xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: April 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Prayer for General Conference

April 24, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Today, 988 United Methodists from the United States, Asia, Africa, and Europe will converge in Tampa, Florida, to begin the 2012 General Conference.  It will be the eleventh time that the denomination has gathered for this quadrennial meeting since the 1968 merger that officially formed the United Methodist Church, and 220 years after the first conference of the Methodist Church met in Baltimore, Maryland.

For the next eleven days, these representatives will actively engage in holy conferencing, worship, and plenary presentations, for the task of interpreting the purpose and function of the United Methodist Church for the present age.  Delegates will consider hundreds of petitions and make a wide array of decisions, guiding the denomination in its allocation of resources, its alignment of ecclesial agencies, and its priorities for ministry.

I like to remind people that, unlike other denominations and faith traditions, we have no president or pope, and no single person speaks on behalf of all United Methodists.  The reluctance to concentrate that kind of authority in a solitary person stretches back to the earliest days of the Methodist renewal movement in this country, when colonial Americans eschewed anything remotely resembling a monarchical figure.  Instead, we base our governance on representative democracy, and make decisions in the context of shared dialogue and discernment.  While individual Annual Conferences are the chief administrative bodies, it is the General Conference alone that grounds the church’s doctrinal standards, guides and funds its structure and mission around the world, and resolves its stance on the urgent issues of our time.

Needless to say, the delegates will need your help.  Though we are 1,600 miles from the Tampa Convention Center, our connectional system and the work of the Holy Spirit not only empower us, but implore us, to participate in this important work.  I encourage you, starting today and for the next eleven days, to pray daily for the General Conference, and perhaps use this prayer as your guide.


A Prayer for the 2012 General Conference
of the United Methodist Church

Almighty and Everlasting God,

Since the earliest days, you have drawn order out of chaos and called forth life from the listless.  By your very word, light emerged from darkness, comfort came to the outcast, hope sprang for the exiled, and grace mended the wayward of their sins.  In your Word made flesh, you came to inaugurate a new kingdom, forged by an unconditional love on the cross and sealed by the empty tomb.  By your Spirit, you birthed the church, and called it into being for the purposes of mission, service, and proclamation throughout the world.

Today, we give you thanks for the unique expression of the work of your church through the people called United Methodist. You have granted us spiritual ancestors, whose words, work, and witness have shaped our practice, our polity, and our doctrine.  We thank you for John, Charles, and Susannah Wesley.  For Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury.  For Jacob Albright and Philip Otterbein.  For Sarah Mallet and Phoebe Palmer. And for all those who have gone before us, upon whose shoulders we stand in awe and gratitude.

We pray for the work of the General Conference. We entrust to your care those who are serving as delegates, that you might strengthen them with physical and mental stamina to conduct their business with alertness, respect, courage, and spiritual centeredness.  We pray for their long hours of work and their short nights of rest.

We pray for the thousands of volunteers whose efforts are invaluable, though they may appear invisible.  We pray for safety for those who travel, health for all who participate, and for your protective hand upon all the families and congregations that they leave behind.

We pray for the legislative committees, who face the daunting task of negotiating hundreds of pieces of legislation for consideration by the wider body.  Grant to each member a balance between fearless conviction and a cooperative spirit.   May they come to know the difference between discernment and judgment, that they may not judge, lest they be judged.

We pray for the way that the Conference will interpret the church’s witness to the controversial topics of our day. We are aware of the polarizing potential of issues related to sexuality, environmental justice, and human life. We pray that in the fervor to advance notions of truth in the name of Christ, the very body of that same Christ might not be irrevocably divided.

We pray for a renewed commitment to the central command of Jesus, which is to make disciples of all nations.  Guide the delegates toward an unrelenting focus on that principle alone, that it may be the filter through which every other decision, menial and major, is determined.  As we confront the trends of declining membership, shrinking attendance, and waning financial giving, remind us that true transformation begins in the heart.  Fill us first with your spirit and passion; only then may strategies and programs follow.

We pray for our Social Principles.  May the sum result of this Conference be a living document that speaks directly to the needs of this world, and may it be a prophetic witness to problems related to hunger, poverty, health care, equal rights, creation care, human dignity, scientific ethics, and international relations.

We pray for clarity in the way that the agencies, programs, and fiscal activities of the church will be evaluated for their effectiveness.  Empower the Conference to negotiate the hard decisions wisely, and to refrain from making some decisions harder than need be.  We pray for reform for the right reasons, in the right places, in the right ways, and in the right time.

God of us all, grant to us a renewed vision of dry bones enfleshed with new life.  Fill us with the promise of resurrection, and a sense of hope for the future.  Grant to your church an optimism balanced with realism, strengthened by our mutual efforts to do your holy work, and sustained by the power of your Spirit.  May the work of this General Conference impact the United Methodist Church on all levels, from the General Boards to the grassroots, from the ordained to the laity, and from the waters of Tampa Bay to the farthest reaches of the earth.

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

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
Email:  mdevega@sp-umc.org


Sanctuary:  Last week the painters began repainting the walls of the sanctuary, a process which may last up to five weeks.  Samples of the carpet were sent to the original vendor in South Sioux City to see if a suitable replacement can be found.  ServiceMaster treated the pews in the storage bins with a special ozone process designed to remove the odor from the seat cushions.  There is still a possibility that they will be replaced. We are still on target to resume worship in the sanctuary around June 1.

Kitchen and Dining Hall:  Grundman Hicks has completed the demolition of the kitchen, dining hall, and northeast stairwell that leads to the sanctuary. Last Wednesday, a kitchen equipment consultant met with Phyllis Parrot, Jean Anderson, and Magrey deVega to make some preliminary decisions on the new appliances and dishware.  Those were approved by the Building Committee last Wednesday night.  Tonight, the architect will meet with the Building Committee to share updated drawings of the renovated areas.  We expect that after all the plans are finalized and the congregation has a chance to give their opinions, construction can begin around the time that we move back into the sanctuary.

I will be leaving this Wednesday for Florida to attend my middle brother’s ordination as a minister in the Free Methodist denomination.  I will be back on Saturday, in time to preach this Sunday.  I can be accessed by e-mail, and in the event of an emergency, please contact the church office.

This year’s theme looks to be the most exciting ever!  It’s called “Sky” and encourages kids to remember that “Everything is Possible with God.” It takes place from June 18-22, from 9:00 to 12:00pm.  The cost is once again $7.00 and includes a special VBS t-shirt. Register your child, 4 years old to completed 5th Grade, on either of two Sundays, May 13 or 20.  For more information, contact Karen Long.

Help make this the biggest and best VBS ever! Volunteer to help with kids for the week, or help make advanced preparations prior to June 18-22. Help is needed in a variety of areas and skill levels, and you can volunteer by contacting Karen Long.  Volunteers are invited to attend an organizational meeting this Monday, April 29th, from 6-7pm, in the church library.

Once again, St. Paul’s will be participating in Cherokee Hot Dog Days, on Thursday, May 10, starting at 5:00.  To help out, contact the church office or see Jeff Blum or Darly Gochenour.  Your efforts will help promote our exciting upcoming Vacation Bible School.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Houston, We Have a Problem"

April 17, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Forty-two years ago today, on April 17, 1970, the Apollo 13 lunar mission concluded its harrowing six-day space trauma with a safe return to earth. After an oxygen tank exploded two days after launch, the three astronauts were forced to deal with limited power, loss of cabin heat, a shortage of water, and a broken carbon dioxide removal system. After aborting their goal of landing on the moon, they attempted a perilous reentry into the earth’s atmosphere aboard the lunar module. Upon losing radio contact for four minutes, with the world waiting in deafening suspense, the men splashed safely into the South Pacific Ocean.

Jim Lovell, the commander of the mission, is not only praised for his heroism in leading the crew home, but is credited with uttering one of the most famous phrases in the history of space travel: “Houston, we have a problem.” But this doomed space mission would not be the first time he faced impossible odds in an aircraft, trying to find his way home.

When he was a Navy pilot in 1950, Lovell was flying a mission in his F2H Banshee off the coast of Japan. His faulty instruments mistakenly led him away from his aircraft carrier, forcing him to miss his rendezvous point by several miles. Lovell felt hopelessly lost as he flew circles in the dark over the stormy Sea of Japan. As he tried to use his map light, all of his cockpit electronics suddenly shorted out and everything went black. His chances of survival, let alone a safe return to the aircraft carrier, grew dimmer by the second.

Lovell glanced at the water below, the absence of light both inside and outside the cockpit forcing his eyesight to adjust to the dark. With his vision newly accustomed to the darkness, Lovell was able to spot a faint trail of phosphorescent algae, which had been churned up by the propellers of the carrier. He followed that glowing trail, all the way to a safe landing atop the carrier. Were it not for the darkness that engulfed him from the night sky and damaged electronics, he would not have had to adjust to see the radiant trail that had been present to lead him to safety all along.

“You never know what events are going to transpire to get you home,” Lovell said, which could very well refer to either of his death defying experiences. Indeed, whether it be splashing down to earth from space or landing a fighter jet in a storm-tossed sea, Lovell learned that sometimes, one has to go through the darkness in order to recognize and appreciate the light.


It is a concept that the writer of the epistle of James seemed to understand, right at the onset of his letter. He offered an unorthodox view of joy, the second part of the fruit of the spirit in our new sermon series. Rather than defining joy as happiness or glee, emotions that are always contingent on external circumstances, James describes it as a soul that is strengthened in the crucible of suffering. Joy is a confidence in the face of adversity, and a change in perception produced by trials. It perceives hardship as nothing more than an opportunity for maturity and wholeness:

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Suffering is like the darkness that surrounded Jim Lovell’s plane. Just as it forced him to adjust his perception and see a new way forward, your hardship can give you a unexpected chance to recognize a hope that has been with you all along. It does not mean that God wants you to suffer, or that God caused your suffering to begin with. Instead, it reminds us that God is always present to offer us new life, even when we don’t realize it.

Sometimes, it takes suffering to help us do just that.

I don’t know what hardship you are facing today. But I suspect that all of us could use a fresh dose of joy in our lives. Whatever you are dealing with, I would recommend that you do two things: First, take a moment to thank God for your struggles. It may seem counterintuitive to do so, since the last thing we ever want to do is embrace pain and anguish. But take James at his word. This could be an opportunity for you to experiencing a joy you would have never known without it.

Second, surrender to God, that God may change your ability to see light in the midst of your darkness. It may not happen immediately, but the eyes of your soul will adjust. If there is anything we’ve learned from the miracles of Jesus, it’s that he doesn’t leave people blind for very long. Your prayer today may simply be that contained in Mark 10:51:

Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’

So ask Jesus to help you see again. That will be my prayer for you, as I know yours is for me. Let us embrace our sufferings together, allowing God to adjust our eyes, and help us to experience a joy that comes from finding a new way home.

Jim Lovell was right: You never know what events are going to transpire to get you home.

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
Email: mdevega@sp-umc.org


Sanctuary: With scaffolding now completed, ServiceMaster has finished washing the entire interior of the sanctuary, including the walls, ceiling, and chancel area. The pew cushions, currently in storage on the west parking lot, are undergoing a secondary ozone treatment to remove the odor. If that does not work, then plans are coming together to have the pew cushions replaced. Also, John Kaiser Painting out of Dubuque, who originally painted the renovated sanctuary, arrived on Monday to begin repainting the walls and ceiling, a process which will take about five weeks. Once the walls are repainted, then new carpeting can be installed and the sanctuary can be put back together. At this point, we are still anticipating a return to the sanctuary on or around June 1.

Kitchen and Dining Hall: Grundman Hicks has completed the scaffolding in the sanctuary and this week returned to the kitchen and dining hall to complete the demolition. The stage has been completely removed, along with the remaining plaster on the walls and ceiling. Work will begin soon on removing plaster along the stairwell on the northeast corner of the sanctuary (where the choir music was stored), and the stairwell itself will need to be refinished. The Building Committee meets again this Wednesday night, then again the following Tuesday with the architect.

Let us keep in our prayers the community of Thurman, Iowa, town of 200, which was 90% destroyed by the tornadoes last weekend. There is a United Methodist Congregation in that town that was severely damaged and may be a total loss. In addition to your prayers, you may choose to volunteer your time and effort by letting me know if your interest. You can also put together a cleaning bucket full of supplies, as advised by the United Methodist Committee on Relief: http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/getconnected/supplies/flood-bucket/. You can bring completed buckets to the church office.

With the Masonic Lodge breakfast next Sunday, please consider parking at the high school if you are able. We want to reserve the lower level parking lot for those attending the breakfast, and the upper level parking lot for people attending worship with accessibility needs. Thank you for your cooperation and your hospitality.

Next Sunday we will receive our annual special offering for Larry and Jane Kies, missionaries that we support who serve Africa University in Zimbabwe. All of your contributions support our Rainbow Covenant Missions program for this year.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Don't Believe Your Own Press

April 11, 2012

Dear Easter People,

“Don’t get high on your own supply.” – Notorious B.I.G.

Across the church, Christians will gather this Sunday to hear the story of Thomas, the disciple who doubted the resurrection. His is a story whose familiarity comes from regularity: the Lectionary, which standardizes scripture readings for corporate worship, insists that we hear about him two years out of every three, along with the story of the two people walking to Emmaus.

As such, we’ve become quite accustomed to post-Easter worship services that focus on how little we understand the resurrection. Whether it is to explore Thomas’ doubt, or the Emmaus travelers’ ignorance, or the disciples’ busyness (John 21), this is the time of year that invites us to a Lenten-style introspection into our own barriers to belief.

However, what happens if we slightly shift our interpretive focus, away from the skeptics in the story, and gaze through the eyes of Jesus instead?

That thought occurred to me just two nights ago, sitting in a hotel room in Nashville. We had just finished an amazing morning of Easter worship the day before, with two full services, the best Easter sermon I had ever preached, and a genuine sense of joy and gladness from all of you. Later that afternoon, I hopped on a plane to Nashville, at the request of the United Methodist Publishing House, who asked me to serve as a consultant for their exciting new Bible study curriculum. After a long, invigorating meeting, I sat in my hotel room, patting myself on the back, polishing my metaphorical trophies I had placed on my mental mantel.

And then, for some reason, I picked up my Bible and read the story of Thomas. I’m not sure why, since I’m not even preaching the story this Sunday. When I finished, I looked at all the other accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, reconsidering them from Jesus’ perspective. Mary mistook him for the gardener. Thomas thought the story was a lie. The couple on their way to Emmaus walked with Jesus for miles and didn’t they didn’t realize it. And the disciples – even the disciples, who spent three years with him ­– didn’t recognize him on the beach. Gradually, I came to this startling self-revelation: If Jesus rose from the dead and people didn’t give him the credit he deserved, then who am I to boast to others about my accomplishments?

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus offered his most thorough, CSI-style dissection of the evidence to the disciples: He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ But here’s the subtle subtext that I’d like to read into his words: “Sheesh! C’mon, guys, it’s me! What’s it going to take for you to believe in me? I mean, I rose from the dead, for crying out loud!” If Jesus was as startled by the disciples’ response as I would have been, then maybe they are doing you and me a favor. Maybe they are reminding us not to “think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.” (Romans 12:3)

If anyone deserved to “believe his own press,” it was surely Jesus. But he didn’t, and the disciples made sure he didn’t. And if that’s true for Jesus, who rose from the dead, after all, then that is certainly true for you and me.

Don’t get high on your own supply. Heed the words of St. Augustine: “Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.”

What is that “deeper foundation?” It is nothing less than the mind of Christ himself, beautifully portrayed in the kenotic hymn of Philippians 2:5-8: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

So join me in the ongoing effort maintain humility in the way we think, speak, and relate to each other. If you ever sense that I, as your pastor, ever get too big for my britches, if my head becomes too huge for my hat, and if I ever seem to too arrogant for my own good, then you have both my permission and my plea to knock me down a notch or too. (And if you don’t, then don’t worry. I have two brothers in Florida who always seem to know what to tell me for just that purpose!)

Together, let’s assume the mind of Christ, think with sober judgment, and simply begin by being. And let’s remember the words of G.K. Chesterton: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”

Happy Easter!


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

This Sunday, we begin a new sermon series on living the resurrection based on Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians. Each Sunday, we’ll learn how the Holy Spirit empowers us to live a live that overcomes hate, sorrow, suffering, and many other difficulties. You won’t want to miss a Sunday, and I know you have friends that can benefit from your invitation to join us.

A Life that Overcomes:
A Resurrection Series on the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians

April 15
A Love That Overcomes Hate
1 John 3:16-24

April 22
A Joy That Overcomes Sorrow
James 1:2-12

April 29
A Patience That Overcomes Suffering
Romans 8:18-30

May 6
A Goodness That Overcomes Evil
Romans 12:9-21

May 13
A Faith That Overcomes Fear
1 Timothy 1:3-7

May 20
A Discipline That Overcomes Weakness
1 Corinthians 9:19-27

May 27
A Spirit That Overcomes the World
Acts 2:1-13


Sanctuary: Grundman Hicks has completed construction of the scaffolding in the sanctuary. ServiceMaster will complete the washing of the walls and chancel area by the end of this week, in time for the professional painters to begin repainting the walls very soon. It is estimated that it might take up to five weeks to completely repaint the sanctuary.

Kitchen and Dining Hall: The asbestos tile has been fully removed from the floor and the stage, and the areas have been deemed free of asbestos. Grundman Hicks has now completely removed the stage from the dining hall, and is in the process of finishing the removal of plaster from the walls and ceiling. The plaster on the back stairwell to the sanctuary will also be removed. The Building Committee met last Wednesday with the architect and is continuing its design work.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When I Think How Jesus Died

April 3, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

The Crucifixion
By James Weldon Johnson (1871-1939)
From God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse

Jesus, my gentle Jesus,
Walking in the dark of the Garden --
The Garden of Gethsemane,
Saying to the three disciples:
Sorrow is in my soul --
Even unto death;
Tarry ye here a little while,
And watch with me.

Jesus, my burdened Jesus,
Praying in the dark of the Garden --
The Garden of Gethsemane.
Saying: Father,
Oh, Father,
This bitter cup,
This bitter cup,
Let it pass from me.

Jesus, my sorrowing Jesus,
The sweat like drops of blood upon his brow,
Talking with his Father,
While the three disciples slept,
Saying: Father,
Oh, Father,
Not as I will,
Not as I will,
But let thy will be done.

Oh, look at black-hearted Judas --
Sneaking through the dark of the Garden --
Leading his crucifying mob.
Oh, God!
Strike him down!
Why don't you strike him down,
Before he plants his traitor's kiss
Upon my Jesus' cheek?

And they take my blameless Jesus,
And they drag him to the Governor,
To the mighty Roman Governor.
Great Pilate seated in his hall,--
Great Pilate on his judgment seat,
Said: In this man I find no fault.
I find no fault in him.
And Pilate washed his hands.

But they cried out, saying:
Crucify him!--
Crucify him!--
Crucify him!--
His blood be on our heads.
And they beat my loving Jesus,
They spit on my precious Jesus;
They dressed him up in a purple robe,
They put a crown of thorns upon his head,
And they pressed it down --
Oh, they pressed it down --
And they mocked my sweet King Jesus.

Up Golgotha's rugged road
I see my Jesus go.
I see him sink beneath the load,
I see my drooping Jesus sink.
And then they laid hold on Simon,
Black Simon, yes, black Simon;
They put the cross on Simon,
And Simon bore the cross.

On Calvary, on Calvary,
They crucified my Jesus.
They nailed him to the cruel tree,
And the hammer!
The hammer!
The hammer!
Rang through Jerusalem's streets.
The hammer!
The hammer!
The hammer!
Rang through Jerusalem's streets.

Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his hands;
Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his feet.
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the Roman spear plunged in his side;
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the blood came spurting from his wound.
Oh, look how they done my Jesus.

Weeping Mary,
Sees her poor little Jesus on the cross.
Weeping Mary,
Sees her sweet, baby Jesus on the cruel cross,
Hanging between two thieves.

And Jesus, my lonesome Jesus,
Called out once more to his Father,
My God,
My God,
Why hast thou forsaken me?
And he drooped his head and died.

And the veil of the temple was split in two,
The midday sun refused to shine,
The thunder rumbled and the lightning wrote
An unknown language in the sky.
What a day! Lord, what a day!
When my blessed Jesus died.

Oh, I tremble, yes, I tremble,
It causes me to tremble, tremble,
When I think how Jesus died;
Died on the steeps of Calvary,
How Jesus died for sinners,
Sinners like you and me.

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, I wish you and yours a blessed Holy Week and joyous Easter celebration of the risen Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria,


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


We will be having our traditional Holy Week schedule of services at the Community Center, with the exception of Maundy Thursday, which we will suspend for this year.
Palm Sunday, April 1, 10:10 am
Good Friday, April 6, 7:00 pm
Easter Morning, April 8, Identical Services at 7:00 am and 10:10 am
Youth Easter Brunch, in the upstairs Community Center, from 8:00 to 10:00 am.


Sanctuary: A structural engineer concluded last week that there was no structural damage to the floor of the sanctuary, and gave approval to the building of the scaffolding. Grundman Hicks resumed construction of the scaffolding last Thursday, after completing demolition to the kitchen and dining hall. It should take all of this week to complete. Evan Knapp has contacted the Shulmerich Carillon Company to have them assess the condition of our carillon system (the unit that plays music throughout the community through the outdoor speakers.) ServiceMaster will assess the choral sheet music to determine whether they can restore any of it, and feels fairly confident that they can. The choir robes have come back from the dry cleaners and it has been determined that they will need to be replaced.

Kitchen and Dining Hall: Grundman Hicks has almost completely removed all the plaster from the ceiling and walls of the kitchen and fellowship hall, enabling a structural engineer to conclude that there is no structural damage to the floor of the sanctuary. An asbestos abatement company arrived on Thursday to remove the tile from the floor and the stage and completed its work last Friday. The entire kitchen and dining hall areas are gutted down to the bare bones, in time for the Building Committee to meet tonight with the architect. It is now permissible to resume using the main north doors to enter the church.

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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