the body during aging. But the lesson of Philippians 1:21 is that beyond these very hard things, death for the believer…will be gain. Not debit, but credit. Not loss, but profit, and gain…great, great gain.

It’s enough to make you want to wander around cemeteries.


For tomorrow, Wednesday, August 5th: Philippians 2


Posted by on August 4, 2015 in Uncategorized


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On Cutting Satan’s Throat and the Joy of Luther

Martin Luther, who married a former nun named Katherine, called Paul’s Letter to the Galatians,

“…my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine.”

High praise from a man who adored his beloved Katie, and Luther’s commentary on Paul’s letter to the Galatians shows his love. So today, as we start our reading of this wonderful letter in Scripture, I thought I would include 5 of my favorite Luther quotes (we’re just scratching the surface here) from the first chapter of his commentary on Galatians. (By the way, a FREE electronic version of the translation I used is found here. Get the Kindle app and download it to your computer or smartphone.) Now, let me say, Luther is fun. He was, after all the guy who said, “I fart at the devil.” And so there is lots of fun to be had in this majestic work that had a part in saving John Wesley, but also some serious words about the good yet despair-inducing law, and of course, glorious words about the gospel.

1. Help in dying (Galatians 1:4): “Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained.

Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin…”

2. Dealing with the Devil (1:4): “If he says, ‘Thou shalt be damned,’ you tell him: ‘No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure…'”

3. On the German people (1:6): “At first we Germans are very enthusiastic, but presently our emotions cool and we become slack. When the light of the Gospel first came to us many were zealous, heard sermons greedily, and held the ministry of God’s Word in high esteem. But now that religion has been reformed, many who formerly were such earnest disciples have discarded the Word of God, have become sow-bellies like the foolish and inconsistent Galatians.” (Unfortunately, Luther was a bit of a racist, but you gotta love that sow-belly epithet)

4. About the church he pastored (1:6): “A man labors for a decade before he succeeds in training his little church into orderly religion, and then some ignorant and vicious poltroon comes along to overthrow in a minute the patient labor of years. By the grace of God we have effected here in Wittenberg the form of a Christian church. The Word of God is taught as it should be, the Sacraments are administered, and everything is prosperous. This happy condition, secured by many years of arduous labors, some lunatic might spoil in a moment.”

5. The importance of the Bible (1:11, 12): “God creates faith in us through the Word…Hence the best service that anybody can render God is diligently to hear and read God’s Word. On the other hand, nothing is more perilous than to be weary of the Word of God. Thinking he knows enough, a person begins little by little to despise the Word until he has lost Christ and the Gospel altogether.”


For Tuesday, June 16th: Galatians 2

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Posted by on June 15, 2015 in Uncategorized


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On “Elegant” Praying

“The best prayers are the ones God hears and answers.”

-Martin Luther

Some years ago, Harvest Bible Chapel (where I was on staff during some of my seminary years) was having a prayer emphasis, and I ended up in a relatively short prayer meeting with an older man and some others.  The man prayed an elegant prayer, in old English style with Thee’s and Thou’s;  and after he was finished, he received a compliment or two on the beauty of his prayer.  Of course, I don’t know where the man’s heart was, and it’s not my job to find out, but at the time, I sensed an element of pride.  Now, I don’t claim to be a super discerning person, so maybe it was just the prayer itself that led me to think that.

There is nothing inherently wrong with praying in old “King James” English, but there is nothing necessary about it either.  It’s nice to listen to, I suppose, like a poetry reading, but the obvious drawback with such a prayer is that a new believer can be intimidated and feel that public prayer (and maybe other kinds of prayer) is beyond him or her.  That’s a bad thing…a really bad thing.

I contrast such elegant prayers with the little quote from Luther above: what matters is not that people are impressed with us, or our prayers – what matters is that God hears and answers.  This principle works for the length of a public prayer also. I have enjoyed and profited from “long prayers” in the past.  I think of the church we attended in Scotland and how the pastor prayed for 5 – 10 minutes every service.  I really felt that he brought us into the throne room of God.  But in general, long public prayers just lead me to daydreaming, to start thinking about what’s for lunch.

I’ve applied my thinking on this when praying publicly – I don’t think it’s necessary to pray a long prayer, or a fancy, impressive prayer – what’s necessary is to pray a prayer that God hears and answers.   If that is accomplished, then I think we have accomplished what we really came for.

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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Uncategorized


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