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

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Summer Reading List

June 22, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Read any good books lately?

Publishers would have us believe that this is the season for curling up with a good book for long stretches of time, at a lakeside cabin or a beachside cottage. But as I enter my fourth summer in Iowa, I’ve discovered that I’m much more likely to polish off a good tale during the winter, when it’s single digits outside and there’s a warm fire inside.

Nevertheless, it is always good practice to carve out time for family and rest, and I am making a concerted effort to do so this summer. My wife and I will be spending some time together (without the kids!) for four days this weekend to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary, and then we’ll be spending about four days at her family’s cabin in Minnesota in July. And then, we’ll have about five days in August to visit family in Florida. This means that I’ll be suspending the writing of the Mid-Week Message until July 13, to give myself a bit of a break. And hopefully, this will afford me lots of time to put even a small dent in the tall stack of books that have been calling my name.

In case your wondering, here’s my personal summer reading list, and maybe you’ll find an interest in picking one of these up for yourself.

Humble Leadership: Being Radically Open to God’s Guidance and Grace by N. Graham Standish. Discovering one’s personal leadership style is like searching for a suit that fits just right. Of the many styles I have tried on, I think the one that is most natural and satisfying for me is one that balances personal humility with a commitment to the church’s goals. It is a concept I first learned about in Jim Collins’ Good to Great, but this book fleshes it out more fully and grounds it in Christian practice.

The Passage by Justin Cronin. What would summer be without an epic-length work of fiction? This story of a post-apocalyptic world filled deadly viruses and hungry vampires has been getting good reviews, and hopefully it will satisfy my “thirst” for a vicarious summer thrill.

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors for Awakening the Sacred Masculine by Matthew Fox. I first discovered Fox in seminary, and he completely changed my perspectives on humanity, sin, grace, and our relationship to the earth. He is an Episcopal priest and a foremost voice on feminist and creation spirituality. In this book Fox turns his attention to redeeming images of masculinity from its cultural deprivations, teaching men what it means to be masculine without being abusive, violent, and mongering.

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. Chicago is my absolute favorite megatropolis in the country, and Jessica has been encouraging me to read this for quite sometime. It is a true account of two intriguing men: a serial killer named H. H. Holmes, and Daniel H. Burnham, chief architect of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. From what everyone has told me, this tale is too engrossing and too well-written to pass up.

Preaching from Memory to Hope by Thomas G. Long. When I grow up, I want to preach and write like Tom Long. His latest book focuses on the practice of Christian funerals, which has been a significant part of my ministry here at St. Paul’s. Dr. Long balances sound, rigorous theology with practical applications for ministry, and I’m always looking for ways to improve what I do.

Of course, if you come across a book that you have thoroughly enjoyed, pass me the title! I’m always looking for a good read, and I hope you find your fair share this summer!

Grace and Peace,


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

We are delighted to have Krista Taylor as our guest preacher this Sunday. She is the daughter of former pastor Ray Hampton and his wife Rhonda, and is going to be working as a missionary with Africa Inland Mission and serving the Rift Valley Academy in Kijabe, Kenya. You will have the opportunity to hear more about her upcoming trip and support her with a special offering. Come this Sunday and put God’s love into action around the world.

What a great week we shared with the children at last week’s Vacation Bible School! The children came through with a strong offering to this year’s VBS missions project, Kids Against Hunger. Their contributions totaled $491.00, and we challenged you to match them dollar for dollar. Well, you came through, contributing $548.00, for a total of $1,039.00 That’s enough to feed a nutritious meal to over 4,400 hungry children throughout the world. Great job!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Prayers for Hurting Pastors

June 16, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Last Saturday was the culmination of eight consecutive days of Annual Conference meetings in Iowa and Florida. A friend of mine, commenting on my marathon of church business sessions, asked me, “Exactly which level of Dante’s Inferno would you call that?” Annual Conference gatherings have developed a reputation, perhaps unfairly, as being either stiflingly boring or depressingly divisive. But at their best, these holy conferences spur inspiration and encouragement, reminding us of the value of being connected as United Methodists around the world.

Such valuable moments often occur in the connections that are born and rekindled among the clergy who share their experiences over the previous year. Sometimes, there are joys to celebrate, such as exciting new ministries and joyous family occasions. But often, the stories are more sobering. Some colleagues shared with me the difficulties they have had in the church they are serving. Others were burdened by health concerns, either for themselves or for a loved one. Many bemoaned the harsh effects of a brutal economy, both on their family’s finances and on their church’s ministries. Overall, common themes emerged: loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and fatigue. For so many in the connection, this has been a tough year to be a pastor.

In 2005, researchers Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger published a book titled Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry. Sponsored by Duke Divinity School and the Lily Endowment, their research studied the current state of American clergy, and analyzed why so many ministers were leaving the church. As part of their survey of disgruntled clergy, they asked this question: “How important was each of the following possible reasons why you left your position in local church ministry?” Here were the top four responses:

I felt drained by the demands on me.
I felt lonely or isolated.
I was not supported by denominational officials.
I felt bored or constrained in the position.

I would venture a guess that every pastor, at one point or another in their ministry, has had at least one of these reasons cross their mind. These responses remind me of this Sunday’s Scripture reading, in which a certain clergy person was on the verge of burnout. Elijah had ventured into the wilderness, fearing for his life. Ahab and Jezebel had just placed a death warrant over his head, and he felt abandoned, anxious, and alone. When God came to him to ask why he was hiding, Elijah responded with some of the most visceral, raw, and painful words in the Bible:

I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.

Elijah was at the end of his rope, ready to give up, and walk away from the ministry. If he had been interviewed by researchers Hoge and Wenger, he likely would have concurred with all four of the top reasons to quit, right then and there. But, there was good news for him; even though he was ready to resign, God was not about to give up on him.

God led Moses to a cave on Mt. Horeb, and prepared him for a timely word of encouragement through most unorthodox means. Rather than speaking to Elijah through familiar modes of fire, earthquake, and wind, God chose to speak in a still, small voice, audible only when Elijah head learned to master the silence, and quiet the voices around and within him.

I think there is a message in this story for every discontented clergy, and for the lay people that love them: quiet your heart, and listen carefully. Set aside your tensions and burdens for a moment, and hone in on the very voice that called you into ministry to begin with. For lay people, this is a call to pray words of support and love for clergy, everywhere, who are battling through tough times and troubled hearts.

I know that many of you regularly offer prayers on my behalf, and I am truly heartened and strengthened by them. But if you also wish to pray for those clergy who are struggling and suffering, perhaps you can include the following:

· Pray for those who are crushed by the growing demands of ministry, and doubtful of their abilities to negotiate an ever-expanding set of responsibilities.
· Pray that in moments of weariness and fatigue, they will remember the early days of their ministry, and recapture the excitement of their calling.
· Pray for calm and discernment for those pastors caught in unhealthy power struggles within the congregation.
· Pray for those pastors dealing with bouts of loneliness and isolation, that they may realize what Elijah discovered: they are not truly alone, and there are companions imminently available to them.
· Pray for those struggling with issues of integrity, that they may achieve and maintain the holy standard to which they are called.
· Pray for the emergence of laity and other servant leaders to join them in shared ministry, alleviating a clergy person’s undue burdens.

At the end of the clergy session of the Florida Annual Conference, Bishop Timothy Whitaker enthusiastically declared to us that he was determined to make this the best year of his ministry ever, and implored us all to do the same. His challenge resonated through the halls of the Lakeland Center, and I am stirred by it to this day. And Julius Trimble, Bishop of the Iowa Conference, is fond of repeating his favorite phrase to United Methodist clergy and lay people throughout the state of Iowa: “Be Encouraged.”

As we venture into a new appointment year together, I am newly energized to be your pastor, and grateful for the chance to serve with you in ministry. Let us together hold up in prayer all struggling congregations and their pastors, that they may remember that the same Spirit that was revealed to Elijah in the still, small voice is alive and active in their midst.

Be encouraged, indeed,


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

We are well under way with our “High Seas Expedition,” this year’s Vacation Bible School experience. Continue to pray for the children who are experiencing God’s love, and the adults who are offering their time and energy. Join us this Sunday as the children share their songs and their lessons from this exciting week.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Consider the Ravens

June 8, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

When Jessica returned a few weeks ago from a trip to Alaska with Morningside College, she brought me a souvenir. It is a lovely picture of a raven, which I now display on my office desk. Admittedly, the only things I knew about ravens prior to her trip were that Edgar Allan Poe wrote a poem about them and that they were a football team from Baltimore.

She explained that in Alaskan Native spirituality, ravens carry significant meaning. Some mythologies believe that a raven created the world and continues to bring forth daylight. The Kaigani Haida people of southern Alaska claim a story of how a raven one day found and freed some male humans trapped in a clam. It then decided to pair them with female counterparts, thus initiating interactions between men and women and propagating the human race. The Haida believe that since then, the raven has been a protector and provider for all human beings.

Lest you think such stories are too strange to be meaningful, consider the Scriptures. I was looking at my raven picture when I thought about 1 Kings 17. You heard the story last Sunday: an exhausted, starving, and fearful Elijah discovered the healing power of ravens. He had just declared a lengthy drought upon the land and was led by God for isolation in the wilderness. But twice daily, God sent the birds to feed him meat and bread, and provided the fresh water of the river of Cherith. Through the ravens, he received just enough sustenance to make it through every day. Newly strengthened, Elijah emerged from the wilderness ready to do the work of ministry.

If we’re honest, there are many of us who find ourselves in the wilderness in this very moment. We suffer from long, drawn out droughts of loneliness, frustration, grief, and anxiety. It may have been a long, long time since you’ve felt the fresh rains of joy and peace soak through your souls, your spirits, and your relationships. So let the story of Elijah at Cherith remind you that this period of your life can be a blessing, as you learn dependence on God and not on your own means. For take heart: God is sending ravens your way, even if you don’t recognize them.

· Sometimes, they take the form of people who offer you a kind word, a listening ear, or a prayerful spirit.

· Sometimes, they encompass the silent spaces of life, when you hear nothing more than the simultaneous stillness and restlessness of your soul.

· Sometimes, the ravens burst into song, heard through unexpected laughter, sighs of relief, or cathartic lamentation.

· Sometimes, the ravens emerge from within you, enabling you to draw from a previously untapped reserve of courage and strength.

· And at times, the ravens connect you to the rich resources of the faith: Scriptures, hymns, litanies, and sacred writings.

Then consider this: God may wish to use you as a raven for someone else. You may be the very conduit of grace and nourishment for someone else in need. You may not believe that you have the resources or the ability to bring such support and encouragement, but you do. And there may be no better prescription for your personal drought than to get out of yourself and serve.


The next story in our sermon series might as well have been written by a Hollywood screenwriter. Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel has all the elements of a summer blockbuster: drama, suspense, a final battle scene, and dazzling pyrotechnics. But more importantly, it showcases the benefits of trusting in God against all the competing forces of chaos and disharmony throughout the world and in your life. It will not be difficult to imagine the connections between this compelling story and all that is happening in you and around you.

So join us this Sunday for a sermon titled, “The Case of the Servant Showdown.” It’s part of our summer blockbuster sermon series, “God’s Double Agents: The Miraculous Missions of Elijah and Elisha.” May these stories bring you sustenance and encouragement, just as the raven did for Elijah.

Blessed Bird Watching,


1 Kings 18:20-24

20 So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel.

21 Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word.

22 Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred and fifty.

23 Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it.

24 Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.’


Having attended the gathering in Des Moines of the Iowa Annual Conference, I am heading to Florida to attend the Florida Annual Conference, of which I am still a member. I will be returning Saturday night, and in the event of an emergency, please contact the church office.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Summer Blockbuster!

June 1, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

At a gathering of family and friends over the weekend, we took turns sharing stories of our worst job experiences. Among the stories I told was how I applied for my first job, when I was a sophomore in high school.

The local Hungry Howies pizzeria was a few miles from my house in St. Petersburg, Florida, in a tedious stretch of strip stores that included a barber shop and nail salon. When picking up an order for my family one evening, I noticed a “Now Hiring” sign taped to the front counter, hastily scribbled on a torn-off sheet of spiral notebook paper. I had never had a job before, let alone applied for one, but I knew I would need to enter the work force eventually.

I took an application home and studied it. It was fairly standard, with about three inches of blank space for me to offer all the reasons I would make a great employee. I knew that was about 2-7/8 inches too many. I was woefully under qualified for a job making pizzas, but I hoped that my years of culinary training next to my mother in the kitchen had afforded me transferable skills. True, Filipino spring rolls and pancit noodles were a far cry from pepperoni pizzas with buttercheese crusts, but I was determined to present myself to the manager in the best possible light.

So, I decided to compensate with a plethora of school-related achievements. I filled up all three inches, and a good portion of the back, with such information as:

“Maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.”
“Sophomore Class President.”
“First Chair, Bass Clarinetist, Concert Band”
“Member, Chess Club.”
“Numerous Superior Ratings at Solo and Ensemble Competitions.”
“Tenor vocalist in my high school’s touring ensemble.”

I proudly waltzed into Hungry Howies the next day and slid my application across the counter to the manager. After wiping tomato sauce onto his sweat-stained shirt, he picked it up to take a look. Then he looked at me. I confidently gestured the “Call me” sign with an extended thumb and pinky next to my right ear. Without saying a word, he walked toward the boys in the back. Rather than wait for a response, I turned to go out the door, then heard an eruption of laughter from the storage room. I pretty much knew then and there that my aspiring career as a culinary artist at my local pizzeria was over before it started.

There is obviously no reason to pity me, as I eventually landed on the right career track and am doing a job I love. But that wasn’t always the case for some of the most important and underappreciated people in the Bible. Making calzones and delivering pizzas is nothing compared to the job of a prophet in the Hebrew Bible. They were often plucked from obscurity, with no name recognition or impressive skills, in order to carry out the most dangerous missions. They spoke words of truth against powerful people so hard-hearted to receive it and against populations of people too brittle to respond. And, they endured long stretches of loneliness, starvation, and fear for their well-being. Does that sound like a job you’d apply for? Without a doubt, if Jeremiah, Nathan, Ezekiel, or Isaiah were at our house over the weekend, they would have stopped our conversation cold recounting stories of their “worst job ever.”

Yet, they served one of the most vital roles in the entire Bible. They were God’s mouthpieces, offering course corrections for wayward people and wicked rulers. They did so with dazzling demonstrations of power and performance art. They were equal parts street performer, political pundit, hatchet operative, and wordsmith. And their lives serve as examples to us of how to live lives of courage, integrity, and faith, in the midst of dangerous adversaries and troubling times.

For the next eight weeks, we will be studying two of the greatest prophets in the Bible. Elijah and Elisha served concurrently as God’s messengers to the Southern Kingdom of Israel for a total of about thirty years during the 9th Century B.C.E. Elijah confronted the tyrannical rule of Ahab and Jezebel, and together they challenged opposing prophets of foreign gods. Their stories are recorded in First and Second Kings, which often reads like it were straight off the pages of an Ian Fleming spy novel.

So this summer, as you are curling up with a juicy book or are glued to the movie screen for some eye-catching special effects, join us at St. Paul’s for a terrific summer blockbuster we’re calling, “God’s Double Agents: The Miraculous Missions of Elijah and Elisha.” You’ll not want to miss a single action-packed episode!

God’s Double Agents:
The Miraculous Missions of Elijah and Elisha

June 6
“The Case of the Worn-Out Widow”
(The Widow of Zarephath)
1 Kings 17:1-24

June 13
“The Case of the Servant Showdown”
(The Priests of Baal)
1 Kings 18:20-40

June 20
“The Case of the Exhausted Agent”
(Elijah on Mt. Horeb)
1 Kings 19:11-18

June 27
Guest Preacher
Krista Taylor, Daughter of Ray and Rhonda Hampton
Missionaries to Kenya

July 4
“The Case of the Coveted Vineyard”
(Naboth’s Vineyard)
1 Kings 21:1-16

July 11
"The Case of the Fiery Chariot"
(Elijah and Elisha)
2 Kings 2:1-18

July 18
“The Case of the Widow’s Oil”
(Elisha and the Widow)
2 Kings 4:1-7

July 25
“The Case of the Incurable Commander”
(Elisha and Naaman)
2 Kings 5:1-19

August 6
“The Case of the Lost Land”
(The Shunamite Woman)
2 Kings 8:1-15

August 13
Guest Artist
Jill Miller
Contemporary Christian Music Artist

See you Sunday!


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

We begin our summer worship schedule on June 6, with worship starting at 9:30, and Sunday school suspended throughout the summer. Also, Phyllis Parrott will be coordinating sign-ups for after church coffees from June through August. Please contact her to bring in refreshments.

Following the worship service on June 6, the Building Committee will be giving an important update on the status of the upcoming renovation and capital campaign. You will have the opportunity to give the committee critical feedback that will guide its recommendation later this year.

Please pray for your delegates to Annual Conference, which starts this Saturday in Des Moines. In addition to your pastor, Marilyn Brubaker and Mary Jo Carnine will be representing St. Paul’s in important matters for the life of the Iowa Conference.