No Shallow Christianity

As I was studying for Sunday’s message on Hosea, I came across the following from James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on the Minor Prophets.  This doesn’t really tie in anywhere with my sermon, but I found it particularly meaningful, so I thought I’d pass it on.

We live in an age where everything good is interpreted in terms of happiness and success.  So when we think of spiritual blessing we thing of it in terms of these things.  To be led of God and blessed by God means that we will be “happy” and “successful.”  In fact, if a Christian does not appear to be happy or successful, there are scores of people who will be ready (like Job’s counselors) to work with him or her to see what is wrong.  This is shallow thinking and shallow Christianity, for God does not always lead his people into ways that we would naturally regard as happy or as filled with success.  Was Jesus happy?  He was undoubtedly filled with joy and all the other fruits of the Spirit.  but he was also called “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  Was Jesus successful?  Not by our standards, nor by any standards that might have been applied to him by anyone living in that time.  Let us put down as a great principle: God sometimes leads his children to do things that afterwards involved them in great distress.  But because God does not think as we think or act as we act, it is often in these situations that he accomplishes his greatest victories and brings the greatest blessing to his name.

If God has allowed tragedy to slip into your life, this does not necessarily mean that you were out of his will when you married that husband or wife, took that job, or made that commitment.  He may be giving you a chance to show the love and character of Christ in your situation.

Again, you may be able to learn something of God’s love for you through the difficulty.  For what is the story of Hosea if not the story of ourselves as members of that body which is the bride of Christ?  We are Gomer, and God is Hosea.  He married us when we were unclean.  He knew that we could prove unfaithful again and again.  He knew that we would forsake him.  Still he loved us and purchased us to himself through Christ’s atonement.  If Hosea’s story cannot be real (because “God would not ask a man to marry an unfaithful woman”), then neither is the story of salvation real, because that is precisely what Christ has done for us.  He has purchased us for himself to be a bride “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:27), and he has done this even though he knew in advance that we would often prove faithless.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets: Volume 1, Hosea – Jonah (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1983) pg 16-17.

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow…

“Give us this day our daily bread…”
(Matthew 6:11 ESV)

Its Wednesday again, and here I am wondering What am I going to write about today?  Relentlessly Wednesday keeps coming, and I struggle to find something that will be a blessing to you.  I am so thankful for the encouragement that you give me, telling me how what I have written has encouraged you, how the midweek message is just what you needed to hear.  Sunday’s don’t bother me as much.  I’ve been preaching for almost 10 years now, I know how to study and prepare.  But this weekly writing is new to me.  I still get anxious for Wednesdays.

Each of us has that one thing (or many things) that we get anxious over.  What will I write about?  Will I get that job?  Will he/she ask me out for the Homecoming Dance?  Can our marriage survive this?  Will my family/children be provided for if something happens to me?  Will I recover from this illness?  Will I be welcomed and secure in my new home?  Can I find the strength to overcome this temptation and avoid sin?  Sometimes the thought of what is coming tomorrow can crush us today.  We can be so overcome and overwhelmed by anxiety about what may come that we lose hope and begin to despair.

One of the most repeated commandments of scripture is, “Do not be afraid.”  Jesus knew the tendency of our hearts was to lose sight of what God has done in the past, to fixate on the uncertainty of our future, and to be overcome with anxiety and despair.  This is why He taught us to pray to God for our daily bread – to teach us and remind us to trust in God daily for the grace we need to face the day.  Just as God provided manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:35), just as God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies in all their splendor (Matthew 6:28), God will provide for you.

Simply telling you not to worry, though, is only half the solution.  Often times, we have to supplement a negative behavior with a positive one (I used to vacuum whenever I wanted to snack at night).  The same thing applies to your spiritual life.  Unless you supplant your anxiety with something else, you will soon return to your fears and doubts.  So what can you do?

Think about today…  Jesus pointed out the futility of our anxieties, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life…  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious enough for itself” Matthew 6:27).  Stewing over the problems we face and our inability to deal with them only compounds the problems.  Too often we rely on our own resources and our limited vision, and wind up in a bigger mess than when we started.  But when we realize that our God is bigger than the problems we face, we can find great strength and encouragement.  Lamentations 3:22-26 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’  The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  It is good that one should wait patiently for the salvation of the Lord.”  We need to learn to wait for the Lord, to trust in his grace that he has given for this day.

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not;
As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Prayer and Thanksgiving… Paul teaches in Philippians 4:6, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  How many times do we run headlong into a problem without ever taking it to the Lord in prayer?  Don’t we usually find ourselves up to our necks in our own undoing before we finally cry out to God?  Take a moment right now and think of those things that you are most anxious about.  Now tell God about it, make your request before the throne of God, and be sure to thank God for listening and for the ways He’s worked in your life before and continues to work today.  Go ahead… I’ll wait.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Trust in His promises – One of the things that prayer and thanksgiving does is it helps us to remember God’s faithfulness in the past, and his promise for the future.  When the Israelites began to wonder whether God would deliver them, they would be reminded of the way His mighty right arm and delivered them from Egypt and provided for them in the wilderness.  When the early church faced persecution and oppression, they were encouraged by remembering the mighty work of deliverance through Jesus our savior.  Even today, when we wonder if maybe this obstacle is too big for God, let us remember all that God has done and have hope for what he is about to do.  God has promised good things (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28), and “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it” (Numbers 23:19)?

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!