xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Work of Christmas Begins



Christmas Eve, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,


When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with the flocks,
Then the work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal those broken in spirit,
To feed the hungry,
To release the oppressed,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all peoples,
To make a little music with the heart …
And to radiate the Light of Christ,
Every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say.
Then the work of Christmas begins.

-       Howard Thurman


On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Magrey


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



CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICE TONIGHT
Join us for a celebration of the birth of Christ at 5:30pm, in a service featuring carols, candle lighting, and a special live radio theater sermon.  To accommodate our may expected guests, consider parking as far away from the church as you are comfortable in walking.  Your poinsettias can also be taken home after the service.

HELP US MEET OUR EXPENSES
With just a week left in our fiscal year, we are still in need of your support to help us pay our expenses for 2013.  Consider meeting your pledge or making a special contribution to help us finish the year in the black.  Postmark your gift by December 31 to have it count on this year’s financial statement.

MAGREY AND GIRLS ON VACATION
Magrey and the girls will be traveling to Florida from Monday, December 30, to Tuesday, January 6.  In the event of an emergency, please contact the church office.  The Mid-Week Message will resume on Tuesday, January 13.  




To subscribe to this message via email, send a message to mdevega@sp-umc.org
Visit us on Facebook at facebook.com/cherokeespumc

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My 2013 Christmas Present to You: The Gift of Fasting


December 17, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Once again, my Christmas gift to the church is a practical guideline for a spiritual discipline that you might try over the year ahead.  Last year, I offered some practical tips on centering prayer, which you can review following the link below.  [1]

This year, I would like to reintroduce you to the practice of fasting, which I believe is the most misunderstood and least practiced of the spiritual disciplines.  Last week, someone asked me the question directly:  “Why do Christians not fast?”  After I initially brushing off the question by responding that I have fasted often in my life, as well as some of you, I began to ponder the merit of his question.  Really, why don’t more followers of Christ fast? 

In a culture of expedience and immediate gratification, fasting reminds us that we are ultimately not self-made individuals, who shape our own destiny.  Instead, fasting reorients our perspective on our primary and ultimate dependence on God, and it recalls our responsibility to assist in transforming the world.

Consider these instances of fasting in the Bible:

·      Moses fasted and received from God the 10 commandments that would govern his people.
·      Esther fasted and through her God saved her fellow people from certain massacre.
·      Elijah fasted and received a mission God to bring deliverance to the Israelites.
·      Jesus fasted and emerged from it stronger against temptation, clearer in his purpose, and prepared for the mission that would save the world. 
·      Saul fasted and then got his name changed to Paul, becoming the greatest missionary of the gospel the world would ever know.

Fasting is not a weight-loss scheme, or a magical talisman that gives you what you want, or a form of pious self-punishment.  Instead, fasting recalibrates our souls into remembering that everything we have, everything we are, and everything we must do, is a gift and calling from God. 

So, my Christmas gift to you is an invitation and encouragement to consider making fasting a part of your spiritual experience some time over the upcoming year.  First, here is a list of frequently asked questions about fasting, followed by a guided exercise that will lead you in your fasting experience. 

Q.  Can I fast from something other than food? 
A.  Yes.  There are people who, for health and other reasons, cannot fast from food in a safe, healthy way.  I would invite those among us to consider fasting from something else that triggers your sense of control, that falsely convince you of your independence:  television, the internet, your watch, your day planner, or something else.

Q.  How long should a fast last?  What qualifies as a fast?  Skipping one meal?  Two or three? 
A.  Author and spiritual guide Richard Foster suggests that the novice to fasting should not do too much at first.  Like training for a marathon, begin with what your body can handle.  Try a 24-hour fast and skip two meals.  Then try the same length of time and skip three.  Be sure at first to keep yourself hydrated and nourished with water and fruit juices.  Talk to your doctor first if you have any concerns that need to be addressed.
Many have found it easier to fast from noon one day to noon the next, so that much of the time fasting is spent overnight, in bed.  And then, over time, as you have practiced it once a week, or a few times a month, you may wish to increase the length of time each time. 
            The point is not the length of the fast or the number of meals that are skipped.  What’s critical is that the key ingredient always be present in the fast:  prayer.  Prayer is what makes the physical act of abstaining from food a spiritual discipline.  It is what separates fasting from other times that you must skip meals for medical reasons, health benefits, or from sheer forgetting to eat. 
            Fasting and prayer are critically linked.  We abstain from eating with our mouths in order to sharpen our ears.  We refuse to fill our stomachs so that we might be open for God to fill our spirits.  And invariably, during the fast, God indeed does.

Q.  What do I tell others during my fast?
A.  This question is asked in many different ways.  How do I explain to colleagues at work that I can’t go eat out with them?  How do I prepare a meal for my family, then sit down with them and eat nothing?  What do I tell them?
Jesus is careful to say in Matthew 6:16-18 that we are not to make a big public show of our fasting.  So it’s appropriate then to do what you can to keep your fasting to yourself.  If pushed for a line, you may say to your co-workers, “I couldn’t possibly think about eating right now, but I’ll come along and talk.”  Or, if you choose to admit that you are fasting, it may become a wonderful opportunity to share your faith.  Chances are your kids may not even ask you questions, but if they do, you may assure them that everything is fine and that you are just learning a different way to pray, and that you are learning to appreciate God more, them more, and even food more. 
            Now I’ve saved the best question for last.   

Q.  What might happen when you fast?
A.  This is a critical question to get right.  Remember, it’s not a weight-loss scheme.  It’s not a self-help technique.  We have to be careful that we don’t fall for the lie that any of these spiritual disciplines, when regularly practiced, produces some kind of spiritual blessing or benefit to us each time.  Fasting is not a magic lamp to be rubbed, and neither is any other spiritual discipline.
Fasting is not about the blessings that God might give you.  It is about emptying yourself so that God might you use you in a mighty way for the benefit of someone else, your community, or even the whole world.
            Fasting will produce in you a greater sense of purpose in the world, and an alignment of God’s plans with your life.  It is not about what great things will happen to you, but what can happen through you, if you will surrender your control and give your whole self over to God.
           
Here’s the bottom line:  whether or not you have ever experienced or even thought about it before, fasting is for you. 


GUIDED MEDITATIONS FOR THE EXPERIENCE OF FASTING

The second part of my gift is the following guided devotional that you can use to assist you in your fasting experience.  It’s designed to guide you from noon on the first day to noon on the second day, but you can alter the times according to your own schedule.  Should you choose to fast for longer than a day, you can spread the readings out farther than three hours. 

My prayer for you is that as you experience this ancient biblical practice, you will learn to silence all the inner voices that compete for your control, and clearly, powerfully, and authentically hear the voice of God in your life.


12:00 pm :  Beginning the Journey


A.  Introduction

You are now ready to begin your fast.  This may be the first time you have attempted to fast as a spiritual discipline, or you have been through this experience before.  Regardless, enter this time with an openness to whatever word God would have you to hear, or whatever difference God wants to make in and through your life. 

Take a few moments now in silent prayer, focusing on breathing calmly and deeply.  Empty your mind of all that is distracting you at this time, and simply feel what it means for you to be alive right now.  Remember that in the Old Testament, the word for spirit is the same as the words for breath and wind.  With each breath, sense yourself participating in the very being of God, working in your life.

Throughout the fast, whenever you feel yourself getting hungry, anxious, or distracted, go back to this practice of being in silence with your breath.  It may be in these moments that you will most sense what God is telling you.

Every three hours, you can read the next message, which will guide and encourage you along the way.  These messages will include a Psalm and a gospel reading.  You may certainly add other scriptures, devotional readings, hymns, prayers, etc., throughout your time.  Read these passages prayerfully, as they may prompt helpful attentiveness to God’s word for you.

B.  Read Psalm 63 and Matthew 8:5-13

C.  Questions:

1.    What expectations and anxieties do you bring with you about this fasting experience?  Share those with God.

2.   How might the centurion’s surrender of power and control to Jesus serve as an example for you?

Important tip:  Keep yourself hydrated.  Be sure to drink plenty of water.  First time fasters may choose to have other drinks with nutritive value, such as milk or juices. 


3:00 pm :  Inviting an Awareness of God

A.  Introduction

It is likely that this message finds you in the busy thickness of your workday.  It is typically in moments like this that we are most distracted by our schedules, responsibilities, and pressing demands of life that we ignore our relationship with God. 

Consider the example of Brother Lawrence, a 17-century French Catholic lay person who worked in the kitchen of a monastery.  He wrote a book called “Practicing the Presence of God,” which stemmed in part from his regular attempts to be attentive to God’s spirit as he was performing his daily tasks. 

Reflect on these quotes:

"Men invent means and methods of coming at God's love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God's presence.  Yet it might be so simple.  Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?"

"Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king.  It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God."

"I began to live as if there were no one save God and me in the world."

Brother Lawrence felt that as he cooked meals, ran errands, scrubbed pots, and endured the scorn of the world, he was doing so alongside God.  One of his most famous sayings refers to his kitchen:

"The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.

B.  Read Psalm 73:21-28 and Matthew 11:25-30

C.  Questions to Ponder:

1.    What would it be like if you began to view your daily tasks as opportunities to invite an awareness of God’s presence in your life?

2.   What burdens do you need to release to God, in order to exchange them for a yoke that is easier?

3.   Spend some moments in stillness and silent prayer, listening to your breath and whatever words God has for you.


6:00 pm : Trusting God

A.  Introduction

It is now the dinner hour, and you may have already been feeling your first pangs of hunger.  This, of course, is natural.  Remember that your denial of food during this fast is not a form of self-punishment.  You are not punishing yourself or beating yourself into submission as an act of spiritual discipline.  Instead, you are surrendering control of your life to God by allowing God to break the rhythms and patterns of your daily life that you have carefully constructed in order to give yourself a false sense of security.

When you are hungry during your fast, remind yourself that you are not in control of your life.  All your blessings come from God.  You are not the center of the universe, and you are not the provider of every good and perfect gift for yourself.  You are utterly, unalterably dependent on God for all things in your life.  That is what every hunger pang can remind you of, and it can bring you closer to full trust in God.

Also, use your hunger to focus on what God is telling you.  When you have an instinct to feed yourself, channel it into a desire to feast on God’s voice, God’s love, and God’s will for you.  Remember that after Moses, Esther, Elijah, Jesus, and Paul fasted, they were able to hear with even greater clarity the purpose God had for them.  So it can be for you, if you listen now.

The Psalm for this message focuses on what it means to trust in God.  Pay special attention to verse 7.  What are your “horses and chariots” - - the human manufactured senses of power and security - - that you trust in more than God?

B.  Read Psalm 20:1-9  and John 10:11-21

C.  Questions to Ponder

1.    Do you trust the Good Shepherd? 

2.   Are you able to hear the voice of the Shepherd, so that you can follow the Shepherd to wherever he is leading you?

3.   What do you need to surrender right now to God, in order to hear God’s voice?


 9:00 pm :  Seeking God’s Guidance

A.  Introduction

It is now evening, and surely by now your body has sensed a disruption in its normal daily rhythm.  Do your best to savor what this disruption might mean in awakening your life to God’s novel word for your life. 

Presumably, it is quiet in your household now; if not, do your best to create some silence at this time.  Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, and reflect on what prompted you to begin this fasting journey earlier today. 

·      Is there something troubling that is happening in your life right now for which you are seeking comfort and consolation? 

·      Is there some great anxiety you are feeling about your future, for which you are in need of assurance? 

·      Are you weighing a heavy decision, for which you are in need of clear guidance? 

·      Are you mourning some significant loss in your life, which has created an agonizing vacancy that you cannot seem to fill? 

·      Is your spiritual life dry, diminished, or at a plateau?  Can you not remember the last time you felt intimately energized by God’s presence in your life?

Share with God the specific details of whatever is burdening you at this time.  Take as long as you need to unpack all that you are thinking and feeling.  But – and this is very important – every few minutes, pause, quiet your mind, and simply listen to the inner voice within you, prayerfully asking that all other voices but God’s voice be the one to speak to you.

What is God telling you, right now, about your situation?


B.  Read Psalm 46 and Mark 4:35-41

C.  Questions to Ponder

1.    What comfort does it give you that Jesus can calm any chaos, subdue any wind, and silence any storm that you are facing right now?

2.   Take as much time as you need to prayerfully process the complexity of your particular situation.  It is quite possible that this segment of the fast, from now until the time you fall asleep, may be the most spiritually enriching, albeit most physically difficult, part of your 24-hour journey.

Tip:  For first-time fasters, if your hunger wakes you up throughout the night, gently invite the spirit of God to calm your breathing, relax your mind, ease your heart, and coax you back to sleep.  Give thanks to God that God is in control of your life. 


6:00 am : A New Day

A.  Introduction

Reflect for a moment on your sleep through the night.  Perhaps you slept peacefully, as you normally might on a full stomach.  Perhaps the hunger interrupted your sleep intermittently, and you were able to use those awake moments as further opportunities for prayer and surrender.

As you rise from your slumber and begin a new day, take some moments to find some quiet time before your busyness begins.  Consider:  what new insights does a night’s sleep bring to your ponderings from yesterday?  Sometimes, God uses our slumber to wake up with some new clarity or some novel insight into our problems, and it is in the morning that we hear what God is telling us. 

Is there something new that God is telling you right now?

B.  Read Psalm 143:8-12 and John 5:1-18

C.  Question to Ponder: 

How is God calling you, right now, to “pick up your mat and walk?”  What is the tangible action that God wants you to take?


9:00 am  :  Giving Thanks

A.  Introduction

It is likely that this message finds you just as the busyness of your day is ramping up.  Before you get swamped by the tasks of the day, now would be the perfect time for you to remember once again who is really in control of your life.  Except this time, do it with a spirit of real gratitude. 

Take some time right now to take inventory of all the things that are going well in your life.  Now consider just how little you ultimately had to do in making those good things happen.  Isn’t it liberating to think about all the good things in your life that you had no say in creating or providing? 

It is quite possible that the most significant outcome of this fasting experience may be more than just some kind of clear guidance you receive from God, or comforting encouragement from the Holy Spirit.  It could be that a reformatting of your mind into one of genuine gratitude may be the jolt to your spirit that you really needed.

Also, consider for a moment how your hunger over the past several hours matches or likely pales in comparison to those who battle physical hunger every day due to poverty or lack of food.  As a tangible outcome of today’s fast, you might choose to offer yourself in some way to eradicating hunger in our community or around the world.

Consider donating money or non-perishable food items to either of our local food pantries, the Christian Action Project or Mid-Sioux Opportunities, Inc. 

Consider volunteering your time to the Gospel Mission in Sioux City, helping them serve meals to the homeless in Siouxland.

Look for ways to be part of the United Methodist Church’s efforts to eradicate world hunger through the World Hunger/Poverty Program, sponsored by our United Methodist Committee on Relief:  http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/hunger.stm

Become an advocate for justice through Bread for the World, an agency that urges lawmakers to address domestic and international hunger and poverty issues.  www.bread.org

B.  Read Psalm 30 and Luke 7:36-50

C.  Question to Ponder:

1.    How can you say “Thank you” to God today, with your words and your actions?

2.   How can you help alleviate the physical and spiritual hunger of others?



 12:00 pm :  The Journey Concludes

A.  Introduction

Your 24-hour fast has concluded.  Despite the temptation to gorge on a large volume of food, you will definitely want to break your fast gently, with a small portion of something easily digestible at first.  Then, over the course of the rest of this afternoon, you can work your way up with slightly larger portions of healthy food until you resume eating your usual portions at dinnertime. 

More importantly, take some moments to record the thoughts, feelings, and significant lessons you have learned during this time.  It would be best for you to write them down in a journal, or on a sheet of paper to keep in your Bible, so that you can refer to this moment later in your life.  Is it possible that you might not have heard these messages from God were it not for the context of this fasting experience?
  
Here are some final passages of Scripture to conclude your time.   

B.  Read Psalm 8 and John 15:1-8



Grace and Peace,

Magrey


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





COMPANY IS COMING FOR CHRISTMAS!
Once again, we will be having our Christmas Eve service at 5:30, and we are anticipating another large crowd of visitors and guests.  Consider parking as far away from the campus as you are comfortable in walking in order to welcome newcomers.  We are also in need of just four more people to complete our usher/greeter teams for the night.  If you are interested in helping, please contact the church office. 


END OF THE YEAR GIVING
With a few weeks remaining this year, we are grateful for your share in helping us finish the year strong in meeting all of our budgetary expenses.  We are about $13,000 from making our budget, which is certainly within reach if we each play a part.  For your contribution to count toward your 2013 financial giving statement, make sure it is postmarked to the church no later than December 31.



To subscribe to the message via email, send a message to mdevega@sp-umc.org.

Visit us on Facebook at facebook.com/cherokeespumc

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Honoring Mandela

December 10, 2013

Dear Advent Pilgrims,

Today the world joins in honoring Nelson Mandela, whom I believe was the most transformative public figure in my lifetime. When South African apartheid ended with a fully democratic election in 1994, President Mandela began the long, difficult work of bringing a severely polarized nation together.  He advocated and embodied forgiveness and reconciliation, demonstrating the impact those principles could make on a national scale. 

Mandela was simply practicing what Jesus had preached thousands of years ago; the fact that we honor his witness today not only speaks of his extraordinary life, but also of the sad rarity of forgiveness and reconciliation in such a violence-addicted and revenge-soaked culture.

Perhaps it is fitting that Mandela died during the season of Advent, a time when we name the shared journey marks our life as a church.  We spend these days longing for peace, straining for hope, and squinting through furrowed brows for signs of a brighter tomorrow.  Mandela called his journey “A Long Walk to Freedom,” and titled his autobiography the same. 

Since his death, and in preparation for today’s funeral, I re-read portions of my copy of A Long Walk to Freedom, and offer his words to you as an encouragement for us to continue our own journeys toward the light of Christmas. 

Regarding his Christian roots as a Methodist:
While the faith of the Mbekela brothers (Christians from another tribe) did not rub off on my father, it did inspire my mother, who became a Christian.  In fact, Fanny was literally her Christian name, for she had been given it in church.  It was due to the influence of the Mbekela brothers that I myself was baptized into the Methodist, or Wesleyan Church as it was then known, and sent to school. 

On the power of the Church to transform the world:
For me, Christianity was not so much a system of beliefs as it was the powerful creed of a single man:  (Methodist preacher) Reverend Matyolo.  For me, his powerful presence embodied all that was alluring in Christianity.  He was as popular and beloved as the regent, and the fact that he was the regent’s superior in spiritual matters made a strong impression on me.  But the Church was as concerned with this world as the next:  I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seemed to have come about through the missionary work of the Church. 

On his philosophy of leadership:
As a leader, I have always followed the principles I first saw demonstrated by the regent at the Great Place.  I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion.  Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion.  I always remember the regent’s axiom:  a leader, he said, is like a shepherd.  He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind. 

On the remarkable transformation in South Africa, and in the human heart:
I never lost hope that this great transformation would occur.  Not only because of the great heroes I have already cited, but because of the courage of the ordinary men and women of my country.  I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity.  No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. 

Final reflections on his journey:
I have walked that long road to freedom.  I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way.  But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.  I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come.  But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended. 

Mandela’s long walk has now come to rest.  But the journey toward freedom endures for all of us. 

Grace and Peace,

Magrey 


END OF THE YEAR GIVING
With a few weeks remaining this year, we are grateful for your share in helping us finish the year strong in meeting all of our budgetary expenses.  We are about $14,000 from making our budget, which is certainly within reach if we each play a part.  For your contribution to count toward your 2013 financial giving statement, make sure it is postmarked to the church no later than December 31.

THIS WEEK:  CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS PROGRAM
Join us for a wonderful Sunday featuring our children’s ministry as they offer their annual Christmas program.  Relive the joy and the drama of the birth of Jesus, as our kids read the Christmas story, sing your favorite carols, and act out the characters.  It is always a highlight of our Advent season.

COOKIE SALE THIS SUNDAY

As you do your cookie baking this season, reserve a plate or two of your creations and bring them to the narthex prior to the service this Sunday.  Plates of cookies will be sold by our Adult Class, and proceeds will fund ministries and programs of the church.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Matthew's "Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

December 3, 2013

Dear St. Paul's Family,

It may be fortuitous that my preparations for this Sunday’s journey through Matthew’s birth narrative coincide with this weekend’s performances of “A Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by the Cherokee Community Theater, Jr.  A cast of over fifty children, including Grace and Madelyn, have been working hard to bring to life Barbara Robinson’s beloved tale of a church Christmas play gone very wrong.  If you are thinking of attending the show, I can assure you - - as one of the assistant stage managers who has attended many of the rehearsals - - you are in for a riotous good time.

It would be pure conjecture on my part, but I suspect that if the four gospel writers were to attend the play this weekend, Matthew would appreciate it the most.  Of all four gospels, it is his that portrays the arrival of Jesus with similar chaotic overtones.  For example: 

When Mrs. Bradley decides to cast the main characters of the nativity with the infamous Herdman kids, described as “the worst kids in the history of the world,” you can almost hear Matthew clicking through his genealogy in the first chapter:  a prostitute, an adulterer and murderer, a hot-headed megalomaniac … all members of Jesus’ ancestry. 

When the Herdmans first hear that Mary was “great with child,” they chose not to mince words:  “Pregnant!” yelled Ralph Herdman.  That caused quite a stir among the kids, who thought it was inappropriate to “talk about things like that in church. My mother might not want me to be here.”  It was the kind of scandal that Matthew would best appreciate, given how much Joseph wrestled over what to do with Mary in Matthew 1:18-21.

And then there is this wonderful scene regarding Herod:

(The Herdmans) were really interested in Herod, and I figured they liked him. He was so mean he could have been their ancestor—Herod Herdman.  But I was wrong. “Who’s going to be Herod in this play?” Leroy said. “We don’t show Herod in our pageant,” Mother said.  And they all got mad.  They wanted somebody to be Herod so they could beat up on him.

I’m pretty sure Matthew would have gotten a chuckle out of that one. 

Matthew would remind us that, despite the foreground of placid pastures, grazing sheep, star-filled night skies, and angelic choirs, the background into which Jesus was born was a big, mess world.  It was riddled with hurts and pains, governed by paranoia, and driven by scandal.  It was a landscape filled with shadows and strife:  a far cry from the serene scenes of our greeting cards, Christmas carols, and nativity cr├Ęches. 

As we go through our guided tour through the Christmas stories of all four gospels, we make a stop this Sunday at Matthew’s version, realizing that its context could have easily jumped off the headlines of today's newspapers.  It would not be much of a stretch to see Matthew speaking directly to a culture peppered with Black Friday bloodshed, Typhoon destruction, political gamesmanship, and addictions to violence.  And that doesn’t even include the chaos that may be swirling in your spirit as well.  The dilemmas you may be facing right now cover a gamut of concerns, from how you will pay the bills to how you will forgive a betrayal.  Advertisers, retailers, and even many preachers would want you to believe that this is supposed to be a time of good cheer and great delight.  But you know better. 

And do know something else?  Matthew knows better, too.

This Sunday, let us allow his gospel to guide us to an authentic encounter with the Christ child.  Not by pretending that all is well, but by acknowledging how much is not.  When we arrive at the manger, with sweaty brows, calloused feat, and sore necks from heads hung low, we will identify with that same emotion that overcame Imogene Herdman as she was playing Mary:

In the candlelight her face was all shiny with tears and she didn’t even bother to wipe them away.  She just sat there—awful old Imogene—in her crookedy veil, crying and crying and crying.  Well.  It was the best Christmas pageant we ever had.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey 

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

Email:  mdevega@sp-umc.org



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Monday, November 25, 2013

When the Time Comes

November 26, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I have waited three months to tell you this story.  And now the time has come.

Back in August, I took the girls to the two Disney water parks in Orlando, Florida.  To photograph the memories without jeopardizing my camera phone, I purchased a waterproof, disposable camera, with an attached rubber strap that I could wrap around my wrist.

I can’t remember the last time I took a photograph with an old-fashioned film camera, one that did not have some kind of display screen.  I have grown so accustomed to seeing the photo the instant that I take it that it took me several shots before I stopped looking at the backside of the camera to see how the picture looked.  I used up all twenty-seven exposures, capturing images of the girls and I cruising down the water slides, floating on the lazy river, and rafting along some rapids.  With each click of the camera, I wondered how the pictures would eventually turn out. 

It took me the remainder of our trip to Florida - and even several days after we got back - before I could find a place that would develop the pictures. Having waited that long already, I opted for the express, one-hour service:  there was no way I was going to wait any more days to see those pictures. 

We have steadily removed the need to wait in our culture, haven’t we?  We have proven over and over that we will invent just about anything to reduce how long we have to wait for something to happen.  In so doing, we have also diminished those moments of richness and fullness that only comes with anticipation. 

But I do think there is something different about waiting for camera film to develop.  That experience carries a unique tension between the past and the future, between an event that has already taken place, and a forthcoming reliving of that moment.  Riding on the water slides with the girls had occurred weeks before, yet I was still eager for the Walgreens photo processor to hand me those pictures so I could see those memories in a fresh new way. 

I used to wonder why Advent makes things so complicated.  Why do we have to spend four weeks pretending that Jesus has not yet been born, when we know fully well that he has?  After all, advertisers and retailers would want us to believe that the Christmas season is already here.  So why prepare for something that has already happened?

Maybe Advent is a lot like waiting for pictures to develop.  Of all the seasons in the Christian year, it best captures the dynamic tension between the past and the future, in  way that fills us with hopeful anticipation in the present.  When we journey to Bethlehem, it’s not that we think that Jesus has not been born, and it’s not just that we believe that Jesus will come again.  It is about opening a freshly developed set of photographs, and allowing the past and the future to amaze us again in the present, as if the the arrival of Jesus was happening for the very first time. 

Advent is not a time of pretending that Jesus has never been born; it is a time of preparing for what that birth might mean for us today.  It is not a denial, but a darkroom: a chance to allow the fullness of God’s love to develop in our lives and be revealed in glorious Technicolor.  Over the next four weeks, we will traverse familiar territory, singing our favorite carols, and hearing the stories we have heard countless times over the years.  And along the way, I invite you to ask the question:  What will God’s good news look like to me when Christmas finally comes? 

This year, our Advent series is called “When the Time Comes.”  It will be a sweeping overview through the birth narratives of Jesus through the lenses of all four gospels.  We will learn how each gospel writer photographs a unique angle of the Christmas story, and explore why they chose to include elements that others left out.  By the end, you’ll have a working knowledge of which gospels contain the most familiar parts of the Christmas story.  And, we’ll see how the four gospels all affirm this one central theme, just like the first line in today’s Mid-Week Message:

God had been waiting a long time to tell us this Story.  And that time had finally come. 

When the clerk handed me my photographs, I tore into the envelope like a child ripping open a Christmas gift.  I had not even paid for the pictures yet before I began to relive each ride, each memory, each thrilling occasion for laughter and joy, in a way that made the past alive again. 

That “thrill of hope” can only come from waiting.  So, brothers and sisters, welcome to Advent. 

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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






“When the Time Comes”
An Advent Journey through All Four Gospels

December 1, 2013
“Mark: A Christmas Story?”
Mark 1:1-8

December 8, 2013
“Matthew: It’s (Not Such) a Wonderful Life”
Matthew 1:18-25

December 15, 2013
Children’s Christmas Program

December 22, 2013
“Luke: The Original Christmas Musical”
Luke 1:46-55

December 24, 2013
“John:  The Word Made Flesh”
John 1:1-14


2014 COMMITMENTS
Thank you to those of you who have turned in your commitment forms for 2014.  If you have not yet turned it in, they are available at the church office.  Your diligence in turning in your pledge will help the Finance Committee plan for another exciting year ahead.

ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE
As you ponder your gift lists this year, consider giving a gift that will make a real difference.  Use this year’s Alternative Christmas Gift Guide to give someone a gift that supports the Heifer Project, Church World Service, Stan Sitzmann’s Needy Children Project, or Methodist missionaries Larry and Jane Kies.  Guides are available at the church, and order forms can be given to a Missions Committee member in the narthex on Sunday mornings.

SALVATION ARMY BELL RINGING
Sign up sheets are now available in the narthex for you to sign up for a slot to ring bells for the Salvation Army.  Ringing starts this Friday and continues through the four Saturdays in Advent.  Slots are available from 10am to 2pm, at Hy-Vee, Fareway, and K-mart.  For more information, contact Mary Jo Carnine at 225-6301. 




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Monday, November 18, 2013

The Reviews are In!

November 19, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

The reviews are in!  Over sixty individuals completed our six-week journey called A Disciple’s Path, and I wanted to share with you comments from some of the participants:


The weekly topics made me think deeper about how those aspects of the Methodist principles relate to my daily life.

It made me think about my faith and beliefs in ways I never had.  I understand how important it is to have God in my life. 

It made me think about some things I had not before.  I enjoyed reading the Bible verses and how they related to the lessons.  Revisiting the history of the Methodist church was beneficial.

I enjoyed the group I was in.  It made me reevaluate my Christian faith and how to convey it to others. 

This class reaffirmed some things that were helpful to reaffirm, and it added a context to my faith journey that I didn’t earlier feel. 

Disciple’s Path made me more comfortable in my journey through life. 

Each week I learned something.  The small group discussions help as you find that others do not “have all the answers.”  You are not intimidated.  I feel it has advanced me on “the path.” 

Disciple’s Path took me through parts of the Bible that I might not have tackled.  It made me think about my own faith, and it made me evaluate my spiritual gifts to consider what else I could do for the church. 

I really got to know everyone in our group.  We were able to open up to each other… great group!  This was a wonderful class.  I enjoyed it so much. 

It was big just getting me to be involved in a study!  It helped me to realize that whatever stage I’m in in my “walk” is okay and I am encouraged to keep moving forward. 


What a great response!  And as moved as I am by these testimonies, I am equally grateful for the wonderful work by our facilitators, without whom we could not have all of these classes every week.  Thank you to Linda Burkhart, Dave and Linda Appleby, Missy Jenness, Laura Benson, Jenny Burroughs, Sheree and Louis Hasumann, Meribeth Adams, Connie Hankens, and Bruce Dagel.  They did a wonderful job creating a warm, nurturing environment for people to explore their spiritual journeys with each other. 

For all of us, these last six weeks have been a time of learning about our Wesleyan heritage and learning practical ways to strengthen our commitment to Jesus Christ and the church through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.  That series concluded last Sunday with our Commitment Sunday celebration, in which you brought forward your commitment forms.  Each one of us plays an integral part of claiming the bright future God has for us in 2014 and beyond, and your estimates of giving will help us plan ahead.  If you haven’t turned in your commitment form, please do so as soon as you can.  You can mail them directly to the office.

And join us this Sunday as we observe the final Sunday of the church’s liturgical year.   It is Christ the King Sunday, when we celebrate the one who has come already to rule and reign over all creation, and look forward to the future advent of that same Christ who will make all things new. 

As we wind down another wonderful year of ministry together, I look forward to a great future with you, as we journey along the disciple’s path together.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey 

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


OFFICE CLOSED TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY
As part of our renovation in the kitchen and fellowship hall, we will be upgrading our electrical service to the campus.  Starting Tuesday morning, Mid-American Energy will shut off the power to the whole campus, and work will be completed by the end of the business day Wednesday.  As such, the offices will be closed Monday and Tuesday, but Andrea and I will still be able to receive and respond to email remotely.  Because we anticipate the work will be completed by Wednesday afternoon, we are not cancelling Wednesday night youth groups or music practices.  Should that change, we will make an announcement via email, Facebook, and KCHE radio.  

RING BELLS FOR SALVATION ARMY

Once again, we are taking the lead in ringing bells for the Salvation Army this year.  Consider signing up for at least an hour on Black Friday, November 29, or every Saturday until Christmas.  We would especially encourage you to sign up for November 29 or 30, as those will be heavy shopping days.  Sign-up sheets are in the narthex, or you can call the church office.  For more information, contact Mary Jo Carnine.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Spirit of Bayanihan


November 12, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Thank you to the many who have asked about my family members in the Philippines, and I am grateful to report that they are doing fine.  I have a cousin on my father’s side who lives with his wife and son in Cavite City, about twenty miles outside Manila.  Except for a few fallen branches, they had virtually no damage from the storm, and their city is resuming life as usual.

My mother’s family is mostly in Calapan City, in the northern part of the island of Mindoro known as Oriental Mindoro.  It is about three hours south of Manila, and much closer to the track of Typhoon Yolanda (which is what Filipinos have been calling Typhoon Haiyan).  I have a number of aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended family there, and news from them was less forthcoming over the weekend.  I have since heard that they did not have nearly the strong winds, storm surges, and sheer devastation that those on the eastern seaboard did.  While they were out of power for a good part of the weekend, they have since had electricity restored.  And except for a road that has been destroyed from a landslide in northern Mindoro, life for the people there is slowly returning to normal as well.

There was a time not too long ago that such a horrible natural disaster, and the plight of its victims, would have been unfathomable.  Sadly, the last few decades have given us quite a frame of reference, with one-word labels now etched into our collective memory:  Katrina.  Haiti.  Tsunami.  Joplin.  There are more examples, of course, both regionally and internationally, and the sum effect of such devastation is a temptation of numbed helplessness.    When we see the images of Filipinos combing through debris to find loved ones, and a city of 200,000 people turned to rubbish, we add them to our ever-expanding file of misfortunes for humanity.  We feel like we have seen this before, and we believe that we will see it again.

But at every turn, we have also seen another reality.  It is a sense of courage and camaraderie in the face of calamity, which pulls people together from across the divides to help others in need. 

In Filipino culture, there is a concept called bayanihan (“by-uh-NEE-hun”), which means “community spirit.”  It is literally translated as “being part of a bayan, or “community.”  It originated in the now obsolete practice of gathering people together to relocate a person’s home in the village.  Using crosswise and lengthwise bamboo poles, neighbors would carry the house on their shoulders from one place in the village to another, often with a festive and spirited mood, ending with a party thrown by the homeowner in gratitude for their community’s assistance.  Today, bayanihan is a common feature of Filipino life, encouraging people toward acts of leadership, initiative, volunteerism, and compassion for the sake of others.

I am certain that bayanihan will prevail throughout the Filipino people throughout the long, arduous process of recovery and rebuilding.  But if there is anything that Katrina, Haiti, the tsunami, Joplin, and now Yolanda have taught us, it is that we are all in bayanihan together.  Barriers of nationality, geography, economy, and culture fade to the fringes when we see fellow human beings, members of our global bayan, in need. 

There are many relief organizations already responding, and I am grateful to hear early reports from our own United Methodist Committee on Relief.  UMCOR has been quick to arrive on the scene and coordinate their response with local and national relief organizations.  It has authorized $97,000 of immediate aid to the Philippines, in the form of food, water, and water purification tablets that will help thousands of people in upcoming days.  If you would like to make a contribution, you can do so through their website (www.umcor.org) or through the church.  Make your check payable to St. Paul’s and designate it for “Typhoon Relief.”  One hundred percent of your contribution will go to support those who have been affected.  For more information on the United Methodist Church’s response to the typhoon, click the link below.  [1]

Thank you again for the prayers and concern for members of my family.  I am grateful to report that they are okay.  Now together, let us be the church, in bayanihan with the world.

Grace, Peace, and “Mabuhay!” (which means “Good Life to You”),

Magrey

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

[1]  http://www.umcor.org/UMCOR/Resources/News-Stories/2013/November/1110umcormobilizesdisasterresponseinphilippines


COMMITMENT SUNDAY 
Join us this Sunday for our annual Commitment Sunday celebration, as we give thanks to God for the bright future ahead of us in 2014, and claim that future with our commitments of prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  Please bring your completed Commitment Forms to worship that morning.  


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