Midweek Message: Five Reminders about God

Midweek Message: Five Reminders about God

Dear Hyde Park Family,

5 days.
400 children.
220 volunteers.
And one amazing spirit of joy and gladness.

That’s the numerical summary of our Hyde Park campus this week, as we have been experiencing yet another incredible Vacation Bible School. Themed “Maker Fun Factory: Created by God, Built for a Purpose,” every building has been transformed into an imaginative and immersive place for our children to experience God’s love for them.

Kudos, of course, go to our stellar Children’s Ministry staff and their huge team of adult and youth volunteers. Running an operation of this magnitude has required months of preparation and weeks of gathering, building, and fine-tuning every little detail to make this an unforgettable experience. And thank you for your faithful and generous stewardship that makes these kinds of programs possible.

We remember that the goal of VBS is not just to entertain and amuse. The reason this church puts such a high priority on this week is that each morning, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., our children are learning vital spiritual truths that can shape their lives for years to come.

Last week, during staff prayer time, Kathy DiRaimo, our Administrative Assistant for Children and Youth Ministries, offered a statement that captures the heart of why this week is so important. This is what we hope each child learns by week’s end:

You were made and designed specifically and amazingly to fulfill a great purpose in God’s Kingdom. You were born for this moment, and we want you to know your worth and believe it! Know that God is for you and you are not alone. You never have to wonder if somebody (or Somebody) loves you.

That is a powerful message, not just for our children, but for each of us. Take a second to read that statement again, this time for yourself. Then consider each of the following daily Bible points from this week, for what it might mean to you.

Monday’s Bible Point: God made you.
Key Verse: “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!” (Psalm 139:14)
The children learned the story of God’s creation of human beings in Genesis 1 and 2, and remembered that each of us is made in God’s image, with unique qualities that make us each special. That includes you. When God made you, God did not make a mistake.

Tuesday’s Bible Point: God is for you.
Key Verse: “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Here the kids heard the story of Joshua, who was called by God to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Despite fears of the massive Canaanite army, Joshua claimed the promise that God was for them. You might feel that the odds are against you. But God is for you.

Wednesday’s Bible Point: God is always with you.
Key Verse: “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
The children learned about Gideon, one of my favorite characters in the entire Old Testament. He was called by God to an improbable task, to lead the Israelites to victory against the powerful Midianites. But God gave him assurance when he doubted, and displayed power in surprising and creative ways. And all Gideon had to do was trust that God was always with them. Let that be a word of encouragement to you.

Thursday’s Bible Point: God will always love you.
Key Verse: “Your unfailing love will last forever.” (Psalm 89:2)
This morning, the children heard the good news of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Because of his self-sacrificial love for the world, Jesus offered a way for us to be in a new relationship with God. No matter what you have done in your past, and no matter what struggles you may have in the future, God will always love you.

Friday’s Bible Point: God made you for a reason.
Key Verse: “For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Tomorrow, the children will learn about Abigail, the wife of a mean-spirited man named Nabal. When David, the king of the Israelites, came into a conflict with Nabal that was headed toward certain bloodshed, Abigail stepped in to intervene and broker peace. Her life is a reminder that you have a purpose: to bear a message of peace and love in a world filled with bitter division.

As you venture into the rest of your summer, take a moment to give thanks for another wonderful Vacation Bible School, and for all the people that made it happen. More importantly, continue to revisit these five Bible points for yourself. And allow the power of an imaginative, redemptive God to create something new within you.

I’ll be taking a brief break from writing the Midweek Message during the month of July, and will look forward to resuming them in August. In case you missed any prior messages, they are available on our website.

Midweek Message: My Summer Reading List, 2017

Midweek Message: My Summer Reading List, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Sitting at my desk, staring at the stack of books awaiting my eager attention this summer:

“Bid Our Jarring Conflicts Cease: A Wesleyan Theology and Praxis of Church Unity” by David Field. My continuing work with “the broad center” of the denomination has garnered this book recommendation from many in the group. After reading a fifth of the book this past week, I can now see why. Dr. Field calls the denomination to a renewed emphasis on personal and social holiness, which can best be achieved through an embrace of the church’s diversity. This book already feels like it will have staying power in my ministry.

“The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. When Rev. Michelle Shrader was our guest preacher two weeks ago (view the sermon here), she based part of her sermon on this book, which is a conversation between two of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time. Those of you who have already read the book have affirmed how good it is.

“The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness” by Paula Poundstone. I have been a fan of this comedian for a long time, more recently through her guest stints on National Public Radio’s Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me! Her latest book details her hilarious self-immersion into the great lengths people will go to find happiness. It’s a timely read given our current worship series on joy, and so far, this book is quintessential Paula.

“The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals” by Chris McChesney and Sean Covey. Justin LaRosa brought this book to my attention and shared it with some of the staff leadership. Some in the church have applied its principles to their business, reorienting the way they work toward achieving measurable goals. We will be exploring how we use the book together here in the office.

“Not in God’s Name” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and “Making Sense of the Troubles” by David McKittrick. I have been invited to participate in a small cohort of Florida United Methodist clergy that has been studying issues of reconciliation and justice. Part of that experience will be a trip to Northern Ireland, sponsored by the Marcy Fellowship and the Candler School of Theology, and led by our friend Rev. Gary Mason. Preparations for that trip include these two books. “Making Sense of the Trouble” offers a comprehensive history of the long, brutal conflict in Northern Ireland, and “Not in God’s Name” explores the role that unhealthy theology can play in propagating violence.

I realize the list doesn’t include any fiction, which I hope to remedy at some point. In fact, if you have a book that has captivated you over the past year or a book you are hoping to get to this summer, fiction or non-fiction, let me know!

Happy Summer, and Happy Reading!

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

Thank you for the impressive volume of pictures you all have been submitting as part of Joy! daily picture challenge. The words below are connected to the scripture text for Sunday, July 2 from Philippians 4:4-9. Find pictures online or around you that support these words, and submit them via social media using the hashtag #hydeparkumc.

June 23 – Rejoice
June 24 – Prayer
June 25 – Gratitude
June 26 – Worry
June 27 – True
June 28 – Gentleness
June 29 – Pure
June 30 – Praise

Midweek Message: A Word That’s Worth a Thousand Pictures

Midweek Message: A Word That’s Worth a Thousand Pictures


Dear Hyde Park Family,

Noted spiritual author Richard Foster explains a way of experiencing the Scriptures called “Imaginative Reading,” in which we employ all our senses to engage its words. In reading the Gospels, for example, Foster writes, “Smell the sea. Hear the lap of water against the shore. See the crowd. Feel the sun on your head and the hunger in your stomach. Taste the salt in the air. Touch the hem of his garment.”

Over the next three weeks, we invite you to participate in a kind of imaginative reading that utilizes visual imagery and social media. For each Sunday during our series on Philippians called “Joy: Discovering It Daily,” we are sharing key words lifted directly from the upcoming Scripture passage. Many of you have already been sharing photos every day since we started last Sunday, and shared them via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook with the hashtag #hydeparkumc.

The cumulative result is an impressive virtual gallery through which we are able to interpret each Sunday’s Scripture through the lenses of each other’s imagination. We invite you to spend some time looking at some of the photos that have been shared on our church website. And, a number of your pictures will be useful in the preachers’ work on the Scripture text, and may even be used in the sermons themselves.

Consider the text for next week, on Sunday, June 25, from Philippians 3:7-15:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Starting tomorrow, each of those seven bold-faced words will be the key words we invite you to picture imaginatively, and share any images that come to mind:

Friday, June 16 – Power
Saturday, June 17 – Loss
Sunday, June 18 – Goal
Monday, June 19 – Rubbish
Tuesday, June 20 – Suffering
Wednesday, June 21 – Resurrection
Thursday, June 22 – Prize

By the time the preachers sit down to write down their sermons next Thursday, they will have a full array of pictures you submitted to help them think about this text. And in that way, we will share a connected, communal, virtual, and imaginative experience of the scriptures together.

Along the way, we hope that this daily exercise will also help you raise your spiritual antenna, to see what God wants to show you and have you ponder. Learning to be aware of God’s presence and activity in your life is a key aspect of finding joy daily, and is at the heart of this series on Philippians.

So, happy imagining and happy picture taking, as you discover God’s joy every day!

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

Midweek Message: A Prayer for Pastors

Midweek Message: A Prayer for Pastors

Dear Hyde Park Family,

By the time you read this, I will be in Orlando at the latest gathering of the Florida Annual Conference, along with your other clergy, your lay delegates, and about a thousand other United Methodists from around the state. It is always an important time for us to reconnect with colleagues and friends, sharing the highs and lows of life and ministry over the past year.

Sometimes, the conversations that take place in the hallways of Conference are as fruitful and cathartic as what happens in the main sessions. These moments remind us that pastors everywhere need the prayers of the people they serve. So, perhaps you can take some time today and in upcoming weeks to keep the six of us in your prayers, as well as any other pastors that you know.

I offer the following prayer to you, which you may use to spur your own prayerful imagination. Writing this prayer and offering it you remind me of the way Charles Finney described the power of a praying community: “Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”


Gracious God,

We thank you for your church, the living embodiment of Christ, empowered by your Spirit to reach a hurting world. We thank you for the women and men who serve as clergy and lay preachers, remembering that theirs is a holy calling, for the work of challenging, nurturing and ordering the life of your people. You have composed a rich and diverse covenantal communion, displaying a wide range of skills and passions, from all walks and seasons of life.

We thank you for those who are newly licensed, commissioned, and ordained for ministry, who are entering the tender years of their work.

We thank you for those who have entered or are nearing retirement, for their long years of service. May they continue to serve your Kingdom in renewed ways, contributing their energies and expertise for years to come.

We thank you for all those clergy persons and clergy spouses who have died in the past year, joining the great cloud of witness that accompanies us. May their ongoing legacy be a continued blessing to us, exemplifying faithfulness in service and witness.

We thank you for your presence during transition, acknowledging clergy who are moving to new churches and for congregations receiving new pastors. Bless all spouses and families impacted by these changes, and grant to all people strength for the journey ahead, and a confidence that your Kingdom will be built by the best people serving in the right places.

Even amid our gratitude, we acknowledge hardship. We recognize that the journey is often difficult for those who pursue your call. We pray for those who are dealing with physical, relational, emotional, mental, or financial strains. Grant them courage to face their limitations, wisdom to make the tough choices, supportive loved ones to surround them in their darkest days, renewed strength for their moments of fatigue, and the willingness to make necessary changes toward health and wholeness.

We pray for pastors whose current spiritual state is likened to a dry, parched wilderness. For those whose difficult years in ministry have sapped them of joy, creativity, and innovation, we ask that you restore their energies and inspire them to new ways of serving your church. Buoy them with hope, fill them with optimism and holy humor, and remind them that “the joy of the Lord is their strength.”

We pray for those struggling to find adequate balance between the demands of leadership and their responsibilities to family and self-care. Grant them the ability to discern healthy choices, prioritize what is most important, and to tend to those areas of life that nourish their souls and nurture their relationships.

Renew within your pastors a holy passion for the Scriptures. Open their eyes to new interpretive possibilities, and fill them with new zeal for its preaching, its teaching, and its embodiment through their example. May they fall in love once again with the beauty of language, and its power to name and sustain our commitment to be your people.

And in this local congregation, thank you for Magrey, Sally, Vicki, Kim, Justin, and Debbie. Thank you that they have been reappointed to serve here for another year, and bless them in their ongoing work among us. We give you thanks for all you have done in and through the faithfulness of the clergy and lay people of Hyde Park United Methodist throughout the years. May we continue to serve as the living expression of your love, made real for the world to see.

May all of us be led by the one whom you sent for our sake, Jesus the Christ, who is the head of the church, and in whose name we pray, Amen.

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park Untied Methodist


This Sunday we start a four-part series on the book of Philippians, Paul’s most joyful letter. We will discover that a life of true joy comes at the intersection of God’s gracious work in our lives, with our willingness to participate in obedience.

Now, here’s where you come in! Every day starting Sunday, we have a key word that is related to the upcoming worship service, and you are invited to submit pictures on social media that you think connect to each of those words, using the hashtag #hydeparkumc. The preachers will use those images you submit to interpret the Bible passages, and your pictures may even be used as part of the sermon!

For a list of the keywords, visit this page.


Midweek Message: Hello Summer!

Midweek Message: Hello Summer!

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Hello, summer!

Whether you are making plans to get away for a vacation, or looking forward to long days of leisure at home, I trust that this season will afford you and your loved ones a chance to rest and rejuvenate a bit from all your busyness and stress.

Whatever you choose to do, we want to help you keep Sunday worship a part of your routine. The observance of weekly Sabbath is not only a command by God; it is a key to true and lasting renewal in your mind and body.

If you are in town, join us for our regular worship schedule here on the Hyde Park or Portico campuses. If you are traveling, you can worship with us online at 9:30 (Contemporary) or 11 a.m. (Traditional). And if you miss a Sunday, our sermons are all archived on our YouTube channel or via podcast.

This summer, we are offering three worship series that are sure to connect with your life. Here is a sneak preview of what lies ahead over the next three months. (For further details, click the link in each section.)

June 11 – July 4
Joy! Finding It Daily
A Four-Week Series on Philippians

Who wouldn’t want more joy in their life? In a world full of brokenness and anxiety, many people will do almost anything to escape the pain and heartache of their lives. Paul’s letter to the Philippians reminds us that a long-term, joyful life comes from God, and it requires our daily work. Learn more.

July 9 – July 30
Hope! Strength for Troubled Times
A Four-Week Series on Jeremiah

There are many similarities between Jeremiah’s time and ours, and this four-part series will call us to that same comfort and challenge for the difficulties of our day. In a world that seem broken, we need the voice of Jeremiah to call us to hope, and to summon us to a renewed commitment to God. Learn more.

August 6 – 27
New Takes on Old Favorites

There are a handful of Bible verses that are so ingrained in our faith vocabulary that we know them by heart. But sometimes we think we know those passages so well that we miss the chance to make fresh connections to our lives today. What new insights might these texts contain that will transform the way we relate to God and to one another? Learn more.

See you this summer!

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

Midweek Message: Staring Up at Heaven

Midweek Message: Staring Up at Heaven

Dear Hyde Park Family,

A few weeks ago, my daughters and I spent a few days vacationing at a nearby hotel. Lounging poolside, I noticed a group of older elementary-aged kids, laughing and jabbering as they swam.

Then, we all looked up at the sky, and noticed an airplane skywriter. As the pilot began writing a smiley-face symbol, I couldn’t help but overhear what the kids around me were saying.

🙂 ….

Look! There’s a smiley face in the sky!
Yeah, that’s neat!
Hey! Now it’s drawing a letter!

🙂 … J …

It’s the letter J!

🙂 … J … E …

Cool! It’s spelling my name! Jenna! It’s saying “Smile, Jenna!”
That’s stupid. Why would it be saying “Smile, Jenna?”

🙂 … J … E … S …

(At this point, I was less interested in the fact that the skywriter was clearly spelling Jesus, and much more interested in the slow-boiling skirmish erupting among these kids at the pool.)

🙂 … J … E … S … U … S …

See, Jenna. It says, “Jesus.”
“Happy Jesus?” I don’t get it. That’s dumb.
Hey, look, Jenna! (pointing to a boy nearby) There’s that boy you like!
“Hey!” (calling out to the boy across the pool.) “My friend likes you.”
STOP! Why would you do that! I’m never talking to you again!

🙂 … J … E … S … U … S … L …

Hey, Look! It’s still writing letters! Jesus L? What does that mean?
(Kids stop their bickering for a minute, as they watch the skywriter.)

🙂 … J … E … S … U … S … L … O …

Hey, I get it! It’s going to say Jesus LOL!
Jesus LOL? That’s ridiculous! What does that even mean?
It’s saying Jesus is happy! And that smiley face is him!
That’s stupid.
Oh, yeah? Why don’t you ask your boyfriend over there?
Stop it!

🙂 … J … E … S … U … S … L … O … V …

(At this point, I was fairly sure that the skywriter was going to spell out “Jesus Loves You.” But as I listened to these children snipe and snap at each other, much as kids do, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Here was the message of God’s love, stated as plain as day by a plane in the sky. And it was hardly making a difference, at least to us spectators at that hotel pool.)

🙂 … J … E … S … U … S … L … O … V … E … S … U

By the time the plane finished its last word – the letter “U” instead of spelling out the full word – the original symbol of the smiley face had already started to dissipate into oblivion. And as I continued to listen to these distracted, hormone-induced kids splashing and sparring, a flash of Scripture came to mind. It’s the text for this Sunday, as we join with Christians around the world in observing the Ascension of our Lord:

While Jesus was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11)

Indeed, what good does it do to keep staring up at heaven, if it’s not going to impact at all the way we live, the way we think, and the way we treat other people? Maybe we’re not too unlike those kids at the pool. There it is, the good news of God’s amazing love, staring us right in the face, like a skywriter out of the blue, but making very little difference in what happens down here on the ground.

Join us this Sunday, as we explore the meaning of Jesus’ ascension for our lives, so that we can take this message of God’s love and make it real …

… before the chance to do so dissipates into thin air.

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

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