xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: May 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Prayer for Pastors

May 31, 2011

Dear St. Paul's Family,

As many of you know, I am spending the next eight days attending Annual Conferences in Tampa, FL, and Des Moines, IA. In addition to our normal business, this year’s gatherings will include the election of delegates to next year's General Conference, as well as legislative discussion about the church's stance on several hot-button, headline-grabbing issues. These sessions will be significant occasions for discernment, dialogue, and debate.

But these are also times for clergy like me to reunite with old friends and establish new connections. So much of what is important about Annual Conference happens outside the auditorium, in the hallways and over meal tables, sharing stories of how life in the pastorate has been over the past year. Sometimes, the stories I hear are ones of joy and achievement: transformed lives, dynamic ministries, professions of faith. But all too often, clergy come together in these occasions to solicit prayerful support from each other for the doldrums of ministry: church conflicts, faltering economies, enduring fatigue, and spiritual dryness.

Last year at this time I used my Mid-Week Message as an invitation for you to pray for the pastors in the church. I thought I would encourage you to do the same again, and this time I've written a prayer that you might use as a guide in the days and weeks to come. This is by no means an exhaustive prayer, as it may spur additional avenues for you to explore in the ways you pray for me and others. I would certainly appreciate your prayers as I continue to lead this beautiful St. Paul's congregation and its lovely people. But I wonder if you can extend your prayers to cover other ministers, near and far, including clergy you don't know, who depend on the strength of the Holy Spirit to carry out their work in difficult settings and trying times.

Gracious God,

We thank you for the call that you have given women and men to serve as ministers in your church. We remember that theirs is a holy calling, grounded in the theological and biblical roles of prophets, priests, and psalmists, for the work of challenging, nurturing and ordering the life of your people. You have composed a rich, diverse, covenantal communion, whose pastors display a wide range of skills and passions, from all walks and seasons of life. In particular, we thank you for those who have or will soon retire, for their long years of service, and for the legacy they leave behind. We thank you for those who are fresh into the tender years of their work, especially those who will soon be licensed, commissioned, and ordained to ministry.

Yet, we acknowledge that the journey is often difficult for those who pursue your call. We pray for those who are dealing with physical, emotional, mental, or financial hardship. Grant them courage for their disabilities, guidance for their difficulties, 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 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 tend to their relationships.

We pray for those dealing with isolation and loneliness, separated perhaps by distance from close friends and colleagues, or who serve in communities where pastoral boundaries preclude close friendships with parishioners. We pray for a dramatic increase in the numbers of pastors involved in clergy covenant groups, that they may discover the strength of companionship. May these groups afford them the chance to celebrate without seeming boastful, and to mourn without appearing indulgent.

We pray for pastors whose current spiritual state is likened to a dry, parched wilderness. We pray for those whose difficult years in ministry have sapped them of joy, robbed them of creativity, and drained them of a desire to seek your spirit of innovation and imagination. Tend to them as ravens at the Brook Cherith. Restore their energies, and inspire them to new ways of serving your people and the world.

We pray that you will renew within 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 see themselves as wordsmiths of the Word, falling in love once again with the beauty of human language, and its power to name, claim, and sustain our commitment to be your people.

We pray for pastors struggling with congregations mired in conflict, who must mediate between people caught in sharp disagreements and taxing arguments. Grant your spirit of peace, and empower a commitment to reason and compromise.

We pray for pastors whose patterns of spiritual discipline have long gone untended. Forgive those whose regular practices of prayer, Bible reading, ministry to the needy, fasting, tithing, meditation, and study have lapsed into inactivity. Call them to flex their atrophied muscles, that they may build up their capacity to serve your church over the long haul.

We pray that you will give pastors a new sense of joy in their ministry. Remind them of the first moments when you whispered your call into their ears. Strip away the layers of painful memories that now muffle the clarity and vitality of those first effusive moments. Instead, buoy their call with hope, fill them with laughter, grant them holy humor, and remind them that "the joy of the Lord is their strength."

We pray for the development of mentoring relationships, for older pastors willing to share a lifetime of lessons learned and mistakes overcome, and for younger pastors willing to exhibit humility and reverence for those who would teach them. Provide each Samuel a willing Eli, an Elijah for every Elisha, and a Naomi for every Ruth.

We pray for the Bishop and the Cabinet, and for the weighty episcopal demands they bear in making and setting pastoral appointments. We pray for your guiding spirit in every stage of the process, and for all parties involved - - departing and arriving pastors, sending and receiving churches, and all spouses and families impacted - - that your Kingdom will be built by the best people serving in the right places.

We pray for the emergence of new people into the ministry. May each local church claim the responsibility of seeking, cultivating, and calling people into this sacred task, and we even pray for an influx of younger pastors to lead the church for generations to come.

We give you thanks, O Lord, for all you have done in and through the faithfulness of your people throughout the years. May we continue to serve as the living expression of your love, put into action for the world to see. May all of us, clergy and laity alike, 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,



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 new summer worship schedule this Sunday, with services starting at 9:30. We continue our sermon series "Strength for the Tough Times" with the observance of Ascension Sunday and a sermon based on Acts 1:1-11.

We give thanks to you for all your faithful generosity over the first several months of this year, leaving us in a relatively fit financial position as we head into the summer. As people head out over the next few months for trips and vacations, please continue to remember St. Paul's in your giving, so that we can enter the Fall and the remainder of the year in healthy shape. If you would like information on how to set up your checking account for regular, automatic contributions, please contact Financial Secretary Sarah Cook.

We have all been viewing the footage of the terrible damage done to the town of Joplin, MO, and other cities along the tornado belt. Your United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) continues to play an active role in relief and recovery efforts in towns like Joplin, and 100% of your gifts go directly to victims of the disaster. Please make your checks payable to St. Paul's and designate them for "Tornado Relief."

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit http://mdevega.blogspot.com
To unsubscribe from this e-mail distribution list, please reply to this e-mail and write "UNSUBSCRIBE" in the subject line.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

With Gentleness and Reverence

May 24, 2011

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

At age 16, George Washington penned a small booklet called Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. His 110 rules were based on principles of community written by French Jesuit monks 137 years prior, and Washington translated them for use in his time. He envisioned a society that viewed its citizens as equals, not dominated by aristocrats and elitists, yet still maintained a standard of dignity and decency.

Many of his rules now seem laughably quaint and outdated:

• When you Sit down, Keep your Feet firm and Even, without putting one on the other or Crossing them.
• In the Presence of Others, Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.
• Do not Puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue, rub the Hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the Lips too open or too Close.
• Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Public Spectacle.
• Take no Salt or cut Bread with your Knife Greasy.

Let’s just say I would have been a pretty lousy Colonial America, especially the part about laughing too loud. But of all of Washington’s rules, the one that most grabs my attention is the very first one, apparently the bedrock upon which all other codes of conduct rest:

Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

Washington had an idyllic vision of how our nascent country could mature into a place where prosperity and achievement could be complemented with politeness and decorum. He believed that the foundation of a decent society was found in the way individuals treated those around them. His is a challenge that is just as important today as it was over 250 years ago.


It is easy to see how far our country has strayed from Washington’s ideal. A recent Zogby poll revealed that 95 percent of Americans believe that civility in politics is important for a healthy democracy, but 89 percent say that the tone of politics has remained poor and in decline in the last three years. One need only remember the horrific shooting in Tucson last January to see evidence of our polarized political atmosphere.

Things are not much better in the workplace. The Workplace Bullying Institute, in conjunction with Zogby, conducted a poll that defined bullying as “repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation and humiliation.” By that standard, 35% of employees claimed to experience bullying first hand, including 34% of all female employees. [3]

And even the world of sports, the place to which Americans turn for escapist entertainment, is not immune from our uncivil society. Think about the near-fatal beating of a Giants baseball fan outside Dodger stadium in late March. Or even consider the rough tenor of parents attending youth sports. A recent report by the National Alliance for Youth Sports shared a story about two women assaulting and leaving unconscious a mother after a little league game in Utah. There was a also youth baseball coach who wrestled an umpire to the ground in Wisconsin. And there was a brutal brawl of thirty adults at the end of a Los Angeles youth soccer game. [4]

Of course, you and I could go on, building a nearly inexhaustible list of examples of how our relationships with one another have been marked by more rancor than respect, more spite than civility. And I haven’t even mentioned the divisions within the body of Christ.


With this gloomy diagnosis in mind, our journey through 1 Peter focuses our gaze this Sunday on chapter 3, verses 15 and 16: Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. In the spirit of true mainline, centerfield construction, 1 Peter finds the center between two extremes, recognizing the value of both firm opinions and gracious compassion. It is permissible, even advisable, for us to be confident about our principles, and to stake claims about our convictions. We need not be subject to a kind of open-ended tolerance that renders us unable to define truth for ourselves, and need not worry about being all things to all people. “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you,” 1 Peter says.

But the second part is just as important: with gentleness and reverence. This is the key complement to conviction. It is the ability to relate to others with a tone that is neither condescending or acrimonious. We are called to be simultaneously secure and sympathetic in the way we relate to others.

I don’t think I can make it more practical or say it any better than Donald Miller, bestselling author of Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Listen for the way he advises Christians to engage with others in areas in which they might disagree:

1. Truth is not My Truth, it’s Just Truth: My ideas were not really my invention. Even if I was the first person to consider an idea, it’s still something I stumbled upon. I shouldn’t take it personally when somebody doesn’t agree. They aren’t rejecting me, they are rejecting an idea.

2. Methodology is Part of the Message: When I get defensive and then condescending, what I associate my ideas with an offensive subtext, and that association is very strong to the hearer. Imagine having a conversation with somebody who has terrible breath, standing there and smelling their putrid hot air as they talk. It’s the same with your attitude toward somebody when you’re discussing an idea.

3. Without a Loving Heart, I am Like a Clanging Cymbal: If I don’t genuinely care about the people I’m talking to, I’ll be received like a guy standing there clanging cymbals together. The Bible makes a strong connection between a persons heart and their tongue. We tend to think we talk with our tongues alone, but the Bible says we talk with our tongues and our hearts. Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

4. The Other Person has Sovereignty: Even if I think the other person is completely wrong, they have a right to their beliefs. I can simply state what I believe and do so in kindness and that’s really it. If I’m trying to bully somebody into my way of seeing things, I’m not respecting the sovereignty of the person I am talking with.

5. I Could be Wrong: What we most want from the person we are talking to is for them to see things from our perspective and agree. That being said, though, are you willing to see things from their perspective? If not, try listening to their perspective then repeating it back to them. Ask them if you got it right, and if you did, say you will think about it. Then present your idea, too, and ask them if they understand your position. To be honest, they may not be as open as you, but once the conversation is over, I assure you they will have a new respect for you, and believe me, they will consider your ideas more respectfully. And besides, the truth is they could be right.


We’ll explore more ideas of how to become a more civil people this Sunday when we dig deeper into the words of 1 Peter 3. In the meantime, I hope that you will keep all of these challenges in mind as United Methodists across the connection prepare to attend annual conferences in upcoming weeks. I will be attending two, Florida and then Iowa, starting next Monday. At these gatherings we will conduct the important work of electing delegates to the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, which serves as the chief decision-making body for the denomination. That means that our work will brew with conversations about the major hot-button topics of our time, earnestly seeking God’s guidance on how to resolve them despite our differences.

Let us join together as a congregation in prayer, that the words of 1 Peter 3 may be lived out in the way we dialogue and discern the future of the church. May we be clear enough about our convictions to provide “a ready defense,” but do so with great gentleness and reverence.

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
E-mail: mdevega@cherokeespumc.org

[1] http://www.foundationsmag.com/civility.html
[2] http://sitesmedia.s3.amazonaws.com/civility/files/2010/04/AlleghenyCollegeCivilityReport2010.pdf
[3] http://business.financialpost.com/2011/05/04/workplace-bullying-north-americas-silent-epidemic/
[4] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-parents-we-mean-be/200907/the-morally-mature-sports-parent
[5] http://donmilleris.com/2010/05/03/five-principles-of-civil-dialogue/

1 Peter 3:13-17
13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?
14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,
15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you;
16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

We have all been viewing the footage of the terrible damage done to the town of Joplin, MO. Coupled with continued recovery efforts throughout the south and in the nearby towns of Northwest Iowa, these events are a stirring reminder of the importance of the church in times like these. Your financial contributions to the United Methodist Committee on Relief are vital in these efforts, and 100% of your gifts will directly to people in need. Make your gift payable to St. Paul’s and designate it for “Tornado Relief.”

Starting next Monday, I will be attending to consecutive Annual Conferences, the first in Tampa, Florida, followed by Des Moines. I will be still be in the church to preach each of the next two Sundays, but in the event of a pastoral emergency in my absence, please contact the church office.

Summer worship begins at 9:30am starting Sunday, June 5. Phyllis Parrot is coordinating summer coffees, so if you would like to help out with cookies or desserts, please contact her.

“The grass is growing, so the lawn needs mowing,” in the words of our own Rod Bainbridge. There is a sign-up sheet downstairs in front of the office for you to volunteer to mow the church lawn. All the equipment is here at the church for you to use, including gasoline. Please sign up and contact Al Henn if you have questions.

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit http://mdevega.blogspot.com
To unsubscribe from this e-mail distribution list, please reply to this e-mail and write "UNSUBSCRIBE" in the subject line.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Sermon for Graduates

May 17, 2011

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

This Sunday the Cherokee community will gather at the high school to observe the commencement exercises for the Class of 2011. That morning, we will celebrate the seniors in our youth group and ask God’s blessing upon them as they move into the next exciting chapter of their lives.

To mark the occasion, I’m using today’s Mid-Week Message to share with you the sermon I preached last Friday night at Grace United Methodist Church in Sioux City for Mornigside College’s Baccalaureate Service. It was my honor to serve the college in this way, especially since our own Michele Witcombe was among its senior class. Having never attended a baccalaureate service, let alone preach for one, I wanted to offer a word to the graduates that was both suitable for the occasion and grounded in scripture. It was a sermon titled, “When Life Certainly is Uncertain,” based on Mark 9:14-29, the story of the father with the demon-possessed son. It captures my thoughts and hopes for all our graduates, as we journey through a world filled with conviction and chaos.

“When Life Certainly is Uncertain”
May 13, 2011
Mark 9:14-29

“Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe, help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:24)

What a peculiar response. What a strange thing to say. The faculty of Morningside College, have, I suspect become quite accustomed to peculiar responses. Perhaps from some of you graduating seniors. Professors have the luxury of going right to the student and asking them, “What did you mean by what you wrote?” Or, “Tell me more about what you said.” Or, “I’m not clear about your point.” There is a desire for clarity and understanding.

A desire for certainty.

But when it comes to passages of scripture that are peculiar or unclear, we do not have that luxury. Because if we did, we could go straight to this man who responded to Jesus’ question and say, “What in the world did you mean?”

To set the stage, this was a man whose son was possessed by what the Bible says was an evil spirit. It was perhaps not a literal demon, but some kind of heavy, dark, emotional and mental state that had seized control of his life, rendering him uncontrollable and mute. And when the father brought the boy to Jesus for healing, he was greeted by Jesus with a rebuke: “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you?”

The man didn’t exactly catch Jesus “in the mood,” wouldn’t you say?

So, the man decides to give Jesus the whole medical history on the boy, dropping the veritable case file on Jesus’ lap. And then he said to Jesus a seemingly innocuous, pious phrase: “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us!”

To which Jesus said, “If you are able! (As if to say, “Really? Don’t you know who I am?) All things can be done for the one who believes!”

And so here it is. It’s at this point that the man cried out: “I believe, help my unbelief!”

I believe. Help my unbelief.

Two seemingly disparate, polar opposite ideas, juxtaposed with no reasonable connection. How in the world do we make sense of this statement? How can he both believe and not believe?

If the man were submitting this as a term paper to a Morningside faculty member, he might get docked points for a typo, and urged to proof his paper more carefully. He might get it back with a red pen in the margin, saying, “Um, you seem to be missing a word there, in between those two statements. Some kind of connecting word to help us understand the relationship between “I believe” and “Help my unbelief.”

I looked carefully at several translations of this verse to see if there was a conjunction in some version other than the one I’m used to. In fact, I looked at the Greek, and couldn’t find one. I then asked the smartest biblical scholar I know for advice.

I said, “Sweetheart…..” (To which Bruce Forbes said, “Don’t call me that.”)
But we still couldn’t find a connecting word.

So rather than having the luxury of asking this father personally for clarification, we are left to playing Mad Libs with the gospels. There’s a blank there, and it’s asking for a conjunction.

So first, we try the word, “However.” That seems reasonable enough. “Lord, I believe….however….” Of course that works. It works for many of us. Yes, we believe. But, we still doubt. Yes, we live with certainty, but we still have our jitters.

This works grammatically, just as it works autobiographically. Track it through your own life. Four years ago, you went through a similar exercise in your life, graduating as high school seniors. You were at the top of your game, the king or queen of the hill, and you were convinced that you were fully formed for the task of adulthood. Your future was bright, your disposition giddy, and your enthusiasm charged.

And then came the first semester of your Freshman year.

Then, every bit of your “I believe” turned into “Help my unbelief.” Many of your foundational perspectives shifted, like tectonic plates under your feet. Your preconceived notions were challenged, the basic fabric of your identity tugged and frayed, and you were being disassembled, like a device in for repair.

All the while, this liberal arts education was doing its job.

But now you are sitting here, looking at college in the rear view mirror, having been more than repaired, but renovated, upgraded with new tools to make you think, act, and speak better than ever before. You graduated with certainty from high school, became uncertain in college, and now you are certain again.

To insert however into the man’s sentence is to suggest that belief and unbelief, certainty and doubt, are an uneasy mix, even mutually exclusive, in which we try to as hard as we can to be confident, but acknowledge that we still fall short. Is that the nature of this man’s peculiar response? Equal parts profession and confession? An affirmation of his belief, yet a repentance for his own shortcomings?

Now, if “However” is a reasonable possibility, I would like to suggest another. Maybe one that is more likely, and even more suitable for you graduating seniors ready to forge ahead with life.

How about the word, “Therefore.”

“Lord, I believe; therefore, help my unbelief.”

In other words, certainty and uncertainty are not mutually exclusive, but are necessary co-companions in your journey of life. They are the yin to the yang. They exist in our lives just as light creates shadows. If you have one, you must have the other. The more you grow in your understanding of who you are and the world around you, the more you must be aware of what you don’t know, and be ready for the surprises that lie ahead.

The presence of the word therefore would therefore be a reminder to us that tension and ambiguity in life is not always a bad thing. Struggling with what we know and don’t know does not convey how weak we are, but simply how human we are. I’m reminded of the great quote by Anne Lamott, who said that the “opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” Faith is not the absence of doubt, but the embrace of and ultimate transformation of it. Courage is not the elimination of fear, but the regular interplay and conscious choice against it.

The truth of the matter is, you and I live in a time when there is more value in the ambiguity and the shades of gray than there are in rigid, dogmatic certainty. Our world will be made better, not by the extremists on the fringe who think that everyone else has it wrong, but by those of us in the center who believe that there is value in respectful dialogue.

And if there is any group who has had to experience these lessons the hard way, it is you. Consider the fact you are part of a graduating class that was born the year that the Berlin Wall fell. You were toddlers when we engaged in the first Gulf war. When you were in elementary school, you saw the rise and burst of the dot.com bubble, the horror of the Oklahoma City bombing, and the massacre at Columbine High School. When you were in junior high, you witnessed the unfathomable tragedy of September 11, and every year of your high school and college careers has been marked by this country at war. And we are now in the midst of the greatest economic slump since the Great Depression. No generation has had to live with this kind of chaos and ambiguity shifting beneath their feet as yours.

All of this makes you uniquely equipped to understand that uncertainty is a certain part of life. And with its embrace can come transformation.

It’s interesting to note Jesus’ response to the man after he said this. Whereas in other stories, Jesus praises a person for their faith, or indicates how impressed he was by them, Jesus said nothing to the man.

Nothing at all.

Mark moves on with the story as if the man had said nothing at all. And so we are led to believe that Jesus found the man’s response to be neither troublesome or noteworthy. Perhaps it’s because he found it to be so natural. Whereas we might labor over what the man’s true motivations were deep down, it seems that Jesus knew.

He knew that the man was simply exhibiting all that it meant to be human. This, after all, would be the same Jesus that would later in his life say, in the same breath, “Let this cup pass from me. But not my will but yours be done.”

Jesus knew what it meant to be internally conflicted. So, Jesus gave this man the most salvific non-response in the gospels.

Instead of responding verbally, Jesus moved on to the important business at hand. He entered right into the midst of the man’s tension and spoke the demon out of his son’s body. Jesus’ response to the man’s response was to bring healing.

There is a lesson here for all of us, and for you, graduating class of 2011. When we are at our most vulnerable, at the point of acknowledging our deepest tensions, we need neither be judged or praised. We can simply be transformed, and then healed, to become agents of healing for a broken world. We can be brought to a maturity that neither ignores or condemns uncertainty, but embraces it for its benefit.

I encourage you, then, to insert your own therefore into this verse, and thus receive these great lessons: Don’t settle for easy answers in life. Don’t ever stop the thirst for learning, for checking your assumptions, and embracing the unknown. Don’t ever be timid in admitting your ignorance, but use the tools that you have been given by this college to test and to tease the resolutions out of chaos.

Yours is a generation that has been forged in the crucible of uncertainty. And you can lead the way for the world to embrace it and transform it.

In the name of the God who created us, redeemed us, and sustains us, Amen.


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 celebrate this major milestone in the lives of our graduating seniors. We will continue in our sermon series “Strength for the Tough Times” with a challenge from 1 Peter on how to cultivate a mature faith anchored in Jesus Christ, our chief cornerstone.

We celebrate the graduation of Michele Witcombe last Saturday from Morningside College, who earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. We are so proud of you, Michele!

Summer worship begins at 9:30am starting Sunday, June 5. Phyllis Parrot is coordinating summer coffees, so if you would like to help out with cookies or desserts, please contact her.

This Sunday we are receiving our annual offering for Larry and Jane Kies, our missionaries to Africa University. Please be prayerful and generous in your support of their vital ministry to the students and families of Zimbabwe. All of your gifts will count toward our Rainbow Covenant Missions Giving effort for this year.

“The grass is growing, so the lawn needs mowing,” in the words of our own Rod Bainbridge. There is a sign-up sheet downstairs in front of the office for you to volunteer to mow the church lawn. All the equipment is here at the church for you to use, including gasoline. Please sign up and contact Al Henn if you have questions.

Thanks to Jeff Blum, Kathy Simonsen, Rod Bainbridge, Darly Gochener, Korrie Waldner, and Don Henderson for their work on last Thursday’s Hot Dog Day. We distributed 160 hot dogs in under 45 minutes, and gave away over 50 flyers to kids advertising this summer’s Vacation Bible School. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Go Clean Your Room!

May 10, 2011

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Let me be the first one – and likely the only one – to wish you and yours a Happy National Clean Up Your Room Day. That’s right. It’s a day wholly designated to encourage people to clean up their rooms. I have no idea about the origins or authenticity of the day, as I found out about it perusing some national holiday websites whose reliability is impossible to gauge. All I know is that it takes place one day before “Eat What You Want Day” (May 11) and one day after “Lost Sock Remembrance Day” (May 9) which are two deliciously whimsical ideas for holidays, if you ask me. [1]

My hunch is that its origins came from some parent tired of pleading that their children tidy their bedrooms, and decided to concentrate a whole year’s worth of begging into one 1/365th of the year. However the observance started, I think there’s something endearingly quirky about a day dedicated to cleaning your room. It’s a chance to start anew, jettisoning the old, and breathing in freshness and purity.

I’ll confess that one of the shows that Jessica and I tend to watch during our cravings for mind-numbing, brain-candy television is called Hoarders: Buried Alive on The Learning Channel. Every episode, a camera crew chronicles the lives of people around the country whose psychological and mental condition renders them unable to throw out garbage, do basic cleaning, and prevent mindless accumulation of more and more material possessions. One time, we watched an episode in which a woman could not step foot into her house, let alone walk to her bedroom, without climbing over mountains of junk and refuse. Another man was forced to sleep in his office every night, because he developed an emotional connection to the thousands of rats that had taken over his home.

Don’t ask me why we watch these shows. Part of it is our odd fascination with people who live in these conditions. And part of it is the comfort that comes from realizing that the mound of laundry awaiting our attention is not as bad as it could be. Regardless, I think it’s fair to say that most, if not all, of us could use a National Clean Your Room Day now and then.

Don Aslett, bestselling author of Clutter’s Last Stand: It’s Time to De-Junk Your Life, offers many helpful steps on how to cut through the clutter in one’s home. He suggests that when faced with a mountain of possessions that are not of every day use and can not be readily stored, you take three large garbage bags and one large box and mark them as such:

· JUNK: Put in that bag items that are trash, broken, or no longer necessary.
· CHARITY: For items that you could give away to family, friends, or donation agencies.
· SORT: For items that you can sort through at a later time, one month from now.
· WITHDRAWAL (the box): To store items that you can get to if you really need them. But after a year, if you have not needed to open the box, throw the whole thing away.

The process may sound simple on paper. But for those who have difficulty working through their clutter, such efforts take determined decision-making, with no room for regrets or second-guessing. Purging through our homes can be a painful procedure, but it is necessary to keep a life that is sanitary, functional, and healthy.

Reading Aslett’s advice got me to thinking about how these principles can be applied to our spiritual lives. When John Wesley was standardizing the format of the small groups that met as part of his Methodist renewal movement, he came up with the following questions to guide people in sorting through the junk in their lives. When people gathered for these meetings, they would ask each other to respond honestly and openly to how they are doing in each of these areas, holding each other accountable with love, and without judgment. See how you might do with these questions:

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I'm better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
3. Do I confidentially pass on what was told to me in confidence?
4. Can I be trusted?
5. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
6. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying or self justifying?
7. Did the Bible live in me today?
8. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
9. Am I enjoying prayer?
10. When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
11. Do I pray about the money I spend?
12. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
13. Do I disobey God in anything?
14. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
15. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
16. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
17. How do I spend my spare time?
18. Am I proud?
19. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
20. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what I am doing about it?
21. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
22. Is Christ real to me?

These are great questions, which you might choose to make a daily part of your devotional and prayer life. All of us have junk to sort through. All of us are hoarders, buried alive in thoughts, habits, and perceptions that are blocking the free flow of God’s love in and through our lives. Perhaps there is no better day than National Clean Up Your Room Day to start cleaning up your act, and allowing the power of God to make you more like Christ today than you were yesterday.

Happy Cleaning!


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.holidayinsights.com/moreholidays/May/cleanuproomday.htm

We continue our sermon series called “Strength for the Tough Times” with a sermon titled “Safety from the Shepherd: A Faith That Comforts,” based on 1 Peter 2:19-25.

I have the honor of preaching this Friday night at Morningside College’s baccalaureate service. The service takes place at Grace United Methodist Church adjacent to the Morningside Campus and begins at 5:30. We are delighted to have our very own Michele Witcombe among the graduating seniors.

For the third year in a row, St. Paul’s has attained the highest level of giving to local and global missions through the Iowa Conference’s Rainbow Covenant Missions program. We are one of only 16 churches in the district to reach this goal, along with paying our apportionments and district asking in full. Thank you, St. Paul’s, for putting God’s love into action!

Join us on Thursday and bring your appetite! For the first time, we will be participating in the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce’s Hot Dog Days event, and you can stop by our station in front of the church for free hot dogs with all the fixings. The fun starts at 5pm until we run out of hot dogs, and we will be giving out promotional material to the kids for our upcoming Vacation Bible School.

The church-wide rummage sale takes place this Saturday and Sunday, from 8am to 4pm. Most items will cost $1.00. To contribute to the sale, please bring your items to the church and place them on the tables in the hallway.

It’s not too late to register your child for another thrilling Vacation Bible School. It takes place from June 13-17, from 9am to 12pm. It is for ages 3 to completed 5th grade, and the cost is $7, which includes a t-shirt. Scholarships are available. Contact the church office to register.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Pastoral Prayer for Mother's Day

Loving God and Parent of All,

We are grateful today to gather as children birthed in your image, blessed offspring of your creation. As a mother hen gathers her brood under her wing, we join today, to hear your teachings and experience your love.

We give you thanks for empowering us to have a child-like faith. Teach us to have compassion in our human relationships, to forgive those who hurt us, to share with all of your children, and to play with imagination and courage.

We thank you indeed for the women among us and around us, in whom you have gifted the privilege and the challenge of being mothers and mother figures. Especially we thank you this day:

  • For all mothers, everywhere - Strengthen them in the ways that they raise their children, grant them wisdom for the lessons that they teach, discernment in the ways that they discipline, and may others grant them the thanks and honor they deserve.

  • We thank you for grandmothers, sisters, aunts, teachers, Sunday school teachers, adult mentors, big sisters, and anyone, everywhere, who plays a motherly role in the life of another boy, girl, or adult. Grant them to ability to model the example of Christ for all within their influence, that they might share the love that you have so freely shown to all of us.

We pause to remember those for whom Mother’s Day is a source of discomfort, even perhaps anxiety and pain:

  • For some, this day brings to mind melancholy remembrance of their own mothers who have died. There may even be those for whom this is the first Mother’s Day since their mother's passing. To these people, grant your peace and comfort, and may they give thanks for their mother’s lasting influence.

  • There may be those for whom Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of their own singleness, or their own inability to have biological children. Remind each of these that such women have always had a special place in your concern, especially throughout the history of the Bible. Give them your special care and love, and grant them your assurance that they are not alone; neither are they without ability to make a lasting impact on the world.
  • And to those for whom their experience with and memory of their own mothers has brought enduring pain, remorse, and guilt, grant the power of healing and forgiveness. Remind us of the wrongs we have done to each other, and the power we have, in your name, to bridge even the deepest divides.

For all these things, we give you thanks, O God who is a loving father and mother to us all. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,


Monday, May 2, 2011

Violence, Vows, and No Easy Answers

May 3, 2011

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I was outside Sunday night, on a relaxing evening jog around town, when the FaceBook status updates on my phone exploded with the word of Osama Bin Laden’s death. I stopped at the corner of Roosevelt and Main to catch my breath and read the stream of news that flooded the airwaves. Like all of you, I knew that this would be a historic event, one of those “Do you remember where you were when…?” kinds of moments that will be etched in our minds for years to come.

As I resumed my run, I thought about a few similar events since the beginning of this year. On Sunday, January 9, we celebrated Baptism of the Lord Sunday, the same weekend that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded in a senseless shooting that killed six people at a shopping center in Tucson. On April 10, we welcomed eighteen new members into the church, just days after Moammar Gadhafi gunned down several fellow Libyans struggling for freedom in the city of Misrata. And then last Sunday, we started the morning with the joyous confirmation of our seventh graders. Who knew at the time that the day would end the way it did?

The irony of these liturgical and global concurrences was not lost on me. On each of those Sundays, we asked people to solemnly respond to these questions: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sins? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

In each case – new members, confirmands, and all of us – people answered these questions with a solemn, sober, “I do.” Our baptismal and membership vows are driven by the verbs, to renounce, reject, repent, and resist. They are the four “R’s” that define our relationship to evil in “whatever forms they present themselves,” whether they be a mentally ill gunman, a savage dictator, or a brutal monster who masterminded the massacre of thousands of innocent people around the world, especially on 9/11.

Our liturgy is purposefully open-ended when it comes to the method by which we fulfill those vows. We aren’t told whether we should resist evil with justified military force, or with peaceful, non-violent protest. We’re not told whether we should drop bombs on buildings or order a special forces assault. Our liturgy doesn’t tell us when or if we should use military power, or when we should use diplomacy, sanctions, and tough talk. The church has never been a comfortable bedfellow with political or military power, and our vows do not come close to naming a way for us to merge the two.

But where our liturgy is vague about our methods, it is crystal clear about our purpose. We should never, under any circumstances, in peacetime or at war, ever become the very evil that we are called to renounce, reject, repent, and resist.

I’ll go ahead and name the ambiguity for many of us. We are proud Americans, who continue to suffer the long, lingering effects of the senseless murder of thousands of our citizens at the hands of a man who was evil personified. We are also clear about the need for justice, for holding him and others accountable for their actions, which is a foundational principle for a just and ordered civilization.

But lest we forget, the worst kind of violence is born out of a warped sense of good versus evil. It stems from the belief that certain people deserve the violence inflicted on them. And while, on the one hand, I would likely have authorized the same military action if I were the President, I have my own soul to contend with. I have to wrestle against my innate convictions that violence against “us” justifies violence against “them,” especially when “their” deaths evoke more than relief, but also satisfaction, pleasure, and downright glee. And I believe that our baptismal vows will not allow us those options, lest we become the very evil that we are called to overcome.

No, there are no easy answers for Christians who choose to take their vows seriously. It would be much easier for us to skew our values to be in alignment with our nationalistic pride. But that would be defining the Kingdom of God in political terms, in a way that Jesus never would have wanted. Instead, our calling is to a higher sense of citizenship, to a code of conduct and perspective that will not allow us to celebrate any person’s death, regardless of how evil that person was.

This Sunday, the lectionary includes the gospel reading of the walk to Emmaus. It is in this story that two men, having just experienced the news of Easter, are unaware that Easter Himself was walking alongside them. They were so caught up in the compelling, news-making headlines of the day that they were unable to see any alternatives to their misperceptions.

The story of these men is an invitation for all of us to dare to believe that beyond the headlines and easy answers, there just might be a new kind of vision. A new possibility of resurrection beyond death, peace beyond violence, and love beyond hatred. But we can’t see it. We just can’t see it. We are still residents of a sin-soaked, violence-addicted world, in which justice is defined in very narrow terms. But the Emmaus story can give us hope:

When (Jesus) was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

God, even at this moment, is flooding us with chances to see the resurrection, instances of new life, and possibilities for new peace. We may find it at the table. We may find it in our liturgies. We may find it in the Spirit’s yearning within our hearts. But most certainly, we can find it together.

Peace, Hope, and Resurrection,


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

I am privileged to be leading a day-long workshop for the clergy of the Southwest District this Friday. Their Superintendent has asked me to speak to them on the topic, “Congregational Transformation in the Wesleyan Spirit,” giving me the opportunity to share the wonderful work that God is doing in and through the people of St. Paul’s. It will be a five-hour workshop, from 10am to 3pm, and I would appreciate your prayers. Let us celebrate together the way that our story is being shared to shape other congregations in the Iowa Conference.

We continue our sermon series “Strength for the Tough Times” with a sermon titled, “A Love That Lasts: Faith that Endures,” based on 1 Peter 1:17-23. Join us for a service featuring our wonderful Bell Choir, and a special prayer honoring Mother’s Day.

This Sunday we receive a special offering for the kids in our community who will be attending the United Methodist summer camp program in Okoboji. Prayerful consider who you will contribute to this fund, and help put God’s love into action in the life of a young person.

Amid the headlines from Sunday, we cannot forget the thousands of people around the country, especially Northwest Iowa and Northern Alabama, who have been devastated by tornadoes in the last few weeks. We continue to receive your special offerings for relief, all of which will directly go to people in need. Make your checks payable to St. Paul’s and designate it for “Tornado Relief.”

This is also the last day for Sunday School, and there will be doughnuts for each grade level. We also thank the children who worked so hard bringing money to put in the quart jars to go toward the building renovation and help make their classrooms warmer.

We are hosting an all-church rummage sale on May 14 and 15, from 8 to 4. Most items will be $1.00 unless of more value. Please put toys and clothes in the basement level classroom. For more information, contact Marlene Kelly.

We have a wonderful team of church members ready to host our first ever participation in the town’s Hot Dog Days on Thursday, May 12. The fun begins at 5pm and goes until we run out of hot dogs. This will be our way of getting the word out to kids and families of our Vacation Bible School program, so we encourage you to come, bring friends, and stop by our station for free hot dogs with all the fixings!