Exodus: Setting the Stage

Exodus: Setting the Stage

My fall preaching series will be a (very) quick trip through the Biblical story of the Exodus. The Book of Exodus has 40 chapters, but I’ll only be covering story up to chapter 20, and doing this in just six parts. That means my Sunday morning messages will only be able to touch on the major plot points and themes – it’ll be a major exercise in self-discipline on my part.

To help me keep my focus, and give some additional context to my messages, I’ll be regularly posting on Exodus here over the next two months. To get started, take a look at the excellent two part video summary of Exodus from The Bible Project.  While you’re at it take a look around their YouTube Channel. You’ll find some highly accessible, top-notch Biblical scholarship in every one of their videos.

Praying Like Jesus


The Lord’s Prayer is one of Jesus’ gifts to his disciples. But while it’s helpful to just pray the words he gave us, it’s also important to use them as a guide to teach us how to pray in general. Here is one way to use the Lord’s Prayer as a model for our prayers. It’s a great way to start praying on our own (many of us were never really taught how and it can be difficult to know where to start). It can also serve as a helpful way to organise our daily prayers or as a way of checking to see how much our prayers follow the model that Jesus has given.

Our Father in heaven,

Reflect on the fact that God loves us like a parent and wants to have a relationship with each one of us.

Hallowed be your name,

Take a moment to praise God. You may want to praise God for the created world, for God’s justice and mercy, for the gift of Jesus, or for God’s goodness in your own life.

Your kingdom come,

Pray for God to transform the world, to bring it more fully under his rule. You may want to pray for peace, for justice, for more compassion, for an end to poverty and sickness. You can pray for any global or local situation that you would like God to set right.

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

Pray for people to do God’s will. Start with yourself. Ask for God’s help to understand what he is calling you to do and for the help to do it.

Give us today our daily bread.

Take a moment to pray for your own needs, the needs of your family, friends, as well as those of our church.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

You may want to pray for general sins (ie. not loving God and our neighbours as much as we should) or you may want to offer up specific sins that are on your heart. Ask for God’s help to become more patient and forgiving towards others in general. Take a moment to consider if there is someone you need God’s help to forgive.

Save us from the time of trial

Pray about those things that worry you, things that make your life difficult, things that cause your pain or struggle, and things that test your ability to do the right thing.

And deliver us from evil.

Ask for God’s protection from the evil in the world.Pray that others would receive this same protection.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.


For a printable copy of this post click the link below. I have also included a simplified version that parents can use with their children.

Praying with the Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer for Children

Advent Study: Birth of the Messiah (Matthew 2)


This past week our study took us into Matthew 2 and most of the way through Luke 1. This post will cover Matthew, and I’ll have a separate one for Luke in a few days.

The Visit of the Magi – Matthew 2:1-12

While Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth is the less familiar of the two in the Gospels, we finally come to some familiar territory with the arrival of Magi or Wisemen from the East. That being said it’s worth pausing a moment to hear what the text actually says.

Notice that the Magi arrive not on Christmas Eve, but sometime afterward. Matthew doesn’t tell us precisely when, but we can assume it took them a while to travel from Persia to Jerusalem (in the traditional Church calendar the Magi turn up 12 days after Christmas on Epiphany). Also note that the Magi are not called kings, nor are we told how many came (it’s the gifts that came in three).

So, who are these foreigners who turn up to bow before the newborn King of the Jews? The Magi were priests of the Zoroastrian religion of Persia. By the time of Jesus this ancient religion was a blend of monotheism and dualism, with a supreme God called Ahura Mazda opposed by an evil deity called Angra Mainyu. Astrology was a major part of their religion, which is why we find them searching the sky for signs.

More generally, the Magi represent the non-Jewish nations of the world (Gentiles). In the last post I highlighted the fact that God’s purpose in calling Abraham and forming the nation of Israel from his family was to bless all nations.  A number of Israel’s prophets looked forward to the day when this would become a reality (for example, Psalm 72:10-11 and  Isaiah 60:1-6). The Magi arrive to show the fulfillment of this promise, and to foreshadow the day when Jesus will send his Jewish followers to spread the blessings of his Kingdom to all nations (Matthew 28).

Isaiah 60 also explains the two of the three gifts brought by the Magi: “They shall bring gold and frankincense.” The third gift, myrrh, is more mysterious. It doesn’t correspond to any prophecies. It has usually be interpreted as foreshadowing Jesus death, as myrrh was often used for embalming bodies for burial.

To Egypt and Back – Matthew 2:13-23

Though the Magi are not described as kings by Matthew, there are two other Kings in the story of Jesus’ birth. The first is Jesus himself. The Messiah is the long promised king of David’s line, the true King of Israel and King of all Nations. The other king is also easy to spot, King Herod. This is Herod the Great, who was the Roman sponsored king of Judea from 40BC to 4BC.  Jesus was born right at the end of Herod’s reign (which shows us that the monk who developed the Gregorian calendar made some errors when figuring out what year should be 1 AD).

Herod was an Idumean (Edomite descendant of the patriarch Jacob’s brother Esau) whose father was prime minister to the last Maccabean king of Judea. Herod became king in the chaotic period when Rome was completing its conquest of what is now Turkey and Syria. Herod won the support of the Roman Senate to become king and then kept that support when Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, came to power. The Romans allowed Herod to rule because he was ruthless in maintaining order in Judea and ensured a steady flow of taxes and tribute. On the other hand, much of the the Jewish population despised Herod for his cruelty and for the fact that he was a foreigner. To try to win the support of the kingdom he began a massive rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem that tripled the size of the Temple Mount to what it is now.

In his later years Herod became increasingly paranoid and executed hundreds of people, including many members of the royal family. The Jewish historian Joseph tells the story of how a dying Herod ordered that a large number of distinguished citizens would be rounded up and killed upon his death so that the event would an occasion of national mourning (fortunately his successor ignored the order). So, while there is no other account of the massacre of infant boys in the area around Bethlehem described in Matthew 2, it is in keeping with Herod’s character and actions.

However, Matthew’s main reason for including this story is to highlight two key themes in his Gospel. The first is to draw parallels between Moses and Jesus. By telling the story of Herod and Jesus’ flight into Egypt the way he does, Matthew is encouraging us to see Herod as Pharaoh and Jesus as the baby Moses. Jesus’ journey to Egypt and back also parallels the journey of the people of Israel into Egypt at the time of Joseph followed by the Exodus and return to the Promised land under Moses and Joshua.

The second theme is that of the two kingdoms. Matthew sees the universe as divided into two realms: the Kingdom of the World (in its present fallen state) ruled by the Satan, and the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God) ruled by Jesus Christ. These two kingdoms are at war, and Jesus as the world’s true king is in danger from the moment of his birth. The irony is that the victory of the Kingdom of Heaven will come through Jesus’ death on the cross – but that death must come at the right time and the right circumstances. So until then Jesus is kept safe.

Joseph and Our Role in God’s Purpose

Now all of this brings us back to Joseph and his role in Jesus’ birth. On the one hand the story Matthew tells assures us that God’s plan and purpose will succeed. Though Jesus is in danger from the moment of his conception (when Mary could have been stoned as an adulterer), God’s hand was at work to ensure his Son was born and would live to fulfill his destiny as Saviour of the world. There was no doubt as to the outcome.

On the other hand, God’s purpose depends on the actions of human beings. Most critically we see this in Mary who wholeheartedly accepts God’s choice of her to be the mother of the Messiah. But here in Matthew we also see the critical role played by Joseph. On three occasions an angel from God speaks to Joseph in a dream and in all three occasions Joseph responds with obedience. He accepts the news that Mary’s child is from the Holy Spirit and provides protection and legitimacy to Mary and Jesus. He takes the warning about Herod seriously and immediately takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt where they will be safe. Finally, he believes the news that it is safe for the family to return to Israel so that Jesus take take his rightful place among his people, and grow up in Galilee where he will carry out his mission.

All of these things depend on Joseph. And there we have the paradox. God’s good plan and purpose cannot be held back or defeated. God’s will shall be done. Yet, mysteriously God chooses to carry out his will through weak, fallible human beings who have the ability to reject God’s purpose for them. God is sovereign, yet all the same our choices matter. Question: Meditate on the role of Joseph in the story of Jesus’ birth. What might this say about your role in God’s good plan and purpose for the world, and for your community? What role might God calling you to take? What might God be calling on you to do that no one else can?

Advent Study: Birth of the Messiah (Matthew 1)


We begin our look at what the New Testament says about the birth and incarnation of Jesus with the ‘other’ Christmas story. I say other, because the birth story that is traditionally read on Christmas is the one found in the Gospel of Luke. The result is that when we think of Jesus’ birth, that’s the story we usually of – Gabriel’s message to Mary, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the inn and stable, the angels and shepherds. But though there are a number of essential points in common between the two Gospels (something we’ll look at in week 3), Matthew’s story, as told in the first two chapters of the Gospel, is quite distinct  from the one told in Luke.

Read Matthew 1:1-25. What parts of the familiar Christmas story are there? What is missing? Are there details that aren’t in Luke’s story?

A Brief Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew

  • Matthew was the favourite gospel of the early church who found it most useful for teaching new Christians. This is why it is placed first.
  • Matthew is a gospel written by a Jewish Christian to a Jewish audience.
    • Jesus is the Messiah, the long-promised King of from the house of David.
    • Matthew also presents Jesus as the promised Prophet like Moses to whom Israel must listen.
  • The Gospel was probably completed between 70 and 80AD by Jewish members of the Jerusalem Church who fled to Galilee or Syria after the destruction of the city and Temple by the Romans.
  • Matthew, together with Mark and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels (lit. to be read together) All three follow the same basic narrative, and include a large number of stories and teaching that are identical or quite similar.

The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 1:1-17)

If you’re like most people, the various genealogies and name lists in the Bible probably make your eyes glaze over. However, genealogies were very important to ancient cultures because they help tell the big story of a people. The genealogy that opens the Gospel of Matthew is no different. For the reader who knows the stories behind names listed, the genealogy shows who Jesus fits into the story of the people of Israel and God’s great plan of redemption that begins with the first person in the list: Abraham.

Read Genesis 12:1-9. This is one of the most important passages in the Old Testament. What does the call of Abraham (here called by his original name of Abram) say about God’s purpose of calling and creating a special people who would become known as Israel? (Hint: Focus on vs.1-3)

The other key name on the list is David. Like his ancestor Abraham, God made a special promise or contract with David called a covenant. This covenant expressed the role of the King for the people of Israel and how the King would help Israel fulfill its mission to be God’s chosen people.

Read Psalm 89:18-37 and Psalm 72. What do these Psalms say about God’s promise to David, and the special role Israel’s King was to play in the world?

Aside from these two big names, notice one other thing about Jesus’ family tree here in Matthew. Unlike most other genealogies from the ancient world it includes a number of women. Each of these women has her own story, and each story contains some unexpected turns and more than a little scandal.

Read the stories of Tamar (Genesis  38); Rahab (Joshua 6); Ruth (Book of Ruth); and Bathsheba (2 Samuel: 11&12). If you’re pressed for time just read Tamar’s story. What is Matthew doing by highlighting these stories of unorthodox women, and unusual circumstances around the bith of children? What might he be saying about Jesus’ birth?

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 1:18-25)

A moment ago I asked you to think about the distinctions between Matthew’s story and the one found in Luke. Now I’ll list the big ones that always stand out for me: The story is entirely from Joseph’s perspective (we hear nothing from Mary); there is no Roman census or journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem; there is no stable and no angels or shepherds. All we have is Joseph’s dream, his response, and a single sentence about Jesus’ birth. While there are the Magi or Wisemen (who are only in Matthew), they don’t appear until after Jesus is born in chapter 2.

Joseph and a Different Kind of Righteousness

Yet for all it’s brevity, there is a simple power to Matthew’s birth story. Joseph, though not Jesus’ biological father, plays an essential role in protecting Mary and Jesus and embodies the distinct kind of righteousness that Jesus will preach throughout his ministry: “Mary’s husband Joseph was a righteous man…” (Matthew 1:19)

Righteousness in the Biblical sense means being in right relationship with God and with other people. This means it covers what we would call justice. Among many of the religious leaders around the time of Jesus, the focus was on narrowly keeping the requirements of God’s Law as given to Moses and particularly on avoiding sin and impurity. Yet there was a broader definition that went back to the prophets of Israel: “For I desire mercy and love, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings;” (Hosea 6:6) “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Joseph embodies this merciful, loving form of justice in how he responds to the news of Mary’s unexpected pregnancy. By custom he could have had Mary stoned to death for adultery, or at least shamed in front of the whole village – instead he chooses mercy: “Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”

He goes further than this when he receives a dream assuring him that Mary has not committed adultery, but rather “the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20) Though this choice will bring him shame and likely cost him his reputation as a righteous man (by marrying a woman that many will believe cheated on him), he trusts God and does what is right in God’s eyes. In doing so he ensures Mary’s well-being, ensures Jesus has a human father, and  brings Jesus into the line of King David by claiming him as his own son.

Question: So often today the only kind of righteous we see is self-righteousness.What do you think about what I’ve just said about the righteousness of Joseph and the full meaning of righteousness in the Bible? Is this a kind of righteousness that is appealing to you, something to strive for?

The Name of Jesus

“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:22) Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yehoshua or Joshua, and means ‘the LORD saves.’ Jesus or Joshua was a popular name for Jewish boys, that looked back to the Joshua who succeeded Moses and led Israel into the promised land. With this in mind we see that Matthew is telling us that Jesus saves us from from more than just the particular sins of individuals. Saviour had the meaning of ‘Liberator’ at that time, and we should understand Jesus as the one who rescues people from the slavery of sin and brings them into the promised land of God’s Kingdom.

The Prophecy of Isaiah and the Virgin Birth

Matthew gives Jesus another important name that comes from the book of Isaiah. “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The original context of this prophecy was a King of Judah who was afraid that his nation would be wiped out by their neighbours. The child was a sign that God ‘was with with his people’ to rescue them. But in light of what Matthew has told us about Jesus’ unique conception (unlike any that appears elsewhere in the Bible) Emmanuel takes on a deeper meaning. Jesus is “God with us” in a way the first child covered by the prophecy was not, God truly present in a human being. Matthew doesn’t come out and say this directly, but it will become apparent with all that Jesus says, does and experiences in his life and ministry.

Two quick notes before we finish this chapter. Before the Gospel of Matthew, no one understood Isaiah 7:14 as being about the Messiah. While there are many passages in the Old Testament and especially in the book of Isaiah that were seen as pointing to the Messiah, this isn’t one of them. No one was expecting a virgin birth. This means Matthew didn’t make up the virgin birth to fit prophecy – he went looking for a prophecy that would explain and make sense of the virgin birth. He found it here in Isaiah 7:14.

The other thing to observe is the last two verses of the chapter: “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24-25) While the belief that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth developed quite early, it is not solidly based on Scripture. A plain reading of vs. 25 would suggest that Mary and Joseph had normal marital relations after Jesus’ birth, which would make Jesus the oldest in the family and his siblings (his brothers James, Joseph, Jude and Simon, and sisters who are not named) the children of Joseph and Mary. In other words, Jesus grew up in a normal Jewish family – likely one where only his mother and father knew the unusual circumstances of his conception.


Advent Study: Birth of the Messiah (Introduction)


For the season of Advent leading into Christmas, I am doing a short 4 week Bible study looking at the birth of Jesus in the New Testament. This study will start in the obvious places (the birth stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke) but go a bit deeper in looking at the big picture we get from the whole New Testament.

Here’s the plan for the next 4 weeks:

  • Week 1: Introduction & Matthew’s Story
  • Week 2: Luke’s Story
  • Week 3: One Messiah, Two Birth Stories
  • Week 4: John, Mark and Paul

While there are 4 weeks to the study happening at the church,  I’m going to break these weeks into several smaller blog posts.

Introductory Question: How important is Christmas and the Christmas story to your faith? Are the birth stories a central part of how you understand Jesus and the Gospel, or something you only think of around Christmas?

I ask this question for a couple of reasons. The first reason is fairly straightforward: The key story in all four of the Gospels is the Cross and Resurrection , while only 2 of the 4 Gospels include the birth story. The same goes for the rest of the New Testament. While the Incarnation (the Son of God being born as an ordinary human being) is necessary for the rest of the story of Jesus to make sense, the focus of the rest of the New Testament is Jesus’ teaching, his death, resurrection and coming again. The birth stories only make up a small part of the New Testament.

On the other hand the secular celebration of Christmas  is by far the biggest holiday of the year in North America. Even for dedicated Christians, it can be hard to separate the story of Jesus birth and it’s spiritual meaning from the bright lights of the ‘Holiday Season.’ I know that even as a minister, I find it a challenge to get into the Christmas story with the same depth I do with the story of Easter.

Yet for all this, the small place the birth stories fill in the New Testament and the huge space that secular Christmas fills in our culture, the details of Jesus’ birth are extremely important to our faith. The whole story of Jesus only makes sense when we start with his birth as God born among us as a fragile human child.

The most profound illustration of this comes from one of my favourite passages in the letters of Paul – Philippians 2:5-11. This text is both a hymn of praise and a statement of faith which Paul either composed for his churches, or received from one of the Apostles before him.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Taking a cue from the Paul, both of the central faith statements of the early church (The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed) take Jesus’ birth as an essential part of our faith. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper at St. Andrew’s we confess that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.”

So what I want to explore is what we learn about Jesus and the big message of the Gospel when we look at the stories of his birth, and the other parts of the New Testament that speak of him as the Son of God born as a human being. Or put another way, what does it mean for us to sing, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Next post, we’ll start to consider this by looking at the Gospel of Matthew.



Advent in 2 Minutes

Well, once again I had trouble getting a YouTube video to play this Sunday (the church laptop seems to me morally opposed to projecting them), so here it is for those who would like to see what I had intended to show.

As I began to say, this is the best short summary of the season of Advent that I have come across. It was put together by Busted Halo, an online ministry of the Catholic order of Paulist Fathers. While a lot of their materials are clearly Catholic in focus, they do have a number of resources like this one that are useful for all kinds of Christians.

Scot McKnight & The Jesus Creed


Last Sunday I started a short two part sermon series inspired by The Jesus Creed by New Testament professor Scot McKnight. McKnight is one of my favourite scholars these days, though I have to admit I’ve read more of his blog than his books (though I have read a couple and will be reading at least one more on my next study leave). Between his accessibly writing style and regular blogging, McKnight is someone who makes top level Biblical scholarship available to the average church member or faith seeker.

You can find his blog here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/ 

One thing you’ll notice is that he has regular contributions from a couple of his colleagues, and just as often uses his own posts to share material from other scholars, pastors and thinkers he encounters in his own work. I read his blog several times a week, and it’s one of my favourite sources for thoughts on both the Bible and what it means to follow Jesus in an authentic and relevant way today.

Here’s Scot McKnight’s bio from his blog:

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author or editor of more than fifty books, is the Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.  Dr. McKnight has given interviews on radios across the nation, has appeared on television, and is regularly speaks at local churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries in the USA and abroad. Dr. McKnight obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham (1986) and has been a professor for more than three decades.

Scot McKnight is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Society for New Testament Studies. He is the author of  the award-winning The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (Paraclete, 2004), which won the Christianity Todaybook of the year for Christian Living. His books include Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us (Paraclete, 2005), The Story of the Christ (Baker, 2006), Praying with the Church (Paraclete, 2006), The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus (Paraclete, 2007), A Community called Atonement(Abingdon, 2007). He broadened his Jesus Creed project in writing a daily devotional:40 Days Living the Jesus Creed (Paraclete, 2008). His studies in conversion were expanded with his newest book, Finding Faith, Losing Faith (Baylor, 2008), a book he co-authored with his former student Hauna Ondrey. Other books are The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Zondervan, 2008) and Fasting(Thomas Nelson, 2009), as well as A Fellowship of Differents (Zondervan, 2014) and Kingdom Conspiracy (Baker, 2015).

McKnight wrote a commentary on James (The Epistle of James, NICNT, Eerdmans, 2010), a book on discipleship (One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, 2010), and a Jesus Creed book for high school students (with Syler Thomas and Chris Folmsbee) calledThe Jesus Creed for Students (Paraclete, 2011). His research on gospel was published in the Fall of 2011 in a book called The King Jesus Gospel (Zondervan, 2011). Along with Joe Modica, McKnight co-edited Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not (with Joe Modica; IVP, 2013). Also he published an e-book affirming the importance of the doctrine of perseverance in a book called A Long Faithfulness: The Case for Christian Perseverance (Bondfire/Patheos Books, 2013). His most recent commentary is The Sermon on the Mount (Story of God Bible Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013). In the Fall of 2015 his book on heaven appeared: The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth about Life to Come (WaterBrook, 2015), and he has a book appearing in 2017 on angels (WaterBrook).

He co-wrote with his daughter a Jesus Creed book for children: Sharing God’s Love: The Jesus Creed for Children, with Laura Barringer McKnight (Paraclete, 2014).

McKnight’s current projects is a commentary on Colossians (Eerdmans) as well as a book on the Holy Spirit.

Other books include Who Do My Opponents Say I am? (co-edited with Joseph Modica), Jesus and His Death (Baylor, 2005), A Light among the Gentiles (Fortress, 1992), A New Vision for Israel (Eerdmans, 1999), Turning to Jesus (Westminster John Knox, 2002), Galatians (Zondervan, 1993) and 1 Peter (Zondervan, 1996),Interpreting the Synoptic Gospels (Baker, 1988), and he is a co-editor with J.B. Green and I.H. Marshall of the award-winning The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels(IVP, 1992) as well as the co-editor, with J.D.G. Dunn, of The Historical Jesus in Current Study (Eisenbraun’s, 2005). He regularly contributes chapter length studies to dictionaries, encyclopedias, books and articles for magazines and online webzines. McKnight’s books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Russian, and Portuguese.

Scot McKnight was also ordained by Bishop Todd Hunter to the Diaconate in Churches for the Sake of Others, a segment of Anglican Churches of North America. He and Kris are active in their church, Church of the Redeemer.

McKnight blogs at Jesus Creed.

Scot McKnight was elected into the Hall of Honor at Cornerstone University in honor of his basketball accomplishments during his college career. He and his wife, Kristen, live in Libertyville, Illinois. They enjoy traveling, long walks, gardening, and cooking. They have two adult children, Laura (married to Mark Barringer) and Lukas (married to Annika Nelson), and two grandchildren: Aksel and Finley.

Abundance: Stewards of God’s Creation


What is the purpose of the human race? For generations of Presbyterians the answer was spelled out in the first question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q: What is the chief end of man?

A: To Glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

Of course this leads to the next question: What does it mean to glorify God? A lot of things go into this, but part of the answer to this question has to do with the relationship of human beings to the rest of the world described in the opening verses of the book of Genesis.

Read Genesis 1:26-31. This passage speaks of human beings being given dominion over the earth and all that lives in it. Sadly this has regularly been misinterpreted to simply mean that we can do whatever we want to the world. But those who first read these verses in Genesis would have recognized it as a contract like that between a Great King ruling an empire and the lesser kings and rulers who were given responsibility over smaller territories. These lesser kings were given dominion over the land they ruled, but with the expectation that they would take care of the land and its people, and live according the laws of the Great King. Dominion comes with significant responsibility and accountability.

Read Genesis 2:4-16. Why does God create the first human being from the dust of the earth (Adam is the generic Hebrew word for human being, which literally means ‘made of earth’)? Because, “there was no one to till the ground.” Adam’s role and ours is to be a kind of gardener of creation, tending to it and keeping healthy.

Drawing from Biblical texts like these the contemporary Presbyterian confession of faith called Living Faith, describes the role of human beings this way:

2.4.1 Though life is a gift from God, human life depends upon the created world. Our care for the world must reflect God’s care. We are not owners, but stewards of God’s good earth. Concerned with the well-being of all of life we welcome the truths and insights of all human skill and science about the world and the universe.

2.4.2 Our stewardship calls us to explore ways of love and justice in respecting God’s creation and in seeking its responsible use for the common good.

Have you previously seen a connection between care for the environment and being a Christian? Is care for the earth a part of your faith or the faith of others that you know?

In earlier sessions I’ve reflected on how our relative wealth and standard of living affect how we relate to God and to each other (especially to those poorer than us here in Canada and around the world). I would also suggest that they effect our ability to live out our calling to be stewards of God’s Creation.

  • Climate change is an established scientific reality
  • Mass extinction of millions of species and the endangered status of others is a reality
  • The destruction of habitat around the world is a reality
  • The depletion of a variety of natural resource is a reality
  • This is directly linked to our present standard of living and way of life
  • If everyone in the world lived like Canadians we would need 3.8 earths to support that standard of living

The Bible often talks about how our sins affect the land beneath our feet and our relationship to it:

  • Read: Genesis 4:8-16 (the effect of Cain’s sin on the ground); Leviticus 18:24-30 (the land itself will remove Israel if they reject God’s purpose for them)
  • Remember Leviticus 25 (the land and its blessings are God’s, and we are just tenants)

How might we make environmental stewardship a more integral part of Christian faith in a way that reflects the teaching of the Bible?

Abundance: What About Money?

canadian money

For this session I want to start with a few questions to get us thinking about the way we view money:

  • How comfortable are you talking about money? How willing would you be to share the details of your annual income, or your total assets with friends, family, or your church family? Would you say that these are taboo subjects?
  • How comfortable are you with handling your money? Do you have and stick to a monthly or annual budget for your household? Do you understand how to best save, invest and spend your money?
  • Where did your beliefs about money come from? Who taught you to handle money? Are these things you have taught your own children?

Here’s one more question: what’s an easy way to see if what you believe matches what you actually do? Just look at what you spend your money on. While we don’t often think of them that way, our budgets are moral documents: they end up being statements of purpose and priorities. And if you have any doubt, just look at the role the annual Federal Budget plays for the Canadian Government. Our elected representatives will say many things about what their priorities are during elections and after, but we look to the budget to see what they will actually do.

So, what would your annual budget say about your priorities? How much would go to basics like housing, food, clothing, transportation (and are these basics truly basic, or do we choose more costly brands and items for our staples)? How much on entertainment, wants and conveniences? How much would go towards saving or perhaps servicing debts? How much would go towards helping others and supporting causes you believe in?

Now we can only do this task if we keep a budget and keep a record of how well we are sticking to it. And from personal experience I can say that it’s a tough thing to do when life gets busy. Because I do my taxes myself and because part of that for me as a minister is keeping track of my housing expenses I at least know that, as well as my charitable giving for the year. One goal I’ve set for when my family and I get settled here in Ancaster is for us to keep better track of expenses, both for practical reasons and to get a better sense of what our spending says about our priorities.

One approach to setting priorities in the Bible is the what the Old Testament calls the Tithe.

  • Read Deuteronomy 14:22-29 & 26:1-15

Some have suggested a smaller portion be set apart today in places like Canada because our taxes support the poor and social services – say 5%. It’s also worth noting that the New Testament never mentions a specific proportion to give (perhaps because the writers assume the tithe). At the same time the Apostle Paul speaks extensively about proportional giving in his second letter to the Corinthians, and that this proportional giving should be generous.

  • Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:6-15

One other thing the New Testament does is remind us is that we shouldn’t think 5 or 10% is an upper limit – a goal to reach and be proud of (if we set that as a goal). Jesus in his teaching celebrated those who gave incredible proportions of what they had and called on some to give away shocking amounts of their wealth.

  • Read Mark 12:41-44
  • Read Luke 19:1-10
  • Read Mark 10:17-31

In these stories we meet a poor woman who gave a small amount, but one that was a huge proportion of her total income; a rich man who learned justice and generosity in response to Jesus’ compassion; and a rich man who despaired when he heard what Jesus asked him to give away. Each gives a different window on what it means to give proportionally, and  reminder that this will mean different things to people in different circumstances.

But whatever we give it should be proportional and demonstrate our priorities: to care for our neighbours (especially those in need) and support the work of God’s Kingdom. We should also remember that generosity is something to work toward and grow with our faith. Jesus takes us as we are and by his grace moves us to where he calls us to be. This applies to every area of our lives, including our money, and we can give thanks that he is generous.



Abundance: Sabbath & Simplicity


We live in a world of dramatic contrasts. In 1993 Peter Menzel photographed 30 families from around the world together with their house and all their possessions. The photo above is one of two from the cover of the book he published, “Material World: A Global Family Portrait.” It is of a family from Bhutan. What you see is the extent of their worldly possessions. The contrasting photo on the cover is of the family from Texas found below. You can find the whole collection of photos here: http://menzelphoto.photoshelter.com/gallery-collection/Material-World-A-Global-Family-Portrait-by-Country/C0000d0DI3dBy4mQ


Images like this can help those of us in Canada and other developed Western nations gain some perspective on just how much stuff we have. Another good way to get this perspective is to move. My wife and I just sold our house this past Sunday, and to do so we did a radical de-cluttering of our house. In doing so we were taken aback at just how much stuff we had accumulated in just the six years since we moved into our modest three bedroom duplex from the one bedroom apartment we had lived in for the first three years of our marriage.

The reality is that as modern Western people we have more material wealth than any society in the history of the world. But we’re also working more to have it (it normally takes two incomes to support at middle class lifestyle today), and we constantly feel pressured for time, are burdened down with stress, and study after study shows having more is not making us happier.

We also have numerous warnings about the dangers associated with wealth from Jesus and the prophets of the Bible. In particular for those who try to follow Jesus, and devote themselves to God comes the warning of  Matthew 6:19-21 & 24

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…  24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.


One of the calls from God through the Scriptures is to reorient our lives from the constant pursuit of wealth and material things by setting apart a day to do no work, a day to rest and put our focus on God. The Scriptures call this Sabbath. God has given us the gift of Sabbath so that his people can both have the rest that they need to be healthy and space to keep God central in their lives

Read and reflect on these passages that deal with the Sabbath:

  • Genesis 2:2-3 (Consider how Genesis sees Sabbath as being built into the fabric of the universe)
  • Exodus 20:8-11 & Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (Reflect on the two different meanings given to the Sabbath in the two editions of the Ten Commandments)
  • Nehemiah 13:15-22 (Notice how keeping Sabbath has always been a challenge for God’s people)
  • Matthew 12:1-14 (At the same time, there is always the danger of making the Sabbath a legalistic demand, rather than a liberating gift. Consider how Jesus’ Sabbath teaching might invite us into a healthy practice of Sabbath)

Strict Sunday Sabbath keeping was long part of the Presbyterian tradition, both back in Scotland and here in Canada. William Caven, an early principle of Knox College, was known to walk miles to church on Sundays so that we wouldn’t be the cause of someone else working on the Sabbath. In the late 19th Century Canadian Presbyterians and other Christians concerned about the growing pressure (and desire) to work on the Sabbath formed the Lord’s Day Alliance. The Alliance together with Labour Unions successfully campaigned for laws that made Sunday a day of rest across Canada. In Ontario this Lord’s Day Act was struck down in 1985 and since then we have rapidly drifted into a 7-day a week way of life. Today few Presbyterians remember the central place that Sabbath keeping had in our practice of the Christian faith (a practice that admittedly was often dour and legalistic).

What might taking a full day of Sabbath look like for followers of Jesus today (keeping in mind both the Old Testament practice and Jesus’ teaching about a life-giving approach to Sabbath)? What sacrifices would we have to make? What benefit might we derive from listening to what God has spoken through the scriptures, and taking time to stop, rest and rejoice in his goodness? How would this set us apart from our neighbours?

Another key practice that has been taken up by Christians down the centuries is that that of Simplicity. This is inspired in part by Jesus radical call to the rich man in Mark 10:17-31 to sell all is possessions and the teaching he gave to his disciples after the man left grieving (yet notice that Jesus spoke these words out of love for this serious young man). Some Christians down the years have chosen to literally do what Jesus told the rich man, such as St. Anthony of Egypt the founder of Christian Monasticism, and St. Francis of Assisi.

But alongside this most extreme of callings, many more Christians have been inspired by the example of the first Christian Church found in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37.

44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:43–47)

What would it look like for as Christians to decide that we will own less than our neighbours? What would it look like for us to rely less on ourselves and more on our family of faith? What would it look like to trust in God’s provision more than the abundance of our material wealth?

Or if that is too abstract try this thought experiment: You are going to live in another country with a lower standard of living for the next year. Luckily you’ve been provided with a small house that has running water, electricity, two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. Even better it comes with some furnishings. A bed in each of the bedrooms, a small table with 4 chairs, a basic oven and refrigerator. Unfortunately you won’t have any money to buy anything else when you get there. Pick 5 items from your house that you cannot live without for the next year.