It’s around Christmas time, it’s snowing and Snoopy is sitting all alone, shivering. Charlie Brown and (I think) Shermy, dressed against the chilly weather are looking at Snoopy (poor thing), they’re overcome with pity and decide to do something. So over they go and Shermy says, "Be of good cheer, Snoopy" and Charlie says, "Yes, be of good cheer" and off they walk leaving Snoopy as they found him. Well, not quite as they found him. He's still alone and shivering but he has that slightly perplexed look on his face as he looks at the figures walking off into the distance. There’s a big question mark in a bubble above his head.
Mr. Schulz obviously had James 2:14-16 in mind. When someone is in need and we can certainly do something about it but we leave him or her (or them) needy, having mouthed a few pious words—that’s pathetic.
There's something deeply sickening about our being warmed and filled while a million Lazuruses are lying around us in plain sight. To hoard is a sin! Of a man who had more than enough but built greater barns to hoard even more of the goods God gave him to share—of him God said, "You fool!"
Do we not too often tell people, "Be of good cheer" without giving them good reasons to be of good cheer? You don’t hear that kind of thing in the NT. "Be of good cheer" in the gospels doesn’t occur without a reason following. To frightened disciples Jesus said, "Be of good cheer, it's me." To a poor miserable and fearful wretch the Master said, "Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven." To followers frightened of having to face a world that will give them trouble and pain the Christ said, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." And so it goes in all the other texts where words like these occur.
Where it’s possible and appropriate we ought to be saying, "Be of good cheer because I have the money you need and I will gladly give it to you." "Be of good cheer they have found your child that was lost." "Be of good cheer we now have a way around that difficulty." There are countless situations where we can make an immediate difference to a situation that needs changing! Sometimes we can do it alone. Sometimes it takes a handful or a multitude of us all banding together—but there are things we can and should change!
I don’t have to tell you that there are countless situations that can’t be changed immediately, no matter how many of us there are that fervently wish we could do something about them. The situation is too complex and too far-gone. The child will die, the marriage will crumble, the son will go to prison, the business will fail, tens of thousands will die in the famine, the firm will go belly-up and the employees will be out of jobs...and on...and on...and on.
That doesn’t excuse us when we leave Snoopy sitting bewildered and shivering in the snow, with a bubble over his head and a big question mark in it.
And ministers of the Word of God can’t be excused for trotting out the same well-worn moralizing week after week after week. No development of rich truth, no wrestling with the scriptures in the sight of God to strengthen the hearts of those whose immediate circumstances can’t be changed. No, instead we get the same seven-steps to moral fine-tuning, ten more reasons we should all be happy, the nineteen laws if you want a great family, eight more points showing that we’re not to "sweat the small stuff" and why it is that all our problems are "small stuff".
No attempt to develop the cosmic ramifications of what God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ. No sustained and vibrant talk of a judgment that will right all wrongs or how it is that our suffering is playing its part in the redemptive work of God on behalf of the human family. Nothing complex, nothing challenging, nothing that gives the hurt of the nations depth and meaning and dignity. Nothing but the wringing of our hands in the pulpit (or out of it) and an unsupported "Be of good cheer" as we make our way into the foyer.
In God’s name give us some reason to "be of good cheer". After a while we want more than your piteous tone, your pained look and your obvious sympathy. We get sick of that no matter how sincere it might be. And we especially get sick of the verbal hand-wringing. Plunge into the gospel and come back with something about Him that galvanizes your faith and hope. And with that help us to gallantly face down our situations that can’t immediately be changed.
Quit educating us or instructing us [of course I'm overstating my point!]—inspire us, empower us! We're tired learning how much you know, what a scholar you are; we're tired of hearing you explain—one more time— what this or that verse means before moving on to explain another; we're tired of you proving—one more time—whose doctrine is false. You've piled enough firewood in the fireplace—it's fire we want and fire we need!
All right, yes, we know that you know more than the rest of us and we know that much of what you say is accurate but we want and profoundly need the kind of truth that stuns, astonishes and empowers us to speak and stay on our feet when a "world" demands we be silent and threatens to flatten us.
We're not interested in pep-talks, sermonettes or stand-up commedians or good old boys with lots of personal stories to tell! Give us God! Give us the massive truths about God. We don't need you to be smart, at least we don't need for you to show us you're smart—we need to know and see that God is magnificent!
Give us big reasons, big truths that gives substance to your glib pulpit oracles like, "Be of good cheer!"
Be a preacher/teacher of the GOSPEL!