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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"I'd Like to Thank...."

September 28, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Admittedly, there are certain passages in the Bible that I buzz through quickly, assuming their meaning to be minimal at best. I do this most often with obscure biblical names, like this list from Colossians 4:

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me; he is a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow-servant in the Lord….He is coming with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you…..Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner greets you…As does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received instructions….Jesus who is called Justus greets you…and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you…is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf. Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you. And say to Archippus, ‘See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord.’ (Colossians 4:7-17)

Have your eyes glazed over yet?

Who are these people, and why does Paul choose to end this letter – like he does most of his letters – with an Oscar acceptance speech? We know virtually nothing about most of these folks, and it is tempting to skip right past their mention.

But this weekend at St. Paul’s has prompted me to write to you with the same personal, endearing spirit. This was as busy a 48-hour stretch as any I have witnessed in my years in ministry. On Saturday morning, we had a memorial service for Keith Willis, then a large wedding hours later in the afternoon. On Sunday, the children led us in worship in our annual Children’s Sabbath, followed by the community-wide Pork Feed fundraiser. Then a few hours later, our weekend concluded with a district-wide training event for area lay leaders. That made for five big events encompassing over 800 attendees from all over Northwest Iowa, all in the span of less than 30 hours.

The emotions of the weekend spanned from grief to celebration, from inspiration to information, and from worship to fellowship. I’d be hard-pressed to remember any other time that a church has had to transition from one distinct program to the next, with very little time in between.

But you all made it happen. With the funeral upstairs, kitchen volunteers were busy downstairs. When the luncheon was served in the Fellowship Hall, volunteers were exchanging funeral sprays for wedding bouquets upstairs (a transition from funeral to wedding that took only fifteen minutes!) When the children were leading us in worship the next morning, a whole new crew was grilling tenderloins and dishing up salads in the kitchen. And when the clean-up from the Pork Feed was over, a new group came in to set up for the Lay Leader Rally.

Every time I turned a corner on Saturday and Sunday, there was a different volunteer from this church, busy filling a role, executing with pinpoint precision their responsibility for the day, all with grace, warmth, and a loving spirit.

Often, preachers like me get all the spotlight. Since my presence appears to loom the largest, people assume that I did the most to make a weekend like this one go so well. But I’d like to dispel that notion, using Colossians 4 as my guide. There is no way – no way – a church could serve this community with such a high degree of excellence and love without beautiful people like you.

So, here we go, in Pauline fashion. Let me conclude this epistle with a personal touch:

I give thanks for Jeff Blum, who worked the sound booth for both the funeral and the wedding, and supervised the set up of the Pork Feed. He was at the church for about fifteen hours over the weekend, giving his time without need for recognition.

I give thanks for Phyllis Parrott, Donna Henrich, Jean Anderson, and the whole kitchen crew, who prepared a luncheon for the huge number of people at Keith’s funeral. They served with efficiency and grace, and quickly cleaned up from the luncheon in order to set up for the Pork Feed Saturday afternoon. That team included Shirley Zembsch, Elsie Lenz, Shelley Lenz, Jeanine Schroeder, Dee Taylor, and Sheree Hausmann.

I give thanks for Blake Burroughs, who traveled all the way from Ames in order to sing at Keith’s funeral, and Jenny Burroughs, who facilitated that connection. And thanks to Sherry Held, for playing the organ at Keith’s funeral, as well as the worship service the next morning.

I give thanks for Evan and Nancy Knapp, who served the critical transition between the funeral and the wedding. They helped clear the funeral flower arrangements and move the large number of wedding decorations in place, so that everything was ready for the bridal party within a span of fifteen minutes. Their work made for a very happy – and quite relieved – bride and groom.

I give thanks for Jill Chalstrom, who led our Children’s Sabbath effort this year. She and Linda Christensen prepared the kids to sing, speak, pray, and offer their talents in worship. Of course, I also thank all the regular Sunday morning volunteers – ushers, greeters, sound and video techs, and the bell ringer (that’s you, Rich Cook), for making worship happen every week.

I give thanks to the Parker family, for providing the delicious pork tenderloins for the Pork Feed, and for being at the church early Sunday morning to start cooking. I am also grateful for Chuck Tolzin and Al Henn, who were here earlier in the week to set everything up for the event, and to Denny Taylor, who put up and took down our publicity banner.

I thank members of the Finance Committee for helping with the kitchen service during the Pork Feed, including Marilyn Leissler and Berna Jenness, as well as John Cook for coordinating their efforts.

I give thanks for Marilyn Brubaker, our lay delegate to Annual Conference and lay leader of the District, for planning the great Lay Leader Rally in the afternoon. She oversaw preparations for the entire afternoon, and led the event with grace. Joyce Pyle served as our greeter and worked the registration table, and Roni Timmerman prepared a wonderful picnic supper for the attendees.

I know there are people I forgot to mention, so pardon me for any omissions. (Plus, I can hear the orchestra urging me to wrap it up.) But first, please note that among this list was not a single paid staff person. All of what we were able to achieve was by volunteers with a servant’s heart, offering their time and energy for the sake of our mission. Thanks to you, I received yet another reminder of why I am grateful to be your pastor. Together, we can achieve great things for the Kingdom, fueled by the faithful, tireless of work of people like you.

Thank you, thank you, St. Paul’s, for putting 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

Join us this Sunday in this annual celebration of our global connection to the body of Christ. The service will feature breads representing countries around the world, made by Judi Klee of The Spice Rack. We will also be receiving a special offering for World Communion Sunday.

We are challenging every family and household unit in the church to furnish supplies for at least one Ingathering kit this year. You can pick up the supply list at the church, and bring in your donations by next Monday. If you would like to make a financial contribution, please designate it for “Ingathering.”

With the large number of visitors we have been welcoming over the past several weeks, please remember to wear your name tag so we can create a warm, hospitable place together. If you would like a name tag (even if you are just a regular visitor), please request one using the attendance form on Sunday or by contacting the church office.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dear God...

September 22, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Over forty years ago, authors Eric Marshall and Stuart Hample wrote a small book titled Children’s Letters to God. It contained actual letters revealing a wide range of reflections from children across the country: curiosities, suggestions, complaints, and acknowledgments. The book reminds us of the surprising capacity of children to ask tough theological questions in the midst of life’s harshest realities. Consider these examples:

"Dear holy God: Would you make it so there would not be any more wars? And so everyone could vote. Also every body should have a lot of fun.” - Nancy

"Dear God, Charles my cat got run over. And if you made it happen you have to tell me why.” - Harvey

"Dear God, Do good people have to die young? I heard my mommy say that. I am not always good. Yours Truly, Barbara."

“Dear God, I am writing to you even though you can't write back, I think, and you are not a person. But I wanted to write anyway. Love, Karen"

Decades have passed since the book’s release, but I suspect that these kids, now adults, may still be asking these questions. And so are many of us. We all have that same capacity to ponder the mysteries of God’s activity in the midst of life’s deepest complexities. I think that may be one reason why the gospels record this poignant episode in Jesus’ ministry:

He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:2-5)

When Jesus received that child, he was not posing for a cute photo-op. He wasn’t catering to the crowd, or trying to appear adorable. He was performing a radically subversive act, one that flipped the world upside-down. In first-century Rome, children were at the absolute bottom of the cultural hierarchy. Lower than even slaves and prisoners, children had no rights as citizens, and were often bought and sold as property. So when Jesus told the world that children were the “greatest in the kingdom,” he was doing more than praising them for their cherubic complexions. He was inverting the social order, challenging people to re-orient their priorities, in light of a Kingdom that considered the first to be last and the last to be first.

In preparing for this Sunday, I read the following statistics from the Children’s Defense Fund. Every day in America:

· 78 babies die before their first birthdays.
· 404 children are arrested for a drug crime.
· 928 babies are born at low birthweight.
· 1,154 babies are born to teen mothers.
· 2,224 babies are born without health insurance.
· 2,479 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.
· 2,583 babies are born into poverty. [1]

Embodying Matthew 18 today involves a bold assessment of what it means to be a child in the face of such harsh difficulties, and a total commitment to reversing these trends.

This Sunday we observe the Children’s Sabbath, a program sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund and endorsed by the United Methodist Women. It is a worship service led by the children of this congregation and highlights the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of other kids around the world. Come be inspired to do your part in fulfilling this year’s theme: “Blessed to Be a Blessing.” In conjunction with the service, you are invited to bring a used book to donate to the local Women, Infants, and Children group.

For the Children,


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

[1] www.childrensdefense.org

Join us this Sunday for the most delicious fund-raiser of the year! The Parker family will once again be donating some great pork tenderloins, and you are invited to bring a generous side item or salad to share. Desserts will be provided. All proceeds will go to support the Next Generation Fund. The time is from 11:30-12:30, and the community is invited.

Wow! What a response to last Sunday’s special offering! You have contributed $1,322 so far to the PET Project, with money still coming in. That will be enough to purchase almost six new transportation units to people around the world who are immobilized in third-world countries due to disease, birth defect, accident, or war. If you would like to donate to the project, make your check payable to St. Paul’s and designated for “PET Project.”

Judi and David have embarked on a new outreach ministry sharing the message of God’s love through song throughout the community. They are launching this new ministry at the Spice Rack, on October 2, with a night of homemade desserts and Christian music. Doors open at 6:15, with the concert starting at 7:00, and advanced tickets are $15. In addition, if you know of a community group or church that would like to have the Klee’s provide a concert, contact them at 225-0222.

After church on Sunday, I visited with Keith and his family down in Council Bluffs. He has now discontinued further chemotherapy treatments, and Hospice is now actively involved in keeping him comfortable. He was tired but responsive, able to speak a few words at a time. He is determined to keep fighting, and appreciates all your love, prayer, and support.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Gift of Mobility

September 14, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Amid the devastation in Haiti lives a woman named Myrta. Even before the recent earthquake that leveled her country, her life had been filled with immense hardship. She was abused to the point of paralysis from the waist down by a husband who fled and took away her children. Rendered unable to move and devastated by her loss, she was carried outside every morning by family members and laid under a shade tree all day. Others in the village would take turns bringing her food.

A nurse in a nearby clinic struggled to help Myrta find mobility and independence. They tried a standard wheelchair, but she lacked the strength to push herself on the unpaved Haitian roads. Friends, when available, would push her around, but the rocks and gravel eventually cut through the thin tires, making travel even more difficult.

When I read Myrta’s story this week, I thought about the man in John’s gospel who waited for thirty-eight years by the pool at Beth-zatha in Jerusalem. Its mysterious healing powers made it a popular attraction for the diseased and the lame. When the waters stirred, the first one into the pool would be healed of their ailments, leaving the rest to wait for another day. When Jesus and the disciples found the man, he was desperate and alone, and his words could have well been uttered by Myrta herself:

Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.

This was a plea for help from one who could not make it alone. The man’s story stands in contrast to anyone who argues that the poor and downtrodden need only conjure the will to work to pull themselves out of their dire condition. What this man needed was no lecture or self-help seminar. He needed a circle of friends to surround him and give him a chance.

He found that community in Jesus and the disciples. When Jesus commanded him to rise and walk, he was able to do so, but only when accompanied by people who cared for his well being and empowered him with new strength. His healing was nothing short of a miracle, granting him new independence and freedom. But it is not rare. Episodes like this one occur thousands of times around the world through a very special program.

This Sunday, you have a chance to be part of that kind of miracle for people like Myrta.

One day, an organization called PET (Personal Energy Transportation) came to Myrta’s village and dropped off a unique personal vehicle built with a rugged wooden frame and the wheels of a wheelbarrow. It was propelled by hand crank, rather than by foot pedals, and was built to last on rough terrain. The moment Myrta was placed in the vehicle, her life was transformed. She pedaled hard and fast, cutting through the harsh gravel roads at roughly the speed of a fast walk. And every Sunday to this day, she pedals the half-mile to church on her own.

The PET program was started fifteen years ago by a missionary who saw a need for affordable, durable transportation for the nearly 20 million people in third-world countries immobilized due to disease, accident, abuse, and land mines. After he developed the first prototype with a missions partner, production of the PET carts were in high demand. They are simple (made of basic lumber and wheelbarrow material), sturdy (made to withstand a variety of harsh road conditions), and affordable (made for only $250 each). Today, over 1,000 units are produced each year in the United States in fourteen different cities, including nearby Hawarden, Iowa.

This Sunday, you’ll have a chance to see a PET cart up close, and hear more inspiring stories from a few of its manufacturers from Hawarden. We’ll take up our first ever special offering for the program, and my hope is that we will be able to raise at least $500, enough to purchase PET units for two people like Myrta. This is a program strongly advocated by the Iowa Conference, and will count towards our Rainbow Covenant Missions program. You won’t want to miss this special chance to put God’s love into action for immobile people everywhere. Let us be a community of healing for the world.

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

John 5:1-18
1 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.
3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed.
5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’
7 The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’
8 Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’
9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
10 So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’
11 But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.” ’
12 They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’
13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there.
14 Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.’
15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16 Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.
17 But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’
18 For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

We celebrate a milestone in the lives of our third-grade class as we present them with Bibles from the church, along with a handmade tatted cross bookmark. Join us for this wonderful moment.

Youth and parents grades 7-12 are invited to join us this Sunday night, from 5-7pm, to view the powerful Christian film “To Save a Life.” You will also receive the full schedule of fun Fall activities scheduled for the youth program.

Thank you for the prayers for Tom Kruse, who underwent major surgery last week. Here is the latest from his wife Judy: “Tom is still on the ventilator but they decreased the amount of it so he's breathing more on his own, which is good. He did spike a small temp last night but it was down this morning. He opens his eyes once in awhile but is still quite groggy and seems to be sleeping. They are going to try feeding him again through a tube but push it directly into his intestines to get them going better. It's still a very slow process but as the doctor puts it, he's moving forward and not backwards.” If you would like to send them a card, mail it to 1501 S. Airport Drive #112 Weslaco, TX 78596.

Mark your calendars once again for our annual pork feed, on September 26, from 11:30-12:30pm. Bring a generous portion of salad or a side item to share, and all the proceeds will support the Next Generation Fund.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Racing, Not Running

September 8, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

The opening verses of Hebrews 12 have taken on new meaning for me since this past summer, when I ran my first 5K race. Before then, my most notable running memories involved 1) bringing up the rear in the timed mile run in junior high P.E. class, 2) screaming back to my house whenever a loosed neighborhood dog chased me down the street, and 3) huffing through the college campus quad whenever I overslept my morning classes. The thought of competing in an organized race, without the incentive of barking dogs or G.P.A.’s, was the furthest thing from my mind.

But over the past year, I’ve been adopting a steady routine of recreational jogging. So, when Jessica invited me to run the St. Jehosophat Catholic Church “Phat Run” near Chicago last June, I agreed. Though it was beyond anything I had attempted, I was inspired by Jessica’s example. She has been a running machine, competing in two half-marathons, a handful of 10K’s, and a bevy of 5K’s over the past year. We would be in Chicago to celebrate our anniversary, and this felt like a unique way to mark the occasion.

The day of the race was a breezy, balmy Saturday morning, with manageable humidity. The 3.1 mile course was adjacent to Lincoln Park Zoo and wound through a lovely marina on Lake Michigan. I registered at the desk and received my race t-shirt (emblazoned with the joyous words “Phat Run”).

I began my pre-race stretching routine, ignoring my body’s every creak and pop, its way of urging me to reconsider. I studied the other racers, struggling against the temptation to size them up as my competition. Some were there with their young kids. (No problem. I can run faster than those tykes.) Some were decked in fancy racing gear. (Overcompensating, I hoped.) And there were a few who came with their dogs. (Just hold on to those leashes, I prayed.)

Then, in an unexpected intrusion of Scripture that seems to affect preachers at the oddest moments, the words of Hebrews 12 crept into my head.

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.

We lined up at the starting line and waited for the pistol. At the gunshot, we took off. I switched on my iPod and started running, taking a few healthy lungfuls of air while it was still effortless to do so. I looked around at the mass of bodies surrounding me, and I knew, for the first time, the meaning of Hebrews 12:1.

I felt a remarkable, indescribable energy surrounded by such a “great cloud” of fellow runners as we started moving all at once. While running is an individual sport, it is, at least at the outset, a communal event. With all the bodies moving in the same direction at roughly the same pace, with no clear distinction between the frontrunners and the laggards, there was a corporate synergy, like we were all drawing from the same well of life-giving vitality. True, within a matter of a few hundred feet, we would all separate and run at our own pace. But at the beginning, we were all in this together, feeding off each other’s good will and vigor, hoping for each other’s best.

There’s a reason that Hebrews does not equate the Christian life to a casual jog, but to a race. While we run at our own pace, within the limits of our abilities, we are not called to run on our own private courses. We follow the same path, carved by the footprints of racers before us, illuminated by a cross. When we become swayed by the notion that discipleship is a solo sport, Hebrews prompts us to look around and notice the “great cloud,” tapping into the synergy it provides. We are a community of runners, with no distinction among accomplished and amateur, between veteran and rookie. We feed off each other’s energy, spur one another to keep moving, and support each other when we’re down.

As we start a new Fall season, now would be a great time to recommit your time and energy to your fellow racers. Be faithful in worship attendance, prayer, scripture reading, and financial stewardship. And let’s see where this race will take us for the rest of the year. We will be taking up our first-ever offering for the P.E.T. Project on September 19. We will be observing our annual Children’s Sabbath and raising awareness of children’s issues around the world. We will be starting six new small groups over the next several weeks, encouraging you to take your discipleship to the next level. And in a few months, we will be taking a grand step of faith, as we launch a new capital campaign and anticipate the next wave of campus renovations next spring.

The satisfaction I felt when I crossed the finish line that Chicago morning was contagious. Afterwards, Jessica said to me, “Congratulations. You’re no longer a runner. You’re now a racer.” Six days later, I ran my second 5K race, here in Cherokee. Accomplishing something of great personal merit, while acknowledging one’s dependence on those around you, evokes a feeling that is both gratifying and humbling.

Whether you are a life-long Methodist or a fledgling Christian, there is no better time to start your race then now. It’s time to shift from merely running and move to real racing. And remember, you’re not alone.

See you at the Starting Line!


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

Join us as we conclude our sermon series on Hebrews with a closer look at Hebrews 12:1-2. The sermon is titled, “How to Live a Hall of Fame Life.” As a reminder, we move to our fall Sunday schedule, with worship starting at 10:10 and Sunday school at 9am.

All Mid-High Youth, grades 7-8, are invited to the deVega’s house (601 Walnut St.) for a kick-off cookout this Sunday, from 5:30-7:00pm. Senior Highs, grades 9-12, are invited to the church at the same time for food and fun.

Thank you to those who participated in the congregation-wide feedback session on August 29. Of those who returned a survey, 67% were in support of the plan to move forward, and 26% were in favor of the plan with some modification. 7% felt that this was not the right time to move forward. The Building Committee is reading through all of the comments and will continue to make adjustments as we proceed. For now, here is some additional information:

Q. Where do we go from here?
A. The Committee felt that with 93% of the respondents favoring most or all of the plan, we could move forward in planning for the Fall capital campaign. They will meet with Kevin Gowdy, who will serve as our Capital Campaign consultant, next Monday, September 13. At that time they will establish a timeline for the campaign. In addition, they are waiting to hear from the District Committee on Building and Location for their approval of the project.

Q. When will the church give official approval to the renovation plans?
A. All of the work thus far is preliminary to the official approval of the congregation, which will take place in a Charge Conference sometime before the end of the year. At that time, we will have pledge results from the capital campaign as well as some finer details associated with the renovation.

Q. What about the windows?
A. In response to one of the questions during the feedback session, the windows will be double-pane, wooden, metal-clad windows that can be opened for ventilation. They will be much more energy-efficient than our existing windows.

Q. What about the pitched roof?
A. One of the most common suggestions was that the Committee revisit the idea of the pitched roof, out of concern for maintenance costs associated with a flat roof. The Committee proposes that the church remain open to the possibility of either style, and that the final decision be made based on pledges in the campaign.

Q. How much will the architect cost?
A. Following the feedback session, the Committee gathered more information regarding the architect’s fees. These fees were not built into the estimate presented to the congregation, and would be 12% of the final cost of the construction. Because money has already been paid to the architects during the design phase, the remaining percentage is down to about 10.2% of the final cost.