Category: Minister

Minister’s blog

Posted by on Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013 in Minister

Once again next year I would like to preach a series of sermons in response to the question, themes and ideas put forward by the people in the congregation. During the month of December I am collecting your suggestions for what I should preach on. Once these suggestions have been collected, I will put them to a vote by the congregation during the month of January. The sermons will be preached during the four weeks before the beginning of Lent in 2014. Please give me your ideas for a sermon by responding to this post, by putting it in a box at the church or by email. (Please only one suggestion per person.)
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Okay, this is pretty freaky.

Posted by on Thursday, November 21st, 2013 in Minister

Last Sunday I preached on Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus tells his followers that if they feed the hungry, clothe the naked and offer hospitality to the homeless, they actually have served him by doing such things.

I related that to some of the things that we do at St. Andrew's particularly to the things that happen on a typical Thursday when we welcome people to a free clothing centre, when we host the Cambridge Self-Help food bank and host the community for a Supper and Social.

This was the exact wording of the second last paragraph of my sermon:

"So, yes, I do declare it without reservation and without doubt. Jesus has been here this week. He may have stopped by at other times. In fact, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to encounter him before I leave today – maybe in one of you. But I know for sure that he was here on Thursday. I’m pretty sure that he will stop by next Thursday too."

So guess what happens tonight at the supper. One of the women who helps with the clothing centre (who knows nothing of what I preached) motions me over and says:

"Hey, pastor, we had a busy day at the clothing centre today. We had a new client come by and he loved it. I think he was from Mexico. He said his name was.....

(wait for it)

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Posted by on Monday, November 4th, 2013 in Minister

Okay, folks, I have some big news on the "Caesar's Census, God's Jubilee" front. My book continues to sell as an ebook on many retail sites but I have had far too many people asking how they can possibly obtain a printed copy that I have been persuaded to enter into an agreement to get the book printed through a print-on-demand publisher. The printed book will be available, within a day or two, at It will also be sold at though that might take a day or two more. The list price is $9.99 US.

There is one big drawback to all this: the printed book will not be available on or through any retailer in Canada which means that, if purchased, it must be shipped across the border which can be complex and expensive.

I will be ordering a box of books and paying the shipping for them. I will then distribute them at St. Andrew's Hespeler Presbyterian Church to anyone who orders one from me for $10 Canadian. Please let me know if you would like me to order one for you.

One plus -- the publisher had software to create a new cover for my book that I really like!

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Posted by on Thursday, October 17th, 2013 in Minister

I am very pleased to announce that my book, is now available.

For the past decade or so, I have been working on a book in my scant spare time. It was a book that examined the story of the birth of Jesus as told in the Gospel of Luke and struggled with a number of historical puzzles that arise from it.

I have now finished this book and published it under the title, "Caesar’s Census, God’s Jubilee" and I want to take this opportunity to recommend it to you. It may give you some wonderful new perspectives on the Christmas story as you look forward to preaching on it and reflecting on it this year.

This is not a conservative book - not in its theology nor in its approach to the Bible - and I realize that some may not agree with some of what I say because of that, but it is a book that goes out of its way to try and respect the original message of the author of the Gospel of Luke and to take seriously the historical situation that Luke describes at the time of the birth of Christ. I think you will enjoy reading it.

It also includes many passages that may help you to reimagine the story in a different light based on the historical setting.

The book is available only as an ebook but you can find it at most online retailers. Here are a few links:

Smashwords: is the publisher and will offer you the book in multiple formats for reading on multiple devices)

Amazon Kindle:

Kobo Reader:

Apple iBooks (Search for the title within the app)

I would especially like to ask for your help spreading word about this book. Would you consider

·         Telling others about this book: Text, tweet, email, post on facebook, talk to people about it, include a notice in a bulletin or newsletter. Anything you can do to let people know I would greatly appreciate.

·         Even more important, go on Amazon, Kobo or wherever you have or are willing to make an account and rate and reviewthe book. I only ask for honest reviews, of course! A review or two makes a big difference when people are considering buying a book. In fact, if anyone is willing to promise me that they will write a review, let me know and I will send you a coupon code to obtain the book for free from the publisher. I’m that sure that you’ll like it.

Thanks for your support
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Coming soon to an eBook vendor near you.

Posted by on Monday, September 23rd, 2013 in Minister

For the past decade or so, I have been writing a book in my spare time. The book sprang out of my general dissatisfaction with the traditional ways of telling and dramatizing the story of the birth of Jesus. In many ways, I find that the ways that we think of the story really do not honour the intentions of the original gospel writers - especially the writer of the Gospel of Luke.

I feel that we miss so much of what Luke was trying to communicate about Jesus because:

  1. We have insisted on harmonizing the two accounts of the birth that we have (Matthew 1 and Luke 2) in a way that strips both of them of their unique perspectives on the meaning of the birth of Christ.
  2. We have not struggled in constructive ways with some of the problematic elements in Luke's story like
    1. The description of the census (which does not fit with what we know about Roman policy and practice).
    2. The reasons for the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem which are not sufficiently explained.
    3. The historical and political situation that Luke describes at the time of the birth that is obviously very meaningful to him but that we have neglected because it is inconvenient to us.
  3. We have not taken into account Luke's use of Old Testament ideas and imagery in his Nativity Story.
So I have been working on these and similar thoughts for quite some time. This has led me to some very interesting places and, indeed, a way of reading and understanding Luke's story that I think is refreshing and revolutionary.

Writing this book has made me love Luke's nativity story - a true story - all the more and I have decided that it is time to share what I have learned with a larger audience. For this reason, I am publishing my book with the title, "Caesar's Census, God's Jubilee."

It will be published as a ebook only. (Sorry to all of you know do not own a reading device but physical book publishing is a whole other matter, I'm afraid). Soon, if all goes well, it will be available at online ebook retailers everywhere (including Amazon, Kobo, iBooks etc.) When that happens, I'll certainly be announcing it here and everywhere I can!

It is a scary thing to do but I am glad to be finally sharing this book that God gave to me.
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I will bless her…

Posted by on Monday, May 27th, 2013 in Minister

Genesis 17:15 - 16 (NRSV) 15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 

This morning I did a Lectio Divina (a meditative reading) on the above passage. When you read in a meditative fashion, God will often make certain words or phrases jump out at you because there is a personal message that you need to hear.

Today the word that jumped out at me was bless. I wondered if God might be seeking to bless me in some particular way -- if God knows that i need a blessing.

Of course, the particular blessing that God wanted to give to Sarah was a son -- and with the son a new identity as signified by the name change. I don't think God wants to give me that particular blessing (though the invitation to embrace a new identity in Christ is always something that God is working on for us).

But my thoughts particularly focussed on why God wanted to bless Sarah -- it was so that she might "give rise to nations and kings." The blessing was not merely an end in itself but a way to spread God's blessing out into the wider world.

Why does God want to bless me? Not merely because I need it (though I do). God wants to bless me so that others (kings, princesses (Sarai means princess), leaders etc.) may arise and do good in this world.

I had a brief vision of the congregation as a vast pool of potential. There are people within the congregation who have incredible skills and abilities, who are natural leaders and who have much to share. God may want to bless me but I suspect that it is because God wants to use me to inspire others, enable others, sometimes to get out of the way of others and let them lead or act or participate in such a way as to bring greater blessing on our community and beyond that to the world.
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Which of the two did the will of his Father?

Posted by on Monday, April 29th, 2013 in Minister

.... based on a recent email discussion with some colleagues.

An interpretation of Matthew 21:28 - 32

Two sons went to a Sunday worship service where their father, a minister, was preaching. The sermon that day was on the topic of the good news about Jesus Christ and how we ought to be willing to share that good news whenever an appropriate opportunity arises.

The first son came into the service and sat quietly and respectfully while he listened to every word. Afterwards he never mentioned where he had been that morning or what had been said.

The second son arrived at the service just after it began. As soon as he arrived, he took out his phone and checked in on foursquare (earning a few dirty looks from the people around him). A little bit later in the service, he took a picture of the worship band and tweeted it to his followers. During the sermon, he posted something his father said as his status on Facebook.

Which of the two do you suppose respected the words of his Father?
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An Escapegoat Ritual

Posted by on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 in Minister

Recently I had a very interesting experience - something that had never happened before in my ministry. I had preached a sermon on the topic of the Day of Atonement in Ancient Israel which is described in Leviticus 16. If you want a reminder of the basic outline of the day, you can watch this St. Andrew's Stars version of the story:

The Day of Atonement

In my sermon I put particular emphasis on the Escapegoat portion of the ritual.

(I chose to use the word "Escapegoat" because the word "scapegoat" has taken on a very particular meaning in English. The word was invented by William Tyndale when he made the first translation of the Old Testament into English from the original Hebrew. He meant it to mean "the goat that escaped" but he simply dropped the initial "e" due to the very fluid spelling of the time.)

My suggestion was that the escapegoat ritual provided a means for the people to release some of the negative energy that builds up when people live alongside one another in community. When we live, work and dream side by side, there are always going to be things that happen that hurt or wound or divide. People say things that hurt someone's feelings, people disagree in non-constructive ways, people are unthinking or unfeeling in their dealings with each other.

I think that the escapegoat ritual provided a way to take all of that negative energy that builds up over time and release it - let it go so that people could just start all over again. I think that we all need things like that from time to time.

I liked my sermon. I certainly felt that it helped me to see the passage in a new light and I hoped that it helped some others too.

Shortly afterwards I was leading a group meeting. And I knew that there had been over time some negative energy built up in the group. I won't give any details about it, of course, but it wasn't really anything unusual. It was just the ordinary kinds of feelings that can develop at times when people disagree or sometimes make mistakes in relating to others.

As I prepared for the meeting, I decided to do something that I had never done before. I decided to apply what I had preached directly to a situation.

(Yes, I know that doesn't sound too good. Surely, if I am expecting other people to apply what I preach to their lives, I ought to be doing that regularly too. Why don't I do it all the time! Well, at least I think I'm starting to learn.)

Anyways, I brought out the sheep that we had used to film our Star's video and we passed it around the group and gave everyone the chance to speak what was on their hearts. It was a very good and very meaningful exercise and it did open the door to some healing. The redemptive power of the escapegoat ritual was demonstrated for me and I felt truly blessed to be part of the group. Clearly I need to listen to what I preach more often!

And, yes, I did offer people to dropkick the sheep afterwards but nobody took me up on it!

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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

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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