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

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How Much Do You Know About the World's Religions?

October 27, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Pop quiz!

Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the exodus from Egypt?
· Job
· Elijah
· Moses
· Abraham

When does the Jewish Sabbath begin?
· Friday
· Saturday
· Sunday

According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature, or not?
· Yes, permitted
· No, not permitted

These were among the questions included in the recent “Religious Knowledge Quiz” conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Given the generally low level of cultural literacy in our country, it may be no surprise that most Americans did poorly on the quiz. But would you like to know which group scored the highest? Atheists! The people that claim no religious adherence whatsoever were the most knowledgeable about religion. Jews were next highest, followed by Mormons. And Christians? Middle of the pack. That’s a stunning result, given that most of the questions dealt with Christianity. But it’s downright sad that most Protestants could not answer "What was the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation?" And many Catholics (40%) could not explain a basic Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for communion.

You can take the quiz for yourself and find the answers to the above questions at http://features.pewforum.org/quiz/us-religious-knowledge/index.php. See how you do, then ask yourself: Why is it that Mormons know more about Christianity than many Christians? Why do Jews know more about other religions in the world than we do? And why do agnostics and atheists know more about the relationship between religion and public policy than the very followers of those religions?

I’m not sure what the answers are to those questions, but it is clear that we need to do a much better job becoming familiar with all the world’s major religions, including our own. Here are a few reasons why:

It will clarify our own convictions and deepen a sense of our own spirituality. Are you having trouble observing the Sabbath, or finding rhythm and routine in your life? Learn about the Jewish feasts and festivals. Do you need a new way to pray, and quiet your soul? You may find it by adapting some Buddhist principles. Are you having trouble swallowing your pride and being obedient to God? That’s the basic premise of Islam, whose very name means “submission to God.”

There is no way to fully appreciate some of the world’s most pressing international concerns without a knowledge of their religious contexts. How can we come to understand Al Qaeda without knowing the beliefs of Islam? How can we negotiate through the ongoing mess in Gaza without a firm grasp of Judaism? And how can we appreciate the emerging cultures of India and China without knowledge of Hinduism and Buddhism?

We cannot realize God’s kingdom on earth without being conversant with those around the world who are different from us. When advancing the gospel to the people of Corinth, Paul said, “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews...I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Paul understood that the best way to carry out God’s vision of peace, joy, and love on earth was through partnership with others, not antagonism. Learning to speak the language of other religious people will build bridges of justice and compassion, and help us overcome our tendencies toward jingoism, narrow-mindedness, and intolerance.

So here’s the pitch. Starting this Sunday at 9:00am in the Library, Dr. Jessica deVega, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Morningside College (and the smartest person I know!) will be offering a six-week survey of the world’s major religions. You don’t need to register in advance, and readings will be handed out in class or made available on the web.

Let’s grow in our faith, and in our understanding of others.

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

With Halloween’s observance this Sunday, this Sunday’s sermon is titled “What’s Behind Your Mask?” based on Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 6:1-21. Trick or treat!

A leadership team of 24 church members has been busy preparing an exciting capital campaign that will start on November 14 and conclude with Commitment Sunday on December 5. It’s titled “Together in Faith: Building a Better Future” and will fund upcoming renovations to the Education Wing. Please be in prayer for the success of the campaign and how you will respond.

As part of our campaign, we are inviting people to bring in pictures and other personal items that share your favorite Thanksgiving and Advent/Christmas memories. Thanksgiving items will be displayed in the narthex on November 21, and Advent items on November 28. You can be bring them to the church office any time before then, and they will be secured for safe keeping and returned to you. For more information, contact Nancy Knapp.

Do you know young people who have fallen away from the church? Then consider attending a lecture at Morningside this Monday night at 7:30 pm by David Kinnaman, author of UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. He will share how young people today view the church, and how congregations can adapt to these changing times. The lecture takes place in the Olsen Student Center and is free to the public.

Preparations are coming together for the annual fall bazaar sponsored by the United Methodist Women on Tuesday, November 2. Tickets for $7.00 are available for pre-purchase through the church office.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fear Into Fire

October 13, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I’m not usually one to pay much attention to manufactured holidays, but today’s second annual “National Face Your Fears Day” caught my eye. [1] I have no idea why the second Wednesday in October was selected for this observance (I would think closer to Halloween makes more spooky sense). But compared to other days this month, including “Be Bald and Be Free Day” (October 14), “Dictionary Day” (October 16), and “TV Talk Show Host Day” (October 23), any invitation to proactively confront our phobias seems like a decent idea.

I don’t know what fears you might be facing, or what the best prescriptions might be for you to overcome them. I would encourage you, however, to practice some sound advice a friend of mine once gave me to overcome my own fears. Get out of yourself. Channel your anxieties into service for people around you, and use your energies to help others’ needs.

Cus D’Amato, the famous boxing trainer who groomed such champions as Mike Tyson and Floyd Patterson, once said, “The hero and the villain both enter the ring with the same kind of fear. But the hero is the one who takes their fear and turns it into fire.”

Consider for a moment all the dire fears that people are facing throughout the world today: Devastation in Haiti. Childhood disease and mortality. Lack of clean water, sanitation, and sustainable agriculture. People living under harsh political and economic oppression. The headlines can overwhelm us and make us feel small. We cower in helplessness, fearful that we can’t ever make a dent against such overwhelming odds.

But what if, on “National Face Your Fears Day,” we decided to channel our anxieties about the conditions of the world and turn them into fire for the Kingdom of God? And what if making a difference in the world was as simple as pointing and clicking on the web?

Rather than getting caught up in some artificial holiday, I would direct your attention to a different kind of internet campaign, this one sponsored by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. It’s called 10-Fold, and it has a very simple premise: For ten days, October 10-19, you can learn more about mission and service projects sponsored by UMCOR. And every day you click for more information about a specific project, a partnering church or agency will donate one dollar to that effort, up to $10,000. That’s right: simply by learning more about the United Methodist Church’s work to combat global hardship and injustice, you will actually raise support for that project.

How much easier could that be?

Here’s the schedule (with, admittedly, the first three days already behind us):

October 10, Day 1: Haiti Recovery
October 11, Day 2: Children’s Health and Wholeness
October 12, Day 3: Missionaries in the US
October 13, Day 4: Missionaries Around the World
October 14, Day 5: Training Church Leaders
October 15, Day 6: Church Planting Worldwide
October 16, Day 7: Justice for Our Neighbors
October 17, Day 8: Clean Water and Sanitation
October 18, Day 9: Healthcare in Africa
October 19, Day 10: Sustainable Agriculture

All you have to do is visit www.10-Fold.org, and click on the project for the day. Using modern communication technologies like Skype, live chat, and streaming video, you can even interact with actual missionaries and agency representatives to learn more about what they are doing around the world. And, of course, you can decide to become an active supporter in their work, in any way you feel led. At the very least, be sure to click on “Support” and sign up for more information via e-mail. And every time you do, someone will donate one dollar on your behalf to that agency.

It really is that simple to make a difference. Let’s not cower in fear in the face of the world’s problems. Let’s get fired up instead.

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] www.faceyourfearstoday.com

Join us this Sunday for a sermon titled “The Power of Persistent Prayer,” based on the story in Luke’s gospel about the judge and the persistent widow.

Attention, youth grades 7-12! Come to St. Paul’s from 4:00-6:00 this Sunday for a fun event called “Clue Night!” We’ll turn the whole campus into a giant, live-action game of “Clue,” and you can help solve a murder! We’ll begin with some light snacks and end with a relevant lesson.

Magrey and his family will be out of town on the weekend of October 23-24, and the Mid-Week Message will be suspended until the following week. Come hear Christian musician Jill Miller on the 24th, who will be performing during the morning service. She is a gifted artist from Sioux City, and you can learn more about her on her website, www.jillmillermusic.com

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Remember, Then Rejoice!

October 5, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,


Lately, that’s been my contented response to this week’s glorious weather. The skies have been a deep shade of sapphire blue, unblemished by even a wisp or puff of clouds. The absence of humidity evokes a buoyancy in the air and a lightness to my step. The temperatures have been Goldilocks perfect – not too cold, not too hot. Just right. And best of all, the rest of the week’s forecast looks to be just as dreamy.

I’ve come to believe that commenting on the weather is a stalwart feature of the Iowan psyche. We depend on it, base our local economy on it, and arrange our schedules by it. We even begin our conversations with it. “Don't knock the weather,” Kin Hubbard once wrote. “Nine-tenths of the people couldn't start a conversation if it didn't change once in a while.”

One such conversation I had was with John Chalstrom, back in February. He caught me in my driveway, shoveling snow for what was the hundredth time last winter. We had experienced three blizzards in as many weekends, with rising snow mounds and torrential winds. It had become impossible to see out my front door, and my wife had to cancel more than a handful of classes.

“You know what’s crazy?” John asked me. “Later this year, when the temperatures are in the seventies, and the skies are blue, we’re going to forget all about how awful the weather has been.”

Well, not quite. When the summer rolled around, we had flash floods in June, a 100 mph tornado in July, followed by oppressive humidity in August. Not even the stunning weather of this past week could eclipse the memories of an entire year’s trauma. However, remembering all those episodes has made me – and I suspect all of us – much more grateful for the days we are enjoying this week.

That’s the power of memory, isn’t it? As much as we’d like to forget the pain in the past, we simply cannot. But viewing those sad episodes in retrospect can illuminate the power that got us through those moments, and help us appreciate the blessings of the present. French Catholic bishop Jean-Baptiste Massieu once said, “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” We enjoy the richness of today when we remember the sorrow of yesterday.

That’s the premise behind the healing of the ten lepers, the story from Luke that serves as our scripture lesson this Sunday. After Jesus healed them, only one returned in gratitude. “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” he replied, clearly puzzled, but perhaps not surprised, by the poor percentage. I’m not sure he was expecting a thank-you card. He probably didn’t need his ego stroked, or any validation for a job well done. What he did know was that though the ten lepers were clean, they were not yet well. It was not until the one came back in gratitude that he experienced the full healing that Jesus intended.

We’ll further explore those nuances of healing this Sunday. But for now, let’s take up the call to remember and rejoice. Recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman captures this challenge in his song, “Remember Your Chains.”

There’s no one more thankful to sit at the table
Than the one who best remembers hunger’s pain
And no heart loves greater than the one that is able
To recall the time when all it knew was shame

So remember your chains
Remember the prison that once held you
Before the love of God broke through
Remember the place you were without grace
When you see where you are now
Remember your chains
And remember your chains are gone

Regardless of what kind of day you are having, let memory be your guide. Recall a time when you were lost, desperate, and confused. When panic ruled and your life was fraught with anxiety. Perhaps now would be the first time – and the best time – for you to look back on those days and say there was no way you could have gotten through it without the grace and power of God. Be the one, and not the other nine.

Then, you can face your future with gratitude and courage. For that same God that was with you then, albeit unbeknownst to you at the time, is with you still today. And, in the words of Jesus, you can “get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Grace and Peace,