Where is God?

This year we have been asking the question, "Where do you find God?".  At Lenten services, we heard a different answer each week from the experiences and lives of different people.  We continue to ask the question and explore the answers we hear and read.  This is part of a journey that we are on as individuals and as a community, as we grow in our vision and connect to God, others, and self.

One Saturday morning in May, a small group gathered to reflect on this and the related question, "Where is God?", using Diana Butler Bass's book Grounded as the launching point for our conversation and to make connections.  As part of morning prayer, we read statements that Pastor Tuula had found for us to begin to contemplate the question.  Do any of these speak to you?  Here are the statements...

"To follow God, one must be a little 'out of their mind' (and 'into their Spirit')."  -- Donald L. Hicks

"A common mistake we make is that we look for God in places where we ourselves wish to find him, yet even in the physical reality this is a complete failure.  For example, if you lost your car keys, you would not search where you want to search, you would search where you must in order to find them."  -- Criss Jami

"When you can see God in small things, you'll see God in all things." -- Donald L. Hicks

"How can you seek God if he's already here?  It's like standing in the ocean and crying out, 'I want to get wet.'  You want to get over the line to God.  It turns out he was always there."  ...  "Grace comes to those who stop struggling.  When it really sinks in that there's nothing you can do to find God, he suddenly appears.  That's the deepest mystery, the only one that counts." --Deepak Chopra

"God is here, right now, at our side.  We can see him in this mist, in the ground we're walking on, even in my shoes.  His angels keep watch while we sleep and help us in our work.  In order to find God, you have only to look around." -- Paulo Coelho

"What writing teaches me, over and over, is that God is waiting to be found everywhere, in the darkest corners of our lives, the dead ends and bad neighbourhoods we wake up in, and in the simplest, lightest, most singular and luminous moments.  He's hiding, like a child, in quite obvious and visible places, because he wants to be found.  The miracle is that he dwells in both." -- Shauna Niequist

"In order to have a spiritual life, you need not enter a seminary, or fast, or abstain, or take a vow of chastity.  All you have to do is have faith and accept God.  From then on, each of us becomes a part of His path.  We become vehicles for His miracles."  -- Paulo Coelho

"Listen to the murmur of water and you'll hear Mother Nature.  Listen to the stillness beneath, and there you'll find God."  -- Donald L. Hicks

"One of the most challenging aspects for those who are seeking to find the God of their understanding for the first time is His formlessness.  It can be difficult to believe in, and connect with, something that cannot be seen.  Perhaps this is because although God is in all things He is felt and experienced on levels that relate directly to the condition of our own hearts."  -- Marta Mrotek

"Truth is in all our hearts.  He who stands by his heart has God in him.  Our conscience is what unites us with God." -- Suzy Kassem


What having a new vision for St. Philip's means to me...

Having a vision is sometimes compared to having a North Star in life.   The North Star points the way.   It is light in the darkness.   It helps you move towards your purpose in life.   As a congregation and a community we are equally in need of a North Star.   So we invested time and energy in prayer, conversation and dreaming.  The question at the heart of all was: What is God calling St. Philip’s to do in 2017 and beyond?  The process itself was meaningful as we engaged at Council and with the whole congregation.   


A tipping point was on a sunny September Saturday when Council met for a planning session.   The refugee family was staying at the church at the time and during our meeting they quietly came up to make and eat their lunch.    They sat at a table a few feet away from us.   In that moment, Pastor Tuula leaned over to Chris and said, “If that isn’t the Holy Spirit giving us a sign, I don’t know what would be.”


And so we boldly anchored our vision in connection.  Connection is the most basic of human needs.   As Christians and as Lutherans we are freed by the Christ to find connection with God, our neighbour and ourselves.  Certainly the words ‘grace’ and ‘connection’ are the two big ideas in the vision for me.   


Hard but exciting work lies ahead as we follow the north star of freed by the grace of Christ, …to connect with God, neighbour and self.  





Stewardship Moment: We are the blessed ones

I would like to say a few words about the approaching EMV and perhaps even what my church means to me.  Yes, we are currently bordering on financial straits.  But we have had financial problems before and have always come through.  I’m sure we can not only come through, but do better.
I would have to say that to give financial support to my church is a privilege.  I give, but I also gain so much.  Fellowship, challenge, peace, learning, joy, great sermons on Sunday morning, music to live for, sometimes courage, growth in my faith, and more.  A building where we can meet as fellow Christians is a fundamental need.  We have all heard about the coal that gets away from the rest of the coals in the fireplace and soon goes out.
I am so thankful for my mother who taught my siblings and I about God.  We were caught up in the stories about Jesus’ birth and His crucifixion.  The seeds of faith were sown by my mother at a very early age.  I’ve always been a practicing Christian and gone to church, (and sung in a choir since I was sixteen, incidentally) but as I matured I slowly came to realize that part of the maintaining of a church was my responsibility.  How else could it go on?  Needs have to be met.  That is why I tithe.  First things first. 
I think all will agree that we are an especially blessed congregation.  A couple of years ago, I happened to meet an old musician friend of mine here in the church who was playing for a funeral.  We got talking about our Director of Music, Mark Kieswetter.  She knew of Mark and commented, “You are so lucky.”  We all know we are indeed blessed with Mark’s leadership, not to mention his immense talent, and last but not least, his witness to his faith.  How appropriate is that?
And then we have Pastor Tuula with her thought provoking, sometimes outspoken, sermons; her happy, positive presence; her humanness; her desire to do what she likes to do best, and that is to serve.  I, for one, love her.
We are also blessed with a crowd of giving people who perform, willingly, so many duties, and get so much accomplished.  We are a presence in the community and in the wider church.  We have a great church.  Staff have to make a living, furnaces and air conditioners have to function and to be replaced if and when needed, property has to be maintained, and so on.  Our homes cost us; our households cost us.  It just costs to live.  If our church life is a priority, I’m asking you all to make your giving a priority, be it just a tiny increase if you are able, or be it a larger amount.  Call it an investment in our future and for those who have not yet passed through our doors.  We are the blessed ones to have been given this gift of faith and to know that we are the Lord’s chosen ones.  Forever.  Hallelujah!!




Stewardship Moment: It sets a foundation for me

Why do I come and give – why is church important to me?
The Church has played an important part of my upbringing and in many ways setting the foundation of what I am today. It has been an integral part of our family. I grew up in a very small village, in a small church – Emmanuel Lutheran in Guyana, with not more than 50 members. I was baptised and confirmed there and also taught Sunday school and always enjoyed what I did at church. In a village of a few hundred people, church was like extended family, embedded and intertwined with the community and was part of growing up.
For me, there are 4 simple reasons why church is of importance to me:
  1. Fellowship – church is a place where we can give and receive encouragement, we always need some encouragement as life is not easy – it can be difficult at times. Church is where fellowship starts, where we get involved in activities for the betterment of all.
  2. Recharge and growth – sometimes the fuel in you is running out and you need to be re-energised or move to the next level in your faith. The teachings, whether through sermons, stories, testimonies, do help to serve this purpose.
  3. It’s a good habit and a positive example – Jesus did it, he went to church. It’s a good habit to develop and a positive example for my children and for others. 
  4. Help to serve others – through involvement and participation to make the church stronger. This gives satisfaction and can be self motivating.
In closing, I want to say that I think it’s in all of us to build these simple foundational elements, to share it and also to teach our children and others what Jesus has shown us to do and asks us to do. Emmanuel Lutheran is over 80 years old today and is still around, vibrant as ever and serving its community – although its survival was written off by many several times. What kept it going was a congregation with big hearts, who believed in themselves and gave more than they received. We at St. Philips can do the same!
Thank you.




Stewardship Moment: Why I'm proud to call St Philip's home

I will preface my remarks by saying that CHURCH has always been an important part of my life, and I would feel spiritually empty, alone, and discouraged without its presence and influence in my life.
Question- WHY ST. PHILIP'S?
Warm Welcoming Place - When my husband Dennis & I first came to St. Philip's (20 years ago), we received a warm welcome from the people here, even though we were not Lutheran background. I remember that we got a visit from the Pastor the first week, who welcomed us for who we were, answered our questions about the doctrine, and encouraged us to give St. Philips' a try, and find our way in ministry. How thankful we were for this, and it’s a testament to you that I’m still here. (I guess the trial is over)
Encouragement & Support  - Life is not always a bed of roses, and like many of you here, I also was faced with the death of my spouse, my parents, and mother-in-law. In all of these times, I found the support of people here at St. Philip’s. Also, just 1 year ago, I faced a severe health issue that forced me to be laid aside for several months. What did I learn? God is faithful, and was with me, but also the people at St. Philip’s supported and encouraged me with your cards, gifts, phone calls, & visits, rides when I couldn’t drive, and always your prayers. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart, and may God bless you for your care and concern for others.

Outreach ProgramHere at St. Philip’s we state that we are In Mission for Others and I hope we never lose sight of this, as I feel we have been so blessed, that it’s our joy to be able to give back to others who are less fortunate, whether at home or abroad. Some examples of this are the Food Bank, Market Share, Reformation challenge of the tree planting, Sponsoring refugees, and the global work of the CLWR. How blessed we are here at St. Philip’s, what a joy to be able to give back to others, and help in carrying out the Great Commission.
I will conclude with a verse from Luke 6:38 which I find very meaningful as it talks about the blessings we receive from giving from the heart!!!
It says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
May God Bless you as you give from an abundant heart.