Pastor Schreiber's Devotions

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"Not Bare Back!"- James 3:1-12

As a youngster I once tried to ride a large horse bare back. It was fine until a fox ran in front of us. The horse shied and decided to return to the barn as quickly as possible. I just hung on for dear life. The horse ran up to the barn and then reared up on its hind legs, me hanging on to the reins like a flapping flag. She came down, I got off, and have never worked up the courage to ride another horse.

In Matthew 19:16-22 we read of a rich young ruler who asked Jesus a very important question: “What must I do to be saved?” His question was probably one we all should ask, because deep down inside most of us probably have similar questions: how we might escape the curse of sin, or how to gain eternal life (as two examples). We deal with the questions of mortality and morality. We may feel like that little boy hanging by the reigns of a large horse.

The evangelist James addressed these issues head on. He acknowledged that even preachers deal with problems presented by human frailties and foibles. He said in verse 2 of our reading: “For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” But even the most gifted of preachers is not perfect. Even he is not immune to temptation. This is why James wrote in terms of control – a horse’s bit and bridle, a ship’s rudder, and the like. These are means of establishing control and order for the ship’s crew or the horse’s owner.

As followers of Christ Jesus, we by nature lack the controls we need and we would drift directionless and be at risk of destruction if left to ourselves. So, God gives us His Word to give us direction. He gives us the Sacrament of Holy Communion to give us strength. He gives us His Holy Spirit to remind us of whose we are and what we should be. By making full and frequent use of these Means of Grace we have the wherewithal to resist Satan’s temptations and overcome them!

To be honest, I have never felt the urge to climb up on another horse – others can do that! I feel sufficient terror preaching an occasional sermon, writing an occasional devotion, or witnessing to the occasional friend, relative, or even a stranger. But I won’t go bare back again. I have the Holy Spirit with me!

"Even After Forty Years"- James 2:14-18

Even after forty-some years the incident jumps easily to my mind. A young mother worked night shift at a nursing home to help make the family ends meet. She worked weekends, because that was when her husband was home to care for her family. She would finish her work and just have time to drive to our church to attend worship.

On one Sunday a member of the congregation, unaware of that lady’s circumstance, complained that that young mother was inappropriately dressed for worship.

After forty-some years I still remember that I came “unglued.” I was offended that a member of my congregation could be so callous and uncaring. I responded to the situation in a rather forceful way from the pulpit. I was wrong. I should have talked to the individual in a private place and helped her understand the error of her words; but I didn’t. I “shot from the hip” and exacerbated the situation.

I still remember that day. I understand what James was writing about in our text. That situation helps me better understand and apply the final verses of today’s reading: 

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Thankfully God doesn’t operate according to any human standards. He forgives. He starts where we sinners are and goes from there. He does not demand that we sinners first clean up our acts, put on our Sunday best, and otherwise try to be what we are not. He takes us from where we are and helps us to grow into something more and better through the working of the Holy Spirit and the fruits of faith in Jesus Christ.

This was why Jesus came into our sin filled world in the first place. He came to seek and save sinners, not “supposed saints.” Sinners flocked to Jesus, not the professional church members. That woman came to worship because she needed Jesus, not the approval of people.

After forty-some years I still remember that situation. It still breaks my heart, but I am thankful that my God still forgives me for Jesus’ sake and uses me when and where He desires – work soiled and dirty though I am.

"It May Be Peaceful"- Ephesians 6:10-20

It may be peaceful, but we are not at peace.

There is little that is so seductive than a false sense of security. I remember reading about a British prime minister who proclaimed “peace in our time.” He was wrong. Nazi Germany soon embarked upon a war that would become known as World War II, and Great Britain was in the midst of a fight for her very life. 

St. Paul was aware of this subtle Satanic tactic – using the desire of people for peace at any cost. This is why he wrote the words of our text: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” He understood that no human being can long resist the wiles or overcome the power of the devil. People need divine assistance if they hope to smash Satan and destroy the destroyer. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Paul used the image of a well-armed hoplite (a heavy infantryman). Breastplate, leggings, body armor, helmet, and sword were basic equipment for such a soldier. For the Christian Paul provides a similar equipment list: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, being shod in the readiness of the gospel, carry the shield of faith, wearing the helmet of salvation, and carrying the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God.

The devil wants Christians to fall into a slumber from which they would never awaken. St. Paul understood this, so he wrote these words of warning to the Christians in Ephesus. The message rings true today, too. To withstand and overcome the devil’s attacks and wiles we must be in God’s Word, in worship when possible, in service to God and others, and in prayer always!

Above all else – remember Jesus Christ is your personal Savior from sin, death, and Satan. He lived and died and rose from the dead so that you would have forgiveness of your sins and God’s sure word of life with Him in heaven! Jesus has won the victory and He provides us with the tools we need to combat Satan. It may be peaceful, but we are not at peace.

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