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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Slow Down!

November 25, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Yesterday I received a sermon illustration in a most unfortunate way.

I picked up the girls from school and headed out for the hour-long drive to Sioux City to pick up Jessica, who was flying home from a conference in Boston.  The girls settled into the back seat to watch
Mary Poppins on the DVD player, and I spent the drive working through the myriad of items on my mental checklist:  follow-up work on Commitment Sunday, preparations for a big funeral today, Advent starting this Sunday - - all in a shortened work week.  Check, check, check.

I don’t know how long I had been driving before I noticed the flashing blue and red lights.  When the officer approached me, I still had know idea why I had been pulled over.  

“Do you know how fast you were going?” he asked me.  Well, that answered that question.  I wanted to say, “You have no idea how fast I’ve been moving today.”  I wanted to show him my to-do list, my day runner, and my e-mail inbox.  Take a radar gun to that, I thought to myself.

When he told me how fast I was going, I knew there was no squirming out of it.  My 7-year old, Grace, looked up from her movie to notice what was happening and frantically asked:


The officer chuckled and took my license back to the squad car, as I said to her “Don’t give him any ideas.”

Of course, speeding was just a symptom of the deeper problem.  I had become more absorbed by the world inside my head, instead of focusing on the road.  And it took flashing lights and a badge to shock me back to reality.   

Now, turning this into a sermon illustration may be my blatant attempt to self-justify my speeding ticket, but I did wonder if this is what the gospel writer had in mind when penning the words that serve as our text for the first Sunday of Advent:

"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken…Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come….And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

It’s not the way we would expect – or even want – to start our Advent journey.  We’d prefer placid scenes of hillside shepherds, starry nights, and lowing cattle.  But not this.  Not vivid violence and ominous urgency.  These words read like flashing blue and red lights in your rear view mirror.  “Pull over! Keep alert!  Snap out of it!  You’re drifting off into a different reality rather than the one that is set before you.”
  • You’re living in an artificial world of your own construction, rather than a world that invites the mysteries of faith and trust.

  • You’re stuck in a pressurized world of deadlines and instantaneous results, rather than a lifelong commitment to gradual maturity.

  • You’re speeding through a world jaded by cynicism and worry, instead of embracing a world of imagination and possibility.

You might even say you’re not quite ready for Christmas or Advent yet.  And that’s precisely the point.  We’re not ready for the inbreak of God in our lives, because we are too busy living in our own self-made world.  

I love the way Alfred Delp, the twentieth-century German priest and martyr under the Nazi regime put it:

Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves.  The necessary condition for the fulfillment of Advent is the renunciation of the presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams in which and by means of which we always build ourselves imaginary worlds…This shocked awakening is definitely part of experiencing Advent.  But at the same time there is much more that belongs to it.  Advent is blessed God’s promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time…Being shattered, being awakened – only with these is life made capable of Advent. (“The Shaking Reality of Advent” from When the Time Was Fulfilled.)

So is your life yet capable of Advent?  If not, then pull over.  Snap out of yourself for the next four weeks, and surrender to the mystery, the complexity, and the wonder of the incarnation once again.  

Come along for the journey, and keep alert.

Grace and Peace,


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

Mark 13:24-37

24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
25  and the stars will be falling from heaven,  and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26  Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27  Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
29  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
30  Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
31  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32  ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
33  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
34  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
35  Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,
36  or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
37  And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

Advent 2008:  “What God Wants for Christmas”

“What God Wants for Christmas Is…Our Attention”
Mark 13:24-37
November 30

“What God Wants for Christmas Is…Our Obedience”
Mark 1:1-8
December 7

“Live From Bethlehem”
Children’s Christmas Program
(and Adult Sunday School Cookie Sale)
December 14

“The Winter Rose”
Chancel Choir Cantata
December 21

“What God Wants for Christmas Is…Our Love”
Luke 2:1-20
December 24, 5:30pm

“What God Wants for Christmas Is…Our Trust”
Luke 2:22-40
December 28


Thank you to everyone who helped make last Sunday’s Thanksgiving Sunday such a special one for our church, especially Sherry Held and her team for a wonderful meal, and the adult Sunday school class for coordinating the trimming of the new Chrismon trees.

We received a very good start to our pledges for 2009, and we will be giving you a numerical update soon.  If you have not yet turned in your pledge card, you can bring it to the church office or put it in the offering plate this Sunday.  Thank you!


We are taking orders for poinsettias to adorn our chancel during Advent.  The cost is $12, which you can purchase in honor or in memory of a loved one.  Please call your orders in to the church office or write them down on your attendance sheet.  The poinsettias will be arriving from Rhoadside Blooming House in time for our service on Sunday, December 14, and can be picked up after our Christmas Eve service.  Please make your check payable to the church.


Starting next Sunday, our mitten tree will be placed at the base of the stairwell near the north entrance for you to bring your mittens and other items for our annual mitten tree donation drive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dream On

November 18, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Last night, walking through our living room, I noticed our 5-year old daughter Madelyn standing at the window, looking out.  Probably watching the neighborhood kids, I figured.  But it was too dark to see anything.  Maybe she was blowing her breath on the windows and drawing shapes.  That would leave a mark, I worried.

So I sidled up next to her, gazed out the window, and noticed that there was nothing to see.  No kids playing outside.  No animals.  No hot breath on plate glass.  Nothing.  Nothing but pitch-black darkness.

I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “What are you looking at, baby?”

And then, with a whispery soft voice that could melt any father’s heart, she said, “Daddy, I’m waiting to see the first star, so I can make a wish on it.”

I wanted to ask her what she was wishing for.  I wanted to ask her how she learned about wishing on stars.  I wanted to ask her whether she believed in that stuff.  That’s what rationale does.  It pokes at imagination, punctures creativity.  I felt bad.  Why make her grow up faster than she needed to?   

Later, I thought about Paul’s words to the Corinthians, in a passage I’ve preached dozens of times, mostly in weddings:

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly…”

Every time I’ve preached that text, I’ve considered Paul’s words to be an admonition.  “Grow up.”  “Quit being a baby.”  “Make your faith mature.”

But maybe Paul was saying the opposite.  Back when he spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child, maybe he was able to wish like a child.  Dream like a child.  See like a child.  And when he became an adult, all that came to an end.  No more stars and no more wishes.  And all he saw out the window was pitch-black darkness.  A mirror, dimly.  

Maturity brings murkiness.  That’s what happens when we grow older.  We lose our ability to dream.  To wish for a future that is better than our present.  We become saddled by reality and its sobering admonitions:  Quit dreaming.  Quit hoping for a better tomorrow.  Forget about it.

I think that’s why we have Christ the King Sunday.  Before we close the book on a long Pentecost season, and before we tear open the gift wrap of another Advent, we pause.  We remember what it was like to dream like a child, hope like a child, and see like a child, before we put an end to childish ways:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

Yep, a little child will lead them.  

It will be a child born in a series of dreams.  Born of an earthly father who was told by the heavenly father not to be afraid of the future – through a dream.  Visited  by shepherds who first were led to the child by following the wishes of a star shining in that pitch-black darkness.  Presented with gifts by stargazers in the east whose lives were transformed and whose journey home was forever altered – by a dream.

Don’t grow up too fast.  Don’t let the cold, bitter harshness of your reality squelch your ability to envision better days.  Let the process of maturing empower you to work toward those dreams, not undermine them.  And as a church, let us continue to forge ahead, building the kingdom one transformed life at a time, improving the community, and changing the world.

Dream on.

Faith, Hope, and Love,


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

We celebrate all of God’s blessings in our lives as a church family this Sunday with our annual Commitment Sunday and Thanksgiving Luncheon.  Bring your stewardship commitment cards to church and turn them in at the conclusion of the service as an act of joy and gratitude.  Then, join us after the service down in the Fellowship Hall for a delicious turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  There is no need to bring any food, and a free will offering will be taken.  Call in your reservation to the church office or respond to this e-mail.

Join a new group of folks journeying through the Old Testament and focusing on the Psalms every Sunday morning from 9am to 10am in the church library.  For more information, contact Marilyn Brubaker or Betty Ammons.

Back by popular demand, we are having a progressive supper for the youth on Sunday night, December 7.  We are in need of two more families willing to host two separate groups of about 8 youth for either the appetizer or soup/salad course.  No need to entertain or provide a program – just an open door and a warm heart!  Please let Lisa Sampson know if you are interested.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Our New Mission

November 11, 2008
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
On Monday night we shared an exciting and important moment in our ministry together.  By unanimous vote and joyous applause, you adopted the long-term strategic plan set forth by the 20/20 Vision Team.  We now have a clear set of mission, vision, and values statements that frame our purpose and identity.  And, we have a comprehensive set of thirty strategies that we will pursue to accomplish God’s work in and through this church.
After the Charge Conference, there was a tangible set of energy among the many who stuck around to chat about the plan.  These two stories stand out among many, and these people both gave me permission to share them with you.


One member told me her story of how she and her husband first came to St. Paul’s many years ago. After visiting numerous churches and giving worship at St. Paul’s a try, she said this felt like this was the place for both of them.  A member said to her at the time, “I think St. Paul’s is a sleeping giant. There is so much potential here, and they could do such great things, if they would only stop thinking about buildings and their own needs and start focusing on the needs of others outside the church.”  
This woman said to me that as a result of  Monday night’s adoption of the 20/20 Plan, she feels like a spark has been lit all throughout the church.  She feels like the church is finally “waking up” to the possibilities of doing great things, and she and her husband were so excited coming home after Charge Conference that they could not sleep.  They stayed up until 1:00am buzzing with energy!  She said, “I’m ready to start working on this stuff tomorrow, I’m so excited!”
Now tell me how many Charge Conferences you’ve attended that have had that kind of effect!


The other woman came to me the morning after Charge Conference to say that she was having breakfast with a friend, who was expressing some discomfort with the church she was currently attending.  Our church member listened to her frustrations, then remembered an important part of our new mission statement that talks about being a “People in the Center.”  
She told her friend, “You know, I’ve come to discover that St. Paul’s is not one of those churches that is at the extreme right of things, and we are not at the extreme left. We are right in the center. We don’t judge, and we are not narrow-minded.  We are really open to people.  You may want to come check us out.”
How about that? It’s amazing what clarity about our mission and our values can do:  it even makes
evangelism easier!
Without a doubt, these are exciting times to be a part of St. Paul’s.  There does seem to be a tangible excitement about our future, and I am grateful that you are willing to be a part of it.
In case you have not seen our new mission, vision, and values statements, here they are:


God’s Love in Action

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church is a community of people united by the love of God and dedicated to putting that love into action through ministries of worship, discipleship, fellowship, and service.  
We worship with joy, because Christ is among us and deserves our praise.
We grow in our faith, practicing every day what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  
We care for each other as an encouraging, supportive, and growing family.
We share with others to meet their physical and spiritual needs, and invite all people to faith in Christ.


As we fulfill our mission, and put God’s love into action, we will see:
Transformed Lives – people will come to find new purpose and passion in their lives.
An Improved Community – we will make a difference in the quality of life in our community.
A Changed World – we will do our part in building God’s kingdom around the world.


As United Methodists, we put God’s love into action as:
People of the Word
We share a foundation in the written words of the Bible, and share a passionate devotion to the living Word in Jesus.

People of Grace
We strive to be a perfect place for imperfect people, supporting and encouraging each other to discover the value of their unique gifts.

People Who Welcome
As our denominational motto states, we are a church with “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” We welcome a diversity of people and a diversity of perspectives with warmth and hospitality.

People in the Center
As mainline Christians in the Wesleyan tradition, we negotiate a living, vital balance between heart and mind, passion and knowledge, truth and love, and personal salvation and social action.   

Part of a Global Church
We celebrate our commitment to the universal body of Christ, and commit our support to the ministries of the United Methodist Church around the world.


Over the next several weeks and months, we will start the hard work of implementing the thirty strategies for improving our ministries of worship, discipleship, fellowship, and service.  The newly elected Building Committee will also begin laying out the groundwork for the next phase of campus renovations.
These exciting projects invite the participation of everyone in the church, including you.  In the next two weeks you will be given a chance to offer your financial commitment to God’s work in the church through this year’s stewardship campaign.  I hope you will come this Sunday to hear a sermon called, “Worship, Grow, Care, and Share” and pick up your stewardship packet after the service. The packet will contain a detailed brochure of the 20/20 Vision Plan, a flyer connecting the plan with the 2009 budget, and a commitment card for you to prayerfully consider.
Then, on November 23, Thanksgiving Sunday, we invite you to come to church to turn in your commitment card as an act of gratitude and generosity.  Then stay after church for our annual Thanksgiving Fellowship Luncheon.  All the food will be provided, and a free will offering will be taken.
I can’t say it any better than what that member said to me earlier:  “A spark has been lit throughout the church.  I’m so excited, I can’t wait to get started!”
These are great days to be the church!
Grace and Peace,

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

We have much to celebrate!  St. Paul’s UMC contributed to another successful Ingathering for the Iowa Conference.  Your donations enabled our volunteers to put together 254 kits, valued at $3,594.00, which will be sent around the world.  This is the largest number of kits we have ever produced.  In all, the Northwest District contributed over $160,000.00 of supplies, toward a grand state-wide total of over $921,000.00.  Thanks, St. Paul’s!
What a wonderful event we had last week!  Thank you to the many of you who contributed to another successful bazaar, in which you served over 370 meals and brought in a gross take of $4,426.20. Well done!
Have you ever bowled a “turkey”...with a real turkey?  Well now’s your chance!  Help celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with a version of bowling you’ll never forget.  The event is Sunday, November 16, from 5:00-7:00 and is open to all youth grades 7-12.

Our new bishop, Julius Calvin Trimble, will be visiting the Northwest District on Wednesday, November 19.  He will be meeting with clergy at 4:00 pm at the Storm Lake UMC, followed by a gathering with lay people at 5:30 over a light dinner.  Local church lay leaders and lay members to the Conference are encouraged to come, and reservations are required for the dinner.  Contact the District Office at (712) 732-0812.
United Methodist Men from around the district are invited to attend a rally focusing on spiritual development and service, on Saturday, November 15, at Grace UMC in Spencer. (311 2nd Ave West, Spencer, IA 51301).  For a brochure and registration form, please contact the District Office at (712) 732-0812.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Three Questions

November 4, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family.

I have three questions for you.  

In the last ten months, I have come to know that there are three simple questions that require answers from every church.  A congregation should be able to go to their pastor and hear concise, complete, answers to these questions.  And those answers should be understood by every member for a church to be vital, growing, and healthy.  

What is our mission, and how will we fulfill it?
What is the central operating principle around which we will coordinate our activities, order our structures, prioritize our resources, and gauge our effectiveness?  What is the one thing that we need to make sure we do well, at the expense of everything else we might do?  

Without adequately answering this question, a church can be busy and active, without truly accomplishing anything of lasting value to the kingdom of God.  It is like a giant rowboat, in which all the oars are paddling at different paces and various rhythms.  There’s a lot of activity, but no movement.  There’s a lot of energy, but no direction.  The ship stays in place or spins in circles, but never moves forward.  A clearly stated, widely-internalized mission and vision unifies a congregation and enables it to align its energies.  

2)  What is a disciple, and how will we make them?
It was the final commandment from Jesus to his disciples:  “Go therefore,” he said, “and make disciples of all nations.”  Make no mistake about the gospel’s careful wording here.  People need to become disciples of Jesus Christ, and God has empowered the church with the ability to make them.  The phrase, make disciples is actually a single word in Greek, meaning to teach or to instruct.  It is the duty of every church to engage others in on-the-job training to become disciples of Christ.

But before a disciple can be made by a church, it must be defined.  You don’t build a house without a blueprint, embark on a journey without a defined destination, or cook a dish without a meal in mind.  Disciple-making must be an intentional process, in which the expected outcome is understood.  What does it mean to be a disciple in this particular church?  What is expected of me to be a disciple in the context of this community?  What must I do, and what will I become?  Without answers to these questions, a church merely makes members, but not disciples.  

Who is our neighbor, and how will we love them?  
The gospels tell us in three different places that the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Luke’s version advances this with the question, “Who is my neighbor?” and follows with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It is a story with an unmistakable conclusion:  we must see those around us as our neighbors, not as outsiders, and we must love them, regardless of the cost.  

A church must determine to reach out to its neighbors near and far,  loving them in the way the Samaritan loved the man on the street.  Whether those neighbors are across the street or around the world, whether their needs are physical, emotional, or spiritual, our task is clear.  Simply, to love them.   

These three questions demand answers from every pastor and every congregation in every church.  Without a clear sense of its mission, an intentional process of disciple-making, and an ongoing desire to serve its neighbors in love, no church can be healthy and growing, and achieve its God-given task of building the kingdom.


Ten months ago, when your 20/20 Vision Team began its work of listening for the long-term strategic plans of this church, it organized its energies around finding answers to these three questions.  The result is the 20/20 Vision Plan, a comprehensive set of strategies that include proposals for new programming, personnel, facilities, and resources in order to be the church God wants us to be by the year 2020 and beyond.

More importantly, it offers clear and complete answers to all three of these questions.  

It outlines a very clear statement of mission, vision, and values.  It defines discipleship and outlines a path for individuals to experience the life transforming love of God in their lives.  And it sets out a bold plan for reaching out in concern and service to others in the community and the world.   

If you weren’t here last Sunday to hear the presentation by the 20/20 Vision Team, I invite you to stop by the office for a copy of the plan, or I can e-mail you a copy of the full booklet.  Study it, prayer over it, and ask all your questions to a member of the 20/20 Vision Team in the upcoming week.  And then, join us next Monday night at 7:00, when we will gather together for our Charge Conference and vote to adopt these recommendations.  

It would be no understatement to say that these next three Sundays may be the most important sermons I have preached thus far in my brief tenure as your pastor.  This week we begin both our stewardship campaign and the process of adopting this new vision for our life together, with a sermon called,
“God’s Love in Action,” titled after our new mission statement and based on the parable of the Good Samaritan.  I invite you to be in prayer for this church over the next three weeks, as it discerns its adoption of the vision plan and its financial commitments to God for the next year.

These are truly exciting times to be a disciple of Jesus Christ here at St. Paul’s.  Now, as always, it is great to be the church.  Come along for the ride!

Grace and Peace,


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

Luke 10:25-37
25  Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
26  He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’
27  He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’
28  And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
29  But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
30  Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
31  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33  But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
34  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35  The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
36  Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’
37  He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

As you exercise your civic privilege to cast your votes for the leaders of our day, take some moments to pray for God’s guidance and strength to be on all our elected leaders during these challenging times.  And include in your prayers a request for God’s spirit to bring healing for the deep divisions that have emerged throughout our country from the polarizing activity and inflammatory rhetoric that have emerged throughout these last several months.   

Thank you to all of you who helped make last weekend’s Ingathering another success.  Much gratitude goes to all of you who supplied and made kits, packaged  boxes and loaded trucks on Saturday, and sent them off for delivery on Monday.  You truly helped make a difference to people all over the world.

Due to a recent upgrade in our computer system, we need to update our information to include anyone who has ever received or now wishes to receive our monthly Dome newsletter by e-mail.  Please send your information to Linzi Gum at lgum@cherokeespumc.org if you have been or would like to be included on that distribution list.