xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: November 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Testament to Peace

December 1, 2009

Dear Advent Pilgrims,

The next time you’re in the downtown area, swing by the Sanford Museum Park, between the movie theater and Jane’s Salon. A few feet past the park benches, adjacent to the winding path of brick pavers, you’ll be greeted by a tall, eight-foot post, planted squarely between the two buildings. Looking more closely at the bright-green pole, you’ll notice three white plaques on each of the pole’s four sides, adorned with different languages in bold black lettering. Once you find the English version, you’ll discover what all the language proclaim in unison: “May Peace Prevail on Earth.”

Nearly two weeks ago, the Cherokee Peace Pole was planted as a lasting declaration for peace for our time. It joins the 200,000 Peace Poles in town squares, city halls, schools, gardens, and places of worship around the world. Among them is the one at Pasadena Community Church, my home church in St. Petersburg, Florida. I remember passing by it on a weekly basis on my way to worship and youth group meetings. Even back then, I thought the pole was a stirring way to connect our congregation with a witness for peace shared by communities near and far. And now our town joins the ranks of those who share that desire.

The thing that I am most proud of is how homegrown this pole is. It is not something that was ordered from a manufacturer and installed by a third party. It is the product of a community partnership, beginning with Sister Janice Hoffman, and members of this congregation and the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Thank you to Linda Burkhardt, Jenny Burroughs, and Jessica deVega for their efforts on the committee. Then, with approval from the Cherokee County Ministerial Association, we conceived the details of the pole, including the selected languages. We wanted to reflect all of the world’s major population groups, and represent the ethnic makeup of the people of Cherokee. So we decided on these translations:

English / German / Hebrew / Arabic
Chinese / Korean / Spanish / Swahili
Swedish / Indian / Gaelic / Lakota Sioux

Denny Holton from Holton Signs donated the parts and labor in designing the twelve plaques, and expertly attached them to the pole. The pole itself is a statement of ecological responsibility, as it is made of 100% recycled material and was generously donated by Steve Thomas of R.J. Thomas Manufacturing. The Depot Renovation, Inc. and Cherokee Lumber contributed additional resources for getting the project off the ground. Altogether, this is a wonderful collaboration of selfless people and fine companies in Cherokee.

And now you can see it for yourself. Sometime in the spring, we’ll invite you and the whole community to gather for a formal dedication of the Peace Pole, perhaps on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010. I can’t think of a better day to make a united pronouncement for peace with Christians around the world.


Of course, the timing of this announcement isn’t bad either. On this second Sunday of Advent, we’ll hear the timeless words of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and the forerunner of his arrival. With the boldness of a prophet and the artistry of a poet, John minced no words in telling the people to shape up:

'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

In classic covenantal language, John offers both a promise and a prescription. Yes, the Lord is coming to fill every valley, plane the rough edges, and straighten out the crooked. But we have a responsibility: Prepare the way. Straighten up. Get our act together. Though the promise of peace will be realized someday, it will only come when we share in its creation.

Join us this Sunday as we continue our Advent sermon series called “What Child is This?” We’ll explore different aspects of this child who is to be born fresh and anew in our midst, and discover the implications that his arrival bears in our lives. This week, we’ll focus more on John the Baptist’s declaration with a sermon titled, “A Child Who Sets Things Straight.” And we’ll conclude the service by gathering at the communion table, the best nourishment for our Advent journey.

See you on the road,


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

(for more information about peace poles, visit www.peacepoles.com)

Luke 3:1-6
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,
2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dear Baby Jesus?

November 24, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Given our assumptions about Christmas, one would think the gospels were written by either Currier or Ives. We delight in tranquil nativity scenes of lowing cattle and nightscapes both silent and holy. The Christ of our imagination is born under twinkling angel light, when all is calm, and all is bright. But such imagery is fabled, if not fabricated. The gospels portray a birth narrative replete with danger and paranoia, filled with the stress of census crowds, the threatened throne of an angry king, and the pulsing contractions of painful labor.

Make no mistake: the first Advent was neither silent nor calm.

Yet, our tendency is to sterilize the story for our comfort. We favor plastic cheer over steady discipline, and sedation over somber reflection. We prefer a God who coos and cuddles, rather than one who demands and challenges. Jesus, after all, came to us as a baby: innocent, cute, and charming. How could a God who gurgles and grins be anything but adorable?

The problem, of course, is that constructing a god who pleases us, who offers on-demand, real-time service for our desires, is nothing short of idolatry. And the only cure for that kind of false veneration is to open ourselves up to the possibility of surprise. To a God who comes in ways we least expect.

A God of Advent.

I’m reminded of the scene from Will Ferrell’s comedy movie Talladega Nights, in which his character Ricky Bobby offers grace before a family dinner. His prayer is as silly as it is self-centered, but it does embody the kind of idolatry we assume when we worship a god we create on our own terms:

RICKY: Dear Lord Baby Jesus, or as our brothers in the South call you, Hay-zoos, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Dominos, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell. Dear tiny, infant Jesus - -

CARLY (Ricky’s Wife): Hey, um, you know, sweetie. Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him baby. It’s a bit odd to pray to a baby.

CAL (Ricky’s Friend): Well, look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m saying grace. When you say grace you can say it to “Grown Up Jesus,” or “Teenage Jesus,” or “Bearded Jesus,” or whatever Jesus you want.

CARLY: You know what I want? I want you to do this grace good so that God will let us win tomorrow.

CAL: Dear tiny Jesus, with golden fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists -


RICKY: Look! I like the baby version the best, do you hear me? I win the races and I get the money!

CARLY: Ricky, finish the grace!

RICKY: Okay. Dear 8 pound, 6 ounce, newborn, infant Jesus - don’t even know a word yet. Just so infant and cuddly, but still omnipotent - we just thank you for all the races we’ve won and the 21.2 million dollars I’ve won…..We thank you for all your power and grace, dear baby God. Amen.


Thankfully, there is no gospel according to Currier and Ives, or Ricky Bobby for that matter. Instead, we are guided by Advent Scriptures like Jeremiah 33:14-16 that open us up and show us a God who shocks us into a new reality.

‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

Forget about a helpless baby with golden fleece diapers and fat, tiny fists. This is a God who comes to us with power and strength, with command and authority, and we best be ready when that time comes.

It’s an idea powerfully proclaimed by Alfred Delp, the Jesuit priest who stood up to the Nazi regime and was eventually hanged for his treason. In his sermon “The Shaking Reality of Advent,” he summons an awakening to Advent’s true intent:

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. In this way we force reality to take us to itself by force - by force, in much pain and suffering. 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 with God's promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time. These promises kindle the inner light in our hearts. Being shattered, being awakened - only with these is life made capable of Advent.

During this blessed season, we are asking the question of the timeless Christmas carol: What Child is This? We will discover that this God is one who calls, not coos, and shocks us out of our steady holiday diet of tinsel and toys in order to be people of discipline and preparation. His arrival is assured, for this God is faithful and reliable. But our task is not merely to wait and anticipate; it is to prepare and make his path straight.

Join us for the next four Sundays, as we observe a vigilant, attentive Advent. May we allow this God to surprise us, and shake us, once again.

Peace, 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

Luke 21:25-36
25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
27 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory.
28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.
33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly,
35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.
36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

What Child is This?
Advent 2009

“A Child Who Brings Surprise”
Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36
November 29

“A Child Who Sets Things Straight”
Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6
December 6

Children’s Christmas Musical
December 13

“Rise Up”
Chancel Choir Cantata
December 20

“The King Who Feared the Child”
Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-20
December 24
Christmas Eve Service at 5:30pm

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finances and Feelings

November 17, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

The other day my older daughter Grace asked me to describe my happiest memories. I told her about the moments she and her sister were born, about the day I married their mother, and about the night I was ordained a minister. She agreed that those were good memories and was satisfied by those answers.

But what if she asked me to assign a monetary figure to those events, with a question like, “Daddy, what was the dollar value of those happy memories?” In other words, how much money would I have to get in order to feel as happy as any of those events? $5,000? $10,000? More?

Would that seem like an odd question? That’s the one posed by an Australian professor named Paul Frijters, who this past week published the results of a surprising eight-year study. [1] After surveying 10,000 people, he developed dollar values to the emotional effects of events such as marriage, childbirth, divorce, and home purchases. Positive dollar amounts indicated “psychic benefits,” and negative dollar amounts showed “psychic costs.” For example:

· A man getting married feels like he just received $32,000. To women, it only feels like $16,000.
· Divorce feels like a $110,000 loss to a man, but only $9,000 to a woman.
· The death of a spouse or a child feels like minus -$130,900 to a woman, and a whopping $627,300 deficit to a man.
· And moving into a new home? A positive $2,600 for a woman, and a negative $16,000 to a man.

Frijters suggests that the study’s value might be in assisting insurance companies and lawyers in assigning dollar compensations for certain life events. He summarizes his study with this statement: “Losing or gaining money can offset the effect of other life events quite well, and that is what we are formally looking at - the amount needed to offset an event or keep someone happiness-neutral.”

I don’t know about you, but the word outlandish comes to mind.

You know as well as I do: you cannot quantify your feelings with dollar signs, and you cannot put a price tag on life’s most significant moments. Yet that is precisely the subversive cultural myth pervading our airwaves, advertisements, and innermost drives to accumulate. The only solution to this kind of wayward thinking is to align our finances around the biblical principles of generosity and stewardship. It’s captured in Jesus’ words to his disciples:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 6:19-21)

This Sunday, we will have an opportunity to set our treasure right where it belongs: in the hands of the God who grants us joy, peace, and an abundant life that no dollar sign can define. We’ll offer our pledge cards designating our financial commitment for 2010, and then celebrate all of God’s good gifts to us in our annual Thanksgiving luncheon.

Let’s get our priorities straight, and experience true joy, through contentment and generosity.

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

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/national/money-can-buy-you-love-economist-says-20091115-igd8.html

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Cure for the Common Cold Heart

November 10, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

It’s rare that Hollywood movie releases coincide with a church sermon series, but last weekend’s number one film was the debut of A Christmas Carol. This latest version of Charles Dickens’ classic features Jim Carrey as the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” Ebeneezer Scrooge. And in preparation for watching the movie this week, I re-read parts of the book. Once again, I was struck by Dickens’ vivid wordsmithing in describing the crusty main character:

The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice…. External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.

Feel the chills yet? Scrooge was one cold customer. Of course, by the end of the story, old Ebeneezer discovered that the only antidote to his cold heart was a warm dose of generosity. After confronting the ghosts of his past, present, and future, he chose to live a life of self-giving love.

Dickens’ classic makes it clear: Generosity is the cure for the common cold heart.

It’s a point reinforced by our scripture passage for this Sunday. Consider how Proverbs contrasts the Scrooge inside each of us with a life transformed by generosity and love:.

Some give freely, yet grow all the richer;
others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.
A generous person will be enriched,
and one who gives water will get water.
Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favour,
but evil comes to the one who searches for it.
Those who trust in their riches will wither,
but the righteous will flourish like green leaves.

There is an old Jewish story about two brothers who were in the flour milling business. One was married with children, the other was single. As equal partners in the business, they made an agreed that at the end of each day, they would take any extra flour that had been milled and divide it into equal shares, with each brother taking his share into his storehouse.

But one day the single brother thought, "Here I am, unmarried with only myself to care for and my brother has a wife to support and children to feed. It isn't fair to divide the flour evenly. My brother should have more of the flour. So that night, under the cover of darkness so as not to embarrass his brother, he took a bag of flour from his own inventory and secretly left the flour in his brother’s storehouse.

But at that very moment, the other brother thought, "Here I am with the richness of a family. I have a wife. I have children, and my brother has no one to take care of him when he gets old. It's not fair to divide the flour evenly. My brother should get more, so he too took some of his flour and slipped it into his brother's storehouse. Every night, unbeknownst to the other, each brother did this, always amazed the next day that the level of flour in their storehouses appeared never to diminish.

Then, one night, their arms laden with sacks of flour, they met each other in the darkness and realized what had been happening all along. With tears of loving joy, the two brothers embraced. And according to the old tale, when God saw this, God touched that spot on the earth and said, "This is where I will build my house. For my house must always be a place of great joy."

Over and over again, the scriptures are clear. If you want to experience real, full joy, you must live a life of generosity. It is no wonder that a tenth of the gospels and a third of the parables deal with our relationship with money, for there are few greater obstacles to God’s joy than selfishness, greed, and an unhealthy relationship with money.

Join us this Sunday as we continue our stewardship sermon series “Enough: Experiencing Joy through Contentment and Generosity.” We’ll learn practical ways to get our financial world ordered around God’s values and open our hearts to God’s promise and provision. And if you weren’t in church last Sunday to pick up your stewardship packet, one is coming to you by mail. Or, you can stop by the church office to pick one up.

Together, let’s discover the cure for the common cold heart, and experience the warmth of real joy.

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

Proverbs 11:24-31
24 Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.
25 A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.
26 The people curse those who hold back grain, but a blessing is on the head of those who sell it.
27 Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favour, but evil comes to the one who searches for it.
28 Those who trust in their riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like green leaves.
29 Those who trouble their households will inherit wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise.
30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but violence takes lives away.
31 If the righteous are repaid on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Worship, Grow, Care, and Share

November 3, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

At last night’s Charge Conference, St. Paul’s received my annual report to the congregation, highlighting some of our many accomplishments throughout the past year. In case you were unable to attend, I invite you to read the report below and celebrate all that God has done through your faithfulness and commitment over the past year.


The best way to consider all the ways that St. Paul’s has put God’s love into action is to do so in the context of our four-fold mission statement:

WORSHIP: We worship with joy, because Christ is among us and deserves our praise.

  • Last spring, St. Paul’s fulfilled one of the goals of the 2020 Vision Plan by expanding the musical offerings of the church and engaging new volunteers in music ministry. Under the direction of Dr. David Klee, we started a new praise band, which leads worship monthly. They have offered a fresh, contemporary addition to our worship experience.

  • Our sermon series have been varied and relevant, and have included series on the life of David, on refreshing one’s faith, and on living the resurrection.

GROW: We grow in our faith, practicing every day what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

  • We have fulfilled the goal of our 2020 Vision Plan by starting four new small groups this Fall: “Jesus the One and Only,” “The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen,” “Companions in Christ,” and “The Miracle of Life Change.” Thanks to C.W. Miller, John Chalstrom, Marilyn Brubaker, Mollie Johnson, and Andrea Cook for their leadership. A number of first time small group attendees were part of these new groups.

  • Children’s and Youth Ministry continue to be vibrant and active. The youth went on a Ski Trip in February, and did a service project at the Midwest Christian Children’s Home in the Spring. The Children had the best Vacation Bible School ever, and raised money to purchase dozens of pairs of shoes for underprivileged children locally and around the world through TOM’s Shoes.

CARE: We care for each other as an encouraging, supportive, and growing family.

  • We fulfilled the goal of our 2020 Vision Plan of establishing a new Helping Hands program, designed to link the skills and energy of people in the congregation to assist other people with basic needs. This year we have helped many individuals with yard work, car rides to the doctor and to church, home repair, and packing/moving. Thanks to Sheree Hausmann, Marlene Kelly, and all the Helping Hands volunteers for launching this new program so successfully.

  • Under the direction of our new Administrative Assistant, Andrea Cook, we have a new team of ten people who make weekly visits to our shut-ins and nursing home residents. They deliver a CD recording of the service, the weekly bulletin, and check on them for pastoral and personal concerns. It has been a wonderful addition to our caring ministries.

SHARE: We share with others to meet their physical and spiritual needs, and invite all people to faith in Christ.

  • We celebrate once again being a Third-Mile Rainbow Covenant Missions congregation, and are on track for that same designation at the end of this year. We received special offerings for the Kies’ family, Nothing But Nets, and TOM’s shoes. We are also up to date on apportionment giving for the year.

  • In February, we hosted the first-ever Great Cherokee Pancake Day Race and Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, which involved over 80 racers and included hundreds of Shrove Tuesday worshippers and diners. The event raised the visibility of both St. Paul’s and the town of Cherokee, in the spirit of ecumenical cooperation with many other local churches. It garnered regional media coverage on newspaper, radio, and television, and we are looking forward to another great race next February. The fundraiser raised over $1,000 for the two local food pantries. Thanks to John Cook and the Adult Class for spearheading this memorable, and highly effective, evangelistic and missional event.

  • In September, we improved our hospitality to visitors by redesigning our Sunday worship bulletin. The new bulletin communicates clearly the mission, vision, and values of the church to everyone in attendance, and more effectively solicits prayer requests and first-time visitor information from people in the pews. We have already seen improvements in the way people are informed of ministry opportunities, and enhanced our ability to prayer needs.

Finally, the Building Committee has been very busy in fulfilling the Campus Facilities goals listed in our 2020 Vision Plan. We approved the purchase of the two residential lots south of the church for the purpose of additional parking, and have secured the services of both an architect and contractor to begin work on the lots in upcoming months. The committee has met nearly every other week with the architect to work on plans for the three-story education wing, focusing on improvements to the kitchen, dining hall, fellowship hall, basement level, classrooms, and fa├žade of the education wing. We anticipate that a completed plan will be proposed to the congregation, along with the start of a new capital campaign, sometime in the next year.

These have been exciting, fruitful days in the life of the St. Paul’s congregation, as we continue to live into our vision and fulfill the goals of our long-term plan. Many thanks to the lay leadership and faithful support of the people of this church. Together, we are truly putting God’s love into action, with an exciting future ahead of us.

Grace and Peace,