Category: Minister

Minister’s blog

Extended article for the Newsletter

Posted by on Monday, February 18th, 2013 in Minister


I wrote an extra article for "Andrew's Voice," the newsletter of St. Andrew's Hespeler Presbyterian last week. But when the time came to put the newsletter together we ran out of space and I had to cut the article in half. I present the whole article here for those who are interested. The newsletter will soon be available at www.standrewshespeler.ca.

Now that’s a Good Question

This week, I had an old friend (not someone from St. Andrew's) contact me with some questions that had baffled her. Here is part of what she wrote:

"I was wondering if I could kind of ask for some advice or information from you? A friend of mine has been asking me about my beliefs and I don't know how to answer some of his questions. He brought up sin as a topic and asked how many times does God have to forgive you if you sin? How do you know you're forgiven? Does He already know your sin before you do it? If so, then why ask for forgiveness?
“He also asked, if Jesus appeared to lots of people as proof of rising, why doesn't he just appear today to prove that he has resurrected, like he did to Paul? There is nothing stopping Jesus from appearing to you right now if you ask? Yet since the Bible Jesus hasn't appeared to anyone for over 2000 years.
"Anyways I didn't really have any answers so if you could help me out at all that would be great!"

How many times does God forgive you?

The short answer to that question is that the only thing that limits God's forgiveness is the size of God's grace. And the more you know God, the more you realize that God's grace is indeed limitless.

But I suspect that the question requires more than just the short answer. There seems to be a common misunderstanding of the nature and problem of sin behind it. We have a tendency to think of our sins as that long list of things that we have done that were wrong or that we have failed to do that were right. And, while it is true that we all have our regrets for past actions (or failures to act), these things are not the real problem that God has with our sins. I do not believe that God spends all his time keeping track of our every little mistake so that he can punish us for them later.

Oh, God does care about our sin - cares very deeply - but not because of the specific actions. God cares because of the underlying attitude and what it does to us. Sin is an attitude that alienates us from God and from other people around us. It is also an attitude that prevents us from becoming all that we were meant to be. And God is always sad when we are living in alienation and when we fall short of his hopes and dreams for us. The attitude does manifest itself in particular actions that are also wrong, but it is the attitude that is the real problem that God's forgiveness is meant to address.

How often do you need to ask to be forgiven? As often as you need it. God doesn't require that you keep asking in order to be able to forgive you - of course not. But you may need to ask in order to be able to accept that forgiveness. The whole ritual of repenting and seeking forgiveness is not about fulfilling God's expectations or requirements. It is there to help us to find the strength to believe that we have been forgiven and to seek God's help to make whatever changes we need in our lives to avoid the same kinds of mistakes in the future.
Just as, when you have hurt someone that you love, you have to go to him or her and talk about what you did in order to put the hurt behind both of you so that you can move forward in your relationship, in the same way you need to talk to God about what has gone wrong so that things can start going right. It is for you more than it is for God.

Jesus' appearances

The reason why the earliest Christians came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead was because, shortly after he had been taken from them and brutally murdered by the Romans, they experienced him as present with them again. These men and women experienced the risen Jesus in a variety of ways - some of them quite remarkable and unmistakable. And so, naturally, when they announced to the world that Jesus had risen, they cited their own experiences of the risen Jesus as proof of this stunning event.

Your question seems to assume that the whole point of the appearances was in order to prove the reality of the resurrection. And, of course, it is true that what they experienced proved to them that Jesus had risen from the dead, but does that mean that these appearances happened in order to prove the reality of the resurrection? I don't think so. I believe that Jesus made these appearances in order to transform the lives of people and to create the community of the church.

The other assumption that is often made is that those experiences of the risen Jesus stopped at some point. You ask, "Why doesn't [Jesus] just appear today to prove that he has resurrected, like he did to Paul?" But go and take a look at the accounts of Paul's experience (Acts 9, 22, 25). Those accounts make it pretty clear that Paul did not meet the risen Christ in bodily form. Nor did he see Jesus - all he saw was a bright light and then he didn't see anything at all because he was blinded. What Paul had, in effect, was a vision (or you might even call it an audition because he really only heard it) of the risen Jesus. And I would hardly argue that nobody has had a vision of the risen Jesus in the almost 2000 years since the Apostle Paul.

People have continued to have many and varied experiences of the risen Jesus. Some have had visions, some have heard voices, some have felt calm assurances and clear senses of direction but every one would say that those experiences have been very real.

But, you see, the big problem with personal experiences like that is that, while they are obviously very convincing to those who live through them, they are not very useful as proof to those who have not had those experiences. That is why I would insist that the real purpose behind such experiences is not proof but personal and group transformation. And God certainly deals in transformation to this very day.

Jesus is not particularly interested in offering you proof of the resurrection through demonstration. Believing it is a matter of faith. Jesus is interested in transforming you, however, by whatever means you may be open to.
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Scratch That.

Posted by on Thursday, January 10th, 2013 in Minister

Last week I shared some rambling thoughts about what I might preach about during Lent this year. After giving it a bit of thought I have pretty much abandoned those ideas.

This is mostly because of the great reactions that I got to my sermon last week. I preached about forgiveness and, as I explored the theme, I found myself digging deep into the Old Testament notions and practice of sacrifice. I realize how essential it is to understand where these kinds of concepts, like forgiveness, came from in the first place.

The fact of the matter is that when the early church tried to understand what the life and, especially, what the death of Jesus really meant, the first place they looked was to Old Testament practices and concepts. Jesus, in their reflections, became the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, the passover lamb and much more. How can we possibly think that we will be able to realize the true significance of what Jesus accomplished on the cross if we have misconceptions about the central concepts of ancient religion that the Christian understanding was based on.

The early Christians could assume that their members knew what a sacrifice looked like, what it smelled like and even what it tasted like. That is no longer the case. So we're going to go back and take a crash course on these Old Testament practices. I hope you find it enlightening.

And, don't worry, I'm not planning to build an altar and bring in a fatted calf...

... but not that you mention it....
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Is it time to think about Lent?

Posted by on Thursday, January 3rd, 2013 in Minister

I know exactly what you are going to say to me. Didn't we just make it through the Christmas season? Isn't Christmas actually not even over yet until the season officially ends on the sixth of January with the start of Epiphany?

That is all very true. But it doesn't change the fact that the season of Lent will begin just a little bit more than a month from now. I have considered mounting an appeal on the grounds that Easter is clearly coming far too early this year, but I understand that the scheduling is all tied up with other matters (something to do with full moons and solstices) and so I expect it will be denied.

So really, Lent will be upon us before we know it and so I am turning my thoughts to my preaching during that very important season. Today I had a bit of inspiration. I was thinking of the traditional practice associated with the season of Lent (mostly practiced by Roman Catholics) of "giving up" something for Lent. The idea is that you are supposed to give up something that you like (like chocolate or meat or coffee) for the season as a kind of special personal sacrifice. It is a fine practice, but I have never really taken it up because it is not really part of my traditions.

But I have been thinking of using the practice to spur my preaching in the upcoming season. I want to ask the question, "What do I want to give up for Lent." But I don't want to talk about giving  up things. It is maybe too easy to give up things and I'm not sure it always gives the right message -- the idea of giving up something but not because it is a bad thing, merely because it is a certain time of the year. What I want to talk about giving up is certain attitudes -- particularly those attitudes that we sometimes cling to because they make us feel good but that are generally not all that helpful. Perhaps we could use this season to try and see what living without those attitudes could be like. We may find that we could all do a lot better without them.

What kind of attitudes am I talking about? How about, for example, the attitude where we want everything to be always organized to our liking and we don't ever allow for spontaneity. I think that attitude can sometimes be deadly in a church. Sometimes, I think, God is more present in the spontaneous moment or reaction that in anything we can ever plan. But that is just one example that comes to my mind.

What do you think? What attitudes do you think that we could take a break from during Lent? I'd love to hear your suggestions.

Also need some pithy titles!
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Posted by on Monday, December 24th, 2012 in Minister


And now, folks, here are the results of the final round of voting! Thanks to everyone who participated. Please join us for the sermons you chose in January!

These were our previous winners:
January 6: How can we learn to forgive others, "as the Lord has forgiven us"?
January 13: What do I say to my Atheist friend? (Ammunition for a friendly debate)
January 20: Don’t look back cause you’re not going that way

10 votes
Where is Eden? (Divine  Geography)
13 votes
Have you ever known God?? How do we find him? Where do we find him?
11 votes
"Sometimes I wish I could be like a preacher in the movies"
12 votes
I think you should preach about what led you to this ministry
42 votes
Prove Jesus exists without using the Bible as a Reference
54 votes
Why do good things happen to bad people?
18 votes
Modern Day Prophecy
19 votes
How does God hear all our prayers?
45 votes
Preach about the significance and symbolism of the numbers 3, 7, 12, 40 and how they unify the Old and New Testaments?
18 votes
Prayer
9 votes
The encounter of Jesus with the woman at the well (John 4) – how does it relate to other stories in the Bible that take place at wells?
16 votes
"Out of Egypt I have called my Son." What role does Egypt play in the birth of Christianity?
66 votes
Depression and Anxiety: How to bring hope peace and comfort to the people we love who suffer through times of darkness.

And the winning suggestion, chosen for January 27 with 66 votes is Depression and Anxiety: How to bring hope peace and comfort to the people we love who suffer through times of darkness.

Thanks to everyone for participating!

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Please tell me what to preach

Posted by on Saturday, November 3rd, 2012 in Minister

This coming January I would like you – that’s right you! – to decide the topic of the sermons I will preach. During the month of November, I will be collecting your suggestions of sermon topics.

You may post your suggestion right here as a response to this post. Phrase it as a suggestion (“You should preach about ________”) or as a question. If you would rather remain anonymous, you can message me or give it to me at church in an envelope.

I am going to ask, however, that you only make a suggestion if you are likely to attend a worship service this January. This is only for people who will participate.

During the month of December all of the suggestions will be put to a vote by the congregation (more details on that later) and the top four suggestions will form the sermons in January.

Scott McAndless
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Is it time to “do” advent?

Posted by on Thursday, October 11th, 2012 in Minister



When asked about how I choose the passages that I preach on, I often say that I gave up on the Lectionary years ago.
The lectionary is a three year cycle of Bible passages for reading during Sunday worship. Preachers who use the lectionary generally confine their preaching to one or more of the passages listed for the day.
There are a number of reasons why I gave up. I grew tired of the it. After the first couple of times through the cycle, I certainly found it repetitive. I also have a rather perverse liking for Bible passages that are obscure and often forgotten and would not want to be denied the opportunity to preach on them just because they weren't in the lectionary.
But, in many ways, my biggest beef was Advent. The season of Advent is the season immediately before Christmas – starting 4 Sundays before the big day.  My problem with Advent is that the themes of the season in Christian tradition and in the lectionary are all about the end of the world. All of the readings have to do with the second coming of Christ and apocalyptic visions of the end times.
Now, I don’t have any problems with preaching about such things. They are very important Christian themes and I believe that they still have much to teach us in these modern and often troubling times.  I am just not sure that the month of December is the best time to talk about these things.  During that season, our society is often in an orgy of overconsumption and spending and cultural clashes often come to the fore. I believe that these issues need to be addressed in the church. I don’t want to miss them because I’m busy talking about the end of the world. So, for several years now, I have not really preached advent and have used the time of the year to talk about other pressing issues.
But I’m wondering if this is the year to finally preach advent during advent. Why? Well because this year the end of the world might just be on everyone’s mind because it has apparently been scheduled yet again. As you’ve probably heard, the Mayan Calendar runs out this year on the winter solstice – December 21. Some have interpreted this to mean that the Mayans predicted the end of the world at that time and have gone on to make connections to other “signs of the times.”
Surely this will be all over the media and thus on everyone’s minds this December. Well Christians can talk about the end of the world as well as any Mayans so surely this is as good a time as any to present our perspective. So, yes, I am tempted to actually preach Advent this year. Whether I use the lectionary passages to do so, I have not decided, but it is definitely time to dust of these important themes in our tradition.
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What is your greatest frustration in ministry?

Posted by on Friday, September 28th, 2012 in Minister



Yesterday I was filling out an application for the Pastors of Excellence program (I’ll no doubt write more about that program in the future if I am accepted). The application was surprisingly probing.
One of the questions gave me some pause. It asked, “What is your greatest frustration in ministry?”
My immediate response was to say that nothing frustrated me more than when people get upset at something that has gone wrong or that hasn’t gone their way in the life of the church and, in response, they withhold something – perhaps their money or their time and talent or, in the worst cases, their entire presence.
I do hate that and find it very frustrating. And even if the thing that they are reacting to has nothing to do with me and is nothing that I could have (or should have) made to go differently, I always feel as if it is my fault. I feel personally attacked.
So that is the response that I wrote down. But when I went back and looked at it, I knew that I hadn’t really told the whole story. Though I hate that kind of circumstance, I realized what really frustrated me wasn’t quite that.
You see, I find that I may hate the circumstance but I do not hate the people who react that way. The real frustration is that I can sympathize with them, even while I do not approve of the ways that they respond. The reality is that things do go wrong in the church – sometimes very seriously wrong. People are unkind or unfeeling towards others. Disagreements are not dealt with constructively. Often (not always, of course) when people are upset they have good reason to be. I don’t like the way that they react but I am frustrated to find that I can sympathize with them. Perhaps it would be so much easier if I could just hate them, but I find that I can’t.
I have decided to preach a sermon (in a couple of months) on the issue of when people withdraw from their support of the church because they have been aggrieved. I don’t know what to say about it yet, but I am seeking some Biblical inspiration. The best story I can come up with so far is Jesus’ parable of the tenants who refused pay their rent, but that one hardly ends well – with everyone dead. (Though, I guess, that is where the church might end up if we don’t tackle this problem.)
Where else might I look?
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About the Creative Ministries Position

Posted by on Monday, September 10th, 2012 in Minister



Up until the spring of this year, St. Andrew’s Hespeler had a position called the Creative Ministries Coordinator – a part time position that was very ability filled by Adriana Vermaas for many years. In the spring she resigned and is moving on to other challenges (while continuing to participate in the life of the congregation).
What do you do when a position like that is suddenly vacant in the life of a congregation? Generally speaking Christian congregations are not overstaffed. Though there are always concerns about how much the payroll costs, of course, the problem is almost never that there are too many people on staff but rather that there are not enough to do everything that needs to be done.
So there is a temptation, as soon as a position like this is vacated, to go ahead and fill it right away because there is a danger that, if we don’t, the congregation will just decide that they can get by without the position and the existing staff will only end up getting stretched thinner.
But immediately filling the position is not what we are going to do in this case. Instead, after considering things for a bit, the session has decided that we will take some time to evaluate things. We have created a list of all the responsibilities that have fallen on the Creative Ministries Coordinator in the past and created some proposals for how these these responsibilities can be covered by others – by committees or volunteers in some cases, by staff (hopefully without overburdening them) in others.
We will very carefully monitor how these responsibilities are being covered over the next six months. In every case we will be evaluating whether or not these responsibilites are being covered and by whom. We will also be keeping track of whether or not taking care of these responsibilites has led to other things in the congregation being neglected.
At the end of this period of evaluation – by next spring – it is our hope that we will have a better picture of where the gaps are in the work and ministry and work of our congregation. Then we will be in a better position to determine whether we need to increase our paid staff coverage, whether specific volunteers need to be recruited or other solutions need to be considered. We do not know where this evaluation will lead us and we want to be open to all posibilites.
I think that this next period of evaluation has its risks. If we are not honest with ourselves about how things are going, if we wrongfully overburden some individuals or if we fail to consider new possibilites, we could end up making some wrong decisions.
I would greatly appreciate everyone’s prayers during this period. I encourage everyone to pitch in and help but also to be very open to talking about how things are going. Above all, let us place our trust in God that, as we open ourselves to his leading, we will be able to find an excellent partnership between staff, committeess and volunteers that will continue to lead this congregation with excellence.
We must not be governed by fear of change or fear of large budgets. If we are faithful to follow God’s call, we know that our Father will provide what we need. We will be governed by faith.

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Why I like the St. Andrew’s Stars

Posted by on Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 in Minister


Why I like the St. Andrew’s Stars

We’ve just completed the first season of the St. Andrew’sStars (You can catch all the episodes at www.youtube.com/standrewsstars) with awonderful Academy Awards Gala. I thought I would do a bit of personalreflection on the group and what I find good about it.

A successful Method

The St. Andrew’s Stars have been a great success. It hashelped to make the church experience much more meaningful for many of our kidsand it helps them feel that they are making a significant contribution to thelife of the entire congregation (because they are). They are being treated aspeople who have something important to add to our worship. After all, no oneelse could do what they have done for us.
Many have told us that they have found new meaning in theBible stories that they have helped to tell. And in many cases they certainlywill not forget these important narratives. I would like to explore here someof the elements that make this method so successful.

A “Sprinter” Event

Church consultant Kennon Callahan has written about a shiftthat has occurred in our generation. In former generations, a majority ofpeople had what he calls a marathon mentality. When they decided to activelywork to make a contribution, to support a cause or to minister to people theyapproached it with the mind of a runner of marathons. They were like thetortoise in Aesop’s fable who knew that “slow and steady wins the race.” Theyvalued things like long-term commitment, diligence and perseverance. These are,of course, the kinds of people that church has depended on down through theyears – the people who have filled our committees, sung weekly in our choirsand freely made membership commitments.
But Callahan notes that today people of this marathonmentality are increasingly rare. Instead we meet people with a sprintermentality. They are no less passionate about being involved and making adifference in the world. But they are much less likely to make any sort of long-termcommitment to do so. They want to work in short bursts – one day events, shortterm projects, seasonal involvement for example. When they are involved theyare like a sprinter who devotes every bit of energy that can be mustered intocreating speed. But then they can withdraw from action for long periods.
The church has long been good at providing opportunities formarathon minded people. But there is a great need in our times to offeropportunities for people enter into the life of the church as sprinters. Andthis is perhaps especially true for children and for their parents. Kids arejust so busy these days and their lives are so heavily scheduled that it isvery hard indeed to count on their consistent attendance for anything. Perhaps thisis one of the reasons why the St. Andrew’s Stars works. We take our actors andvolunteers as they are and when they are available. If all they can give us isan hour, we can still give them a chance to contribute to something meaningful.
And yet at the same time, the method has some built inincentives to help people to move towards a fuller participation in the life ofthe church. If the participants want to see the video that they helped make,they have to attend worship the morning that is presented. If they want theirfriends or family to see it, they must invite them. And if, immediately afterthat service another filming is taking place, it will leave them with anincentive to attend again.

Giving credit

Everyone craves recognition. And in the church (perhaps dueto a misunderstanding of the true nature of humility) we are often slow orparsimonious in giving praise to our people. But in St. Andrew’s Starspresentations credit is always something that is given first and that leaves anaftertaste. And you can be sure that people notice. Every time the kids seetheir names on the big screen they point and smile and you can tell that theyfeel important. Older kids might react more nonchalantly, but the recognitionthat they receive (and that is echoed within the congregation) does have animpact on the way that they see themselves.

A Biblically Centred Activity

We always begin with the Biblical text; nevertheless, we donot allow the Biblical text to constrain us. We are quite happy to reset thestory into a modern context, to introduce anachronisms (like the disciplesgetting their information from the internet or cell phones) or to tell the storyto fit with a very specific interpretation or application of it.
Also, because of our decision to take and use whoever comes,we are very free with our casting. We do not cast by age or gender or othersimilar considerations. Sometimes this means that a key character like Jesus ora king is played by a girl or a male character is rewritten (on the spot) as afemale or vice versa. In one sense, this is a necessary way of proceeding givenour method. (And, honestly, if we didn’t do this, the girls would so rarelyhave significant roles!) But in another way, it has helped to communicate animportant message – that, no matter who we are, we can all find ourselves in these important stories.

A very flexible method

When you create your own scripts, you also feel very free tochange your scripts. When I go into a filming, I often have a fairly clear ideaof what the final video might look like, but I am often surprised with thefinal outcome. Often this is because of the ideas of our actors. The directortells them to do something or say something and they do it but in a way that isquite different from what was expected. You ask them for a bit of sadness andthey weep uncontrollably. You ask them to pretend that they have just beenhealed from being lame; they jump up and run around yelling, “I can walk.”Their ideas are usually very good and you’re best to let them improvise whenyou can.

Builds on the strengths of a small church

Often, in order to reach its full potential, a ministry withchildren or youth requires a large pool of kids to draw from. You just need acertain critical mass to create the necessary interest or excitement. But theStars have benefitted from being able to draw from a smaller pool. This hasmeant that every actor who wants to has been able to have a starring role or asignificant supporting role, everyone has had a turn behind the camera andeveryone has a strong sense of making a significant contribution to the finalpresentation.

Not just an add-on

The St. Andrew’s Stars have been successful because thefinished videos are fully integrated into the worship service. They are notsomething extra that is added on as an afterthought – not as something thatmight be nice to watch but that had nothing to do with anything else that issaid or done in worship. Most often it is the Stars’ presentation thatintroduces the themes and ideas that are picked up and run with through therest of that service. This is made especially clear when images from the videosare used to illustrate the sermon. These presentations allow us to look atthose themes and ideas in unique ways and from new angles. You can find thingsin biblical stories through drama that you simply cannot find by reading themor listening to sermons preached on them.
Sometimes things are added to services – anthems, solos,stories or readings – that are nice and enjoyable to listen to but that don’treally connect with the rest of the service. You might enjoy them, but youwould not really notice if they weren’t there. A Stars’ presentation wouldleave a definite hole if it weren’t there because it is integral to theplanning of the entire service.

Letting kids make a significant contribution

But above all St. Andrew’s Stars have been important becauseit allows our kids to make a contribution to worship that is truly meaningful.Sometimes, unfortunately, congregations can be somewhat patronizing with theirchildren. We love to chuckle at their amusing answers to questions in achildren’s story or to ooh and aah when they sing for us (even if they’re alittle off key). But we’re not really ready to let them teach us something newor change our opinions on something. In that sense we are not really ready tolisten to them and children and youth are quite able to sense that.
A St. Andrew’s Stars presentation allows our kids to speakdirectly to the congregation andto get a message across to themthat perhaps no one else can. They allow our children to play a key role in communicating the message of life. It creates the kindof opportunity that we need much more of inthe church.
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