xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: April 2008

Monday, April 28, 2008

When, God?

April 28, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

So what are you waiting for?

During a recent car trip from Minnesota, my younger daughter Madelyn had an urgent need to use the bathroom.  We were several miles from the next exit, so we told her she had to wait.  “Try singing a song,” we said to her, hoping to distract her.  So she sang that classic children’s song form the church musical
The Music Machine in which the old, plodding Herbert the Snail sings to his fellow critters:

“Have patience, have patience, don’t be in such a hurry.
    When you get impatient, you only start to worry.
    Remember, remember, that God is patient, too
    And think about the other times that others had to wait for you.”    

Story after story, the Bible teaches the value of patience.  Think of the numerous times biblical people wondered, “When, God?”

    The slaves in Egypt:  “When, God?  When will we be free?”
    The wandering Israelites:  “Are we there yet?”
    The twelve tribes:  “God, when can we have a king?”
    The exiles:  “Is it time to go home?”
    The Jews:  “When will the Messiah get here?”

Such biblical yearning echoes common cries today.  Over time, we drift toward that fine line between impatience and desperation.  You’ve heard these before, perhaps from your own mouth:

    When will this housing slump be over?
    When will gas prices drop again?
    When will this war be over?
    When will my family find peace?
    When will I find health and prosperity again?
    When will there be peace and joy in my life?

Turning our gaze toward this Sunday’s scripture, we discover that the book of Acts opens with a similar sentiment.  The disciples, still itchy for Jesus to build a national theocracy and overthrow Rome, repeated the question, “When, Lord?”

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus’ response is equally telling and timeless:  
“It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

For Jesus, the best answer for impatience is empowerment.  He did not ask the disciples to cling to hollow promises, wishful thinking, or a hope that was passive or powerless.   Their future would not be charted by feeble solo efforts or by a God who would do it all for them.  Their hope was anchored in a partnership between a faithful God and an empowered people, co-creating a future together.  They would make it happen, but only through the power of God’s Spirit at work among them.

This Sunday, our sermon series on living the resurrection pauses to consider the sure and certain nature of Christian hope.  In times like these, when all seems lost, the world churns in chaos, and our future seems bleak, we cling to a hope that is neither wishful or weak.  It is a hope that empowers us to be part of God’s transformative work in our lives, in our communities, and in the world.  

Thus, the mindset for a disciple of Christ, is not “When, Lord?”  It is, “Let’s do it, Lord!”

So, what are you waiting for?

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sharing the Future

April 23, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I usually don’t read a ton of science fiction books, but yesterday I finished a fun novel called
Time’s Eye, by the famous Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The plot’s central event is a rupture in the time-space continuum that dramatically disrupts the earth’s civilizations.  In an instant, the past and the future collide with the present, and the earth becomes a disjointed piecemeal of the 4th century B.C., and the 13th, 19th, and 21st centuries A.D.  The resulting climax is an epic battle involving (are you ready for this?) Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, Rudyard Kipling, and some cosmonauts from the future.  

Like all good sci-fi works, the power of the story is not in its ability to imagine the future, but in its critique of the present.  
Time’s Eye poses some interesting questions about the nature of time and human progress.  Are we really much more advanced than previous generations, or just more technological?  What makes us think we’re better than those who lived in the past?  Where is human civilization headed?  What makes us essentially human?  And is there more to living than just the present moment?

As I closed the book yesterday and thought about this Sunday, I pondered the same questions about the church.  We not only live in a culture that is increasingly individualistic; we tend to have a very egocentric view of time.  We disregard the past as “old-fashioned” and “stale.”  We make decisions without considering what kind of future this will leave for others to handle.  And this cultural narrow-mindedness affects our ecclesiology.  

We must remember that the church is not localized in one congregation, in one denomination, or in one time.  We are part of a sweeping mystery, a cosmic connection in which the past and the future are not distant, but are ready companions today.  My favorite contemporary theologian, Marjorie Suchocki, envisions the church as standing in a holy collision of the past, the present, and the future:  

Consider the unity that is created if many people share in an identity formed through faith in Christ.  The unity we see in a family group stems from its past:  brothers and sisters, by sharing the same parents, share the same family identity.  Their common past, whether by birth or adoption, defines them as family.  For the family that is the Christian church, unity comes primarily from a shared future.  Just as the sharing of a past creates a real kinship, even so the sharing of a future creates a real kinship.

This Sunday, our
Living Proof sermon series on the seven Christian virtues offers us a look at the timeless and eternal nature of the Christian church, with a sermon titled “Faith:  From Generation to Generation.”  Just how is St. Paul’s a living kinship forged out of a shared past and a shared future?

  • This Sunday, we are celebrating the confirmation of 19 young people, a new generation to whom we have conferred the faith of the church.  They will be making a public profession of their commitment to Jesus Christ and acknowledging the vows that were taken on their behalf in their baptism.

  • We will conclude the service with a burning of the church mortgage, observing the end of 12-year renovation of the sanctuary and other campus projects.  We celebrate the sanctuary facilities that we are leaving for future generations, without the burden of indebtedness.

  • After the service, members of the church are invited to join the 20/20 Vision Team for a briefing on its progress in its long-term strategic planning process.  Come hear about what we have learned through your congregational surveys, conversations with community agencies, and discussions with civic and business leaders.  Mostly, we want to listen to you dream about where God is leading this church in the next stage of its life together.

  • Starting today, we lift up in prayer the 1,000 clergy and lay delegates from around the global connection as the United Methodist Church holds its quadrennial General Conference in Ft. Worth, TX.  Bishop Palmer  begins the proceedings tonight with an address to the delegations, and we pray for God’s spirit to move throughout the Conference as it discerns matters of mission, ministry, polity, stewardship, justice, and doctrine.  You can follow the events with daily blogs and audio/video clips through the conference website at www.iaumc.org.

  • The church’s History Committee has been busily working on preparations for this August’s Sesquicentennial Celebration (our 150th Birthday!)  There is now a bulletin board downstairs in the dining hall that will be changed regularly to feature items from the church’s history.  This Sunday, it will have numerous photos of previous confirmation classes.

Wow!  What a privilege it is to be part of this grand, cosmic family!  It’s still great to be the church!  

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

God of (and in) All Creation

April 15, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Where is God?    

    During a children’s sermon, the pastor asked the kids, “Where is God?”  Instantly several hands shot into the air to respond.
    “Okay, Mary,” said the pastor.  “Where is God?”
    “He is everywhere.”
    “Very good that’s right.”
    Another boy had his hand raised. “What about you, Michael?  Where do you think God is?”
    “God is inside me,” the boy chimed.
    “Excellent!” said the pastor.  Noticing another boy sitting in the back, waving his hand, the pastor called for one more answer.
    “Okay, Danny.  Where do you think God is?”
    “He’s in our bathroom.”
    Unnerved, the pastor pressed further.  “Hmm…and how do you know he’s in the bathroom?”
    The answer came, “Every morning my father knocks on the bathroom door and says, ‘My God, are you still in there?’”

Ask the Apostle Paul to answer the question, “Where is God?” and you get quite a different answer.  As he was addressing the Athenians at the Areopagus, he said,

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

According to Paul, if you want to know where God is, just look around you!  Unlike the Israelites, who believed that God lived in the Ark of the Covenant or sat enthroned on the Temple mount; and unlike Jonah, who believed that God was restricted to geographical boundaries; and quite unlike the Deists, who believed that God existed apart from the created order, Paul believed that God existed throughout all of creation.  God is in all things and beyond all things, for
“In him we live and move and have our being.”

It is in light of this reality that we are called to care for creation.  Environmental stewardship is not a mere political issue to be debated by policy wonks and presidential candidates.  It is not a fashionable trend to take up as a cause
du jour.  It is a fulfillment of the first command given to humans at the dawn of creation:  to be stewards of the earth:  God’s home, as well as ours.

The United Methodist Church, in cooperation with the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Working Group, declares this Sunday as “The Festival of Creation,” as it is the closest Sunday to Tuesday’s international observance of Earth Day.   As such, the newly formed Environmental Stewardship Group will be providing brochures for you to pick up at church and in various businesses around town that will offer suggestions to you for ways to care for the earth.  They have developed an online blog site, cherokeespumc.wordpress.com, for you to share your efforts and discoveries in making God’s home healthier and more sustainable.


In his book,
Beyond Guilt and Powerlessness, George S. Johnson, an author, teacher, and Director of the Hunger Program for the Lutheran Church (ELCA), tackles issues of poverty, hunger, and homelessness from a faith perspective, believing in  the power of God’s people to effect change.  He claims that no prospective clergy should graduate from seminary without being able to fully explain the biblical concept of justice.  It is a chief characteristic of God throughout the scriptures, and a prevalent theme among the major stories of the Bible.  It is a concept prevalent in the Hebrew prophets, including the classic passage from Micah 6:8: What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

This Sunday we continue our series on the seven Christian virtues with a closer look at God’s call to justice, and a sermon based on the famous passage from Amos 5:24:  
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  Come discover how you can carry out God’s remedy for a broken world, and be an agent for God’s kingdom to be revealed on earth.  Together, let’s make a difference!

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What You've Told Us

April 8, 2008
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
I thought I would take a bit of a departure from the normal content of my weekly message to give you an update on all the progress your 20/20 Vision Team is making in its long-term strategic planning process for the church.  Read on until the end of the message to find information about this Sunday’s worship service, including a word about the special offering we are taking this Sunday for our missionaries in Zimbabwe.


First, here are some snapshot highlights from the congregational survey.  All the results in their entirety are available for your viewing in the church office or from one of the 20/20 Vision Team members.  

There is a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm in the church!

We had a much higher response to the surveys than we were expecting, and a vast majority of them indicated strong positive feelings for the current state of the church.  Many commented on the renewed energy and enthusiasm in the congregation.  Among the categories receiving high favorable ratings were Sunday morning worship, the friendliness of the church, the new uses of technology, and a sense of family.  One comment summed up the overall feeling of the surveys:
“St. Paul’s is not static!  The best things about St. Paul’s are the feelings of love and acceptance, exceptional musical talent, the concern for children and youth, St. Paul’s sense of humor, opportunities for youth and adults to use talents and abilities, and dedicated leadership.  St. Paul’s is neat!”
2)  There is a need to grow deeper.

With all of the enthusiasm reflected in the results, any categories that got an indifferent or negative reactions stood out.  When asked to respond to the statement, “St. Paul’s small groups have made a difference in my life,” a majority of people circled only “3” out of “5”, reflecting a lukewarm response.  Also, nearly 25% of the respondents have never been a part of any small group experience at the church, and nearly 75% of the respondents were indifferent or disagreed with the statement, “The educational opportunities at St. Paul’s equip me for ministry in the world.”  We can do a much better job deepening people’s sense of commitment to Jesus Christ and fostering their spiritual journeys.
We can be a positive influence on the community.

There is much to celebrate in the areas of missions and service, but there is a desire to do better.  We have a strong record of financially giving to missions, and regular projects like donation drives and the Ingathering receive strong support. But when asked to respond to: “The ministries of mission and outreach at St. Paul’s are making a difference in my life and in the community,” 63% were indifferent or disagreed with the statement, but were keenly interested in improving our ministry to the community.  We can capitalize on this interest and do a better job engaging in active mission and outreach, making a difference in the community and the world.
We have a desire to reach out to youth, young adults, and young families.
Many people expressed the need for more and varied programs for youth and young families.  While a majority of people sense that we are adequately staffed to move us into growth for the future, many expressed a common desire for a youth director to help minister to teens and young families.  
Now that the sanctuary’s done, what’s next?

There was clear consensus that people are very pleased with the result of the sanctuary renovation.  It is also clear that several areas of the church campus now deserve our attention.  All three floors of the Education Wing are badly in need of updating and upgrades to heating, cooling, and energy efficiency.  The Dining Hall and Kitchen need to be renovated, and we need to improve our parking capacity, particularly for handicap accessibility.  

Ultimately, your survey feedback reinforces what the team has identified as the three main goals of our work:
1)  Clarifying the church’s mission and vision.
2)  Deepening people’s discipleship and commitment to Christ.
3)  Improving our outreach and witness to the community.


The next several weeks will be busy ones for our team, as we engage you and the community for additional insight and guidance:
1)  Discussion with Community Agencies
We are having a conversation tonight with representatives from several community agencies in the area, to listen for their assessment of the greatest needs and obstacles in Cherokee.  These agencies include Plains Area Mental Health, Bright Beginnings, Mid-Sioux Opportunities, Cherokee Villa, and Cherokee Work Force Development.
2)  Discussion with Civic and Business Leaders
Then we will have a similar conversation next week, Wednesday, April 16, with business and civic leaders to get their sense of this area’s needs and opportunities.  Members of the Chamber of Commerce, City Hall, and the school system will join us.
3)  Feedback Sessions with Congregation Members
In the next few weeks, we will be hosting numerous “feedback sessions” for you to come and hear more of what we are discovering and offer your own insights.  

4)  Putting It All Together
By mid-May, we anticipate concluding the “data gathering” phase of our work.  We will then spend the summer shaping a comprehensive plan that will be presented at this fall’s Charge Conference for your approval.  Along the way, we will be working with all the necessary committees in the church to keep everyone abreast of important developments.
This has been an exciting journey so far, with some truly gifted and passionate members of the team.  As always, we appreciate your prayers and your insights every step of the way. We can’t wait to see what God has in store for this church!
Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


April 1, 2008
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Believe me when I tell you this is no April Fool’s joke:  
St. Paul’s UMC has finally paid off its mortgage debt!

At tonight’s Finance Committee meeting, we determined that there is now ample money in our Sanctuary Renovation Fund to finish paying the mortgage on the sanctuary and campus renovations.  After a dozen years and over $800,000 of renovations, St. Paul’s is debt-free!  No joke!
This has been accomplished through your generosity and faithful giving over these many years. But all of the credit goes to the God who guided this church to fulfilling a vision for its future, and empowering it to completion.  With wholehearted acclamation, we join in saying, “Thanks be to God!”
Now we gaze into the future and look to God’s Spirit to guide us toward our next steps. Here are some quick answers to questions you may have about this wonderful development:
Q.  What has been paid off?

A.  We have just finished paying off the $400,000 note that completed $840,000 in sanctuary renovations, roof repairs, street assessment, elevator installation, and other necessary campus renovation projects. After nearly a dozen years, and thanks to God’s faithfulness and your generosity, we are free of that debt!
Q.  How will this be officially celebrated?

A.  We will be observing a “burning of the mortgage” as part of our worship service on April 27.  That is Confirmation Sunday, and the theme for the service is “Faith: From Generation to Generation.” What a gift to pass on to the future generations of the church!
Q.  I’ve made a pledge toward the sanctuary fund for the rest of the year.  Should I still give?

A.  With the sanctuary debt now relieved, we can be better prepared for major needs and opportunities as they arise.
The Finance Committee is renaming the Sanctuary Renovation Fund to the Next Generation Fund, which will be used to pursue major opportunities for future growth and improvement for the church.  We would encourage you to continue to give to this fund at your current level. Even though the pledge envelopes will continue to use the name Sanctuary Fund, know that your gifts will go to this new fund.  If you have any questions, contact Sarah Cook, our Financial Secretary.  
Q.  Now that the sanctuary’s been paid off, what’s next?

A.  We can’t wait to see what God has in store! The 20/20 Vision Team is well into its process of discerning the long-term future of the church and recommending the next steps we are to take.  The congregation will formally approve their plan at this fall’s Charge Conference, and it will likely include recommendations for future building or renovation projects.  The recent congregational survey will guide their discernment, and there will be more opportunities in the next few months for you to give your opinions.
Once again, thank you for what you have accomplished together.  Let us give thanks to God!  
Grace and Peace,