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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mary Did you Know?

Mark Lowry, known for his singing and as a comedian, spent many years with the Gaither Vocal band. What you may not know is that he wrote, "Mary, Did You Know?", a song that came from his meditation written for a Christmas program at his church.  In 1984, he was asked to write a song for Advent. He came up with questions he might ask Mary about her son, Jesus.  Using that story and the words of Luke 1:26-38, Dr. Daniel offered a challenging sermon today.  Another question:  could Mary know?  The angel, Gabriel, brought a message to her that was beyond comprehension -- that she is highly favored by God, and will give birth to a son who will be great and holy, and called the Son of God.  How?  The Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her.  Despite all that Gabriel promised and prophesied, Mary could not understand.  One more question:  what does it mean to be highly favored of God?  It does not mean the life ahead will be a bed of roses.  Being favored does not protect from the hurts, bumps and bruises, or struggles of life.  It does not insulate from disappointments.  Favor is God's choice to accomplish God's purpose.  For Jesus' birth, Mary was God's choice.  Think about who we tend to call, or assume to be, favored by God.  It's not as it appears through human eyes or using the world's standard.  God favored Mary, and gave her the promise that nothing is impossible with God!  Then note Mary's response:  "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."  Let us be thankful that she said, "yes."  Obedience is not a popular term in today's "do your own thing" world.  But those who do great things for God are people who obeyed God -- Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mary.  And obedience is still important today in working with God.  As we continue our preparation this Advent season, consider who we call blessed/favored and what we call impossible!

Gene Kelsey, Director of Christian Education

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Where is God?


This post is a reflection on Dr. Daniel's post on the recent events in Newtown, Ct. You can read Dr. Daniel's post here. As we struggle to make sense of tragedy we believe that it's best done through prayer, conversation, reflection and love. Your comments, reflections and questions are always welcome. 

~Jen Hibben, Associate Pastor

Where is God?

by Don R. Elly

As we cope with the murder, mayhem and death of school children, teachers and the staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School of Newtown, Connecticut, I want to share a few immediate reflections to guide us as people of faith in responding to this tragic event. These random thoughts began to bubble up for me as I sat in prayer at worship on this past Sunday morning, December 16. Some of my reflection will not be new.

My first thought was that this is not the first time this has happened to loved ones, children, teachers, and families in our lives. It happened in the past and continues to happen all over the world today. A text for us to reflect on in light of this tragedy for this Advent season is Matthew 2:13-23. It is called “the killing of innocents” by King Herod and follows the visit of the Wise Men at the birth of Jesus. King Herod takes his rage out on innocent children Jesus’ age. Joseph and Mary in a dream are warned to flee from Bethlehem to save Jesus. I imagine if the parents and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary could have been warned in a dream by angels not to send their children to school that day the tragedy might have been averted. 

The writer tells us this act was “to fulfill scripture.” I have problems with this interpretation. I am thankful for God, angels, Mary, Joseph and Jesus’ story that calls us to see God’s greater purpose. We do have a part in avoiding tragedies like those perpetrated by King Herod and all other who do evil in order to hold on to power, or seek to discover a sense of purpose in life by inflicting pain on others. We are, I believe, by this story and contemporary events, called to do whatever we can to prevent violence and contribute to healing and wholeness in the world. We are all, like Mary and Joseph, meant to be God’s partners in caring for and nurturing good in this world. That God entrusted God’s self to Mary and Joseph who despite their low estate did all they could to assist Jesus to grow up as God’s Good News is a challenge we all need to internalize in this Advent season. God, you see, is present and alive in each of us when we are appalled by such tragedy and continue to work on protecting, nurturing God’s dream of a Kingdom of harmony so that all may know God is real, and that love and good are alive and stronger than sin, evil and darkness. For the full and beautiful description of this Kingdom you might want to read Isaiah 11:1-10 or Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

“Where is God when events like this happen?” implied whenever this question is raised the expectation is that “God is absent since this event happened!” My answer is that God is present in the person of every parent, teacher, and member of society who continues to exhibit the love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness of God and works toward the “Kingdom of God” revealed in Jesus’ birth. This Kingdom is meant to be a society of peace, justice, love, hope, and harmonious cooperation among all people in all universes. God is present in every person in the world who works toward the world envisioned in the Bible and the world’s great religious teachings about love of God, neighbor. This Kingdom is present when all are treated with equality so that what God intends can happen. For me, God was not absent at Sandy Hook Elementary School–but present in those who gave their lives that as many children as possible were saved.

“God called them all home!” Mr. President, thank you for standing up as a symbol of comfort, compassion and sympathy for the parents and families who lost loved ones and mapping out the challenges that face us in the future if these kind of events are to stop. I respectfully disagree with you theologically as to God’s action here. I understand the comfort you are attempting to communicate but I do not believe that “God called these children home.” It is and always is God’s intent that every child, since we are all God’s children, be supported, protected and nurtured to become fully functioning, healthy adults. In light of that I fully support any action taken to prohibit guns and violence from being glorified in our society as the way to solve problems of human relationships, be that internationally, nationally or locally. If I were in your shoes I would start by making clear in your State of the Union message for 2013 that assault weapons will be banned and destroyed, and that as a nation we will no longer sell arms to other countries as a means of economic profit without thinking about the long range consequences of such action. I would support you, the Congress and local legislature in enacting legislation to prohibit the sale of violent video games to children as entertainment which might mean prosecuting adults who make money selling and distributing this product and making it available to children. I believe that we live in a society that exalts the “profit motive” above the best interests of a safe, peaceful, just and compassionate society.

Where is God? Right here in the middle of the mess we make of God’s world grieving, loving and challenging us to become a “light to the nations” and an “ensign of peace”, a people who live up to all God would give us through creation.

A Prayer: God, May I never forget when tragedy, sin, evil, darkness and despair set in and afflict us, you do not disappear. Though we in our pain may not feel your presence, may we trust beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are weeping, working and hold us together so your larger vision of love will never die. Amen.

You can follow Don Elly at: donrelly.wordpress.com

Monday, December 17, 2012

Moments for Pause

As we all know, on December 14, 2012 (approximately 9.30AM,  EST), this country was  struck by the tragic news of a senseless gunman killing and slaughtering the lives of twenty innocent children and six adult females at the Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newtown, Connecticut.  Like many of you, perhaps, I’ve been glued to the television and painfully watching the heart wrenching images and stories from Newtown, CT.  I continue to be awestruck by loss of innocent lives and defenseless children, the unspeakable tragedy, the toll of human casualties, and the physical and emotional suffering of families and loved ones who are now left to endure and cope with the speechless tragedy in their lives…

Over the last few days, I’ve had many moments and I’ve experienced many emotions.  There have been times when I’ve had to simply remain quiet and be still in the presence of my Maker.  I’ve had many moments when I needed to pause, stop, reflect, and simply be in times of prayer…often emotions of restlessness engulfing me from deep within my soul, deep sighs and breaths, and barely even able to even utter words… Yes, like you, I’ve had my own talks and questions to God: WHY, WHY, WHY the loss of brutal killings, loss of innocent children, the senselessness of it all.  I don’t think any of us will ever know for certain why…and I don’t think any of will ever comprehend and make sense of it all.

I was reminded over and over again the words of Psalm 46. If you are able, please listen to these words in light of the recent and unspeakable tragedy.  “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.  Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.  The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob in our fortress.  Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the speak, he burns the shields with fire.  Be still, and know that I am God; and I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.  The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Frankly, although I understand the intentions of what the Psalmist was attempting to communicate, they were not necessarily all that comforting to me.  But, I must admit, it did give me quiet moments of pause!  “Be still, and know that I am God.”  What the Psalmist was saying is that, even in the midst of the unspeakable tragedies, chaos, brutal suffering, madness and evils of this earthly life, to know, God is still God! God is still our hope; our refuge. In times like these, God IS indeed our only refuge and strength, an ever present help in times of utter despair, tears, pain and when cannot and will never understand why things happen the way they do…

Over the past few days, you and I’ve also witnessed how God’s people in Newtown and all around this country have responded to this crisis.  People have offered their outpouring love, genuine care, prayers of various faith communities, and monetary and other contributions to help families of victims.  The coming together of all people and standing with each other has been equally speechless to me.  I’ve asked, “Where is God?”  This is where I’ve seen God and the power of love in the midst of wickedness and horrific evil.” This too gives me moments of pause!

The Psalmist, in essence utters, no matter what, yes, no matter what we go through in this earthly life, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  What the Psalmist was really saying was that, in times and season of pain, heartache and distress, we can never, never be separated from God’s love!  Wow! This certainly renews my soul, dries my misty eyes and genuinely gives me moments pause but also moments of wonder and hope!

Please don’t misunderstand me I still have my many unanswered and troubling questions.  Someday, I’ll have my Q&A session with God face-to-face.  But, in the meantime, I am going to do all I can (with every ounce of my being) to cling, grip and hold-on tightly to my unmovable and solid Rock – Jesus! 

Ruth Caye Jones wrote these power-packed words to this hymn:
In times like these, we need a Savior
In times like these we need an anchor
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock
In times like these, we have a Savior
In times like these, we have an anchor
I'm very sure, I'm very sure
My anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock
This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He's the one
This Rock is Jesus, The only One
I'm very sure, I'm very sure
My anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock
May the peace that passes all human understanding, God’s abiding comfort and the strength of this Rock be yours, especially in times and seasons like this!

I’d love hearing your thoughts and reflections…

Dr. Wesley SK Daniel, Lead Minister
West Des Moines United Methodist Church  

Preparing the Way

Does this remind you of John the Baptist?

Listen to the sermon here: 

In the Gospel  of Luke, the stated purpose of its writing seems to be that of clarifying the stories and events so as to give us the facts.  Chapter 3 gives us several facts as a basis for introducing John the Baptist and his message "preparing the way" for the One who would be following him.  Today Dr. Daniel picked up that message of John the Baptist, who declared, "I have a message from the Lord" -- a message of repentance.  John the Baptist was an interesting character.  His appearance and dress was unique and his diet strange.  But his message was clear and was from God!  During Advent many of us are busy putting up our Christmas trees and lights, and wrapping presents in preparation of the Christmas Day celebration.  There are three things John the Baptist declares that we also consider in our preparation:  1.  "Repent!"  As in that day, so is it today, an important message, but one which some find offensive.  It means, "turn around" -- we're walking one way, and the call is to do a 180 and turn around and walk the other way -- God's way.  It calls on us to have a "different kind of Christmas."  2.  Repentance leads to, and becomes a commitment to, righteous living.  It's a complete turnaround.  We align with God.  3.  We open ourselves to receive God's grace, mercy, and love in our lives.  It's hard for us to fully comprehend the depth of God's love for us.  In his book, A Different Kind of Christmas, Mike Slaughter calls it a scandalous love -- a shocking love.  A holy and righteous God is attracted to sinners!  What we want to do and must do is throw ourselves at the mercy and love of this kind of God.  Jesus basically says, "Give me your sins!"  So as we prepare for our celebration, let's be sure to include the act of repentance and leaning on this great love God offers us in His Son, Jesus!

Gene Kelsey, Director of Christian Education

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Expect a miracle

Listen to the sermon here:

MP3 File

Expect a miracle!  When you hear that, what do you think of?  Jesus feeding the 5,000? or turning water into wine? or how about bringing the dead back to life, such as Lazarus?  Webster's dictionary defines a miracle as being an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.  One miracle event you may not think of is found in Luke 4 where Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah, which says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me...to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed..."  Then He says, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it."  The people had been waiting for a long time for the Messiah, looking for the good news and deliverance Isaiah prophesied.   Jesus says it's Him.  The divine intervention in human affairs.  The Miracle One.  This year our church is focusing on a different kind of Christmas, with an emphasis that now as Christians, we are co-workers -- co-miracle workers, with Jesus.   This task and responsibility is at the top of our "to do" list, looking for ways to partner with God, and to share God's love and care.  One way of doing that is to partner with Children & Family Urban Ministries (CFUM) here in central Iowa.  Carmen Lampe Zeitler, Executive Director, shared what this ministry is doing, and needs they have.  She referred to Luke 7 when John the Baptist was imprisoned, and sent two disciples to Jesus, to ask Jesus if He was the one.  Jesus responded, "Report to John what you've seen and heard -- the blind can now see, the crippled can now walk, the diseased skin is now cleansed, the deaf can now hear, the dead are now raised up, and the good news is preached to the poor!"  Miracles by the Miracle Worker!  Now it's our turn -- ordinary people doing extraordinary things with the help of the Holy Spirit!   A leader once said, "Christianity is not about how we feel on Sunday morning, it's about what kind of world children wake up to on Monday morning."

Gene Kelsey, Director of Christian Education

Monday, December 3, 2012

Giving up on Perfect

Listen to the sermon here: 

"Giving Up on Perfect."  The Gospel of Luke does such a great job giving us a "behind the scenes" look at some of the circumstances leading up to Jesus' birth.  So often when we think of the Christmas story, we think of the sanitized version, and often overlook the messy part.  Not only did an angel, Gabriel, appear -- it was an appearance to a very young virgin.  Despite the angel's message of "good news", Mary was confused -- perplexed.  Her mind must have been racing, trying to figure out what was happening.  She didn't understand.  Pregnant out of wedlock?  This was shaping up to be a mess -- a hot mess!  Not what she would have expected to be part of hers and Joseph's developing relationship!  The really good news was that this emerging story had an "X" factor -- God!!  This year we want to have a different kind of Christmas!  We want to make sure we shift our focus to Jesus, reflecting God's love into our plans, expectations, and relationships!  In Mary's case, the presence of God was key!  And the same is true for us!  Let's make space for God, and be aware of God's presence in all that we plan and do, especially this Christmas!  Thanks again, Pastor Jen, for bringing this important reminder and challenge last Sunday!

Gene Kelsey, Director of Christian Education

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Different Kind of Christmas

Listen to this week's sermon here:

MP3 File

James offers some insightful, yet challenging statements which we heard again in worship today.  Two in particular are when he says, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says."  And "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows..."  Using a dialogue format our Lead Minister, Dr. Daniel, and our Associate Minister, Jen Hibben, talked about how this applies to us as we enter the Advent Season and with Christmas around the corner.  True religion is not surface-level or shallow; it's a life-changing force -- it's about Jesus.  And exerts positive influence on our lives and on others' lives.  What is Christmas all about...to you?  Hopefully it's Jesus.  With that in mind we're planning a different kind of Christmas because there's more than what we've acknowledged.  We want to make it different for ourselves, for our families, for our community, and for our world.  What will it look like?  To help make it different, our Advent small group study will use of Mike Slaughter's well-written materials, "Christmas Is Not Your Birthday" and "A Different Kind of Christmas."  We're going to ReFocus, and seek a closer relationship with Jesus.  We're planning a different kind of initiative, and going on a mission for children who are the most vulnerable.  We want to see more kids getting the food they need each day, both locally and globally, by partnering with the local agency, Children and Family Urban Ministries (CFUM), and StrongMissions located in Costa Rica.  True religion springs from an inner spiritual reality, and expresses love for others -- to those on the margins of life -- children; the poor; the least; the lonely; widows.  To accomplish this, our  first-year challenge for ourselves church-wide is:  whatever we spend for Christmas gifts this year, give at least 25% of that amount to this mission initiative for children.  Might you join us and accept this challenge as well?

Gene Kelsey, Director of Christian Education

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Don't forget God

Listen to the sermon here:

MP3 File

Thanksgiving has been described many different ways over the years with one being that it's a holiday when the family gets together for dinner at halftime of the football game.   Another person said he was thankful for several things: that he was not a turkey; for short, brief sermons; that his teenagers would someday have babies, then teenagers of their own; for snow that falls on his unraked leaves; for equipment and appliances that can be turned off; that no one can turn off the moon and the stars.  For what are you thankful?  In Deuteronomy 8, we're reminded, "don't forget God."  Today, Dr. Daniel reminded us of this important message that God gave long ago to the children of Israel as they were entering the Promised Land.  They had been miraculously delivered out of slavery, and led through the wilderness where God made water flow for them from "flint rock".  Now they were entering into a land flowing with streams, and springs and underground waters; a land of wheat and barley...fig trees...and honey; a land where they may eat bread without scarcity, and where they will lack nothing.  Now the warning: Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments.  And do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God; nor say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth."  Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.  It's been said that Thanksgiving is perhaps the most dangerous of holidays.  Not because we might eat too much, or because we travel and might have an accident.  It's because we forget God.  Even in prayer, believe it or not, we sometimes forget God.  While naming the many blessings we've received it's even possible that our emphasis is on the blessings rather than on the one who blessed us!  As we celebrate this week, hear the reminder: don't forget God!

Gene Kelsey, Director of Christian Education

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

WDMUMC Youth Do Reggie's Sleep Out

Most of us have warm and cozy beds to sleep in each night (even though sometimes we may resist going to them at a decent time and are even more resistant getting out of them in the morning). What about those who don’t have a warm place to rest? How does it feel to be young, alone, and sleeping out in the cold? 

On October 27th, 21 youth and four adults from West Des Moines United Methodist Church participated in the 7th annual Reggie’s Sleepout at Drake Stadium to raise funds and awareness for the Iowa Homeless Youth Centers. The event is named in honor of Reggie Kelsey, who aged out of the foster care system in 2001 and then within three and a half months died in the Des Moines River. Reggie’s Place Coffee Shop and Reggie’s Sleepout raise funds to help prevent similar tragedies. The participants of Reggie’s Sleepout are to experience just one night of sleeping out in the cold. They may bring a tent or use cardboard boxes to create their bed for the night. And yes, duct tape was permitted and many rolls were used that evening! Here are what some of the youth shared following their experience: 

 • Maddie – “It was a good experience for us, but we had the benefit that it was not a super cold night and we could bring just about anything from home to keep warm. It was challenging to think how people and especially kids, have to do this every night. We worry about having the latest iPhone and they don’t even have enough to stay warm. It was also a good bonding time with the Youth Group – we all learned something and could share in the experience together.”
 • Jackson – “It was really fun to be at the stadium and to get to know other kids better. It was a chilly night, but I hardly noticed because of the fun and activities. But I realized it is not so fun to sleep in a box, especially if I had to do it every night. I feel very lucky to have the things I have.”
 • Emma – “Our group had a lot of fun building our house and playing games, but I missed my bed and warm bedroom at home. I feel so sorry for kids who sleep outside all of the time. I enjoyed the experience and want to do it again next year.” 
• Jennie – “I really liked Reggie’s Sleepout because it really makes us think about how fortunate we are. It was just one cold night for us, but others do that every night and in much colder weather. The electricity going out for a while made the experience even more real as we stood in the darkness, feeling helpless. I definitely want to do this again.” 
• Joe – “It was a fun and a learning experience. It really put our architectural skills to the test – I think I could have done so much more with more duct tape. But seriously, it helped us feel what homeless people feel like. As I went to bed that night, I thought of those who go without a sleeping bag or coat and just use whatever they can to try to stay warm.” 

Everyone developed a deep appreciation for their comforts of home and how meaningless material items are when you do not even have a warm place to rest for the night. We pray for all of those who do not have a warm and safe place to rest each night.

Darin Woodward, WDMUMC member

Friday, November 9, 2012

Lifetree kickoff

After many months of visioning, planning, praying and diligent work, West Des Moines UMC gave birth to Lifetree Cafe on Grand; a new outreach ministry to the community and church, on Thursday, November 8, 2012! 

Lifetree Cafe is a new place in the Des Moines Metro area, where persons of various backgrounds gather in an informal and comfortable setting (a coffee house atmosphere) to hear and discuss real life issues and how they may impact their daily life and faith. 

The launch night had close to 35 persons gathered, engaging in conversations following the topic of discussion for the evening, "Smile, Even When You Think You Can't", led and facilitated by Duane Daby. The story of a mother and her incredible son, who has Cerebral Palsy, reminded us to look for the blessings in our lives, and to SMILE, even as we walk through the difficult journey's in life. The conversations were stimulating and invigorating around each table, as a beautiful spirit of excitement guided this launch night...many reasons to "Smile!" One participant commented, "We can't wait to see what God is going to do with Lifetree to touch and change lives!"

Next Thursday's program is titled, "Wounded Warriors, When War Comes Home," which will powerfully share and explore the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder in the lives of our military veterans, and the resources and strategies for coping with PTSD. 
The program features an exclusive film of a veteran who saw his friend killed in combat, and his return to civilian life. He'll openly share the lingering mental distress, violent tendencies, and relationship problems he experienced, yet how he also eventually found hope and stability.

We encourage you to attend, and to invite a friend, neighbor, or family member who may be touched through this story to join you. We gather every Thursday at 7:00p.m. for one hour at 720 Grand Avenue. 

At Lifetree Cafe you'll be warmly greeted and welcomed every week, share in thought provoking learning experiences, be invited into stimulating discussions and discover opportunities to build friendships with new friends.  We assure you'll leave each Lifetree Cafe experience enlightened and encouraged. 
We hope to meet and welcome you next week!

Paige Chapman

Director of Assimilation and Servant Ministries
Director of Lifetree Cafe

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Scarcity and Abundance

Listen to the sermon here:

MP3 File

We all agree that God is a generous God.  Yet we don't live like it.  Why is that?  Last Sunday Pastor Jen provided a very challenging and thought-provoking message that responds to this conflict or contrast -- scarcity or abundance.  It seems that much of the time we tend to hoard our money and our talents, and that we live by the rules related to a culture of scarcity rather than a culture of abundance.  Our thinking, and behavior,  seems to be that we can't give to the church, or to charity, or to help neighbor, because what if I give and my car breaks down, or what if I need that money for something else?  We have come to believe that we must look out for ourselves, and that generosity or sharing is dangerous.   We're careful to only give if we can be sure of what it will get us or the benefit we can expect in return.  And we've concluded that this is even good stewardship because this is being responsible.   Yet the Bible and God seem to speak in terms of abundance.  Abundance thinking teaches us that generosity or sharing is a joy.  That it's like the Kingdom of God.  Here at the church we had our Fall Fest celebration that included a Trunk or Treat. One area where we wanted to be intentional was to have trunks full of candy because we wanted to offer abundance to all the kids who came -- to offer and have more than enough for everyone!  We wanted to communicate the feeling of abundant love!  Here's the contrast:  The culture of scarcity says there's never enough; that we have to fight to meet our needs, and to take as much as we can.  That we give only when we know what we'll get.  And there's no guarantee we'll be cared for.  Generosity and sharing are dangerous.   The culture of abundance teaches us there's more than enough; that our needs are met; and that we take only what we need, and to share the rest.  That we give without expectations, because we will be cared for.  That generosity and sharing are joyous.  This is an area where all of us can examine our hearts.  How can we stop the voice of scarcity?  It's to pray, "God, how can I learn to live out of abundance -- Your abundance?"  Then to listen for the voice of God.  And try it -- live by a different set of "rules" -- the rules and culture of abundance.  To truly trust God!  How would your life be different if you lived in a culture of abundance?

Gene Kelsey, Director of Christian Education

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fall Festival Recap

                obstacle course, bounce house, fire truck and trunk or treat
SUCCESS! That is the main word I've heard in association with last night's Fall Festival, and it was! You can check out all our photos from Fall Festival here

 Look at those smiles! 
Dr. Daniel, our Senior pastor shared: 

Our Pastor Skeleton and Pastor Farmer
"My heart is full of joy over our successful Fall Festival held here at our church on Wednesday, October 31. There were a number of fun activities for children, an abundance of candy, lots of laughter and joy among adults, plenty of food, a stunning show by the West Des Moines fire department and a perfect evening with pleasant weather conditions.  The estimated guess of the number persons present were about 400 plus!

What went well?

1. We had a simple vision of reaching out to our immediate neighborhood and touching persons with the genuine love of Christ.

2. We had passionate and committed leaders who took ownership of this vision and set simple and realistic goals...to be the hands and feet of Christ. We wanted children and adults to feel welcomed and experience Christ’s love in tangible ways.
Fun for all

3. We marketed and promoted the event well.

4. Various groups and individuals in the church rallied together to fulfill a common goal. 

5. And, we went to work, did our part, and left the results to God’s.  A beautiful spirit of joy, care and love was all encompassing.

Fancy gypsy ladies

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew19.14).  Through all our expressions of genuine care and love, perhaps, we helped many children take a closer step toward Christ!"

What really made the evening was successful the atmosphere that we created and participated in with God. Everyone was enjoying him or herself, kids were laughing, smiling, dancing; all signs that God was with us and that God's love and care was being FELT by those around us. Thanks of course goes to God for working in our hearts and minds, preparing us for this evening, but I want to also thank all those who volunteered their time, talents, candy and love. We may never know the type of impact that we may have had last night, but we do trust that God will take whatever happened last night and use it for good, to draw others closer to God. That's exciting and a success regardless of the number of people or hot dogs that were there last night. Thanks for BEING the church last night, West Des Moines United Methodist Church!"

Jen Hibben, Associate Pastor

Monday, October 29, 2012

Transformed Living: Cheerful Giving and Service Pt. 2


Listen to the full audio here!

MP3 File

Although I should be writing my sermon for this upcoming Sunday, I wanted to share a theme from Dr. Daniel's sermon that got me thinking. I think we might all agree that God is a "bounteous God" as Dr. Daniel said, but I don't think we'd all agree that we live like that's true. I know I'm as guilty as anyone else, but why? Why do we feel like we need to hoard our money, our, time, our talents? If you've seen the TV show Hoarders, you know how destructive that can be. But a lot of times it's our gut reaction, it's what comes most natural. 

I have to admit that when I first started working with The Night Ministry in Chicago (an organization that works with homeless individuals among other things), I was annoyed with some of the visitors' behaviors. They would ask for more food, more health kits, make a fuss when I couldn't give them what they wanted, fight with each other over preferred items and generally try to manipulate whatever system we thought we had set up. I feel bad now, but I couldn't understand why they were so "ungrateful," "greedy" and "manipulative." Thankfully God opened up my eyes to another perspective that changed my attitude towards the visitors at The Night Ministry and gave me greater insight into these "annoying" behaviors. 

Unfortunately these visitors had been living in a culture of scarcity. A culture where there is never enough, where you have to fight hard to have your basic needs met, where being polite and generous leaves you starving, cold and taken advantage of, where you take as much as you can because you have no idea when you're going to have another chance. This culture taught them that these behaviors, that I so quickly judged, are the only way to survive. There is no room for giving to others without being sure exactly what it'll get you in a culture of scarcity. There is no trust or guarantee that you will be cared for if you don't look out for yourself first in a culture of scarcity. Vulnerability is dangerous. Generosity is dangerous. Sharing is dangerous. 

What Dr. Daniel was talking about is the opposite of a culture of scarcity, it's a culture of abundance. A culture where there is always MORE than enough, where you don't worry about your basic needs being met, where giving and sharing and loving only enhances your life, where you take what you need and freely give the rest away, knowing that there is always more where that came from. This culture teaches us that generosity and selflessness are the only ways to truly live. There is always room for giving without any expectations of reciprocity in a culture of abundance. You can trust that you will always be cared for in a culture of abundance. Vulnerability is a joy. Generosity is a joy. Sharing is a joy. Sounds great huh? Kind of like the KINGDOM OF GOD.

And while I would bet that most of us do not live the lives that my friends at The Night Ministry do, I would venture to guess that we live much more out a culture of scarcity rather than abundance. We think, with the best of intentions, that "If I give this extra money to the church, or to a charity or to my neighbor who's really struggling, and something happens to my car/house/dog/manicure, I'd be in so much trouble. It's really more responsible for me to hoard save this money for myself, for later, in case something bad happens to me." Now I made that sound a lot worse when you just read it, because when we say it in our head it sounds a lot more like financial responsibility. And there's great value in financial responsibility, but not when it's a substitute for trusting God. 

I don't know where you're living on the scarcity/abundance spectrum today, but I'd imagine there  are days when living in a culture of scarcity is much more appealing because we have more control, or because it's just too risky to trust God this time. This is where we have to examine our hearts, where we have to ask God to teach us how to live out of abundance. Because we can give our 10% and we can volunteer every night of the week, but if we're still living in a culture of scarcity, those things don't bring you joy, they don't bring you peace and it teaches you that everything you've learned about living in a culture of scarcity just might be right. I hesitate to put words in God's mouth, but I'm guessing God would say "that's not the point my child." (when I guess what God would say it often ends with "my child")

So what do we do about this? How do we consciously reject our tendency to live in scarcity? Try it out, trust God, give generously, intentionally stop the voice of scarcity in you head and listen for God (remember is usually ends with "my child"). I'm not saying that it's easy and I'm not saying that it comes naturally for us all, but I am saying that it's worth it. I am saying that this is how God wants us to live and I am saying that God will be there with you. 

I'm happy to continue this conversation with you via email, but I pray that God's true words speak to your heart and lead you to a life of abundance. 

Jen Hibben, Associate Pastor

Transformed Living: Cheerful Giving and Service Pt. 1

Listen to the sermon here: 

MP3 File

Transformed Life: Cheerful Giving and Service, from 2 Corinthians 9:6-11, was the sermon today. I love how God speaks through our pastor, Dr. Daniel. This scripture lesson reveals good news about God and how God blesses us beyond measure.  The Apostle Paul wrote, "The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." We often view the law of sowing and reaping in a negative light, but that's not necessarily how God intended it because there's a positive -- sow kindness or sow love and reap kindness or reap love. So one thing Paul is saying is that there is a law of bounty at work in the world. Secondly, we can learn that cheerful givers are cheerful because God is a bounteous and giving God by nature. Consider John 3:16. With God, the problem is not on the supply end!  If a person had 1,000 gallons of water, for example, to give someone else who had only a one gallon vessel to receive it, how would the 1,000 gallons be given?  So it is with God who has so much more to give than we can contain.  Thirdly, cheerful givers are cheerful because God has made them a promise: "He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God." Can you imagine if we, as God's church, did all we could, how great God's impact through us could be in our community? How is God calling you to transform your life by being a cheerful giver?  Before we can reap, we must sow. Before we enjoy God's blessings we perform faithful obedience. Before we experience a blessing, we bless others. Thanks be to God. Stewardship is not just about financials -- it's about prayer, presence, gifts, service and witness.  Whenever and whatever we sow, we get to reap!

Gene Kelsey, Director of Christian Education

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Make a Bed - Keep them Fed

October 17, 2012 – WDMUMC UMY to Hope Ministries for “Make a Bed – Keep Them Fed”

Do you know what it feels like to go hungry? Would you know where to go for help? Would you feel scared, alone, embarrassed, or grateful and loved? These were some of our thoughts as over 20 youth and 6 adults went to the Bethel Mission in Des Moines on Wednesday, October 17th. The group participated in Make a Bed – Keep Them Fed at the Hope Ministries emergency shelter for homeless men. We brought food items for the Hope CafĂ© as well as new bedding and pillows. The youth were divided into four groups, which each group was assigned a bed number and provided the first name of the gentleman who would be sleeping there.  We removed the old bedding, put on the new sheets and pillows, put on a new quilt from another church group, and then folded them back to make the bed inviting. Following those tasks, we then wrote notes of encouragement to the men who would sleep in those beds that night and then the group prayed together for each man by name. Here are some of the thoughts shared by the youth following this eye-opening and touching experience.

  •  Jack – “We learned what it was like for people less fortunate than us. It felt good to give someone else hope. It was fun when we prayed as a group because all of us got to participate and add something to the prayer. I want to do this again.”
  • Charlie – “It was a learning experience to actually see how others may live. It gave me the opportunity to realize how special even one video game is when I see those who have no games.”
  • Bre – “I was surprised by the number of beds at the shelter. It was fun to write the encouraging card and hopefully helping them with encouragement and hope.”
  • Breanna – “It reminded me that we have so much more than we need. We get caught up in our everyday life that we forget about those with no food and no place to sleep. I am looking forward to help with other Hope Ministries needs and activities.”
  • Sidney – “It was fun but so sad to see all of the men who were there. I had not really thought about it that much, so it was surprising to see. It felt good to help them without even seeing them. It was an excellent experience!”
  • Nate – “It was eye-opening to see the number of homeless men. It was also great to see the number of people committed to helping other in a Christian manner. It felt good to help those less fortunate.”
  • Carson – “I would like some of my Christmas money to go to Hope Ministries.”

It was an amazing experience for all and made us all think of our many blessings. David Burrier from Hope Ministries reminded us of Mathew 25:35-40 – “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Darin Woodwood, West Des Moines UMC member

Monday, October 22, 2012

Another Successful Fall Omelet Breakfast!

Two times a year, April and October, the Mits-Wits Adult Sunday School hosts an omelet breakfast for our Church.  This event has become legendary for delicious omelets, pancakes, waffles and biscuits & gravy.  Many have said that this is the best, most cost effective breakfast in town.  The breakfast staff works like a well-oiled machine, taking orders, preparing the meals and delivering them piping hot to your table. 

For as long as I can remember, Dick Warren has been the king of the omelet breakfast.  Planning, organizing and honing his team, bringing the Mits-Wits to the top of the fine art of breakfast.   On the day of the breakfast, you would expect the king of breakfast to be lording over his workers.  But not Dick, he takes the hottest, messiest, wettest job – washing dishes. 
Everyone pitches in to make the breakfast a success.  Whole families work to make the breakfast a memorable meal.  We have sons, daughters and grandchildren of members running orders, delivering meals and clearing tables.  The breakfast has become a family event.
Some years the earnings are up and some years they are down. This year we didn’t clear as much as we wanted.  Everything we earn goes directly to our Church.  The unprepared food is donated to Wednesday Night Live (a case of biscuits and a case of pasteurized eggs).  In the end, everyone wins.

See you in April for the Spring Omelet Breakfast.

Mike Plymale, Mits-Wits Member 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Transformed Living: Presence

October 14, 2012 Sermon at WDMUMC from Gene Kelsey our Director of Christian Education

MP3 File

Friday, October 12, 2012

Transformed Living: Prayer

A great adventure unfolds when we discover the freedom, promise, and rewards that
come with committing ourselves to a closer relationship with God through the treasures
of prayer, presence, gifts, and service -- the treasures of a transformed life. With that in
mind, West Des Moines United Methodist Church has made this the theme for our
stewardship campaign. This past Sunday, Pastor Jen spoke about the first treasure -- the
importance of prayer and standing in the gap. Ezekiel 22:30 gives us that thought as God
says, "I looked for anyone to repair the wall and stand in the gap for me on behalf of the
land, so I wouldn't have to destroy it. But I couldn't find anyone." Pastor Jen shared with
us that sometimes our view of prayer is too narrow. Prayer makes a difference. In the
scripture God is looking for someone -- anyone -- to stand in the gap for a city. But found
no one. What is prayer? It's a conversation with God. It's talking. And it's listening. Now
talking is easier, and we seem to be good at that. Whereas listening is harder; it's tiring;
and we're not so good at this. With listening there may be silence, and we're not
comfortable with that. It's hard. But it doesn't mean God isn't talking. Nor does it mean
we should stop trying to listen. If we want to be involved with what God is doing, we
need to listen to, and for, God. God wants us to stand in the gap. There's a concept called
social penetration theory. Part of it has to do with friends and self-disclosure. Not only
thoughts and ideas, but who we really are. As a conversation goes further, the more we
open up and share. One friend shares something about themselves and the other responds
with something about themselves at the same level. And through conversation with God
we learn more about God and we change. Prayer bridges the gap between today's reality
and the future we want or the way things need to be. We stand in the gap between now
and the future, between the rich and the poor, between hope and despair. Prayer is a
treasure to be valued. It's a discipline we need practice. Because God is looking for
someone like us to take a stand.

Gene Kelsey, Director of Christian Education 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cut it Out

click here for a transcript of this week's sermon.

Last Sunday's sermon, "Cut It Out"  came from a difficult scripture passage -- Mark 9:38-50, in which Jesus offers some blunt teaching with gruesome imagery.   Pastor Jen Hibben captured and so effectively delivered the message Jesus wants all of us to hear.  It starts out with the disciples tattling on someone who is apparently and successfully throwing out demons in Jesus' name even though that person was not one of them.  We don't know the story of this person, or even his name.  Had he met Jesus?  Or was he just using the "magic" of Jesus' name?  What we do know is that he just wasn't part of the "in" crowd -- the disciples.  Were the disciples protecting Jesus?  Nevertheless, Jesus said, "Cut it out."  Acts of mercy and justice were being done!  The kingdom of God is here!  And this man was an example.  From there Jesus made it a teaching moment.  What was holding the disciples back?  Whatever it is, "Cut it out."  And as part of that teaching, He speaks about Hell, and then something different than what we think of as being the opposite.  We often think of Heaven.  But in this situation, Jesus was contrasting Hell with Life.  He said that if your hand, or your foot, or you eye offends , to cut it off or cut it out.  Not literally, though, because these body part do no operate independently of the heart.  The heart is what He was ultimately getting to.  And the surgical imagery of amputation implies how hard it is to change the heart.  It's not easy!  Sometimes there are bad habits or addictions that hold us back -- attachments that seem like they're actually part of us.  And they hold us back from Life.  Jesus came to give us abundant life.  And He comes with blunt instructions -- cut it out, whatever is holding us back.  And what we get is Jesus and real life!  

Gene Kelsey, Director of Christian Education

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Sometimes even to persons of very shallow faith, the teachings of Jesus seem clear. The simple Gospel -- so easy to understand. Sometimes, however, we forget how difficult Jesus' teachings were to His own disciples. When Jesus wasn't talking in parables, He was using paradoxes to get across what He was trying to teach. From Mark 8:27-35, Dr. Daniel so effectively talked about the paradoxes Jesus used to teach "Surrendering Our Lives to God." There are three paradoxes that permeate the teachings of Christ. These paradoxes are critical to an understanding of the abundant life that has been promised by Christ. Jesus said, "If you want to follow me, you must deny (surrender) your life, and take up your cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them." 1. The first paradox is this: Anything you save will be lost! Jesus was clear when He taught, "Don't store up
for yourselves treasures here on earth, where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break in and steal them." 2. The second: Anything you share you will regain! What did Jesus proclaim? "Give, and it shall be given unto you." 3. The third: Anything you surrender to God, will be blessed beyond your imagination! When we share, God abundantly blesses. The Gaithers captured that in a wonderful song, "Something beautiful, something good; all my confusion He understood; all I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife, but He made something beautiful of my life." Some things about which to think, reflect and pray: A tree does not worry about surrendering itself to the sun that bathes it. It can do no other. You and I, however, are confronted with a choice. Do we surrender all we are and all we hope to be to God? If we do, we can know this: God is the creator of beauty, and God can take our lives and make something beautiful out of them if we are willing to give our all to God! What is your personal response to these paradoxes taught by Christ?

Gene Kelsey, Director of Christian Education

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Sunday, September 9th was an incredible, Spirit-filled day!  A day packed with celebrations, as we huddled together shouting and singing loud-sounding cheers for Jesus Christ…KICKING OFF into what’s certain to be a WINNING SEASON here at West Des Moines United Methodist Church

All were invited to “get in the game” by wearing their favorite team jersey or t-shirt, preparing them for a great game day!  As we kicked off into the 1st Quarter, our powerful choir; decked out in a variety of team colors, led us by singing inspiring selections from songs of our faith.  

Our 2nd Quarter brought a joyful time of worship and praise, moving us down the field with conviction and purpose as we heard God’s Word.  

Heading into the 3rd Quarter, we witnessed 3rd Grade receivers, catching their Bibles and having their backpacks blessed with great excitement.  

The final and 4th Quarter brought the ultimate tail-gate experience, during our time of fellowship, and carried us into the end zone for a time of spiritual nurture, celebrating all God’s gifts and victories in this faith community.    

Friends, God is doing a great, great work among us, in a number of ways!  One can only imagine what the next season will reveal, as we’re faithful to His leading, and as we “cheer on” one another in moments of joyous victories, and through times of discouragement and/or defeat!  This is part of the privilege and responsibility to being on “God’s Team!”  So…are you prepared to play, giving God, and your teammates, your very best out there on the field?

As a team, we’ve been richly rewarded by the gifts of our Head Coach, Dr. Wesley Daniel.  Through his visions, wisdom, guidance and incredible leadership, we have been given a new “game plan” in this church, restoring us as a community, and bringing us to new victories.  We were recently blessed again through (God’s) recruitment of our Assistant Coach, Pastor Jen Hibben, in His bringing her to our team with gifts, graces and leadership that compliment the overall team.  Her spirited passion and outgoing enthusiasm contribute to the overall direction we’re all called to follow.  Then, there’s the TEAM…members and friends in this community praying, playing, serving and giving together, to continue running towards the goal, scoring a winning touchdown for Jesus Christ!

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice!  Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:10-12

Paige Chapman, Director of Assimilation and Servant Ministries