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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Value of Work

August 31, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Laborers,

This weekend, millions of Americans will spend Labor Day relaxing with family and friends. They will fire up grills, take boats out for a spin, put a line in the water, and enjoy moments of rest and recreation. When the government established the first Monday in September as a celebration of the American worker over one hundred years ago, it declared a “yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” [1]

I invite you to include in your observance a moment of gratitude for your ability to work. Consider more than just your employment; include all the ways that you design, create, and construct a better world for you and those around you. If you have a job, give thanks for the means you have to provide for yourself and your loved ones. You might also say a prayer for the millions of people in this country who are unemployed, and are spending this weekend struggling to make ends meet.

Let us also remember the commandment God gave to Moses, establishing the biblical principles for work and rest in Exodus 34:21: Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in plowing time and in harvest time you shall rest.

On first glance, this is a fairly straightforward command. Work for six days and rest on the seventh. Recharge your batteries, connect with God, and worship. We commonly interpret the passage in this way: worship is reserved for one day, the rest of the week for work. Sundays become compartmentalized for our spiritual needs, but Monday through Saturday is set aside for our secular selves: to labor, toil, and make a living.

However, a quick analysis of the Hebrew language shifts this passage’s meaning. The word used to describe the kind of work that we are to do throughout the week is the word avodah. “Six days you shall avodah, but on the seventh day you shall rest.” But as is often the case in Hebrew, a single word can have multiple meanings.

Avodah not only means work. It also means worship.

According to this commandment, the work we do throughout the week is, in fact, an act of worship to God. Our work is our worship. So, re-imagine the passage: “On the seventh day, worship God with your heart. And the rest of the week, worship God with the work of your hands, in service to God.”

This is frame-bending stuff! There should be no distinction between our spiritual lives and our vocational lives. The real question for each of us is not, “How can I enjoy my job more?” or “How can I feel satisfied with my work?” The ultimate question is “How can I see my work as worship? How can I stop perceiving my work as merely making a living and start seeing it as my best and fullest act of worship to God?” Here are three recommendations:


I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Colossians 3:22-24:

Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.

That’s a rich final phrase: Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work. No matter what your occupation is, and no matter what menial or major tasks fill your day, do your job well. Making your work an act of worship means doing it with excellence. I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s statement about vocation and spirituality:

The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.

God loves clean floors and good craftsmanship! So we should, too.


Maintaining integrity at work is an act of worship, too, so do your job with the highest moral, ethical, and biblical standards. Remember that the words integrity and integrate are from the same Latin root word, integritas, which means wholeness and completeness. Christian integrity means that we allow Christian ethical principles to shape every aspect of our lives, each and every day.

There should not be one kind of standard that we keep while we are at church and another kind that we keep throughout the week. We should not maintain a certain standard in our public world and a different one behind closed doors. Living with integrity means devoting the whole of our lives to the same values.


Your job gives you the opportunity to reach out in love to a particular group of people with whom you come into contact. God may have placed you there for a unique mission, just as God has always put ordinary people in ordinary positions to do extraordinary things. God called carpenters and shepherds, lawyers and choir directors, doctors and tent makers, military people and tax collectors, prostitutes and fishermen, right in the midst of their vocation. God still calls run of the mill, salt of the earth folks, because those are the ones that can best reach the widest number of people in the world.

It might be that your word of encouragement, your act of kindness, your listening ear, your loving word of truth, and the relationship you build with others in trust and confidence, might be precisely the reason you are in your job right now. When God looks out over this vast world and sees the countless numbers of people who are yet untouched by the power and love of Christ, God calls people just like you and me to reach out to them, through acts of kindness and words of love:

Calling lawyers to be advocates for the kingdom.
Calling mechanics to repair broken souls.
Calling insurance agents to bring people eternal security.
Calling chefs to offer the bread of life.
Calling mothers and fathers to care for all children of God.

Good work!


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

[1] U.S Department of Labor www.dol.gov/laborday/history.htm.

We continue our “Hebrews Hall of Fame” worship series with with the conclusion of Hebrews 11. Hear the powerful stories of faith by Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel.

For those not in attendance during last Sunday’s presentation by the Building Committee, handouts are available in the church office, and you can speak with a member of the Committee. They presented an updated proposal for the renovation, focusing on energy efficiency in the Education Wing and delaying projects in the kitchen, fellowship hall, lounge, library, and chapel. The cost estimate has been cut roughly in half, to $870,000 to $1,040,000.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Our Moses Obsession

August 24, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Omnis fama a domesticis emanat.
(“All fame proceeds from servants.”)
- Francis Bacon

Last week, Bruce Feiler, bestselling author of
Walking the Bible, marked an important, yet widely disregarded, anniversary in American history. Shortly after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, founders Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams began work on designing a new seal for the fledgling United States. With all the possible symbols they could have used to capture the spirit of this new nation, their choice was somewhat surprising. On August 20, 1776, they revealed before Congress their proposal: a depiction of Moses, leading the Israelites through the Red Sea.

In choosing to appropriate the story of Moses for the country, the founders were inviting the earliest Americans to see their struggle as one that paralleled the Exodus, journeying to their own Promised Land, escaping their own tyrannical Pharoah. The new seal would encourage the country to maintain the same stalwart courage exhibited by the Great Liberator himself.

Over two centuries later, this country still anchors its identity in the life and legacy of Moses. Feiler offers this sweeping survey:

The Liberty Bell has a quote from Moses on its side. George Washington was hailed as the American Moses. Harriet Tubman called herself the "Moses of her people." Abraham Lincoln quoted Moses at Gettysburg. Cecil B. DeMille cast Moses as a hero for the Cold War. Martin Luther King compared himself to Moses on the night before he was killed. And nearly every American president, including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, has likened himself to Moses. For 400 years, one figure stands out as the surprising symbol of America. One person has inspired more Americans than any other. His name is Moses. [1]

Reading Feiler’s analysis prompted me to reflect on how fixated we continue to be on superstar personalities. We locate our individual narratives in the lives of celebrated heroes, praising them as the ideal to which we all must aspire. We single out great people (often men, frankly) and set them high on a pedestal, daring us to reach for that same standard of greatness. Moses may be among our favorite icons, but so is Daniel Boone, Paul Bunyan, George Washington, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and countless others.

But is that what drives history and destiny? Larger-than-life celebrities?

I’ve never done a funeral for a nationally known celebrity, and likely never will. Instead, I’ve done countless services for ordinary people whose ongoing influence shapes the lives of families, friends, and communities. They accumulated a fortune, not based on the currency of wealth, but on acts of love and compassion. They did so with anonymity, without any expectation of recognition or reward.

These are the people that form the very fabric of a good and decent society, people like you and like me. Francis Bacon was right. All fame does proceed from servants.

I do realize the irony of making this case in the midst of a sermon series called “The Hebrews Hall of Fame,” in which we promote great individuals of the faith. So rather than stay focused on Moses, let me offer my own praise for the following unheralded people:

· Jochebed, Moses’ courageous mother, who took a risk most of us would never consider, in order to ensure her son’s future.
· Bithiah, Pharoah’s daughter, who opened her heart and her home to one of the Bible’s most important and most enduring deeds of compassion, the act of adoption.
· Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who took a chance on Moses and employed him while he was a fugitive on the run, and later encouraged him when he was on the verge of burnout.
· Aaron, Moses’ elder brother, who accepted second-fiddle to his kid brother, and became one of Moses’ stalwart vocal supporters.
· Miriam, Moses’ older sister, and the most underrated figure in the Exodus narrative. Her song leading encouraged the people as they traveled, and her song of victory is widely regarded by scholars as the oldest piece of Scripture in the Bible.

Yes, Moses is deserving of his numerous accolades and regard throughout history. We will explore more of his story this Sunday and discover reasons for his inclusion in the hallowed list of Hebrews 11. But we would best remember that the ongoing work of God’s kingdom is contingent on the work of common, ordinary people like us. None of us may ever rise to the level of celebrity. But we can each live a Hall of Fame life.

Grace and Peace,


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

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-feiler/this-month-in-moses-how-t_b_680865.html

Hebrews 11:23-28
23 By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter,
25 choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.
26 He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward.
27 By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible.
28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

After the service this Sunday, the Building Committee will present a revised set of plans and cost estimates for the congregation’s consideration. There will be no formal vote, as this is not officially a Charge Conference, but we will be soliciting everyone’s feedback.

Thank you for your continued prayers for Krista Taylor, daughter of Ray and Rhonda Hampton, who is serving with her family as missionaries in Rift Valley Academy in Africa. After undergoing premature contractions in her pregnancy, Rhonda reports that she is now fine and anticipates returning to Rift Valley very soon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rubber Snakes and the Life of Faith

August 18, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

There are many variations of the classic children’s game “Hot Potato,” but never a version involving a rubber snake and an iPod. While vacationing last week in Florida, our two daughters Grace and Madelyn were in the back seat of the car inventing the new version of the game.

You know how the game usually works. Children take turns tossing the “potato” to each other quickly. When the music stops, the child holding the object loses the game. Madelyn found a toy rubber snake on the floor of the car to serve as the potato, and they used my iPod to play the music. The two of them began tossing the snake back and forth, while Grace started and stopped the music. That’s right: Grace was not only playing the game, she was controlling it.

You can imagine how the games played out. Grace would stop the music whenever her sister was holding the snake. She would keep the music playing whenever she had it in her hands. After a few minutes of spirited play, and a pretty lengthy winless streak, Madelyn said, tersely, “I don’t think this is working.”

The preacher in me made a quick connection to the story of Abraham, the subject of our “Hebrews Hall of Fame” sermon this Sunday. You know the story well. He was called by God to pack up all his belongings and take his family on a journey that would lead to an unknown, and permanent, new residence. He learned that following God means that you can’t control your own music. You move forward in life, taking everything it gives you – joys and sorrows, triumph and heartache – not knowing whether, in any given instant, you may be stuck holding the hot potato for the time being.

Unlike Abraham, we try to seize control. We attempt to master all of life’s variables, to distance ourselves from trials and suffering, only to discover that such efforts are feeble in the face of inevitable pain and struggle.

Abraham offers a different alternative. One of trust and faith, irrationally believing in a God who offered promise without any proof. Yes, I suspect that Abraham still had his doubts. Maybe he second-guessed himself – and God – throughout this dusty desert journey. But at no point did he decide that he knew better than God.

Anne Lamott wrote: “The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty.” It is being too sure of yourself, arrogantly believing that you can negotiate around every one of life’s potential pitfalls. Whenever we try to insulate ourselves against mystery, ambiguity, and hardship, we learn pretty quickly that we can’t. We are subject to forces beyond our ability to predict them or anticipate them. We simply can’t control the music.

So, we must choose to live a life of faith. To embrace ambiguity, and forge through the hardship, believing – even when the evidence shows otherwise – that God is leading us to a place of new hope and new life. That’s why Abraham is hailed as a hero of the faith, and that’s why he is an example to all of us.

Join us this Sunday as we learn more about his amazing story, in a sermon titled, “Faith Takes a Journey.” Come lay down your own self-assured tendencies, and release them to a God who envisions your destination ahead.

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

Hebrews 11:8-12
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.
9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.
12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Hebrews Hall of Fame

August 11, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

This past Saturday, in Canton, Ohio, seven men were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The inductees included the all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns (Jerry Rice), the all-time leader in touchdowns and rushing yards (Emmit Smith), the defensive tackle with the most sacks in a career (John Randle), and a member of the greatest linebacking corps in history (Rickey Jackson). Several sportswriters have suggested that this may be the greatest induction class since 1971, when Canton welcomed legends Jim Brown and Vince Lombardi. It’s an impressive group of players, to be sure.

The buzz surrounding the Class of 2010 caused me to reflect a bit on our cultural obsession with individual achievement. There’s a Canadian Cartoonist Hall of Fame, an Insurance Hall of Fame, a Military Intelligence Hall of Fame, and even – get this – a Shuffleboard Hall of Fame (in my hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. Go figure.) We espouse persons who are larger than life, elevating them to celebrity status beyond the margins of community and camaraderie. As the saying goes, there may be no “I” in “Team.” But there is certainly one in “Celebrity.”

It’s timely that the Lectionary this month directs our gaze toward the book of Hebrews, which offers a most formidable – and significant – group of honorees, memorialized in Hebrews 11. This “Hall of Fame” of Israelite tradition is a veritable highlight reel of risk, courage, and faith. There’s Abraham, who packed up on command, without even a hint of his destination. There’s Elijah, the greatest prophet; Samson, the follicly-gifted judge; and Rahab, the heroine from the unlikeliest of occupations.

Their stories comprise our new sermon series during August, called “The Hebrews Hall of Fame,” and we begin with a trio of playmakers I’m calling “The Forerunners of Faith:” Abel, Enoch, and Noah. I have to admit, however, that I’m a bit puzzled. Hebrews, for some reason, groups these three together from the beginning, though there is no clear connection among them. The best I can figure, Abel is known for how he died, Enoch is known for how he didn’t die, and Noah for how he kept people from dying. I can see why Noah is on the list. He took a leap of faith unlike any prior or since. But Abel? And Enoch? (Who in the world is Enoch?)

We run into some trouble, then, when we try to treat the Hebrews Hall of Fame as a barometer for individual achievement, as we soon realize that there is no easy set of criteria to define great faith. To get into Canton, for example, you need the statistics to back you up: score enough touchdowns, gain a lot of yards, win championships, make it to some Pro Bowls, make a name for yourself. Achievements like these help separate the great players from the truly special. But there are no such objective measures for the life of faith. There are no statistics kept for the number of hours you pray, services you attend, or souls you save. So when we encounter a list of “Who’s Who” in the faith, beginning with a trio of persons who don’t seem to fit the same criteria, we wind up scratching our heads.

That is, until we get to the end, in Hebrews chapter 12. We come to understand that the reason for this “Hall of Faith” is not to celebrate individual achievements or personal triumph. Instead, it is to draw our attention to the power of community.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

If you saw the induction ceremonies, you may have seen the speech given by Rickey Jackson, who paused during his speech to look at the sea of all the Hall of Famers in the audience. And perhaps thinking of the all 270 inductees who form a hallowed community, he said,
"Football has always been my life. I see that in these guys here, man. These Hall of Famers here, I just seeing how these guys carry themselves, the love they had for football."

For the next few weeks, we’ll study how all of these great heroes carry themselves, and look to find ourselves in them. We’ll discover that we are not truly alone, and that as we live out their example, we will reaffirm our part in a community that stretches beyond time, across relationships, and throughout the body of Christ.

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

Hebrews 11:1-7
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.
3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks.
5 By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him.’ For it was attested before he was taken away that ‘he had pleased God.’
6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
7 By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.

August 15
Abel, Enoch, and Noah: The Forerunners of Faith
Hebrews 11:1-7

August 22
Abraham: Faith Takes a Journey
Hebrews 11:8-22

August 29
Moses: Faith into Freedom
Hebrews 11:23-28

September 5
Rahab, Barak, and Gideon: Legions of Faithful
Hebrews 11:29-40

September 12
Having a Hall of Fame Faith
Hebrews 12:1-2, 13:1-8

Monday, August 2, 2010

For the Love of Africa

August 3, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Here’s a question with an important answer: In what part of the world is Christianity growing the fastest?

Your first instinct might be to guess an industrialized country in Europe or North America. Or it might be to guess countries with the largest populations, like China or India. But what if I were to tell you that by 2050, Christians in Africa will outnumber Christians in Europe by more than two to one?

Those are among the compelling demographic trends offered by Philip Jenkins, in a recent article in The Christian Century. Jenkins attributes this forecast to the fact that the populations of African countries are skyrocketing, compared to the stagnant and declining populations of Europe and North America. For example:

· In 1900, the countries of east Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania), had 7 million people. In 2000: 90 million. By 2050: 260 million.

· In 1900, Nigeria had 16 million people. In 2000: 160 million. By 2050: 300 million.

· Overall, the continent of Africa had 100 million people in 1900. In 2005: 1 billion. By 2050: 2.5 billion.

· In contrast, Europeans outnumbered Africans four-to-one in 1900. By 2050, Africans will have a three-to-one advantage over Europeans.

Jenkins concludes: “As recently as 1900, Europe accounted for over two-thirds of the ‘Christian world,’ with North America a distant second and Africa barely on the map. By 2050, by far the largest share of the world’s Christians will be found in Africa, which should have a billion or more believers. By that time about a third of the world’s Christians will be African, and those African Christians will outnumber Europe’s by more than two to one. The Christian world will have turned upside down.” [1]

The implications for the American church are vast and varied. First, this ought to remind us of the global nature of the church, and that the kingdom of God observes no political boundaries. It is not the sole propriety of any one country, despite the jingoistic tendencies of American civil religion. We have not, and never will, corner the market on the Christian faith, and we would be foolish to believe that God favors Americans over any other people in the world.

As a result, we should remember our common connections and responsibilities to Christians throughout the world, regardless of their country of origin. The advancement of the church in Africa should be a concern of Christians here in this country, just as the Great Commission calls us to make disciples locally, regionally, and all throughout the world.

To this end, United Methodists in Iowa have developed a long-standing relationship with those in Nigeria, called the Iowa-Nigeria Partnership. Over the years, Iowa Methodists have provided funding for a variety of projects, including: literacy programs, student tuition grants, teacher stipends, agricultural programs, malaria relief, and school construction, just to name a few. [2]

And, of course, there are the numerous health kits provided by churches like St. Paul’s during our annual InGathering. When Bishop Julius Trimble called me the weekend after the flash floods in Cherokee to express his concern and support, he had just returned from a trip to Nigeria. He told me that he had the privilege of seeing the very health kits provided by Iowans directly distributed to Nigerians in need. It was a visible reminder of God’s love put into action in a tangible way.

All of this leads us to this Sunday, when we will be placing a direct emphasis on the Iowa-Nigeria Partnership for the first time as a St. Paul’s congregation. We are delighted to welcome the Rev. Kathy Martin, director of campus ministries at Morningside College, as our guest preacher for the morning. She has recently returned from a trip to Nigeria, and has much to share with us about the work of God through the United Methodist Church. She will be preaching on 2 Corinthians 8: 9-16, 23-24 with a sermon titled, “What We Know of Love.”

At the very least, you will want to welcome her and thank her and the crew from Morningside College for the tremendous work they offered during our flood recovery efforts from a few weeks ago. Kathy is a gift to Morningside College and the Iowa Conference, a compelling preacher, and a devoted servant of the church. This will be a sermon you will not want to miss, and I’m deeply grateful for her willingness to preach.

As part of the service, you will be invited to contribute to the Iowa-Nigerian Partnership, all of which will count toward our Rainbow Covenant Missions effort for this year. And if you are interested, you may want to put in a silent bid on the beautiful dress in our narthex made by Nigerian women. All of the proceeds will support the special offering.

Let us join with our brothers and sisters in Africa, and put God’s love into action.

Grace and Peace,


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

[1] Jenkins, Philip. “Religion by the Numbers.” The Christian Century. July 13, 2010
[2] for more information about the Iowa-Nigeria Partnership, visit iaumc.org.