xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Up-Down, Down-Up

December 18, 2007

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Ah, the joys of church maintenance.

Our elevator broke on Sunday.  After church, as people were taking the elevator down to the fellowship hall, the doors froze shut, trapping them inside.  And to make matters worse, when they pressed the “up” button, the elevator went down.  And when they pressed the “down” button, the elevator went up.  Fortunately, nobody panicked, and after just a short while, they were able to exit unharmed, albeit bewildered and relieved that their church campus roller coaster ride had come to a safe and complete stop.

The elevator repair company came this morning to give us the verdict.  A small piece of candy had fallen into the door sill and jammed the doors.  All of that fuss, all the disruption, and all the trauma of an elevator literally turned upside-down — caused by an innocent piece of spearmint hard candy.  

Sometimes the smallest, most unsuspecting events can cause the most turbulent of upheavals.

Just ask the gospels.  Over 2,000 years ago, the world was flipped on its ear.  A reversal of seismic proportions shook humanity at its core, and its after shocks continue to this day.  Up became down, and down became up:
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
    “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
    “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

All of this change was caused by a tiny baby, candy-wrapped in swaddling clothes.  This baby is still turning our world upside-down, proclaiming a message of peace in a world addicted to violence, self-sacrifice in a culture compelled by its self-interests, forgiveness for relationships bruised by revenge, and powerless love amidst people who love power.

In “The Disarming Child,” Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“For to us a child is born.  To us a son is given.  The government is upon his shoulders.”  The liberator becomes a pleading child in our world, armed to the teeth as it is.  And this child will become the liberator for the new world of peace.  That is why his rule means life, not death; peace, not war; freedom, not oppression.  This sovereignty lies on the defenseless, innocent and hopeful shoulders of this child.  This makes our fresh start into the future meaningful and possible.  The oppressed will be free from oppression.  And they will also be free from the dreams of darkness, the visions of revenge. They stand up and rejoice, and their rejoicing frees their masters too from their brutal armaments.  The oppressors with their cudgels, their iron shoes and their bloody coats will be freed from their grim machinations and will leave the poor in peace.  For the new human being has been born, and a new humanity will be possible, a humanity which no longer knows either masters or slaves, either oppressed or oppressors.  This is God’s initiative on behalf of his betrayed and tormented humanity.  “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”’ It is the zeal of his ardent love.

This Sunday, we make our penultimate stop on our road to Bethlehem.  Join us as we “Experience the Wonder” of Christ’s arrival with a sermon titled “The Wonder of Peace.”  And be sure to come by early for our Advent Festival from 9-10am.  Children, families, and people of all ages are invited to this special time of  Christmas crafts, songs, stories, and an old-fashioned taffy pull.  And, of course, be sure to join us on Christmas Eve at the 5:00 or 6:30 service, featuring candle lighting, carols, and the coming of Christ once again into our world.

Grace, Hope, and Peace,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

Matthew 1:18-25
18  Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
19  Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
20  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
22  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23  "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."
24  When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
25  but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Be the Gift

December 11, 2007

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

One of my persistent pet peeves with most churches is that the secular world seems to do a better job marketing commercial messages than we seem to do with the Good News.  A great example is the Master Card “priceless” commercials, that have the consistently poignant punchline, “There are some things that money can’t buy.  For everything else, there’s Master Card.”  If only we were as effective making the same pitch for the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ!

Nevertheless, this is the time of year that many equate the purchase value of a gift with the sentiment expressed by it.  Every year, it seems this season of giving gifts becomes more stressful and more hectic than the one before.  The shopping lists get longer, the mall crowds get crazier, and the debts sink deeper.  And then, come December 26, the real rest begins.  

But the gospels make the case that the very first Christmas happened despite chaos and anxiety, not because of it.   Over and against the hustle and bustle of a government census, the fear and paranoia of political systems, and the constant oppression of a community under siege, God gave a priceless gift.  It wasn’t a gift that God shopped for, gift-wrapped, and sent special delivery.  Instead, the gift was God’s very own self.  The present was the Presence.  God became the gift.  

And what a gift it was.  Listen to how the words of Isaiah capture the experience of wonder of God’s self-giving act:   

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:4-6)

Here’s some good news.  If you’re looking for the perfect gift to give someone, try shopping at your local mirror.  You have the image of that very same self-giving God within you, and that might be exactly what someone else might need.  Your joyful spirit of service, sacrifice, and loving presence, with no strings or gift receipts attached, might be the perfect gift that money can’t buy.

It was no less than the gift of Jesus himself, given to us.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey deVega

The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

Isaiah 35:1-10

1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus
2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The 20/20 Vision Team

December 4, 2007

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

We have entered a season of expectation and hope, looking ahead to God’s presence born anew in our world.  As we anticipate all that God will do both in us as individuals and through us as a congregation, we hear God’s word to the exiles and claim its promise for ourselves”

Behold, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19)  

This is a simple formula:  God acts, then we notice and respond.  When God does something new, it is our job to perceive it.  For nearly 150 years, the people of St. Paul’s have responded faithfully to the call of God to minister to the people around us, to build the kingdom of God, and to ensure the transmission of the faith for the people that will follow us.  With our sesquicentennial celebration next year, the imminent pay-off of $750,000 in renovation debt, and new energy and momentum building with each passing week, it is our time to ask the question, “What’s next?” and listen perceptively for the answer that God provides.  

I am excited that at the Charge Conference gathering last Wednesday evening, the church unanimously approved a process that will lead us to discerning God’s vision for the future and developing a plan to get us there.  It approved the formation of a group called the
2020 Vision Team, which will listen to the people of this church, the needs and trends of the surrounding community, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit through prayer and study to develop a comprehensive plan that will answer the question, “What is God calling this church to look like by the year 2020?

The following is the document presented to and adopted by the Charge Conference as the framework of the 2020 Vision Team:

The 2020 Vision Team
Planning for the Future of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church

The Purpose of this team:

The purpose of this team is to develop a comprehensive long-term strategic plan for the church, to be presented to the 2008 Charge Conference for adoption.  This plan will include recommendations in areas including, but not limited to, programs, facilities, personnel, and resources.

The work of this team will include:
Where we are now:
•    Comprehensive assessments of programs, facilities, personnel, and resources
•    Current patterns in membership, worship attendance, and Christian education
•    General spiritual vitality of the congregation and level of commitment to Christ
•    An assessment of the needs of the city of Cherokee and the wider community
•    A study of the demographics and population trends of our surrounding area

Where God is calling us:
•    Develop a clear mission and vision statement that will shape our corporate life and prioritize our actions.
•    Envision what this church will look like if we were fulfilling God’s purposes for this church and this community.
How we will get from here to there:
•    Maintain open, regular communication with the congregation at every step of the process.
•    Work in partnership with committees in the areas of Finance, Staff-Parish, Trustees, Worship, and Administrative Board in developing a plan.
•    Produce a plan of recommended action steps, including timeline and budget implications in time for 2008 Charge Conference.

Limits of this team:
•    Not an implementation team.  This team will be responsible only for producing the recommendations.  Administrative Board, Charge Conference, and the whole congregation will be responsible for implementation.

Again, by unanimous vote, the Charge Conference approved this framework, and the following people to serve on this team:

Linda Appleby
Linda Christensen
John Cook
Bruce Dagel
Sue Parker
Joyce Pyle
Keith Willis

Throughout the year, this team will turn to you for help in the discernment process.  I suspect that we will be asking you to participate in church-wide surveys and small group feedback sessions.  And we will rely on your prayers for clarity for this team we listen for God’s voice.  Along the way, this team will faithfully keep you informed as to its progress and its discoveries.

As we journey into another season of hope and promise, we wait for the advent of God’s new work in our life together.  These are truly exciting days to be the church!

Hope and Peace,


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Experience the Wonder

November 27, 2007

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

If only God still spoke through burning bushes.  

One of the great challenges in our spiritual lives is hearing God in the silence, when God’s voice and face seem most concealed.  To be sure, God can be very audible to us, and we have known those moments when God has seemed real, active, and connected to our experience.  Those encounters are overwhelming, and they are easy.  We are like Peter on the mountain with Jesus:  “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

But the challenge comes in those “in-between” moments:  
•    What did Moses do for forty years in the wilderness as a wandering fugitive, before the burning bush?
•    What did Jesus do between the ages of thirteen and thirty-three?
•    How did the disciples feel for those fifty days – after Jesus’ ascension and before Pentecost?
•    What did the Israelites do for four hundred years, prior to Christ’s birth?
•    What do we do in between revelations?  How do we sense God’s presence in those moments that we most sense God’s absence?

No other liturgical season observes the watchful, silent periods of our faith quite like Advent.  Once again, we are the people of God, waiting for a Savior, waiting for an in-breaking of God’s voice to speak to us with power, vigor, and drama.  We wait for the good news.

The temptation, of course, is to skip right to the manger.  To fast forward to Christmas Day and all the hope that it holds.  But to do so would be to undermine the gift that God gives us in this season:

A chance to cherish the journey, not just the destination.  
A chance to hone our listening skills, and raise our Godward antenna just a tad higher.  
A chance to stretch atrophied prayer muscles and exercise a stronger sense of patience.  

May you hear the good news of this Christmas with fresh ears, and a revitalized spirit.  And may you learn to hear God, even when God seems most silent.

Joy in the Journey,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

Isaiah 2:1-5
2:1  The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2  In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
3  Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4  He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
5  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

Join us this December for a time of hope, peace, and joy as we experience the wonder of Christmas.  
Share in the coming of this One who comes to bring light once again into our lives and in the world.
All Sunday services are at 10:10am, with child care provided. Sunday school for all ages at 9:00.
December 2      “The Wonder of Hope”
                 Isaiah 2:1-5
New Four-part Advent Study in Church Library
During Sunday school hour, based on the book Rejoicing in Hope

December 9      “The Symbols of Christmas”  
                  Musical featuring Children’s Choir
Soup and Salad Luncheon following service  
               (free will offering)
December 16      “One Small Child”
                 Christmas Cantata featuring Chancel Choir
Christmas Cookie Sale following service  

December 23      “The Wonder of Peace”
                 Matthew 1:18-25
               Children’s Advent Festival,  9-10 a.m.
                 Children’s crafts, songs, stories, and taffy pull (free)
Old Fashioned Christmas Caroling for All
Meet at the Church at 5:00 p.m. -- Ministry to area shut-ins      

Christmas Eve, December 24           “The Wonder of Joy”
Luke 2:1-20
5:00pm            Candlelight and Carols Christmas Celebration
6:30pm            Candlelight and Carols Christmas Celebration


There is wonderful news to celebrate!  With about 70 percent of the expected number of pledges turned in, we have nearly matched the total dollar amount pledged for all of 2007!  36 pledges reflect an increase over last year, and 16 people turned in a pledge card who did not pledge last year.  Thank you, and praise God!  We currently stand at 60 percent of our budget pledged, so if you are among those who have not yet turned in a pledge card, it is not too late to do so!  They are available in the church office during the week or in the sanctuary on Sunday morning.  Be part of the exciting work that God is doing in and through this church.


You are likely aware that next Tuesday the county will be voting on a referendum to allow casino gambling here in Cherokee.  Check out the article from The Chronicle for the latest news.  (http://www.chronicletimes.com/story/1281927.html).  If you would like to have your vote and your conscience shaped by the United Methodist Social Principles’ stance on gambling, visit the denomination’s website:  (http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1743).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy New Year?

November 20, 2007

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Try this on Thursday.

When you are gathered around the Thanksgiving table with family and friends, catching up on old times and sharing poignant stories, wait for a pause in the conversation.  Then, look everyone in the eye and say with great gusto:

“Happy New Year, everyone!”

Then watch their faces.  You’ll probably get some worried looks from folks wondering if you’ve eaten too much turkey.  There will be those who think you’ve slipped into your tryptophan-induced nap a little early.  But none of them will realize that you’re actually observing a very timely moment in the calendar.

Not the secular calendar, mind you, but the Christian one.  The church’s liturgical year ends this Sunday, a religious “December 31st,” if you will.  The long journey that started last December, moved through Lent and Easter, burst into the fire and passion of Pentecost, and ambled through the summer days of Ordinary Time now ends on November 25, with an end-of-the-year celebration known as “Christ the King Sunday.”

Just like our New Year’s Eve, Christ the King Sunday is a transitional time.  It is a time of remembering the year we leave behind, to celebrate its joys, name its pain and sadness, and remember a God who, as it turns out, was with us all along.  It is also a time to look ahead, with hope and promise, toward a year that will unfold with its own share of triumphs and sorrows, all under the watchful eye of this Jesus who rules and reigns over all creation.


This Sunday, we will hear the story of a man who experienced just that kind of transitional moment.  The lectionary offers us the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  After emerging from a nine-month sentence of silence from the angel due to his unbelief, he sang a song of great hope for his new son and the dawning arrival of God’s kingdom on earth.  His song is both a reminiscing of God’s saving actions, and a claiming of God’s future promise.  I hope you will join us for this special Christ the King Sunday celebration, with a sermon titled, “Life in the In-Between.”

And, I would add that it’s not too early to think about what your New (Church) Year’s resolution might be.  May it be more than the typical stuff about weighing less, saving more, and cleaning out your closet.  Try addressing the deeper, substantive matters of life, faith, and love.  You may resolve to be more patient in your dealing with others.  You may wish to patch up that broken relationship with a dose of humility and forgiveness.  You may decide to be more consistent with your spiritual disciplines of daily prayer and scripture study.  You might simply try to make next year more about God and less about you.  

That is, after all, what the whole church year is about.  It is a 12-month journey with Jesus, from his birth in a lowly Bethlehem manger, to a transformative witness of his teaching and example, into the power of his self-giving sacrifice, through the triumph and glory of his resurrection, and into the ongoing witness to his reign through the Holy Spirit.  This is God’s time, and we are invited along for the ride.

I’m glad to share this journey with you!

Grace and Peace,


Luke 1:68-79

68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69  He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
70  as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71  that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72  Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,
73  the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us
74  that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
75  in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76  And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77  to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
78  By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79  to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."


What a great day we had last Sunday!  We had a wonderful turnout to celebrate the conclusion of our stewardship series, as many people made their financial commitments for 2008.  We will be eager to share the results of the campaign as they become available.  In the meantime, if you have not yet turned in your pledge card, it is not too late to do so.  Pledge cards are available in the office throughout the week or in the sanctuary this Sunday and can be dropped off or mailed to the church office.  Thank you for your faithful stewardship and commitment to God’s ministries through this church!

And a special thank you to Sherry Held and the whole team of people who provided our Thanksgiving Celebration Dinner.  The fellowship hall was packed to overflowing, and the meal was simply delicious.  Thanks!


Thank you for the great response to purchase CD players for our shut-ins.  Twelve of you responded, so we are no longer in need of donors.  The equipment will be delivered this Wednesday, along with the first batch of CD’s from last Sunday’s service.  The recording quality is outstanding, and this will be a great improvement in our ministry to these wonderful folks.


Starting Sunday, December 2, we will begin a new Advent study based on the book
Rejoicing in Hope by Rev. James A. Harnish, Magrey’s former senior pastor at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, FL.  It is a four-week study focusing on characters from Luke’s gospel who experienced hope in anticipation of the Messiah.  The study takes place on Sundays at 9am in the church library.  Books ($6.50) can be purchased at the first class.


We have leftover Christmas ornaments from previous years that would make great stocking stuffers.  They are available at a discounted price of $12.  If you would like to purchase an ornament, contact Linzi in the church office.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Harry Potter and the Gift of Contentment

November 6, 2007
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in the celebrated children’s series, a young Harry shares a conversation with headmaster Albus Dumbledore about an extraordinary magical artifact called the Mirror of Erised.  When Harry looked at its reflection, he saw an image of his deceased parents at his side.  When his friend Ron looked at it, he saw himself holding a championship trophy.
Intrigued by the powers of the mirror, Harry listened as Dumbledore explained,
   “Now, can you think what the Mirror of Erised shows us all?”
   Harry shook his head.
   “Let me explain.  The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is.  Does that help?”
   Harry thought.  Then he said slowly, “It shows us what we want…whatever we want….”
   “Yes and no,” said Dumbledore quietly.  “It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.”

It invites us to pause and think about what we would see in the mirror if we looked into it.  Would we see ourselves as we already are?  Or would we see a longing for  something more?  In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul posed a mirror to his soul and discovered within himself a priceless treasure:

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.  Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  (4:10-12)
We live in a culture in which contentment is a rarity.  We accumulate more stuff, push for greater achievement, and stir with a restless anticipation for a future that always seems a tad out of reach.  In the meantime, we fail to see grace in the present moment.  
The frame of the Mirror of Erised (“desire” in reverse) bears the words
erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi, which when reversed reads “I show not your face but your heart's desire.”  
Have you discovered the treasure of contentment?

This Sunday we come to the pivotal moment in our stewardship series. We will further explore this powerful passage from Philippians with a sermon titled “Rejoice!  Hearts Filled with Gratitude.”  And, we will hear powerful testimony from a member of our church who has lived both the tragedy and freedom of this passage:  
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

At the end of the service, you will receive a packet containing the proposal for the 2008 Budget, and your financial commitment pledge card.  Please join us for this inspiring, transformative worship service.  
It’s still great to be the church!
Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

True Remembrance

October 30, 2007
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
You probably learned as a kid the name “Roy G. Biv” as a helpful way of remembering the colors of the rainbow.  How about “Every Good Boy Does Fine” as a helpful memory aid for the musical notes of the treble clef? And then there are the poems: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  Or, “I before E, except after C.”  These tools were helpful in collecting and retrieving facts that would be helpful throughout our lives.
But something has happened.  With the emergence of cell phones, palm pilots, blackberries, computers, and other equipment designed to store more and more personal information, our ability to remember has actually decreased.  In a study released over the summer by Trinity College in Dublin, our dependence on such devices to “remember” birthdays, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and other important data has diminished the memory capacity of our brains!
Trinity professor Ian Robertson said,
“People have more to remember these days, and they are relying on technology for their memory. But the less you use of your memory, the poorer it becomes. This may be reflected in the survey findings which show that the over 50s who grew up committing more to memory report better performance in many areas than those under 30 who are heavily reliant on technology to act as their day to day aide memoir.”

Here’s the lesson: True remembrance takes intentionality and effort.  And it’s as true of spiritual matters as it is of dates and numbers. It’s one thing merely to recall central elements of our faith.  It’s quite another to allow those memories to shape our conscience and inform our behavior.
On over ninety occasions in the Bible, God called the people to remember God’s saving activity throughout history, through rituals, prayers, and symbols. From the Psalms to the seder, from the Ten Commandments to the Beautitudes, the Bible is filled with reminders of our identity and calling as kingdom people.

This Sunday, there will be a convergence of reminders – each one with a unique invitation for the Spirit to call us to a life of gratitude and commitment.  We will begin the service with the commemoration of those in our church who have died since last November’s All Saints’ Day.  We will celebrate their ongoing influence on our lives with thanksgiving.  We continue in our Stewardship Series with a sermon titled “Remember! What Has God Done for You Lately?” based on Psalm 77 and its sweeping reminder of God’s love revealed throughout history.  And, we will conclude the service by gathering at the Lord’s table, remembering our past and our future in Christ through the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup.
May it never be said that the people of this church suffer from poor memory!
Grace, Peace, and Remembrance,

Psalm 77
77:1  I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
2  In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
3  I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah
4  You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5  I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.
6  I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:
7  "Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
8  Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time?
9  Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?" Selah
10  And I say, "It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed."
11  I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old.
12  I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.
13  Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?
14  You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15  With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16  When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.
17  The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side.
18  The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.
19  Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.
20  You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.


Thanks to the strong attendance at last Sunday’s worship service, a number of you picked up your stewardship devotional booklets.  The rest were mailed today.  If you misplace your booklet or would like another for a friend, extra packets are available in the church office.  These booklets contain Scripture readings and writings by Christian authors relevant to our stewardship themes.  A team of people last week said a prayer of blessing on your packet and the name of you and your family.  As you read each day’s selections, we pray this will be a spiritually transformative experience for you.

The church recently received a generous designated gift for the purpose of enhancing the sanctuary with video screens, projectors, cameras, and other video equipment.  At a meeting on Monday, October 29, the Administrative Board and Trustees voted to approve the project and move forward. Here are some answers to some questions folks may have:
Q.  What will this new equipment enable us to do?
A.   The video equipment will enable us to complement the worship experience with images and video in an unprecedented way. We will be able to have words for hymns, prayers, and liturgies for everyone to see.  It will be possible to have clips of videos and videotaped interviews to complement the themes of the service, as well as have live camera projections of things happening on the chancel.
Q.  Will we stop using our hymnals or pew Bibles?
A.   No.  We will still have hymn numbers and Bible references printed in the worship bulletin.  And we will introduce the new video elements with sensitivity to people’s overall worship experience.  
Q.  Where will the equipment go?
A.  The main screen will be retractable and mounted in a housing unit that will blend into the molding above the chancel choir. There will be a large screen on the back wall of the sanctuary visible to those in the chancel.  That screen will be painted on the wall.  Projectors and cameras will be placed unobtrusively throughout the sanctuary.  Installation will begin soon.  We will let you know when you can expect to see work done in the sanctuary.
Q.  How will the screens look?
A.  Great care is being taken to assure that the screens will blend as well as possible with the beautifully remodeled sanctuary. Both the Ad Board and Trustees feel this direction is the right balance between aesthetics and functionality.
Q.  Where will the new video booth go?
A.  With all of the new necessary video equipment, we will need a new audio/visual booth put in the back of the sanctuary. We will be removing the back half-pew to the left of the center aisle and having a new one built there.  
Q.  How much will this project cost the church?
A.   Aside from the cost of running conduit for the hardwiring and building the video booth, the donor gift covers the entire expense.
Q.  Will this help the mission of the church?
A.   The core of the church’s mission is to communicate the gospel in effective ways for current and future generations.  This will enable us to do just that.
Q.   If I have more questions, who can I ask?
A.   Members of the sound committee are Donna Lucas, Keith Willis, Jeff Blum, Bob Simonsen, and Chuck Tolzin.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Feeling God's Pleasure

October 22, 2007
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
While on vacation over the weekend, Jessica and I enjoyed reading a hysterical new book by
Esquire columnist A.J. Jacobs called The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (Simon & Shuster, 2007). Jacobs, a self-avowed agnostic, sought to spend a whole year following every command in the Bible – more than seven hundred total, by his count!  
Doing so impacted every aspect his life, often with comical results.  Like when he “stoned” an adulterer in a public park with a handful of pebbles (Leviticus 20:27).  Or when he carried a folding chair everywhere to avoid sitting on chairs used by women who had just had their period (Leviticus 15:20).  Or when he stopped wearing t-shirts and jeans because they were made of “mixed fibers” (Leviticus 19:19).
Despite the hilarity, Jacobs was both earnest and respectful in his endeavor, sharing several poignant experiences throughout the book.  One such occasion was his decision to start tithing.  After researching numerous charitable organizations, he went online to make the first of several contributions that would, over the course of the year, add up to ten percent of his salary.  After sending money to his first agency through the internet, he wrote:
When the confirmation e-mails ping in, I feel good.  There’s a haunting line from the film Chariots of Fire.  It’s spoken by Eric Liddell, the most religious runner, the one who carries a Bible with him during his sprint.  He says:  “When I run, I feel His pleasure.”  And as I gave away money, I think I might have felt God’s pleasure.  I know:  I’m agnostic.  But still – I feel His pleasure.  It’s a warm ember that starts at the back of my neck and spreads through my skull.  I feel like I am doing something I should have been doing all my life.
To share any more of Jacobs’ story would spoil the book for those interested in reading it.  Suffice it to say, his memoir was as endearing as it was entertaining.  And of course, it led me to think about what it would mean for us to take the Bible just as seriously, particularly in the area of financial stewardship.


This Sunday, we begin our annual Stewardship Series, guided by the theme “Remember! Rejoice! Respond!”  Unlike many stewardship campaigns you may have experienced in this or other churches, these weeks will not primarily be about fund-raising, meeting budgets, or giving money to the church.  It will be a time of faith-raising, soul-shaping, and commitment-strengthening in our relationship with God.  Along the way, we will hear stories of people in our congregation who have experienced the transforming impact of God’s love in their lives.  You will not want to miss a Sunday in this powerful series.
After church this Sunday, you will be given a packet of material that contains the feature piece of this year’s campaign:  a devotional booklet specially produced to guide us together in our daily quiet times with God. The booklet contains scripture readings and writings from Christian authors relevant to our themes.  I hope you will come this Sunday to begin our journey together.
And, you’ll want to mark on your calendars the culmination of the campaign:  Commitment Sunday on November 18, followed by our Thanksgiving Celebration Dinner in the fellowship hall.
Come along for this exciting journey!
Grace and Peace,

Luke 12:16-34
16  Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly.
17  And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?'
18  Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
19  And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'
20  But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'
21  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
22  He said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.
23  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
24  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
25  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
26  If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?
27  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
28  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you--you of little faith!
29  And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying.
30  For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
31  Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
33  Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
34  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Quiet, Please

October 16, 2007
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
How noisy is your life?
Bernie Krause is a noted “soundscape artist”.  That is, he produces albums of sounds found in nature.  He has said that in 1968, in order to get 1 hour of natural sound - no cars, planes, or machines of any kind - it took about 15 hours of recording time.  Today, to get that same hour of natural sound, it requires over 2,000 hours of recording time!*  
We are bombarded by the sounds of a noisy world, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to escape it.  But this is nothing compared to the noise within us.  If it were possible, at this moment, to make a soundscape recording of your mind and your soul,  how long would it take to record an hour of mental and emotional quiet?  Probably even longer than 2,000 hours!  We hear the constant drone of deadlines. We sense the thunderous booms of anxieties and fears, and the heavy pulsing of pressures, agendas, and to-do lists.
Over and against this backdrop of noise, the scriptures call us to observe a command rooted in the earliest days of creation:

“So then, a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.”
 (Hebrews 4:9-10)

Wayne Muller, in his classic book:  
Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest and Delight, offers this poignant reminder to live a life shaped by intentional spiritual rest:
"Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center. 'Remember the Sabbath' means 'Remember that everything you have received is a blessing. Remember to delight in your life, in the fruits of your labor. Remember to stop and offer thanks for the wonder of it.' Remember, as if we would forget. Indeed, the assumption is that we will forget. And history has proven that, given enough time, we will.

What might it mean for you to recapture this ancient practice of renewal and re-creation?
  • It could mean going away on a silent prayer retreat, for a day or for a weekend.  No cell phones, no laptops, and no talking.   
  • It could mean deciding to go without television every day for a whole week, using time normally spent watching television in the quiet of one’s house or the outdoors.   
  • It could mean simply carving out a fixed amount of time each day – 30 minutes, or an hour or more – to intentionally retreat, listen for God, and be quiet.

One of the foremost authorities on Spiritual Disciplines, Richard Foster, suggests that homeowners actually build into their home plans a specific room for solitude.  Just like there are designated rooms for eating, sleeping, and entertaining, he suggests creating a space that offers a place of uninterrupted silence.  In lieu of a whole room, the family may have a designated chair or sofa where the person is not to be interrupted.
Living Sabbath requires intentionality, and it need not be exclusively defined by an hour at church on Sunday morning.  Rest, renewal, and re-connection with God ought to happen regularly, without fail.
Our family will be out of town for a brief vacation this weekend.  It will be a chance for us to see other sites in Iowa and give me a breather before this fall’s stewardship series and advent season.  We will be leaving Thursday night and will be back in town late Sunday.  
We are pleased to have the Rev. Ray Krugar as our guest preacher this Sunday morning.  He is a long-time resident of Cherokee and a retired Presbyterian minister who has served for 49 years.  His sermon will be based on Psalm 119:97-104 and 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 and will focus on foundations of the Christian faith. We are grateful for his word this Sunday.
You deserve a break today!  For God’s sake!
Grace and Peace,

*Rob Bell,
Nooma “Noise”, Zondervan, 2005.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Power of Humility

October 9, 2007
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
What qualities do you think of when you think of powerful people?   Maybe you think of someone with physical strength, like a dominating, finely-tuned athlete.  Maybe you think of political or economic power, like a government leader or a business CEO.  Whatever qualities come to mind are likely shaped by the same cultural and societal influences that inform all of us.  

But the biblical paradigm for power subverts all of these definitions.  When Jesus said,
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted,” he was describing a power within each Christian that is largely unnoticed by the secular world.  It is the power of humility.
Business consultants are starting to take notice.  Jim Collins, author of the bestselling book
Good to Great, conducted a survey of companies in America which, over a span of a few years, surpassed all economic benchmarks to become great companies.  He and his colleagues began by asking the question, “What kind of leader leads companies to greatness?”
The common assumption is that great leaders are “larger than life,” with magnetic charisma and an overpowering persona.  But Collins’ findings proved otherwise.  In every great company, leaders exhibited remarkable personal humility, mixed with tireless professional will.  A desire to give one’s absolute effort to see the company fulfill its mission, without any desire to receive any credit.  Collins’ conclusion is pretty clear.  If you want to be an effective leader, you have to be humble.  You need to be more ready to assume the blame when things go wrong, and share the credit when things go right.
A good follow-up book to
Good to Great is Egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Our Greatest Liability) which builds on Jim Collins’ definition of effective leadership.  The authors interviewed Guy Kawasaki, a legend in the business marketing world, and he offered this perspective on the power of humility:
Humility is the only real way to become great, everything else being equal.  As a trait, humility is the point of equilibrium between too much ego and not enough. Humility has a reputation of being the polar opposite of excessive ego.  In fact, the exact opposite of excessive ego is no confidence at all. Humility provides the crucial balance between the two extremes. When Jim Collins did his work in Good to Great, humility was one of only two characteristics he discovered that separated leaders capable of leading good (even very good) performing companies, and leaders who made their companies great performers. And all of those leaders who lifted their companies to great (and sustained it for over fifteen years) did it in the same “dog eat dog” world everyone else was in. Humility was custom made for the dog eat dog business world.

It’s as if the business community is just now discovering a wisdom the Bible has claimed for generations!  And if the power of humility works in the business world, wouldn’t it work throughout all of creation as well?   What would humility do in your relationships with your family?  Your friends?  How might humility improve your work and career?  How might the world’s international relations be different if leaders of nations exercised a little more humility?  What power might be unleashed in the world if we all followed the example of Christ and became humble, acknowledging our utter dependence on God and each other?


This Sunday, we will explore the power of humility in the Old Testament story of Naaman, a commanding officer in the Syrian army.  This man exemplified power in every culturally ascribed sense – political, military, and societal.  But he was stricken with leprosy, and he turned to the Israelite prophet Elisha for help.  Naaman’s story contains many surprising twists and turns, and his pride nearly stood in the way of his physical healing.   In the end he learned a valuable lesson, which we will discover this Sunday in a sermon titled “A Healing Dose of Humility.”
How might your life, and this world, be transformed with a dose of humility?  Let’s discover that together.

It’s great to be the church!

2 Kings 5:1-15
1  Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.
2  Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife.
3  She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy."
4  So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said.
5  And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel." He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.
6  He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy."
7  When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me."
8  But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel."
9  So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house.
10  Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean."
11  But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!
12  Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage.
13  But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean'?"
14  So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
15  Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant."


A few of you have asked whether there is a new daily scripture reading bookmark, now that the recent “Child-Like Faith” series concluded last Sunday.  Our next series, “Remember! Rejoice! Respond” is our stewardship campaign theme and will begin on October 28.  On that Sunday, everyone will receive an exclusive daily devotional guide, with scripture passages and excerpts from Christian authors related to the Sundays of our series.  Until then, I would commend to you the excellent Upper Room devotional material, which can be accessed online at www.upperroom.org/daily.  


This year’s UMW Bazaar is themed “The Pumpkin Patch” and will take place on Tuesday, November 6. We would encourage the whole church to play even a small part in its success.  
1.  Consider baking some of your favorite pastries for the morning coffee, bake sale, or dessert table.
2.  Donate items for the “nearly new” sale and by dropping them off on the fellowship hall stage.
3.  Volunteer some time making items for the craft sale (contact Jeanine Schroder, 225-6001).
4.  Make a salad for the salad bar (contact Kathy Simonsen for instructions, 225-5544).
And, of course, your best participation will be from attending the bazaar and bringing a friend! All of your donations, your help, and your attendance will be greatly appreciated. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Gut-Wrenching Compassion

October 2, 2007

Dear St. Paul’s Family,
There are only two miracle stories that are recorded in all four gospels.  One, of course, is the resurrection of Jesus.  The other is the feeding of the multitude.  While the four versions of the feeding miracle maintain the same essential elements, there are a few subtle differences.  Of interest to me are the versions in Matthew and Mark, which record the following:
When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. (Matthew 14:14)
As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.  (Mark 6:34)
Matthew and Mark are the only gospels to give us a glimpse into the mind and heart of Jesus at this moment:  deep down inside, Jesus felt compassion for the hungry crowd.  Now,
compassion in the original Greek has a highly nuanced meaning.  Jesus did not feel mere pity toward the people.  He didn’t just “feel sorry” for them, or empathy, or understanding.  Jesus’ feelings were deeper than sentiment or opinion.
The Greek word for
compassion is splanchnizomai (“splunk – NEEDS – oh – my”), which shares the same root as the word for “gut” or “abdomen”.  The splanchnic nerve is the nerve in our abdomen that controls our diaphragm.  (Pardon the biology reference – your pastor craves any opportunity to use his pre-med degree.)  Literally translated, Jesus’ reaction to the hungry crowd was a gut-wrenching, stomach-knotting, visceral compulsion to meet the needs of these people. His compassion was more than an exercise of mind and heart – it was a response that touched him in his innermost being.  
We’ve seen this reaction in the Bible before.  Moses fumed when he saw a fellow Israelite subjected to slavery. Esther was deeply distressed when she learned of the plot to kill her fellow Jews.  Jeremiah wept when he witnessed the disobedience of Israel. And here, Jesus felt a soul-stirring compassion for the people he had come to save.
If we are called to live out our Christian commitment by living in the example of Christ, then this must be our motivation as well.  God has placed a “holy discontent” within you that must be channeled to meet the deepest needs of the world around you.  Determining and satisfying that discontent is critical part of every Christian’s spiritual journey.  As Frederick Buechner said, our primary vocation is found where “our deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.”  What needs of the world and of your community strike you in your gut?  What is God calling you to do?  


This relates to the other interesting variation among the gospel stories, which will be the subject of this Sunday’s service.  It is only in John’s gospel where Andrew brought to Jesus a little boy, who offered the five loaves and two fish that would eventually feed a starving crowd.  We continue our “Child-Like Faith” sermon series with a sermon called “Bread for the World:  Making a Child-Like Sacrifice”.  Like this little boy, each of us has the capacity to make a big difference with even the smallest of sacrifices.
We will join with Christians around the world at the table of Christ, in joint celebration of the Eucharist.  Thanks to Judi Klee, owner of The Spice Rack, for providing breads from around the world that will symbolize our global connection.  You can visit her website at www.homemadepizzelles.com.
We will also be receiving a World Communion Sunday special offering, joining with Methodists throughout the connection in providing scholarships for American and International students focusing on mission in church and society.  To learn more, visit www.umcgiving.org.
We look forward to joining with you in this unique global celebration!

Grace and Peace,

John 6:1-14
1  After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.
2  A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.
3  Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.
4  Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
5  When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"
6  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.
7  Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."
8  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him,
9  "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?"
10  Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.
11  Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.
12  When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."
13  So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.
14  When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."


What a great time we had last Sunday!  268 people were in worship experiencing the Children’s Sabbath, and we give thanks to Linda Christensen, Carmen Teoli, Marilyn Brubaker, and the numerous kids and adults who worked hard to lead us in worship.
And thanks to the tremendous turnout at the Pork Feed, we met our goal of serving 250 people, including dozens of folks from the public and people from other local churches. And thanks to your generosity, the event raised a record $1,600 toward the reduction of the sanctuary debt. We are very grateful for the Parker family for supplying the delicious, slow-cooked pork tenderloins, Jeff Blum and members of the Finance Committee for all their preparations, and for all who provided such wonderful desserts and side dishes.  Great day!


This year’s UMW Bazaar is themed “The Pumpkin Patch” and will take place on Tuesday, November 6. We would encourage the whole church to play even a small part in its success.  
1.  Consider baking some of your favorite pastries for the morning coffee, bake sale, or dessert table.
2.  Donate items for the “nearly new” sale and by dropping them off on the fellowship hall stage.
3.  Volunteer some time making items for the craft sale (contact Jeanine Schroder, 225-6001).
4.  Make a salad for the salad bar (contact Kathy Simonsen for instructions, 225-5544).
And, of course, your best participation will be from attending the bazaar and bringing a friend! All of your donations, your help, and your attendance will be greatly appreciated. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Children and Health Care

September 25, 2007

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Pop quiz!  Tell me where in the Bible you will find a passage that talks about the testing of residual chemicals in our world’s food supply.  Hmmm....while you’re flipping through your Bible, let me throw out a few more.  Where do you find a chapter and verse that discusses a Christian’s perspective on human gene therapies and genetic engineering?  How about nuclear proliferation?  Violence in the media?

Needless to say, you’ll be flipping pages for a while.  There are no passages in the Bible that directly address many of the specific contemporary concerns we face in the world today.  This leaves us with a few options.  One, we can stretch the words of the Bible to wrap around our own convictions and personal opinions.  Or, we can release ourselves from the responsibility of having any interest, position, or prophetic message to the world in any of these areas.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not fond of either of these choices.  And this is one of the reasons I’m grateful to be a United Methodist.  In true Wesleyan fashion, this denomination has looked for ways to find a sensible, passionate, biblically-rooted center in each of these high-profile, contemporary issues.  And the document that best expresses the fruit of our prayerful, communal dialogue is the Social Principles.

For the past 99 years, beginning with the “Methodist Social Creed” adopted in 1908 and the creation of the Social Principles in 1972, the United Methodist Church has carefully negotiated the timeless words of Scripture with the timely issues of our day.  While the Social Principles is not church “law”, and not authoritative on the same level as the Bible, it is an instructional tool, meant to educate, raise awareness, and persuade.  And it enables us as a church to claim a prophetic word to the culture at large, with a conscience shaped by the living presence of Christ at work among us.  For a full reading of the Social Principles, www.umc-gbcs.org/socialprinciples.

This all leads us to this Sunday.  Listen to this important word for our day, from the section “Rights of Children”:

Once considered the property of their parents, children are now acknowledged to be full human beings in their own right, but beings to whom adults and society in general have special obligations...Moreover, children have the rights to food, shelter, clothing, health care, and emotional well-being as do adults, and these rights we affirm as theirs regardless of actions or inactions of their parents or guardians.

And under the section “Right to Health Care”, it states,

Health care is a basic human right.  Psalm 146 speaks of the God “who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.” ...We encourage individuals to pursue a healthy lifestyle and affirm the importance of preventive health care, health education, environmental and occupational safety, good nutrition, and secure affordable housing in achieving health.

If you read these statements in the context of these compelling statistics, the reality of this crisis is too much to ignore:  Nine million children in America are uninsured, with 90 percent of those children living in homes where both parents are employed.  49,000 of those children live right here in Iowa.  Millions more across the country are underinsured.   

So as a community of faith inspired by the Holy Spirit and guided by our Social Principles, what can we do?


The Children’s Sabbath is a worship event sponsored by United Methodist Women across the denomination and is provided by the Children’s Defense Fund.  This Sunday, the children of St. Paul’s will observe this event by leading us in worship through song, prayer, and spoken word.  They will highlight the issues of children’s health care, and you will hear stories of children affected by the current crisis.  This is in perfect keeping with our current worship series “How to Have a Child-Like Faith in a Grown-Up World”, and you will not want to miss this powerful, inspirational time.  For more information about the Children’s Defense Fund, the Children’s Sabbath, and this year’s theme My Boat Is So Small: Creating a Harbor of Hope and Health Care for All Children, visit www.childrensdefense.org.

In addition, you are invited to make a difference by bringing in health-related items that we will donate to Mid-Sioux Opportunity, Inc., a community action agency that meets the financial, health, and education needs of individuals and families in our area.  These items can be brought to the narthex and can include the following:  Toothbrushes / Diapers / First-Aid Items / Toothpaste / Baby Wipes / Thermometers / Soap / Baby Shampoo / Band-Aids / Q-Tips / Children’s Vitamins / Cotton Balls

If you know folks who have a passion for children and health-related issues, or if you know folks who simply enjoy experiencing the joy and innocence of children in worship, invite them to join us for this powerful service.

This is a great time to be the church!  See you Sunday!

Grace and Peace,


Psalm 146:1-10
1  Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
2  I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3  Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4  When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
5  Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,
6  who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
7  who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;
8  the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
9  The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10  The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

We are just a few days away from our annual pork feed.  Thanks to the many of you who have signed up to provide a homemade dessert or side dish.  If you have not yet signed up and would like to do so, please call the church office or send an e-mail to Linzi Gum (lgum@cherokeespumc.org).  The buzz has been good around town, and we are looking for a great turnout.  As you know, the proceeds will go toward paying down our renovation debt.  Come for a fun, delicious time, and bring a friend!

Thanks to Jill Chalstrom and Korrie Waldner for cleaning out our nursery of old and broken toys, and organizing a drive for new toys for our littlest children.  We had a good response to their pitch last Sunday, with nearly $120 collected.  To purchase the specific toys from K-Mart and Bomgaar’s that they are requesting, visit our website, click on “Nursery Donations Opportunity” and note the actual pictures of the toys on the store shelves.  Thanks to everyone who has helped out so far.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Power of This Love

September 19, 2007


Dear St. Pauls Family,


A quick reading of 1 John would suggest that this book of the Bible would deserve to be called "The Precious Moments Epistle."  It is cute, pithy, and adorable, just like the figurines.  And it is full of poetic reminders of the love that God has for us, and the love that we can have for each other.  Reading some of its more famous passages just makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside:


 "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. (3:1)

 "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  (4:7)

 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. (4:11)


Now for the curveball.  Most scholars agree that 1 John was written toward the end of the first century, which would put its writing around the time of the early church's period of fierce persecution.  Emperor Domitian, who ruled from A.D. 81-96, was characterized by the early Church Father Tertullian as a "man of Nero's type in cruelty," who "tried his hand at persecution," but who "soon put an end to what he had begun." (from Tertullians Apology)


So now imagine these words read by the first Christians not in the context of peace and comfort, but against a soundtrack of piercing swords and roaring coliseum lions.  Amid an atmosphere of violence and bloodshed, these words take on new, profound meaning:


"For this is the original message we heard: We should love each other.  We must not be like Cain, who joined the Evil One and then killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because he was deep in the practice of evil, while the acts of his brother were righteous. So don't be surprised, friends, when the world hates you. This has been going on a long time.  The way we know we've been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn't love is as good as dead. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don't go together."  (1 John 3:11-15, from The Message)


Since the earliest days of the church, Christians have been called to love others, even in response to hateful aggression and persecution.  We have always been called to counter violence with love, war with peace, and revenge with forgiveness.  It has never been ours to choose whether or not to love others:  if we are called "children of God", we must love.  


In 1957, while preaching at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. concluded his sermon with the following challenge:  


So this morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, "I love you. I would rather die than hate you." And Im foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed. And then we will be in Gods kingdom. We will be able to matriculate into the university of eternal life because we had the power to love our enemies, to bless those persons that cursed us, to even decide to be good to those persons who hated us, and we even prayed for those persons who despitefully used us.


This Sunday, we continue our series on "How to Have a Child-Like Faith in a Grown-Up World" with a sermon titled "You're Just Like You're Father!  Having a Child-Like Love".  We'll dig deeper into the words of 1 John and discover how our love can help transform the world.  This would be a great Sunday to invite an unchurched friend to join you for worship.  See you on the journey!


Grace and Peace,





1 John 3:1-11

1  See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

2  Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

3  And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

4  Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

5  You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

6  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

7  Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

8  Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

9  Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God's seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God.

10  The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

11  For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.





Have you ever wondered about those books in some Bibles between the Old and New Testaments?  While they are not a part of the official canon of Protestant Bibles, they contain stories that provide a unique historical perspective on the lives of Jewish people right before the birth of Jesus. This seven-week class will be taught by Dr. Jessica deVega, Professor of Religion at Morningside College.  It begins this Sunday, September 23, at 9am in the church library.  The class will conclude in November and will serve as nice preparation for this year's Advent season.  Readings for the class will be provided at the first class.  For more information, call the deVega's at 221-4899.





It's time once again for our annual pork feed, scheduled for September 30, from 11:30am-1:00pm.  The Parker family will again be providing some choice Iowa hog loins, slow-cooked in a giant cooker and injected with a secret special sauce.  We are aiming for a big turnout this year from the community - as many as 250 people, so we would like to have many of you provide homemade desserts and sides.  Donations will be accepted, and all the proceeds will go toward the repayment of the sanctuary renovation debt.  We encourage you to invite your friends, family, co-workers to what will be a great time of friendly outreach and delicious food.  To sign-up to provide sides and deserts or to get a flyer suitable for display in your office or workplace, please call the church office.