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Welcome our new minister Rev. Meg Patterson

Welcome Meg Patterson!

The congregation of St. Stephen’s is thrilled to welcome Rev. Meg Patterson as its Minister of Word and Sacrament!

Meg was ordained in October after completing her Master of Divinity degree at Knox College, University of Toronto. Meg has a life-long association with the Presbyterian Church but prior to her call to ministry she worked as a mechanical engineer while completing her theological studies part time.

Meg and her husband Ian have three wonderful children ages 9 and 6 (twins) and all are very excited at the prospect of a new adventure in Ottawa and with the family of St. Stephen’s.
Meg wrote in her profile submitted during the search process:

It is a joy for me to plan and lead worship! I gave my first sermon at the age of 14, and it has been something I have enjoyed since then. I like to experiment a bit with my preaching style, although it is always based on Scripture. Music has always been important to me, and I appreciate meaningful, theologically sound, sing-able praise songs that speak to the theme of the Scripture for the day.

I would love to minister within a community of people who are passionate for Christ and for God’s mission within that neighbourhood, as well as in the larger global context. I am looking for a community that sees the entire congregation as ministers of grace and love, where I am the pastor of ministers, equipping people to be Christ’s hands and feet in the community. I have young children, so I do hope to be in a community where they can thrive in a healthy, vibrant environment.

We believe God has answered her and our prayers!

 Sign language

June 2017

“when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses…”– Acts 1:8

Have you ever been in a place where you didn’t speak the language?  Maybe you managed by making hand gestures, or pointing. A kind of sign language.

Helen Keller grew up blind and deaf in the 1800s. For six years she lived in dark silence: self-absorbed, frustrated, undisciplined, and ferocious. She threw violent kicking tantrums. Locked her mother in a closet. Dumped her baby sister out of the cradle.

Then Annie Sullivan began to teach her sign language. She would place Helen’s hand on a thing and spell it. Weeks later, at the water pump, Helen suddenly connected the word spelled on her hand, and the water flowing over her fingers.

Words transformed Helen. Words gave her power to understand the world, to understand people, and to communicate her thoughts. What a gift! Every relationship is based on communication. Even our relationship with God. It begins as God speaks to us.

When we try to live without God, we are a bit like Helen Keller before she discovered language. Without God’s light bringing us hope; without God’s voice speaking love, truth, forgiveness, and purpose, the darkness can make us frustrated, selfish, hurtful.

But Jesus pierced the darkness with God’s light and God’s speech. In Jesus, God’s Word arrived in person. Jesus communicates God’s love for us and for the world. Sets us free from the prison of living for ourselves. Invites us into life with him & with each other.

And when he returned to his Father, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live in us: our companion, guide, and teacher. In Jesus, God moved into the neighbourhood. Now, by the Holy Spirit, God moves into our very lives. 

The Holy Spirit is not just an optional extra. He comes on every person who trusts in Jesus as Lord. When you welcome Jesus, the Holy Spirit gets to work. He guides us into truth. He speaks God’s truth to our hearts, and gives us the ability to speak truth. “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus says.

The Spirit transforms us, the way language transformed Helen Keller. He grows our love, and joy. Peace and patience. Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness… even self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Spirit changes the way we see our neighbours. He ignites love in us. And he gives us a voice. New ways to share the good news of Jesus. You could call it sign language: signs of God’s love.

The Spirit makes us bold to speak where we once lacked courage. He gives us words, where we once had no clue what to say. He creates opportunities to show someone God’s compassion in practical ways.

Sign language allowed Helen Keller to speak, and others to speak to her. The Holy Spirit comes like a joyful new language. He helps us communicate with God and receive God’s love. He helps us converse with folks who live in the dark, bringing them clues of God’s love.

Denise

‘Do you love me?’

May 2017

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said. “You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 
– John 21:15

Simon Peter swore he would lay down his life for Jesus. But then, Peter swore that he didn’t know Jesus. Three times. Now, Jesus is alive again! Peter longs to set things right. To learn whether Jesus still loves him.

Does he? Does he love us? Knowing who we are inside? Knowing our bluster and our weakness? If Jesus is really risen from the dead, does he love you?

But Jesus turns that question on its head. He asks Peter: “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord.” “Well then, feed my lambs.” As though he hadn’t heard, Jesus asks, “Do you truly love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replies. Three times.

What we love matters. Love is at the centre of who Jesus is, and what he came to do. Love is at the heart of why Jesus died. Love is at the core of what Jesus is doing. Today. Here.

Yes! Jesus loves you! He died for you. He rose for you. And he asks us, “Do you love me?” It’s a strange concept—to love one we can’t see or touch. But it’s what God has longed for since the start. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Teresa of Avila said: “God, I don’t love you. I don’t even want to love you. But I want to want to love you.” God can work with that. Because it’s always God who loves first. We only begin to love God as we discover God’s unfailing, limitless love for us.

Do you love me more than these? Jesus asks. Whatever ‘these’ are: Job. Friends. Independence. Grades on our transcript. The amount of our paycheque. Our health. Do you love me more?

Jesus asks Peter the love-question as a sign of forgiveness. And an invitation to get in on what Jesus is doing.

Imagine this: One evening a mom entrusts her teenaged daughter with the car to get groceries. Instead, the daughter picks up friends and goes for a joy ride. She takes a corner too fast, and ends up in the ditch. The car’s front end looks like an accordion.

The next time the mom puts her daughter to work with car keys and a grocery list, that work will mean the daughter is forgiven, and the mom is ready to trust her.

Because Jesus has forgiven Peter, Jesus gives Peter work to do. Because he has forgiven us, he gives us work to do, too. And what we need in this job is love for Jesus.

But like Teresa of Avila, it’s often true that we really don’t love Jesus. Well… even our love for Jesus is not something we produce on our own!

He pours his love into us without condition. His love changes us. The more we embrace his love; the more we welcome him and trust the risen Lord, the more we’ll learn to love him. And the more we love Jesus, the more we’ll open our hearts to receive his gifts for the work he gives us.

As we depend on Jesus, he helps us do for others what he has done for us. Jesus is alive! He loves you. How will he put you to work?

Denise

Where?

April 2017 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?…

He has not disdained the suffering of the afflicted one… but has listened to his cry for help. – Psalm 22:1, 24

At supper, they are all there. Perplexed, but confident. Sure of themselves, celebrating Passover. Yet Jesus is solemn. He serves the bread and wine of God’s promises, and says: “these are my body and blood, to nourish you.”

In Gethsemane, Jesus is overwhelmed with grief. They’ve never seen him like this. “Stay here with me?” he asks. But they sleep. “If possible, take this cup from me,” Jesus pleads with his loving Father. Not the cup he has shared with friends, this cup is God’s judgment on Unlove. Untruth. Greed. Arrogance. Violence. Jealousy. “Not what I want; what do you want?” prays Jesus.

Three times Jesus returns to draw strength from his sleeping friends. At his arrest his friends run for it. Leave. Get lost. Except Peter. He sneaks into the place where Jesus is questioned, accused, spit upon. Where is Peter? There in the courtyard, swearing: “I don’t know the man!”

When nails are driven into his hands, Jesus’ friends have fled. Scattered. Those he has taught and healed are sheep without a shepherd. And Jesus is forsaken. Alone.

Isaiah said he would be: God’s beloved Son would carry our pains: “all the things wrong with us. … It was our sins that …ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed.” (Isaiah 53:5-6, The Message).

As Jesus identifies totally with our sin—yours and mine—he is cut off from God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Where are you? Since he was a child, Jesus has revelled in God’s love. Now, at the moment when he fully embodies God’s love, Jesus finds himself God-forsaken. Lonely to the core.

Here’s the strange truth: in Jesus, God himself has waded into our loneliest moments. Our darkness. In our sorrow, our failure, our fear, our suffering, where was God? He was there. Jesus is Emmanuel, “God-with-us.” On the cross. He does not deny his faithless friends. In effect, he says: “I know them. I love them. I am here. For them.”

Jesus is there. Lifting our burden. Going the distance. By his wounds we are healed.

“My God, why have you forsaken me?” begins Psalm 22. It paints Jesus’ death in stunning detail. And then it envisions an unfathomable turn-about. A rescue to set the world rejoicing.

In his song, You were on the cross, Matt Maher writes:

And where were You when all that I’ve hoped for, …when all that I’ve dreamed
Came crashing down in shambles around me?
You were on the cross, my God, my God, alone
You died for us, alone, alone.
You were on the cross, victorious, all along, all along
You were there in all of my suffering
And You were there in my doubt and in fear
I’m waiting on the dawn to reappear.

Denise

What fuels our work?

March 2017

Through him we received grace… to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith – Romans 1:5

I know a guy who stopped to help someone with car trouble. The car wouldn’t start. Was the battery dead? No, the headlights worked fine. They opened the hood, but couldn’t see a problem. Just when they were going to call a tow truck, someone asked, “Have you checked the fuel?” My friend jogged to a gas station, filled up a small gas can, and took it back to the car.

When they poured gas in the tank, the engine started like a charm. It had simply run out of gas. In our life with God, and our life with each other, we can run out of gas.

L. Moody, the American evangelist, was once asked “Have you been filled with the Holy Spirit?” “Yes,” he said, “but I leak!” We all leak. So we constantly need filling up.

What fuels your work? What gets you up in the morning, and keeps you going? The Apostle Paul invites us into the obedience that comes from faith. He calls us into work that is fuelled by faith.

How is that different from obedience fuelled by fear? When we’re fuelled by fear, we obey whatever power holds sway over us: fear of failing, of being hurt; fear of letting others down, of the unknown, or of a bully—fears motivate us to act in certain ways. Obedience that comes from fear leaves us tense. It’s a deer-in-the-headlights mindset.

Some obedience stems from pride. We obey our own egos. We work like crazy to build a reputation, or because we’re sure that no one else will do it right. There are other motivators. But God invites us into obedience that comes from faith.

God calls us to work out of trust in his goodness, faithfulness, and love. Faith-obedience grows out of a relationship with God: knowing God enough that we really trust him. Knowing God enough that we discern what he’s calling us to do, and not do.

If we drive a car, we develop the habit of refilling our car gas tank before it runs dry. When we follow Jesus, there are life habits to help us receive the fuel that the Holy Spirit wants to give.

As we head into Lent this month, I invite you to cultivate three habits:

  • Weekly Sabbath: Rest reminds us that we’re not indispensible. The world will keep turning, without our input.
  • Daily prayer: Contemplating God’s goodness. Seeking God’s help for our people.  Inviting God to search our hearts and lead us.
  • Reading the Bible: not just information, but for life-fuel.

These spiritual habits are not a Christian self-improvement plan. They position us to receive God’s gift. They make room for the Holy Spirit to work. They are like the gas-can holding the fuel to fill us up.

Great habits often start out small. Baby steps. The habit of prayer. The habit of Sabbath rest. The habit of reading God’s Word. Some habits make us miserable. But the habits of the Holy Spirit re-fuel us, and bring us life.

Denise

Choosing love

February 2017                           

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness
& self-control. 
– Galatians 2:22-23

Love tops the list. It’s the first evidence that we’re under new management, that Christ is alive in us. Love grows in us because God is love.

Kate McCord relates her experiences living and working for five years in Afghanistan:

In Islam, there are 99 names for God, but none is ‘love.’ In Afghanistan, no one tells people that God loves them. They tell each other God is kind, all powerful, and omniscient. God commands and people must obey. God will reward or punish depending on how people obey. (In the Land of Blue Burqas, p. 105)

For the Afghans she met, the idea that God is love was absurd. They feared God’s judgement. Whatever happened, they accepted as God’s will. So, they became resigned to violence, loss, and acute suffering. But the violence and suffering that pervades the world does not reflect God’s will. They flow from our human inclination to resist God’s will with all we’ve got.

Our shared human rebellion, says the Apostle Paul, produces hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, envy, drunkenness, sexual immorality, idolatry… the list goes on. The human heart beats with a love of power: a desire to get the better of someone else. A desire to take more for ourselves. We see it in school yards. In workplaces. In business. In election campaigns.

Songwriter Carolyn Arends says:

So many living for the love of power,  Wanting more until their final hour
The day has come for us to be part of,  The ones who find a ruler in the power of love.[1]

When we’ve grown up hearing that God loves us we may take it for granted. But listen again. Hear the great good news: God · loves · you. God loves us. God loves our neighbours.

He invites us to revel in his love for us and for others. To live it. To be ruled by the power of love. This is not mushy or romantic. It isn’t even a feeling. This love is a choice. A decision. A choice to bless instead of curse. A choice to give instead of grab.

This is difficult. It’s not what people expect. For too long we’ve practised the love of power. But the Holy Spirit enables us to practise the power of love.

Of course, once we discover that God loves us, it dawns on us that God loves other people too. Even people we don’t like much. Just for fun, think of someone in your office, or classroom, or extended family. A neighbour or customer. Someone who’s a challenge to love.

What might help them know that they matter to God? What if, this month, we began to pray for someone who only God knows how to love? Let’s dare to choose love. To live love, in Jesus’ name.

Denise

[1] From “The Power of Love,” by Carolyn Arends, on the album Love Was Here First,  http://carolynarends.com/site/discography/10

The wise quest

January 2017                   

Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?
We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. 
– Matthew 2:2

How long did they journey? What did they hear? What smells escorted them? Let’s open a topographical map of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Israel. Imagine travelling with them.

Western Iran’s mountains rival the peaks of Alberta’s Rockies. From such heights, the adventurers voyage down into lush valleys of the mighty Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Fording each in turn, they trek the valley’s length and climb the long desert shoulder, roughly 100 kilometres, through Syria or Jordan. Finally they cross the Jordan River into Israel.

They risk all this on the strength of a rumour and a hope. Following the Light.

Sounds foolhardy, if you ask me.

The same rumour motivates King Herod to a different kind of quest: A light brighter than his own? Will he lose control? Give up power? Forfeit the comfort he has carefully amassed for years? Not on your life. Disturbed and hostile, Herod seeks to extinguish the Light.

He’s clearly the villain in this story. But, give the guy a break. Do I want God to rearrange my circumstances? Overturn all that I’ve established?

And what about the Scribes? Like the Persian astronomers they’ve spent decades learning. They have illumined minds, but they’re content to philosophise. Offer opinions. Argue theories. What they know doesn’t move them to worship.

Who can blame them? When we’ve grown up with the stories, it’s easy to keep our distance. To enjoy the ideas, without getting enmeshed in what God is doing.

The Magi have a rumour: a glimmer of light. They don’t know what God might be up to. But their hearts are full of courage and hope and longing. They jump in with both feet. Foolhardy?

Here’s the thing: before the Magi set out on their quest; before they throw everything on the line in search of the King, God sets out on a quest of his own. Travelling to Earth, becoming a human baby, the God of the universe comes to seek his people. He lays his love, his reputation, his life on the line—for us.

When Jesus grows up, he, too, will journey to Jerusalem. There another Herod will see him executed on a cross. God pours his life out as a love-gift for you and me. He conquers death for us. He trades our sin and death for his love and life.

We can’t control God. But God is governed by his love and faithfulness. Our power becomes tyranny. Our smugness is a trap. But when we actively trust God, who comes to us in Jesus, his Light grows in us.

As we begin this Year of our Lord 2017, let’s jump into the quest to know Jesus and his love. This God has poured himself out in love for us. Let’s learn to love him with all we’ve got, and all we are.

Denise

Courage for Christmas

December 2016          

Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you. – Luke 1:28

Right around now, life can get a bit squirrely. You’re probably more organized; I seem to pick up the pace, make long to-do lists, collect stuff, and then try to remember where I put it.

But, that’s not really what Advent is about. Advent is not about squeezing Christmas into a busy life. It’s not about fitting Christmas into a time of sadness.

Advent is about allowing the fact of Christmas to re-shape life. God has come to us! God has come to reshape our sadness, our hope and our joy. That’s what it was about for Mary; and that’s what it is really about for us.

“The Lord is with you, Mary. Don’t be afraid!”

Mary has a lot on her mind. She’s preparing to get married. She has responsibilities at home. No doubt there are issues. Suddenly, an angel appears, announcing: “You are highly favoured. The Lord is with you!” And Mary is greatly troubled.

The message that God favours her, that God is here with her, is a disturbing experience for Mary. Really? Why? Perhaps most of us, most of the time, don’t really expect to hear from God. It’s one thing to say we want to draw near to God – but perhaps we don’t expect him to show up.

Maybe we’re just as glad if he doesn’t. Because when God shows up, we can’t control the outcome. Our plans might have to change. When God shows up, he asks us to meet him with courage. Most of all, he asks us to trust him. To make ourselves available.

That can be tough for us, because we get confused about our purpose.

We like the idea that God will helps us in what we set out to do—finding a good job, raising a family, enjoying retirement. But we’re not convinced about God’s agenda. What if God’s plans are different from ours? We forget that God created us, not just so he could participate in our plans, but so that we could participate in his. God calls us to be available.

At first Mary is troubled. But she makes herself available. “I’m the Lord’s servant,” she says. “Here I am.” Wow. Buckle up, everybody. Because we’re no longer in this alone.

At every stage of our life God shows up, assuring us of his favour and his nearness. He invites us to trust him. To be available. To engage in his work among our colleagues, our neighbours, and in the world. It’s true when we are 20; it’s just as true when we are 60 or 80 or 90.

When we trust God, he gives us courage. In fact, the Lord becomes our courage. He enables us to do things we never imagined we’d do. Like serve as an elder. Or reach out to a neighbour. Or volunteer at a shelter. Or invite someone to church. Or tell a colleague that God loves them.

The Lord is with you. You are highly favoured. Don’t be afraid.

Merry Christmas!

Denise