xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: February 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tiger Woods and the Season of Lent

February 23, 2010

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

When celebrities sin, it’s voyeuristic entertainment. We hang on every word of every detail, and dissect their apologies like a science lab experiment. That’s why Tiger Woods’ confession last Friday seemed to garner so much attention, with millions viewing it live on television and on the web.

It is impossible to gauge his true motivations behind his apology. He could have been trying to repair his public image, or express genuine remorse, or both. But what we do know is what he said:

I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to....I was wrong. I was foolish.
I've had a lot of time to think about what I have done. My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before. It is now up to me to make amends. And that starts by never repeating the mistakes I have made. It is up to me to start living a life of integrity.

After hearing (and re-reading) these words, I find it hard to let them go as mere celebrity spectacle. For doing so distances us, not just from Tiger, but from the task of confession itself. As long as we convince ourselves that repentance of such sins is a task only for high-profile, high-risk cultural icons, then we fail to see the possibilities of a teachable moment for ourselves.

What if, instead of hearing these words while watching a television, we were speaking these words while looking at a mirror?

Tiger likely did not time his public confession to coincide with the start of Lent, but for us Golgotha-bound pilgrims, this was a timely moment. There is something about the words of his apology that ought to reverberate within the dark, recessive confines of our souls. Lent is a time of deep introspection, along with acknowledging the resident, residual sins that go unacknowledged for too long. It is a time of exposing these sins to the light of God’s grace, confessing them to loved ones that we have hurt, others that we have wronged, and vowing to make amends with transformed behavior.

No, this is not easy. While we might never have to stand under the scrutinizing gaze of hot lights and television cameras, we have to strip down layers and layers of self-protection and self-deception, allowing a vulnerability that we would readily avoid.

No true confession is ever easy, even though half-hearted confessions always are. It is much too easy to take less than full responsibility for our mistakes. We’d rather practice conditional apologies, like “I apologize to anyone if my actions were harmful.” A wise person once said, “An apology is not an apology if it contains the word if.”

While Tiger’s words are an effective model in assuming total responsibility, it’s not the best one. I think of King David who, upon acknowledging his own case of infidelity, cried out the words of Psalm 51:

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me….
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me….
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart….
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me….
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

The day after Tiger’s television appearance, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, well-known pop-psychologist and author of Shalom in the Home, reminded readers of beliefnet.com of the three stages of repentance from the Hebrew Talmud:

The Talmud says there are three essential steps to repentance. The first is to admit you have a problem. The second is to confess it verbally and take full responsibility. And the third is to undertake corrective, righteous action that will undo or make better the error.

During these weeks of Lent, I pray that each of us will make time to take a serious inventory of our deepest, most secret sins, confess them verbally, and take full responsibility. And then, by the grace and forgiveness of God, let us change our behavior, and determine to live a holier life.

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 continue our Lenten sermon series, “Facing Life with Faith” with a lesson on how to stay focused on one’s priorities in life. It’s based on Luke 13:31-35 and is titled, “How to Stay Forward Focused.”

Next week, Magrey and the family will be traveling on vacation, from March 3-10. During that time, the Mid-Week Message will be put on hold and will return on March 16. Also, local preachers have agreed to serve in the event of an emergency. In cases of a hospitalization or a death in the family, please contact the church office.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Portrait of Temptation

February 17, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

If Luke had commissioned an artist to paint a portrait of the temptation of Jesus, he may have chosen contemporary American painter Rohann Zulienn. Most paintings of the temptation show both Jesus and Satan, battling in a study of contrasts. Often Jesus is portrayed as shimmering with holiness, projecting confidence. Satan is usually a wretched creature, haggard and human-like. The visual distinctions are stunning.

But that’s not the case for Zulienn’s Temptation of Christ. Like most of Luke’s gospel, this painting is raw, visceral, and evidently human. It shows only a close-up of Jesus, who looks fatigued rather than confident, troubled rather than triumphant. And instead of brushing the devil aside, Jesus is cupping a stone with his famished fingers, pondering the possibilities, debating whether to give in.

As disconcerting as this portrait might be to some, Luke would have us linger over it, as it reminds us of just how human Jesus was, and how ongoing temptations are to human existence. Whereas Matthew and Mark imply that these three encounters were only part of Jesus’ forty days, Luke implies that the temptation was constant throughout the time he was in the wilderness (“for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”) In fact, only Luke suggests that once this experience ended, there remained the possibility for the devil to return at a more “opportune time.”

For Luke, Satan’s presence was incidental to the ongoing reality of Jesus’ temptation. Their three conversations were merely the crystallizing moments to the persistent inner struggles happening within Jesus’ mind and heart.

But with the same precision that Luke diagnoses the human condition, he offers the remedy. He reminds us of two things: while Jesus was in the wilderness, he fasted and he was led by the Spirit. He poses these in dynamic tension, saying that while Jesus’ stomach was empty, he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” This is, in fact, one of Luke’s favorite phrases, appearing recurrently throughout the book of Acts. Both Stephen and Barnabas were characterized in this way: the former was the first martyr, and the latter served a people who were first called Christians. For Luke, being filled with the Spirit inaugurated a new movement in history, when something dramatic and significant would be introduced to the world.

It is appropriate, then, that the first Sunday of Lent begins with this text and this challenge: be filled with the Holy Spirit, engage the struggles of life, and start a new journey. The greatest temptations for some are periodic; for others, they are more frequent. Regardless, we should remember that spiritual preparation must be constant. For though the temptations come and go, they only “depart until an opportune time.”

This Sunday, I invite you to join us as we begin a Lenten journey guided by a sermon series titled, “Facing Life with Faith.” Each week, we will take another step toward the cross and learn how following Jesus calls us to deeper commitment and enables us to withstand life’s toughest battles. We start this week with a sermon titled, “How to Be Temptation Tough.”

Come, Lenten pilgrims, and let us be led by the Spirit.


Facing Life with Faith:
Lenten Lessons from Luke

February 21
“How to Be Temptation Tough”
Luke 4:1-13

February 28
“How to Stay Forward Focused”
Luke 13:31-35

March 7
Guest Preacher

March 14
“How to Be Freely Forgiven”
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

March 21
“How to Live a Cross-Shaped Life”
John 12:1-8

March 28
“How to Be Passion Prepared”
Luke 19:28-40

April 1
Maundy Thursday Service

April 2
Good Friday Tenebrae Service

April 4
“How to Be Resurrection Ready”
Luke 24:1-12

What a great night! We had over three dozen racers compete in the second annual Great Cherokee Pancake Day Race. Congratulations to Liza Fuller, for her first place finish. To see the official results, visit www.pancakerace.com. More importantly, proceeds from the day resulted in $1,000 , which will be evenly split between our two local food pantries. Be sure to check out all the media coverage from the event, including the Cherokee Chronicle, Sioux City Journal, KCHE radio, and KTIV television news. And yes, given the starting temperature of 23.5 degrees, we will be submitting this event to the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest frozen pancake race. Great thanks to John Cook and members of the adult class for their outstanding leadership, and countless hours of volunteer support. You all truly, truly put God’s love into action.

The Building Committee is eager to show you all of the preliminary drawings of the next renovation and get your comments. This Sunday, February 21, after the worship service, you are invited to attend a feedback session downstairs in the Fellowship Hall to see all the plans. At that time, the Committee can answer any questions you might have, including timelines for the renovation and the next capital campaign.

The United Methodist publication Circuit Rider has asked me to write the “Sermon Starters” articles for the six Sundays of Lent. These will assist preachers in their preparations for their sermons over the next several weeks. To view the articles (and to get a taste of our new sermon series), visit http://www.umph.org/pdfs/circuitrider/BBMT001808PDF000.pdf.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Gospel's Intermission

February 9, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Long before the days of three-hour epics such as Titanic and The Lord of the Rings, classic films had built-in intermissions. Halfway into the movie, the first act would draw to a close, and theater goers could hit the snack bar, run to the bathroom, and be back in their seats without missing a single scene.

There were many reasons for this interlude. It encouraged concession sales for the theater and provided timely comfort breaks for the customers. And, since movies arrived in multiple film canisters, there was ample time to change reels.

As a result, screenwriters learned to write their stories in two distinct acts, bridged by a thrilling cliffhanger. Would the hero survive and win in the end? What would happen to the couple’s forbidden love? Will the story have a happy ending? Patrons pondered these questions while filling their popcorn buckets, eager to get back before the movie resumed.

While the gospels are a far cry from a film script, they do contain a clearly defined intermission. The stories of Peter’s confession and the transfiguration of Jesus serve as the critical hinge between the two distinct acts of Jesus’ life: 1) his birth and public ministry, and 2) his death and ascent to glory. And in bold, cinematic fashion, the drama culminates with this gripping question from Jesus:

“Who do you say that I am?”

Peter, of course, answered the question correctly. “You are the Messiah of God.” But just when we might think this to be a suitable conclusion to the story of Jesus, we discover that this is merely the end of the first act. For it is not enough to have a proper understanding of Jesus, or to simply make correct claims about him. Yes, Peter knew the right answer, but the life of a disciple is more than mere superficial knowledge. He had not yet allowed those convictions to shape his behavior, to alter his commitments, and to live a cruciform life.

His faith was still stuck in Act I.

So, Jesus introduced a cliffhanger. A powerful scene on a mountaintop, in which he radiated in dazzling white, accompanied by ancestral heroes, and heard the divine words of a proud Parent:

“This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him.”

We can almost hear the orchestra swelling and the curtain falling, daring us not to miss the exciting conclusion. And as we take a deep breath and digest the first half of the story, God’s message to us is quite clear. Listen to him. Stay tuned. Don’t leave the theater, get back to your seat, and stay in the story. For there is much, much more for you to see.

Transfiguration Sunday is a pivotal moment in the course of the Christian year. We officially move away from the glory of Christmas and the joy of Epiphany, moving into the sobriety of Ash Wednesday and the reverence of the Lenten season.

But more importantly, the transfiguration echoes that pivotal moment in the life of every faithful sojourner. It is that moment when we must move past an “Act I” faith and shift into “Act II.” Will we be content to have mere knowledge about Jesus, without a desire to live like Jesus? Are we well-versed in making claims about the Christ, without allowing that same Christ to shape our behavior? And will we be stuck in the comforting cradle of Christmas and Epiphany, or will we follow Jesus to the cross, and live a life of obedience and self-sacrifice?

These are vital questions for all of us to answer, so I invite you to join us this Sunday, as we observe the Transfiguration of our Lord. We’ll gather on the mountaintop, bear witness to his glory, and echo the words of his disciples: “It is good for us to be here.” Together, we’ll move from Epiphany to Lent, and turn our gaze toward the cross.

Come back for the second half of the story. It’s an ending you won’t want to miss.

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 9:18-20, 28-36
18 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’
19 They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’
20 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.
31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.
33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said.
34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.
35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’
36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Be sure to sign up for the biggest thing to hit Cherokee since Pilot Rock: the Second Annual Great Cherokee Pancake Day Race. Registration costs $10, and forms are available at the church office, City Hall, the Wellness Center, KCHE, or online at www.pancakerace.com. The race is next Tuesday, February 16, with festivities beginning at 5:00pm. The Shrove Tuesday service follows, and concludes with a pancake supper. Proceeds from the day support our two local food pantries.

Attention, 7th – 12th Graders! Join us for the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat! Our next youth group gathering is this Sunday, from 5:00-7:00, and features a host of activities celebrating this year’s Winter Olympics. You won’t want to miss it, and bring a friend!

Join the Girl Scouts in the Fellowship Hall after this Sunday’s service for their annual fundraiser. No advanced tickets are necessary, and a free will offering will be received at the meal.

The Building Committee is eager to show you all of the preliminary drawings of the next renovation and get your comments. On Sunday, February 21, after the worship service, you are invited to attend a feedback session downstairs in the lounge to see all the plans. At that time, the Committee can answer any questions you might have, including timelines for the renovation and the next capital campaign.

Ahoy, mates! Energy is building for this year’s Vacation Bible School, themed “High Seas Expedition!” We are in need of several new volunteers to help with a range of fun tasks throughout the week. All VBS volunteers are invited to an initial organizational meeting on Wednesday, February 24, at 6:30. If you’re interested, contact Jill Chalstrom.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Second Annual Great Cherokee Pancake Day Race

February 2, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Legend claims that 565 years ago, a homemaker in Olney, England, heard the church bells signaling the start of a Shrove Tuesday service. She had been hurriedly cleansing her pantry of all fattening foods in preparation for Lent, using up the remainder of milk, flour, eggs, and butter to make a batch of pancakes. Upon hearing the bells, she scurried out of the house, still wearing her apron and carrying her cast-iron skillet. In it was a pancake, which she repeatedly flipped as she ran to the church, in order to keep the pancake from burning. Poet William Fennor remembered the moment in his 1634 work Palinodia:

“And tosse their Pancakes up for feare they burne.”

Thus, in the town of Olney, the pancake race began, as an unusual way of starting the Lenten season. Every Shrove Tuesday, women dressed in the traditional costumes of aprons and head coverings run a 415-yard course, carrying their cast-iron skillets, and giving their pancakes one final flip as they cross the finish line. Since the race’s birth, communities around the world have staged similar events, matching their times with their international counterparts, in a show of civic pride. (In case you are wondering, Jane Hughes from Liberal, Kansas, had the best time in 2009, running the course in 62 seconds.)

And last year, your Cherokee, Iowa, community joined the ranks of the head-kerchiefed pancake flippers. We had 80 women compete, and a standing-room only crowd in our sanctuary for the Shrove Tuesday worship service that followed. Local and regional media coverage, including KCHE radio, the Cherokee Chronicle, and KTIV television news ran stories about the event, and we raised $2,200 in donations for our two local food pantries. Last year’s event was so successful that there was little doubt that we would run it again.

The Second Annual Great Cherokee Pancake Day Race promises to be bigger and better than ever, on Tuesday, February 16, at 5:30pm. The course begins at City Hall, then follows the same route as last year, concluding with the challenging incline of Piety Hill leading to the front doors of St. Paul’s. The initial buzz over the event has prompted the need to limit racers to the first 100 skillets (we can have more than 100 racers, if some teams choose to pass their skillet in relay fashion).
We are already receiving registrations, at a cost of $10 per contestant, which will help defray costs associated with the event. And this year, we have a new website, www.pancakerace.com, where you can read detailed information about the event, and even register online.

After the race, we will have a brief worship service, award prizes, and prepare for Lent. Then, we’ll head down to the Fellowship Hall for a pancake supper, the donations from which will support the food pantries at both the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and Mid-Sioux Opportunities, Inc. The idea that other people’s food pantries will be replenished on a day usually set aside for cleaning out your own is deliciously ironic.

And did I mention that the winner of the Pancake Race gets a kiss from the Supervising Vicar?

Oh, and did I mention that, as the pastor of St. Paul’s, I am the Supervising Vicar?

Finally, did I say that I have encouraged my wife Jessica to try to win the race, at all costs?

At any rate, this is an event you surely will not want to miss. Register as a contestant, or offer to help out with any of a number of volunteer opportunities on that day. Please see John Cook, Jenny Burroughs, or any member of the Adult Class.

Women, start your pancakes!

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

Our sermon series on the amazing stories of Jesus from the gospel of Luke continues with a story from 7:1-10. It’s titled, “The Man Who Amazed Jesus,” and focuses on the centurion who impressed Jesus with his display of faith and conviction.

To raise money for their upcoming ski trip, the youth will be selling baked goods and Super Bowl snacks this Sunday morning. If you would like to help out in any way, contact Sue Parker or Lisa Sampson.

The Building Committee is eager to show you all of the preliminary drawings of the next renovation and get your comments. On Sunday, February 21, after the worship service, you are invited to attend a feedback session downstairs in the lounge to see all the plans. At that time, the Committee can answer any questions you might have, including timelines for the renovation and the next capital campaign.