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

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It Works Both Ways

May 27, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

In her book
Listening for God:  A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt, noted Old Testament scholar and ordained minister Renita Weems chronicles a period of spiritual dryness and disenchantment that shattered her relationship with God.  

With candor and courage, she shares a story common to even the most seasoned and respected Christians.  As I read her account, I was particularly struck by her chapter called “Fidelity,” in which she talks about maintaining her spiritual practices, even through the most difficult moments of her struggle:

Odd, isn’t it?  The routines that make the least sense when we are adrift prove to be the very things that keep us anchored and facing in the right direction.  I was never tempted to leave the ministry when I felt adrift, but there were many times I dreaded the duties and rituals that make up a large part of my ministry.  I prayed over the sick, held babies up to be blessed, and arranged flowers on the altar – and stood outside myself, watching myself perform these tasks, which were by then almost second nature, scowling and shaking my head at times, wondering what in the world was the sense of doing any of this.  Nevertheless, I never gave any thought to walking away.  This is my life, I reminded myself frequently; I don’t know any other way to live.  It sounds like a coward’s comment.  And perhaps it was and is.  Change unnerves me as much as the next person.  If I had my way I would change only the things I want to change, and leave unchanged the things that suit me just fine.  But labeling my failure to walk away from the church and ministry as fear is to miss the point.  Attending church, preaching, officiating at the Communion table, and baptizing babies were precisely the things I had to do until belief returned.

It’s that last line that caught my attention.  We often think that only belief begets behavior, and never the other way around.  We think:  

  • If I don’t believe in the power of prayer, then I am unable to pray.  
  • If I have doubts about God existence, then I don’t have to read God’s words in scripture.  
  • If I believe that others have no business meddling in my religious affairs, then I don’t need to trust others and include them in my faith journey.

While belief can shape behavior, the inverse can also be true.  There are moments when the breath of God’s inspiration fills our lungs only when we practice the inhale and exhale of regular prayer and devotion.  If we alter the pattern, or stop breathing altogether, we are more prone to fainting.

But practicing the faith, even when we don’t believe it, ensures that we will be ready when God is, at whatever moment God wants to spark a new insight or call us to a new reality.  

Later in the chapter, Dr. Weems reminds the reader of Flannery O’Connor, the noted American novelist.  She maintained a disciplined routine every morning, careful to “make her way to her desk whether she knew what she was going to write about or not.  She stationed herself predictably at her desk in front of her typewriter faithfully every morning in case an idea came to her mind.”


This Sunday, we continue our journey through the heritage, doctrine, and practices of the United Methodist Church with an important sermon on John Wesley’s spiritual disciplines.  We will discover that even Wesley was not immune from periods of spiritual struggle in his life, and from his experience he developed a regular, “methodical” pattern of prayer, Bible study, worship, fasting, and service to others.  

Naturally, this Sunday’s sermon on spiritual practices will also include a practicum.  You will be invited to join me in a thirty-day journey using Wesley’s daily devotional pattern as a prescription for our own spiritual practices.  We are calling it
“A Month of Living Wesleyan,” and it will include a special guidebook we have produced in-house to guide us individually and in small groups for these next several summer weeks.  You’ll want to come and find out more this Sunday.


We should remember that the keeping of spiritual practices is not so much about extracting their immediate benefits, like a “runner’s high” or a “sugar rush.”  It’s less about selfish gain and more about fidelity to God.  It reminds us that we are not our own, even when we have trouble believing there is anyone else out there.  Surely and steadily, we have a revitalized relationship with a God who has been there all along.  

At the end of the chapter, Dr. Weems writes:  

The inclination to walk away, give up, stop praying, stop believing, curse the winter, and withdraw cannot be denied.  But I haven’t, so far.  I have chosen to dig my heels in and stick with my routine until the mystery returns.  Bless the babies.  Bury the dead.  Pour the wine.  Break the bread.  Say the benediction.  I have become grateful for these daily acts of fidelity, which serve to keep me anchored and disciplined.

Growing with you in grace,


James 2:14-26
14  What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?
15  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,
16  and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?
17  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
18  But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
19  You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.
20  Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith without works is barren?
21  Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.
23  Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, and he was called the friend of God.
24  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
25  Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26  For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

"The Meaning of Methodist" 

A Five-Part Series exploring the heritage, belief, and practice of the United Methodist Church

June 1
“One Who Practices Daily”
(United Methodist Disciplines)
James 2:14-26

June 8
“One Who Connects With Others”
(The United Methodist Church)
Exodus 18:13-27

June 15
“One Who Impacts the World”
(United Methodist Mission)
2 Corinthians 5:11-21

VBS is coming!  Now is the time to register your child for what will be an exciting, fun-filled adventure.  The theme is “Power Lab!” and is for kids grades pre-K through sixth grade.  It takes place from 8:30am-12:30pm June 9-13.  Cost is $5.00 per person.  To register, contact Carmen Teoli or the church office.

As a reminder, Sunday worship moves to 9:30am starting this Sunday, June 1.  Also, if you are interested in helping with the summer Fellowship Coffees, please call Betty Point.  Three couples are needed for each Sunday to bring three dozen bars or cookies. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Creative Power of God

May 21, 2008
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Woodwinds, brass, and strings hold at the ready, awaiting the first sweep of the baton.  At once, the orchestra begins a rendition of
Impossible Dream from the musical Man of La Mancha.  With gestures of hand and head, the conductor prompts and guides the musicians to the selection’s end, which the audience receives with thunderous applause.
When the Detroit Symphony concluded this performance last week, the crowd’s appreciation was for more than just the music.  It was for the conductor that directed it.  He – or rather, it – is named ASIMO, a robot built by the Honda Motor Corporation in a groundbreaking moment of robotic technology.
When I first read this story, I pondered some obvious questions about the purpose and importance of a conductor to an orchestra.  I remembered the words of Benjamin Zander, director of the Boston Philharmonic and noted motivational speaker, who reminds audiences that the conductor is the only member of an orchestra who doesn’t make a sound.  It is the conductor’s job to elicit music from those who do.
Naturally, ASIMO falls far short of matching a conductor’s greatest importance to a symphony.  The conductor’s personality, imagination, and interpretation are as valuable as gestures and mechanics.  The ability of the conductor to persuade and to lure music out of the performers constitute a symphony’s heart and soul.  But like ASIMO, a conductor plays no instruments, makes no sound, and certainly does not manipulate or coerce musicians like puppets on a stage.  
The true value of a conductor is not in the power to manipulate, but in the power to persuade.  
I’m reminded of the words of Tyron Inbody, one of my seminary professors and author of the book
Transforming God:  An Interpretation of Suffering and Evil:  
The creative power of God can be represented in poetic form as well as in metaphysical language.  Formulated in metaphor, God is creator of the world as a composer or a conductor, writing the score a few bars ahead of the orchestra or conducting the orchestra; or as an improviser in a jazz band rather than a performer of the music ex nihilo.


John Wesley engaged numerous arguments about the power of God and its relationship to human free will.  As was the case in much of his theological constructions, he was able to forge a
both/and resolution to a proposition that had many either/or advocates.  He came to the conclusion that the power of God and the faculty of human choice are not mutually exclusive.  Instead of understanding God as one who coerces, Wesley understood God as one who directs humanity at every moment with powerfully persuasive signals, gestures, and nods, prodding us toward a collective production of beauty and harmony, rather than sinful cacophony.
It is this interplay between God’s power to persuade, along with humanity’s God-given capacity to respond, that lies at the heart of Wesley’s understanding of grace.  
The United Methodist
Book of Discipline defines this persuasive, prevenient grace as:

"...the divine love that surrounds all humanity and precedes any and all of our conscious impulses. This grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God's will, and our 'first slight transient conviction' of having sinned against God. God's grace also awakens in us an earnest longing for deliverance from sin and death and moves us toward repentance and faith.”

We continue our journey through the heritage, doctrine, and practices of the United Methodist Church with a sermon titled:  
“What is a Methodist?  One Who Lives in Grace.” We will learn more about the distinctives of Methodist theology, remembering that we are neither puppets on a cosmic stage, nor soloists in isolation.  Under the direction of God’s constant, grace-filled prompting, we co-create for the world a masterpiece called the Kingdom of God.
Grace, indeed,

Ephesians 2:1-10

1  You were dead through the trespasses and sins
2  in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.
3  All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.
4  But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us
5  even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
6  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7  so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.
8  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—
9  not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
10  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

"The Meaning of Methodist"

A Five-Part Series exploring the heritage, belief, and practice of the United Methodist Church

May 25
“One Who Lives in Grace”
(United Methodist Beliefs)
Ephesians 2:1-10

June 1
“One Who Practices Daily”
(United Methodist Disciplines)
Psalm 119:97-112

June 8
“One Who Connects With Others”
(The United Methodist Church)
Exodus 18:13-27

June 15
“One Who Impacts the World”
(United Methodist Mission)
2 Corinthians 5:11-21

VBS is coming!  Now is the time to register your child for what will be an exciting, fun-filled adventure.  The theme is “Power Lab!” and is for kids grades pre-K through fifth grade.  It takes place from 8:30am-12:30pm June 9-13.  Cost is $5.00 per person.  To register, contact Carmen Teoli or the church office.

Sunday worship moves to 9:30am starting Sunday, June 1.  Also, if you are interested in helping with the summer Fellowship Coffees, please call Betty Point.  Three couples are needed for each Sunday to bring three dozen bars or cookies.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is actively working to respond to the major disasters in Burma and China.  If you would like to contribute to their efforts, make your check payable to St. Paul’s UMC and designate it for either Burma or China relief.  More information about UMCOR is available at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor <http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor> .

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Meaning of Methodist

May 13, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

One of the more common questions asked of me by church folks is “What is unique about being United Methodist?”  It’s a question that comes both from long-time members of the church as well as newcomers to the faith.  It often emerges from a theological interest in the distinctive qualities of Methodist doctrine.  Other seek clarity for their convictions against a myriad of available denominational options.  And others simply want to know what to tell their friends.

Regardless, the question of what is uniquely Methodist is often personalized:  “Why am I a United Methodist?  Why do I choose to align myself with this particular denomination?”

This is an important question at an important time.  Many of us are familiar with the recent survey released by the Pew Forum on Religion and American Life, which revealed that 29 percent of Americans have left the religious tradition of their childhood by choosing another religion or leaving religious life entirely.  If you add to that figure the number of people who have merely switched from one Christian denomination to another, the number jumps to 44 percent.

Clearly, there is a lot of movement and fluidity among people’s religious preferences today.  People are free to pick up, drop, and mix and match their religious affiliation just as easy as it is to pick out an outfit in your wardrobe.  

So why choose to be United Methodist?

In 1999, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) formalized a “Concordat of Agreement,” recognizing full communion between the two denominations.  The next spring, Garrison Keillor, the famed radio storyteller from fabled Lake Wobegon, MN, sang the following song in one of his broadcasts:

I was raised in Iowa, went to Concordia,
    Swedish, I’m proud to say.
    Got a job at Lutheran Brotherhood,
    And I never was sick one day.

    We sit in the pew where we always sit,
    And we do not shout Amen.
    And if anyone yells or waves their hands,
    They’re not invited back again.

    We’ve got chow mein noodles on tuna hotdish
    And Jello with cottage cheese,
    And chocolate bars and banana cream pie,
    No wonder we’re on our knees.
    This is the church where we sing Amen
    At the end of every song.
    The coffee pot is always on
    Cause the meetings are three hours long.

    I’m a Lutheran, a Lutheran, it is my belief,
    I am a Lutheran guy.
    We may have merged with another church
    But I’m a Lutheran til I die.

We should always embrace ecumenical partnerships and celebrate moments of full communion with Christians of all denominations around the world (just as our recent General Conference recently affirmed full communion with the ELCA.)  We should also always be clear about what it means to be distinctly United Methodist.  For we have unique gifts to offer the world, and a special capacity to reach out to those people for whom a Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith is attractive and life-giving.


I invite you to come along for the next five weeks on an exploration of the heritage, belief, practice, polity, and mission of the United Methodist Church.  This will be a timely reminder to all of us of what it means to be part of the Wesleyan movement, as we look toward our 150th Anniversary later this summer.

Also, toward the end of the series, you will be invited to participate in a special 30-day experiment we are calling “A Month of Living Wesleyan,” in which we will draw on the daily spiritual practices of John Wesley as a model for our own every day discipline.  You will find this process to be rejuvenating to your spirit and a deeply moving way of preparing for our sesquicentennial.  

This would also be a perfect series to invite your unchurched (and even non-Methodist) friends and family to attend.  Together, let’s celebrate and remember what it means to be “A People Called Methodist.”



Wednesday, May 7, 2008


May 7, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Unfortunately, stories like this don’t come every day.

Last week, in a college playoff softball game, senior Sara Tucholsky of Western Oregon University uncorked a home run over the centerfield fence.  The story here is not just that the home run came with two runners out, or that it enabled Western Oregon University to take the lead, or even that it was Sara’s first ever home run, in high school or college.

As she rounded the bases, she realized she missed tagging first base, so she abruptly stopped and turned back to first.  In the process, she felt a stinging pain in her right knee and crumpled to the ground.  With a possible torn ligament, she crawled back to first and could go no further.  The umpire reminded her team that if any of her teammates came out to help her, she would be called out.  

So here comes the amazing part of the story.  Two opposing players from Central Washington University, Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace, went to the umpire and asked if they could help.  The umpire obliged.

With Sara’s arms around them, Mallory and Liz put their arms under Sara’s legs and carried her around the base path, stopping at each base for Sara to lower her good leg for to touch each bag.

When they made it to home plate, the three-run home run was counted, ultimately leading to Central Washington’s defeat and elimination from the playoffs.

Sara’s entire team was in tears.

Mallory would later tell reporters, “In the end, it is not about winning and losing so much," Holtman said. "It was about this girl. She hit it over the fence and was in pain, and she deserved a home run."


Now, I’ll admit the temptation up front.  How can a preacher like me shae this story and not want to jump right to the Good Samaritan, or “I have come not come to be served, but to serve”?  There is no indication, of course, that Mallory or Liz did this out of any Christian convictions, or that they were doing this because Jesus told them to do it.

So rather than co-opt the story and spiritualize it for the taking, how about we turn the spotlight on us and ask, “Why do stories like this surprise us?  And why aren’t we the source of more of them?”  If there is any group that can be live out acts of love and selflessness, offering stories that surprise and flip conventional wisdom on its ear, shouldn’t it be the church in the world?  Aren’t we the living embodiment of the One who came to say “the first shall be last and the last shall be first?”

That is, after all, what the first Pentecost was about.  In one fiery, wind-swept moment, the Holy Spirit came and touched off a blazing movement that would call people to turn their lives around, sell their possessions, and give their money to the poor.  The capacity to amaze the world is in our history, it’s in our heritage, and it’s in our DNA.  

This Sunday, when we celebrate the birthday of the church, let’s remember that we are called to be a surprise to the world.  So that stories like this can come every day, from us.

It’s great to be the church,


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

Acts 2:1-12
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’
12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’

Next Sunday we observe the holy day of Pentecost, remembering the birth of the church and the arrival of the Spirit.  The liturgical color that day is red, reminding us of the power of the spirit’s fire as it touched the earth.  Consider wearing red in celebration of this special day.

Thank you for your generous contribution to the camp scholarship fund.  Over $350.00 came in for scholarships for kids in our community to go to camp summer.  If you know of a child or youth would enjoy this fun, faith-building experience, applications are available in the Fellowship Hall or on the conference website at www.iaumc.org.

This Sunday is the last day of Sunday school before we break for the summer. Back in December, several of you picked up names of children to pray for them as Prayer Partners.  We invite you to join the children for a party at 9:30 that morning.  Please let Marlene Kelly know if you are coming.

This year’s VBS is themed “Power Lab!” and will be an exciting adventure of faith and fun.  It will take place in the mornings, from June 9-13.  There are several ways you can help make this the biggest and best VBS ever:

1.  Spread the word to all the children you know!  Registration begins this Sunday, with a $5 registration per child.  Contact:  Carmen Teoli

2.  Volunteering your time (no experience necessary!).  Contact:  Jessica deVega

3.  Donate the following  items to help offset costs; you can drop them off in the church office.  Contact:   Korrie Waldner

        Hard foam or plywood for beakers in background.  Need 3 x 11.
        Lab beakers (to borrow) or any pharmaceutical looking jars.  
        Donations of the following for snacks: (to feed up to 50 children) or, will take money donations to purchase ourselves.
                Day 1: plain cookies, frosting, 1 bag of M&M’s (large), Orange slices.
                Day 2: cookies to smash, pudding cups.
                Day 3: pre-packaged cups of ice cream, cans of grape soda, maraschino cherries.
                Day 4: boxes of Ritz (or alternatively priced same thing), squirt cheese.
                Day 5: Whipped topping; 3 large containers, whipped cream (for toping), mixed fruit to cup (pineapples and strawberries)
        Blue balloons for power lab (10).  (need on day of or day early)
        2 bowling balls, 1 large fish tank, heavy suit case (on wheels)

4.  Consider making a financial contribution toward the costs.  We hope to minister to a large number of children in the community.