I recently removed several unused books from one of the shelves in my office at church, and as I looked at some of them, I realized I should never have bought them. Some of the other books I removed had found their way into my possession because I claimed them off of some freebie table. I should have let those books remain as orphans on that freebie table. There are other books that I bought thinking they would become long-term resources for my ministry, but trends change.
My shelves are organized by themes. Some shelves feature books on counseling while others feature history books. I have a few shelves filled with Bible studies, and others are filled with books about worship. I probably still have too many books that languish in loneliness with no one interested in opening them. But when I look at my shelves, I am thankful for the top row of books—books I will never leave as orphans on a freebie table.
In the beginning of my ministry, I searched my father’s shelves, grabbing the books he told me were either foundational or ones that helped him sort his way through the ruts that happen in the ministry. At the time, he wasn’t ready yet to get rid of his top row of books. But a few more years passed, and then I received my chance. I grabbed a few boxes and went to his office. I filled the boxes carefully, and then gleefully arrived at my own office. I know that for others this moment of joy could seem nerdy. But now on my book shelves I have a set of Luther’s Works, and I have begun my subscription to new editions that are regularly being published.
My grandfather was the first to begin this tradition of buying Luther’s Works. I remember my dad sharing with me a story of my grandmother receiving his books in the mail. She, too, would read them, and then she would engage in theological conversations with my grandfather. My Aunt Rita reminded me that my grandmother had a keen interest in all of Scripture and often went with Grandpa to the pastors’ get-togethers. She became very knowledgeable and got into deep discussions with other pastors and their wives. Her desire to have rich conversations about theology was fueled by her love for the written Word.
When my grandmother was a senior in high school, her house burned to the ground. She couldn’t go to college as she had planned and deeply desired. Instead, she ended up going to business school in Hannibal, Missouri. One February, she met the young and handsome new pastor, and they married in December. Her education continued throughout her life. When I read the Luther’s Works volumes that rest on my selves, I am connected to the power of the words on those pages to excite faith and encourage conversations about the promises of God.
I also have the Logos edition of Luther’s Works which is helpful for searching specific words or phrases, but I still find myself looking up to that top shelf. I grab a volume down from that shelf and flip through the pages. My grandfather died when I was seven. My grandmother died when I was twelve. The smell, the touch, and the sound of the pages in my hand help confirm to me the power of the Word of God to build relationships.