Category: Minister

Minister’s blog

Christian Reflections on Prostitution

Posted by on Tuesday, June 10th, 2014 in Minister

Lately I have been doing a lot of reflection on the genealogy of Jesus that is offered in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. (This is part preparation for a series of sermons in November and part preparation for a book I hope to write about Matthew's nativity story.)

It has long been noted that, in this genealogy, Matthew names four woman apart from Mary, the mother of Jesus. These women are: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. (Bathsheba is not actually named but referred to as "the wife of Uriah.) People have long puzzled over the naming of these women as, in ancient Mediterranean society, women were considered to be utterly unimportant in all kinds of ways and so were never mentioned in genealogies. I don't know why Matthew felt he needed to name them but I suspect that it may have something to do with the social scandals that surrounded each of these women in the Old Testament traditions.

These days, I am particularly noticing the fact that the Bible identifies half of these women, Tamar and Rahab, as prostitutes.

Prostitution is on my mind because of a new law being proposed. In 2012, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down the existing laws on prostitution, not because it felt (or because Canadians felt) that prostitution was fine and dandy but because the existing laws infringed the rights of those working in the sex trade to security of the person.

The government has now proposed a new law to replace the law that was struck down. Basically, the new law makes it legal to sell sex but illegal to buy it. In addition it makes it illegal to advertise sexual services or to solicit in any place where a person under 18 years old might be present. Given that we have a majority government, the new legislation is expected to pass.

The new law doesn't really address the concerns of the Ontario Court of Appeal in that it does nothing to enhance the security of those in the sex trade (and may make them less secure) so I do expect that the new law will eventually be challenged and struck down by another court and we'll be back at the beginning again. But that is a legal matter (and I have no expertise in such an area) and others would be in a better place to comment on that than I.

My concern is how do we approach such an issue as Christians. I cannot condone the sale and purchase of sex. I know that it happens in this world but I do not see it as conforming to God's intentions for how we ought to relate to one another with honour and respect. But I am concerned about these new proposed laws. Because prostitution will not just go away no matter what laws are passed, the effect of this law will be to push the trade into marginalized areas and prevent prostitutes from screening their clients in any meaningful way. This is what happened in Vancouver around the turn of the millennium which made the city a prime hunting ground for a serial killer named Robert Picton who boasted of killing 49 women, most of them prostitutes.I cannot celebrate a law that would make things easier for the likes of Robert Picton.

That brings me back to the prostitutes in Matthew's genealogy. I do not think that, by naming them, Matthew is celebrating their profession. But he certainly doesn't seem to be condemning them as people either. Little is said about Rahab's practice of prostitution in the Bible but the New Testament only has good things to say about her:
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace. (Hebrews 13:31)
 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?  (James 2:25)

Tamar's story is far more interesting (Genesis 38). Basically, Tamar resorts to prostitution out of desperation. Widowed twice (having married Er and his brother Onan who have both died) she is in dire straits because she has no husband and no sons. A woman in that culture was not permitted to earn a living and had to depend on a male to support her. According to custom, her father-in-law, Judah, should give her another son to marry but he is superstitious. He has already lost two sons that have married her and he doesn't want to lose another. He refuses leaving Tamar with no other options. Tamar becomes a prostitute - but a prostitute with a plan. She disguises herself and solicits her father-in-law Judah who goes into her tent. Tamar conceives and becomes visibly pregnant. When the pregnancy becomes public, Tamar, is brought before her father-in-law to be judged for immorality. (He seems to be the only male in her life and so has to right to judge her according to the rules of that society. He intends to sentence her to be burned to death.) But when she is accused, Tamar produces the proof that Judah is the father. He acknowledges what he had done and acknowledges her children (she has twins) as his own. One of her children, Perez, becomes the ancestor of King David and of Jesus.

It seems to me that Matthew names Tamar as an ancestor of Jesus because she sees her actions as heroic. In her day, the line of Judah - the line that would lead to Jesus - was in danger of failing because of a lack of male heirs. And Tamar, through persistence, wit, creativity and, yes, prostitution, saved it when Judah failed to do so. Judah admits as much in Genesis 38:26. She really had no choice but to resort to prostitution (it was likely that or starve to death) but she chose to do it in the most heroic way possible - in the way that maintained the line of descent for the messiah and that is what Matthew celebrates by naming her.

That is why I think that the Bible teaches us to respect prostitutes as persons. We are certainly taught not to use their services (1 Corinthians 6:12-20) but are to treat them as persons who are trying to do their best under their circumstances. We may not like what they do but they have the right (as the court has said) to do it in as much personal safety and security as possible.

Jesus was famous (or the better word is probably infamous) for being a friend to those who lived on the outskirts of society. Among his friends he almost certainly counted prostitutes. Did he counsel them to get out of the profession and to seek other means of living. Yes, I believe that he did. Even more important (and more effective) he actually gave them the opportunity to do so by creating a community - the disciple community - that made it possible for them to survive without having to earn their living by prostitution. But there is no evidence that he sought to marginalize them any further from society - quite the contrary, he welcomed them when no one else would.

As to those who liked to get moralistic about prostitutes, Jesus has only this to say on the subject:
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:31,32)
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Lectio Devina – A Brief Guide and Some Resources

Posted by on Sunday, May 4th, 2014 in Minister

Today, at St. Andrew's Hespeler, I did not really preach a sermon. Instead I introduced a method that people can use to read the scriptures for themselves and to discover God in their reading. This method of Christian reflection is called Lectio Divina. Here is an excerpt from my message:

So what I'd like to do today is give you a simple and straightforward way to approach the Biblical text all on your own. The method is called Lectio Divina. It was developed mostly in the Middle Ages by St. Benedict but, in some ways, it is as ancient as Scripture itself – it is the kind of approach to the Bible that is spoken of in that passage in Joshua and in the part of Psalm 119 we read this morning. It is so old that the method itself and the steps in the method are still referred to in the Latin language.
The first step in Lectio Divina, is called the lectio -- which is Latin for reading. During this time you simply read a given passage. But the reading may be a little bit different from your usual reading practice. It's not like reading a newspaper or a novel. You read a short passage slowly and read it over several times. And you pay special attention to the things that jump out at you as you read it. Often there is a word or a phrase that just seems to be louder or more insistent as you read. Don't worry, for the moment, about why those things grab your attention. Just take note of them and write them down.
The next step is called meditatioor meditation. This is when you start to look closer at the things that stood out for you in the passage. Ask yourself questions like, "Why did that jump out to me? Is there something going on in my life or something that happened to me recently that that word or phrase might be speaking to?" Think about these things and, once again, write down your reflections. This is also the time to make use of other resources, if you have them, to better understand some of the things about the passage that might puzzle you. The meditatio might lead you in many directions.
The next part of the Lectio Divina is the oratio – which is Latin for prayer. But think of it as prayer in the simplest sense. It is just talking back to God – reflecting back the things that you have seen in the passage, that have caught your attention and maybe focussed your attention on what's going on in your life. It's kind of like what happens sometimes when you talk with your really good friend. You can share with them what you're going through, just talk it out with them and they don't even have to say very much, but you come away from that talk with a better understanding of what your problems really are. That's the kind of talking to God that you do.
After the oratio comes the contemplatio or contemplation. This ends the entire exercise by taking some time to simply sit in silence – to turn off your mind as much as possible and wait expectantly to meet with God. Various spiritual exercises like the centring prayer that we will discuss in a few weeks can be used to open the mind to hear what God might have to say.
I promised that I would post for the congregation some tools and links that they can use to continue their own personal experiment in Lectio Divina.

This link, Lectio Divina: Divine Reading, offers another description of the method and usefulness of the Lectio Divina.

This link, Lectio Divina Guides, will take you to a page that includes scores of links to documents in pdf format. Each document is a printable page including a Bible text that well suited lectio divina as well as some instructions and prayers that you can use. If you you work your way through all of these guides, you will quickly become very proficient at Lectio Divina.

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After the election

Posted by on Monday, April 28th, 2014 in Minister

This morning I spent way more time than I ever expected transcribing the results of the election of deacons and elders held yesterday. I will soon begin the long and somewhat complicated process of contacting those who were elected by their peers in the church.

(The process gets complicated precisely because we are electing both deacons and elders at the same time. This means that some people may be nominated for both positions at the same time and (depending on whether all the positions have been filled yet) they may be able to have a choice whether they prefer to serve in one place or the other. So if, say, someone were to come off at the top of voting for elder and just a little lower on deacons, i might have to wait to see if there is still a need for deacons when i get to them on the list before I want to call them to ask them to serve as an elder because I want to be able to give them the choice between deacon and elder if they want. Never mind, it is actually too complicated to explain!)

Anyways, I just wanted to say, before I began contacting anyone, how much I do appreciate this process. I am amazed once again by the wisdom that has been shown by the people of the congregation and by the respect in which they hold  their brothers and sisters in Christ. The best part of this is that I get to call up people in the congregation and tell them that they are loved and respected and that people have great confidence in their wisdom and ability to care for others. I wish I could tell everyone who's name figures on the lists that because it really is amazing to see. Unfortunately not all will have to be contacted so I wanted to send out a general message now to everyone.

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Report on my “Pastors of Excellence” experience

Posted by on Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 in Minister

I recently filed a report on my continuing education adventures with my Presbytery. I though I would share that report here as well for those who are interested.

Report on Continuing Education to the Presbytery of Waterloo-Wellington

From W. Scott McAndless

Pastors of Excellence

From January 2013 to January 2014 I had the privilege of participating in the Pastors of Excellence program which is offered by the Ashland Theological Seminary which is based in Ashland, Ohio, USA.
The program included four three-day retreats in January, May and September 2013 and in January of 2014. The program was very formative for me and helped me to develop in my leadership and personal walk in a number of ways – too many to describe in a short report – but I would like to share some of the key parts with the Presbytery.

Self Knowledge

The first retreat was preceded by a battery of tests that were given to all participants. These tests (which are very expensive to obtain on their own) were designed to help us to evaluate our own leadership styles, how we dealt with stress in our lives and ministries, and to identify areas of our life that may be of concern. These results were processed with mentors and in a group environment in a way that established an excellent starting point for the work that we wanted and needed to do.

Group Work

Everything that we learned about ourselves and our tasks throughout the program was processed in a small group led by very competent mentor/leader. We learned that the greatest lack that many clergy face in their lives in ministry is that they do not have a group of peers that they can openly and honestly share their struggles with. This group became a very important influence and encouragement in my life and ministry  and will likely continue to be a nourishing part of my life into the future. The personal development in a group situation alone was worth the time and the trouble (and money) to participate in the program and I will value it for a very long time. One of the things that we learned in the program was that , in order to truly believe some of the things that God says about us, we often need to experience that truth within a loving and mutually supportive group environment.

The Healing Journey

A major focus of Pastors of Excellence is on the healing  journey that  all spiritual leaders are on. We have all been wounded in our lives and we all have ways in which those wound affect our lives and ministries in very detrimental ways. At our second and third retreat we took part in some very meaningful exercises that opened us up so that the Holy Spirit might  speak to us about the wounds that we carried and how they are affecting our lives

Revealing Lies

Because we have all been wounded, we have also all come to believe many lies about ourselves, our God and our world. For example, though we may preach and proclaim often that we are loved by God, deep inside we may still believe that we are unlovable because of the wounds that we carry. At our third retreat, in particular, some wonderful exercises and information helped us to identify some of the lies that we secretly believe and to begin to learn some ways to counter those lies and appropriate deeper truths.

Spiritual Practices

Also integral to the work of Pastors of Excellence was learning (or relearning) a number of spiritual practices that will continue to assist me in my spiritual life. We renewed our understanding of such practices as Lectio Divina, other forms of contemplation, breath prayers and examen prayers. I expect to continue to use these practices to deepen my experience of God and walk with God.


I could say many other things about the Pastors of Excellence program. It was very worthwhile. I would not say that I agreed with everything that I was taught and I will no doubt be translating some of what I learned to make it more useful in my Presbyterian context, but I have definitely grown through the experience. I would definitely recommend the program to many of my colleagues.
The program and my group particularly helped to build me up in my confidence in leadership. One example of that is the following:
Over many years, before this program, I had been writing a book, believing that God had given me some very important ideas about Luke's nativity story that needed to be shared. But I had not had the confidence to truly put my book out to the world. It is no coincidence that I finally took the bold step of publishing my book, "Caesar's Census, God's Jubilee," during my year with Pastors of Excellence.  I would not claim that the program was the only thing that gave me confidence to do this, but it was definitely a part of the story.

Clergy and other church leaders may only participate in Pastors of Excellence by being nominated by a past participant. If anyone is particularly interested in participating in this program, I would be happy to speak with them and potentially to nominate them. Going forward, Ashland is planning to hold the program at one of its satellite sites in Detroit Michigan which may well make it easier for Canadian clergy to participate.
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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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