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Enduring Word

Fire destroyed a pastor’s place to study God’s Word—his cave—but God’s Word still remains.

Eric J. Ziecker

Long before the availability of digital materials, seminary professors encouraged students to build up a library of theological books. Public libraries don’t often provide enough Lutheran resources.

I listened.

So over the course of 25 years of public ministry I accumulated more than 250 books, not including digital resources. While a few became expensive, oversized paperweights, the majority of them were not decorations. I used many of them daily. I knew the books well and had them loosely classified by topic on my bookshelves. Many were used for reference, but others were beloved devotionals and used much more regularly.

The cave

I put my books in a small triangular study right off of our church’s chancel area. This little room was part “man cave” and part “pastor cave” because it contained mostly bookcases and books. My desk filled most of the remaining space. No matter how small the room, the sight of books covering an entire wall was any bibliophile’s dream!

There were some personal touches. The room included a Mexican hand-carved wooden head of Christ, a paper dragon that my daughter made for Chinese New Year, a pectoral cross from Ethiopia, and a resin facsimile of the 12th-century ivory carving of the 12 apostles.

Many pastors would agree that their personal study is a special place. Through reflection and the study of God’s Word, the Lord fortifies us personally and equips us to feed and guide those under our spiritual care.

A pastor’s anxieties may be voiced in that study. Prayers for the world, our nation, our church body and congregation, and our foreign missionaries often arise from there.

In my cozy little pastor cave, I prepared most of my preaching and teaching materials. Although there was nothing holy about the room itself, it was like hallowed ground to me because I studied the Lord’s Word there more than in any other place. The Bible is enough to make us wise for salvation in Christ Jesus, and yet lexicons, hymnals, commentaries, and devotionals helped me to mine the Scriptures and apply them for Christ’s flock. My pastor cave contained a theological treasure trove of timeless, divine wisdom. All of it lay at an arm’s length and was accessible to me any day of the week at any time of day or night.

I don’t think that pastors are the only people who have a special place to study God’s Word. I think many have a special place—perhaps a cave—where they regularly read and meditate on the Word of God and other Christian materials.

Rubble & ash

It took only minutes to watch the room—my pastor cave—and all of its contents reduced to ash.

The phone rang shortly after 5:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. Groggily, I wondered if I heard the dispatcher correctly when she said: “You have a structure fire at your church.” I rushed to the church.

As I watched, my silent prayers for the firefighters walking on our roof and those dangling off of ladders rose alongside the thick smoke. The smoke eventually cleared. The rising sun made it easier to see only empty space through the open side door of the church. My pastor cave was gone. Now only burnt, water-soaked rubble remained. I was nauseated and depressed.

Good reason to keep all your books in the cloud, you might think. Yes, but at times I still enjoy a book to hold and contemplate, especially during my personal, quiet devotion time. Long before I crank up the computer for the day and start web surfing, tweeting, answering e-mails, taking phone calls, and scheduling meetings and appointments, I’ve come to enjoy the routine of having a physical book open on my desk and a cup of coffee at my elbow.

But the fire changed that.

Satan’s firebomb

The likelihood of you suffering similar consequences due to an arson fire may be statistically slim. But we are all in Satan’s crosshairs. He would like nothing better than to sever your connection to Christ. He’ll seek to hit you wherever and whenever you commune with God.

If he cannot destroy the physical place where you read and study God’s Word, he’ll seek to firebomb your resolve to commune regularly with your Savior. He’ll disturb the peace of those sacred times spent listening to your Shepherd’s voice. Satan knows that if we are not hearing our Shepherd, we cannot follow him.

Along with all people, we have an urgent need for peace with God. We have disturbed our peace with him—perhaps by placing material things above the spiritual or by enjoying the created more than the Creator or by loving and trusting the gifts more than the Giver. We must admit to frittering away many opportunities that we have had to become better servants of Jesus through greater personal study and prayer. Bemoan, lament, and bewail your sinfulness. A broken and contrite heart he will not despise.

But Jesus’ invitation still stands, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). Rejoice again in the peace restored between you and God, the full forgiveness achieved by Christ’s innocent, righteous life, and his willing sacrifice for your sins. Only at the cross is God’s full justice for your sins satisfied and his eternal grace poured out for all. At the cross your self-centeredness becomes Christ’s; his self-sacrifice becomes yours. Your untamed tongue becomes his; his peace-bestowing tongue becomes yours. Your rebellion becomes his; his obedience becomes yours. Your mind, set on earthly things, becomes his; his mind, set on heavenly things, becomes yours. We confessional Lutheran Christians rejoice that he delivers these benefits to us personally through his Word and the sacraments.

Unquenchable fire

The Messiah’s person and work were explicitly foretold and detailed in prophecy. Once achieved in time, he declared from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus’ redeeming work and his resurrection are now complete and firmly rooted in history. Although Satan can never undo Jesus’ work or reverse his victory in our behalf, he seeks to silence our gospel proclamation so that no one hears it. He desires to incinerate our personal faith and make charcoal of our communion with God. He wants us to take God’s treasures and blessings for granted and let them slip through our fingers like ash.

In place of those destructive flames, the Spirit will kindle in you again his own purifying and unquenchable fire. Within your own cave—with the resource of God’s Word open in front of you—the Spirit reignites gratitude in you like a spark on dry tinder. May he fan that spark into an ever-increasing, unquenchable inferno. Not even the loss of place, not even the loss of earthly life, not even the loss of all that is created, can destroy God’s love for you in Christ.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Note: Peace, Rio Rancho, N.M., observed a rededication and open house of its rebuilt church in December 2018, 16 months after the fire had been set. Damages totaled more than $700,000.

Author: Eric J. Ziecker
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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