Updated: Aug 14
I was talking with a friend the other day and she encouraged me to share more of my writing. Now that the bulk of the work is done with our bunkies, I will be able to spend more time reading and writing - and I have started some really great books I'm looking forward to writing/talking more about! For now, here is the transcript of a sermon I offered to Crossings Church in Acton a few weeks ago.
May these words bless you.
A few weeks ago I was at my niece’s wedding in a small town called Wardsville when the focus of this sermon came to me. I was talking to my friend and his wife about life and kids and retirement, he’s looking forward to retirement hopefully in the next few years.
During our conversation he made a comment that stood out, talking about money, he said, “Over the years, God has been faithful but we have been good stewards.”
I’ve heard people say something to this effect a few times before, maybe you have too. It sounds a bit like, God has been good to us, or has blessed us or been faithful to us because we have done the right things. It suggests there is something we can do to “make” God be or do anything.
The other thing that I hear when people say things like this, part of my own brokenness, is that God has blessed them and not me because they’re clearly doing better than I am. Even though I know that isn’t really true, there have been times in my life when things were just terrible by all measures and having Christian friends who were doing well and attributing it to God’s faithfulness left me wondering why was God not extending His favour to me. What had I done wrong?
I don’t believe my friend meant anything more than to give God credit for the blessings he has received…. I mean, it is a common Christian thing to say, God has been faithful, indeed He has but for some people, especially people who have been hurt by the church, that phrase packs a bit of a punch.
This reminded me of another conversation I had many years ago with an elderly Irish lady, named Daphne. She was a lovely, Godly woman, had a terrific accent and a great sense of humour. We were talking about tithing, Daphne shared with our bible study group, “oy tithe and Lard blesses me fer it.” I said to her, “well I don’t tithe and the Lord still blesses me.” Her response was, “well oy don’t know about thut.”
I guess it depends a little bit on what you consider a blessing.
As I mulled over these two conversations and others I’ve had like them, sitting in the hotel room near Wardsville, I said to my husband, I wish people understood that God is not the soup Nazi. God doesn’t pick and choose blessings at random or because we tithe or don’t tithe, whether we’ve been good stewards or not. That’s not the point.
Are you familiar with the soup Nazi? His character is from a show called Seinfeld. Some of you know it. If you'd like to see the scene click here.
It's funny, right? Jerry wouldn’t let his friend cut in line because if the soup Nazi noticed him budding, neither of them would get the soup. And of course, he didn’t object because he knew Jerry was right.
Did you see how Jerry and George approached the counter? They robotically walk up to the counter, ask for the type of soup they wanted, put their money down and move to the side. But George goes off script when he notices he didn’t get any bread. Jerry tried to tell him to forget about it but George wouldn’t. When he dared to question the soup Nazi, we hear the classic line that has been repeated so many times, “no soup for you!”
In the next scene, if you look it up, it shows George standing at the back of the line rehearsing the steps so he can try one more time to get a bowl of soup.
This seems very silly, I know, but we often do relate to God in this way.
God doesn’t withhold anything from His children. He is generous and kind, loving and merciful. He is faithful in every good way and it has absolutely nothing to do with what we do or don’t do. We can’t change who God is.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We didn’t even exist yet and God, knowing we would be born into a broken world and be broken people ourselves, Christ died for US.
I also hear an undertone in the phrase “God has been faithful” when used in that way and other common Christian phrases like it, for example:
Everything happens for a reason
When God closes a door, He opens a window.
Love the sinner, hate the sin.
They’re easy to recite but they don’t communicate the character of God accurately, they fall short of their biblical meaning and fail to provide the context for the things we do, like tithing and being good stewards. It’s called Christianeese, language Christians use - at one time I would have said that people outside of the church can’t understand, but now I’m not convinced people inside the church understand it either! In my experience, these one-liners have caused more grief and instead of leading people closer to God, it turns them away.
The undertone is subtle but I think one of the things people subconsciously pick up on is the suggestion someone is to blame - it could be God, it could be circumstances or a choice we’ve made. Sensing blame puts people on the defensive. If you already have the weight of the world on your shoulders, you’re going to be very sensitive to anyone adding to that.
Never mind the fact that as believers, the Apostle Paul describes in his letter to the church of Colossae, our connection to God has been restored, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are people who are “holy, faultless and without blame.”
The unintended consequence can be feelings of shame which further separates us from God rather than drawing us closer to Him. I’m sure none of us would intentionally turn someone away from God that’s why we need to be so mindful of the words we use.
Not very many of us, aside from my Irish friend Daphne perhaps, would tell people in order to receive good things from God, we must behave a certain way or do a certain thing to earn His favour. Follow the rules, be good, spend your money wisely, be generous and tithe, don’t swear, don’t be rude…
Have you ever driven through Toronto around 4 pm or even Huntsville on a long weekend? Just saying..... I may have broken a few of those rules more than once.
Do the right things and God will bless you, don’t do the right things and God will withhold His blessing.
No blessing for you!
Friends, I want to share with you God is not the soup Nazi!
Do you believe your behaviour, whether you tithe or follow the rules or some other script you’ve been practising, impacts or influences how much God loves you, cares for you or wants to bless you?
Most of us know in our logical, thinking minds, that God loves us no matter what, we know from reading the scriptures, from listening to sermons and singing songs about God’s love, we’ve (hopefully) been told repeatedly this is true, God loves us no matter what.
But do you believe it in your heart?
You may have heard the phrase, the greatest distance is from the head to the heart, that saying comes from The Sioux Nation who believe the longest journey we can make in this life is from the head to the heart. I have known that to be true at times in my life and I by no means have yet “arrived".
It’s as though we’re standing in line like Jerry and George, doing our best to not fidget or aggravate the person in front of us (for some of us this is the beginning and end because we know we just can’t resist), anxious to approach the throne of God and hoping that our insignificant gift will be pleasing to Him, but bracing ourselves for disappointment. We all know it’s too hard to keep up the facade. Yet, we timidly put our offering on the altar and quickly step back to see what happens. When we don’t get the soup, just like George, we go to the back of the line to rehearse the script one more time and see if it makes a difference.
Meanwhile, the scriptures tell us to draw near to the throne of favour with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help. (Hebrews 4:16)
God is not the soup Nazi. You have God’s favour, Mercy and Grace are yours.
The prophet Jeremiah tells us in chapter 31 that God says this to us, "I have loved you with a love that lasts forever. And so with unfailing love, I have drawn you to myself."
You’re invited. You’re wanted. There is no script, only God’s love.
The Psalmist in Psalm 113 sings God’s praises saying, “no one is like the Lord our God, who rules from heaven, who bends down to look at the skies and the earth. The Lord lifts the poor from the dirt and takes the helpless from the ashes. He seats them with princes, the princes of his people. Praise the Lord!
You are raised from the ashes and considered equal to royalty!
Peter tells us this.
Paul says we are coheirs with Christ because we’re adopted into His family!
John tells us as believers we are born again of God, so draw near to Him!
God is not the soup Nazi!
Psalm 103 really spells it out. Read these words, receive them as a gift, perhaps open your hands in a posture to receive, let this psalm wash over you, allow these words nourish your soul:
"Let my whole being bless the Lord! Let everything inside me bless his holy name! Let my whole being bless the Lord and never forget all his good deeds: how God forgives all your sins, heals all your sickness, saves your life from the pit, crowns you with faithful love and compassion, and satisfies you with plenty of good things so that your youth is made fresh like an eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness; does justice for all who are oppressed. God made his ways known to Moses; made his deeds known to the Israelites. The Lord is compassionate and merciful, very patient, and full of faithful love. God won’t always play the judge; he won’t be angry forever. He doesn’t deal with us according to our sin or repay us according to our wrongdoing, because as high as heaven is above the earth, that’s how large God’s faithful love is for those who honour him.
As far as east is from west— that’s how far God has removed our sin from us.
Like a parent feels compassion for their children— that’s how the Lord feels compassion for those who honour him.
Because God knows how we’re made, God remembers we’re just dust.
The days of a human life are like grass: they bloom like a wildflower;
but when the wind blows through it, it’s gone; even the ground where it stood doesn’t remember it.
But the Lord’s faithful love is from forever ago to forever from now for those who honour him. And God’s righteousness reaches to the grandchildren
of those who keep his covenant and remember to keep his commands.
The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
You divine messengers, bless the Lord! You who are mighty in power and keep his word, who obey everything he says, bless him!
All you heavenly forces, bless the Lord! All you who serve him and do his will, bless him!
All God’s creatures, bless the Lord! Everywhere, throughout his kingdom, let my whole being bless the Lord!"
Let our whole being bless the Lord. Amen
Did you notice in this Psalm that the author is talking about blessing the Lord? He turns our idea of blessing upside down, suggesting we should bless the Lord, not the other way around. All God’s creatures, bless the Lord. This begs the question, how in the world could we bless the Lord?
According to the Hebrew meaning of blessing, Blessings, whether given or received, help us recognize God in our lives and draw closer to Him. It is not a recognition of riches or favour, we already have that, rather it is a humble confession that we are not self-sufficient.
Do you see how that understanding of blessing changes the meaning of God has been faithful? It isn’t a matter of the haves and have nots, the words “God has been faithful” or “I’ve been blessed” are actually a confession of our inability to do life apart from God.
So how exactly do we bless the Lord?
Jewish thinkers explain that to bless means to increase (in joy or in peacefulness for example). Often in the Bible and in most Jewish traditions, prayers begin with blessing God. Blessed are You, Our God.
How else can we bless the One who lacks nothing?
God is all-powerful and perfectly self-sufficient. He didn’t need humankind to begin with, so all the more, He doesn’t need anything from us. But He chose us. He wanted a relationship with individual people who have free will. In return, His simple presence is a reward that we could never earn or achieve ourselves.
By blessing God, we give Him honour for His grace and mercy towards us. Therefore, “Blessed are You, Our God” is a declaration of trust and the greatest hope for Him to reign over our circumstances. He is good, and we are dependent on His goodness.
Blessing means an increase. When we bless God, it is His presence that increases in us. When we honour Him, we acknowledge how He is increasing the goodness in our lives. It points to the increase of His goodness in our lives. And in order to live fully, we are dependent on His presence.
So the phrase my brother used, God has been faithful, and Daphne’s belief that she is blessed by the Lard for tithing are not wrong things to say, but there sure is a lot more to it and leaves too much room for interpretation.
How then can we change these phrases, God has been faithful or God has blessed me, to say what it means and mean what it says but is also sensitive to where other people are coming from, especially those who have been hurt?
I’m not sure but saying something like God’s faithful love has enriched my life could be a start.
God’s faithful love has enriched my life.
That communicates something entirely different from thoughts of winning the lottery or considering a blessing to be some kind of material gain, it brings us all onto equal footing because no matter what our circumstances, the presence of God has no limit and is available to each of us in ever-increasing measure.
Working at being a good steward has increased my trust in God.
Choosing to tithe, increases my trust in God and my dependency on Him. And because He has been faithful and increased His presence in my life, I bless Him.
In this way, it ought to make it easier to Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. And what is that? That your life be enriched by ever-increasing measures of His presence.
I wouldn’t say we should consider hard times or crises to be a blessing but with this understanding of what God’s intentions are behind His blessing and through His faithfulness, as we seek Him and say Blessed are You, Our God” we declare our trust and our hope for Him to reign over our circumstances.
God is not the soup Nazi.
God’s faithful love has enriched my life and He will enrich your life as well.
I'll conclude with the words from the Psalmist, again from Psalm 103:
Let your whole being bless the Lord!
Let everything inside you bless his holy name!
Let your whole being bless the Lord
and never forget all his good deeds:
how God forgives all your sins,
heals all your sickness,
saves your life from the pit,
crowns you with faithful love and compassion,
and satisfies you with plenty of good things.