xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: April 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Word of Thanks

April 29, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

First, a word of thanks.  At last Sunday afternoon’s District Conference in Primghar, district leadership presented a video highlighting many ministry moments from acrossNorthwest Iowa throughout the past year.  I was deeply gratified to see the faces of so many of you among the pictures, as you put God’s love into action.  I saw pictures of so many of you:

·      Fighting malaria at last May’s Pancake Breakfastwith Bishop Julius Trimble;
·      Hosting the District Conference;
·      Braving the cold while processing donations at last November’s Ingathering; and
·      Volunteering countless hours during last summer’s flood relief.

Also, I received a packet of certificates officially recognizing St. Paul’s for its faithful connectional giving during 2013.  I am proud to say that we paid both our apportionments and our District Asking in full, prompting this acknowledgement and appreciation letter from our District Superintendent Tom Carver:

Dear Friends,

I am writing to thankyou for your commitment to Jesus and our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  As you know, this mission of changing the world can’t be done by ourselves.  We must be part of the larger work of God in order for a world to be transformed.  That is why we need each other.

As your superintendent, one of my great joys has been to meet the pastors and people from the communities and congregations in the Northwest District. I have seen wonderful examples of lives being touched by Jesus through all of you.  I have also seen incredible potential for spreading the gospel, changing our communities and making a difference in our world.  I can see a vision for our future of people who are experiencing God, living out of their relationship with Jesus and able to share their story with others. 

One of the ways this past year that your commitment has been evident is in your congregation’s efforts to financially support our common ministry as the part of Christ’s body that is the United Methodist Church.  I am aware that your congregation has paid 100% of your apportionments for 2013.  I am proud of your accomplishment as you should be.  Now if we give God the credit, I pray that this will be a source of energy to do even more this year for our mission.

I especially want to thank your pastor and the leaders in your congregation who set a positive example for others. It begins with what God has done for us and then continues through what we do for others in the name of Jesus.

I am truly looking forward to working with you in the coming years to make difference in our part of the world. May you continue to bless others as you have been blessed by God.

Grace and Peace,
Thomas L. Carver
District Superintendent

It occurred to me, after reading his letter and receiving these certificates on behalf of the church, that I have rarely expressed my own gratitude to all of you for being so faithful in your connectional giving.  Tom Carver thanks me in the letter, but I have never really had to do much encouraging for this church to pay its apportionments.  If anything, as much thanks should be given to my pastoral predecessors, from Gary Armstrong to Ray Hampton, who instilled the importance of giving to the denomination and made it part of this church’s DNA.  It is just a natural, given assumption that this church gives to the wider church, no questions asked.  I am well aware that this is not the case in many other churches, and I am grateful that it is an obstacle Ihave never had to face here. 

Then, I received another certificate.  It was to acknowledge that, once again, this church has received Third-Mile status in the Conference’s Rainbow Covenant Missions Giving program.  For the fourth year in a row, we have been able to give at the highest level per member toagencies, missions, and initiatives that put God’s love into action both here in Cherokee and around the world.  In fact, this past year saw our highest amount of giving to missions in the seven years that I’ve been your pastor.  Thanks be to God!

This is all to say thank you.  Thank you for your commitment to the mission of this church, and your faithfulness to the global United Methodist connection.


Speaking of our connectional system, this Sunday we are honored to welcome the Rev. Kathy Martin as our guest preacher.  For many years, she has served as the Campus Minister for Morningside College in Sioux City, and she has an amazing heart for both missions and young people.  In addition, she is a terrific preacher, who will be bringing us a message called “Tales from the Table” based on Luke 24:13-35.  You all will also be sharing the sacrament of Holy Communion together.

Kathy is coming to preach so that I can be out of town from Friday to Sunday.  I have been asked to lead an orientation and training workshop for the United Methodist Publishing House’s new Bible study curriculum Covenant Bible Study, which I have had the privilege to help write.  It will be just a quick trip down to First UMC Lakeland, Florida, but it will give me a chance to serve the wider connection through this important new educational resource. 

As always, it is great to be the church!

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Stop Me If You've Heard This One

April 22, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Amid the somberness of this past Lenten season, I recently picked up a book for some lighter reading.  It’s called The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner.  It is an account of a researcher and a journalist who traveled across five continents and conducted nineteen experiments across 91,000 miles to answer the basic question, “What is humor?”

Think about the last time you laughed heartily at a joke, or a story, or something you witnessed.  What made it funny?  The absurdity?  The timing?  The surprise?  And do you think that what you thought was funny would be equally hysterical to others? 

Those are the kinds of questions that McGraw and Warner tackled, in a series of wonderfully rich, often hilarious episodes around the world.  Without divulging too much of their escapades, I’ll just share one of the their foundational ideas that grounded their work.  To explain what makes things funny, Peter McGraw developed a theory called “benign violation.”  In essence, something is humorous when it 1) violates an expectation, 2) does so in a benign way, 3) and does so simultaneously. 

In other words, we find something funny when something is wrong, unsettling, or threatening, but is at the same time seems okay, safe, acceptable. 

Consider these examples:

·      You watch a person fall down the stairs (violation), but is unhurt (benign). 
·      Someone tells you a joke:  “Why don’t you ever see elephants hiding in trees?  Because they’re really good at it.”  (A violation, because it tricks you with a twist.   But it’s benign, because it deals with an absurd scenario). 
·      Or this joke:  “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?”  (A violation to the monkey)  Answer:  “Because it was dead.”  (Benign, because no actual monkeys were harmed in the telling of this joke.)

I decided to put McGraw’s theory to the test using a joke that Rev. Bob Blair, a local retired pastor, once told me in between one of our racquetball games at the Wellness Center:

            Did you hear the one about the cannibal that ate a Jewish Rabbi, a Baptist Preacher, and a Methodist Pastor?  Later, he had an ecumenical movement.

I laughed at that one for days.  It was a violation, of course, because the idea of a cannibal eating anyone is pretty horrifying, and the topic of excretion is fairly unsettling.  But it was also benign because it is a fictitious story, and because the new association with ecumenicalism makes the unsavory ideas of cannibalism and bodily function safer to consider. 


At any rate, I concluded reading The Humor Code over this past weekend, coinciding with what the fifteenth century Christian church eventually regarded as the greatest joke every played on the devil:  the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning.  Five hundred years ago, a Bavarian priest inserted into his post-Easter sermon a bunch of funny stories about how the devil tried to keep the doors of hell locked against a Christ who was descending into it.  His stories were both violations (discussions about Satan and Hell) and were benign (Christ was ultimately triumphant).  The priest’s congregation erupted into uproarious laughter, and the tradition of Risus Paschalis (or, “Easter Laughter”) was born.

Today, a growing number of churches celebrate the first Sunday after Easter as “Risus Paschalis,” or  “Holy Humor Sunday.”  They invite parishioners to stand and tell their favorite jokes, preachers tell funny stories, people wear silly costumes, and children are invited to engage in humorous activities throughout the morning.  It is all based on the grand theological notion that on Easter morning, God pulled the ultimate prank on the devil, and gave rise to the most joyous punch line in human history: 

After Jesus died on the cross, seemingly granting victory to evil, wickedness, and suffering in the world (the violation), God raised Jesus from the dead, granting us new life, freedom, and hope (the benign). 

Peter McGraw said one more thing about humor that I found interesting.  Humor serves a purpose in our evolutionary progression.  Our ancestors developed laughter as a survival mechanism.  The use of amusement and humor was used to “signal to the world that a violation is indeed okay,” and that an imminent threat need not be of concern.  McGraw believes that laughter emerged as an instinctual way to show us that a perceived threat is actually a false alarm – for example, that a rustle in the bushes was the wind, not a sabre-toothed tiger.  “Organisms that could separate benign violations from real threats benefited greatly,” he says.  [1]

That’s what Easter laughter does for us.  It takes the gravity of sin, the severity of evil, the threat of suffering, and declares, “False Alarm!”  It concludes that what seemed to be an imminent threat is really just harmless.  The violation is benign.  Death has not won.  Christ is victorious.

So, go ahead and laugh.

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Great Wager

Holy Week, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

The Great Wager

How is it proved?
It isn’t proved, you fool; it can’t be proved.
How can you prove a victory before
It’s won?  How can you prove a man who leads
To be a leader worth the following,
Unless you follow to the death, and out
Beyond mere death, which is not anything
But Satan’s lie upon eternal life?
Well – God’s my leader, and I hold that he
Is good, and strong enough to work his plan
And purpose out to its appointed end.

I walk in crowded streets, where men
And women, mad with lust, loose-lipped, and lewd,
Go promenading down to hell’s wide gates;
Yet have I looked into my mother’s eyes
And seen the light that never was on sea
Or land, the light of love, pure love and true,
And on that love I bet my life ….

…. I bet my life on beauty, truth,
And love!  Not abstract, but incarnate truth;
Not beauty’s passing shadow, but its self,
Its very self made flesh – love realized.
I bet my life on Christ, Christ crucified.

(By G.A. Studdert-Kennedy (1883-1929)
Anglican priest, poet, World War I military chaplain, and pacifist)

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 a Happy Easter.

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


Maundy Thursday, 7:00pm.  Service of Holy Communion
Good Friday, 7:00pm.  Service of Tenebrae
Easter Morning:  Identical Services at 7:00am and 10:10am
Fellowship in the new kitchen and dining hall between services

To prepare for the debut of our new kitchen and dining hall, and in anticipation of our many visitors on Easter morning, we are having a church-wide clean up day this Saturday, from 9:00am to 12noon. 

In observance of Easter, the office will be closed next Monday, April 21. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Theodulf's Sixth Verse

April 8, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

One of the oldest hymns in our hymnal was written in the year 818, by a man named Theodulf, who was the Bishop of Orleans.  In addition to his ministry in the church, he was a noted poet who wrote a refrain that would become part of our standard Palm Sunday celebrations:

All glory, laud and honor,
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To Whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.

The entire hymn is a vivid portrayal of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and many churches sing it as children process down the aisles with palm fronds in their hands.  What is widely unknown is that Theodulf actually wrote a sixth verse to the hymn, for which the reasons it is not included in our hymnal will be plain when you read it:

Be Thou, O Lord, the Rider,
And we the little ass,
That to God’s holy city
Together we may pass.

When John Neale translated Theodulf’s original Latin text to English in 1851, he remarked that this sixth verse   “was usually sung until the 17th Century, at the quaintness of which we can scarcely avoid a smile.”
No, I will not be asking us to sing this sixth verse when we sing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” this Sunday morning.  But I am intrigued by the implications of Theodulf’s words.  Indeed, when we approach the Triumphal Entry text, there are many points of entry.  We might identify with the crowds who shouted “Hosanna!” (“Save us!”) and recognize our own need for Jesus in our lives.  We might identify with the citizens of Jerusalem, whose question “Who is this man?” captures the depth of our own spiritual searching.  Or we might even identify with the disciples, as we measure the level of our commitment to Jesus in the midst of uncertainty and turmoil.

But it’s rare, if ever, that we choose to identify with that donkey.

You know about that donkey.  It’s one of the facets of that first Palm Sunday that is common to all three synoptic gospels.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus sends two of the disciples on an advance mission to secure a donkey that had been pre-arranged by Jesus.  And all three gospels have these three verbs in common.  They  untied  the donkey.  They  claimed  it for Jesus by telling the owner that he needed it.  Then they  brought  it to Jesus for his use.

What would it mean for you to be the donkey on Palm Sunday?  It would mean that you would participate in all three actions as part of your own spiritual preparation as we enter this holiest week of the year. 

First, be  untied.   From what aspects of your life does God wish to free you?  What are the bonds that are preventing the free flow of God’s grace in your life, and what are the sins that are masking God’s full image from being revealed in you?

Second, remember that you are  claimed.   God has placed a unique calling in your life, for the task of building the kingdom here on earth.  Remember that no matter what happens, you belong to God, and you have been chosen for a purpose greater than your self-interest.   

Finally,  draw near  to Jesus.  Be intentional during this upcoming Holy Week to recalibrate yourself toward the disciplines, priorities, and way of Christ.  Surrender yourself to the cross you are called to bear, as we follow the One whose cross brought us new life. 

I don’t know about you, but I somewhat wish we included Theodulf’s sixth verse in our hymnal.  Regardless, we can all work to live out its words, and try to be “a little ass” for Jesus.  (And Neale was right; try reading that without a smile on your face!)

Grace and Peace,


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

We invite folks throughout the Cherokee area, particularly those in the farming community, to join us at the fairgrounds this Saturday at 4pm for a specialprayer of blessing for the season.  It will start with a brief 15-minute prayer service, followed by a free meal provided by the Cherokee Pork Producers.  If you would like to help with set up, service, or cleanup, please let me know. 

April 13:  Palm Sunday Celebration, 10:10am
April 17:  Maundy Thursday, 7:00pm
April 18:  Good Friday, 7:00pm
April 20:  Easter Sunday
            Identical Worship Services at 7:00am and 10:10am
            Fellowship in the New Kitchen and Dining Hall Between Services

We are excited to be back in our new kitchen and dining hall starting Easter Sunday, April 20, for fellowship between services.  We look forward to the grand opening and dedication of the space on Sunday, June 1, after the morning worship service.  

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit  http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Preacher at a Loss for Words

April 1, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Even a few days later, I’m still shaking my head in disbelief.

As most of you know, at last Saturday night’s Cherokee Recognition Dinner sponsored by the Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation, I was named the 2013 Citizen of the Year.  Mayor Mark Murphy’s final announcement of the evening came as a complete and utter surprise, as I thought I was invited to the banquet merely to do the opening invocation and represent the ministerial association.  “This is a historic moment,” I recall saying into the microphone, voice trembling with quickened pulse.  “A preacher is at a loss for words.”

I am the twenty-fourth recipient of the honor, since its inception in 1990, and the seventh person from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.  (Earl Pickens, 1990; Mark Minger, 2004; Sherry Held, 2005; John Cook, 2006; Phyllis Parrott, 2010, and Jeff Blum, 2011.)   The entire list is a collection of extraordinary individuals whose enduring contributions have made Cherokee such a wonderful community.  The fact that I am now counted among them is truly humbling.

After regaining my verbal composure, I continued my acceptance speech with these words (as best I can recall):  “I accept this award … on the condition that all of us share in its ideal, remembering that the responsibility of forming a decent society does not rest in any one sector, or any one citizen, but in all of us sharing the values of love, compassion, and service to the common good….” 

It was in that moment that my mind flashed back to one of my favorite quotes, by Ben Zander, the famous conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, and author of the motivational book “The Art of Possibility.”  He said, “The conductor is the only person in the orchestra who doesn’t make a sound.  He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful.”  [1]  It has taken me years to learn this lesson (and many years to unlearn several others), but the highest praise I can merit is not for any single individual accomplishment, but for the ways that I can empower the people I serve to achieve extraordinary things together. 

That’s why, in a letter I sent to the Cherokee Chronicle Times yesterday, I wrote the following:  

March 31, 2014

Dear Mayor Mark Murphy, City Administrator Don Eikmeier, City Hall Staff, and Fellow Citizens of Cherokee,

With sentiment that is too hard to capture with words, I thank you, the selection committee, and all of Cherokee for the distinction of being named the 2013 Citizen of the Year.  It is a recognition that is far too great for any one person to receive, let alone myself.  But it is one that I will cherish forever, as an enduring reminder of what all of us do to make this town such a great place to live.  This award represents our shared commitment to decency, service, and compassion, and I am inexplicably honored to know that my fellow residents see those qualities in me.

To the degree that my efforts in last year’s flood relief played any role in my receipt of this award, I share it with all of those who helped us endure those long, difficult weeks.  More than eighty-five volunteers throughout this area contributed over 700 hundred hours to help dozens of residents, and they embodied the corporate spirit of care and sacrifice that is the fabric of a decent community.  I also thank Rev. Ethan Sayler, whose skillful efforts complemented my own, and whose mutual friendship made those long weeks bearable.

I realize that the award is given for efforts beyond one’s trade or profession, but none of what I have done would be possible without the faithfulness, joy, and shared commitment of the amazing congregation of St. Paul’s United MethodistChurch.  They bring out the best in me, as I hope I do for them, and they make me a better preacher, pastor, familyman, and citizen of this town.

Finally, I thank my daughters Grace and Madelyn, who have the most critical and most difficult task of all:  to consistently recalibrate me toward what is most important in life.  Theirs is a constant reminder that all of what we do is for those who will come after us, and I cherish the task of being their father.  And rest assured, they are quite skilled at making sure that this award does not go to my head.

Once again, thank youfor this tremendous honor.


Magrey deVega

Brother and sisters of St. Paul’s, my receipt of the Citizen of the Year award is much, much more than the recognition of one person’s accomplishments.  I believe that it is further proof of what can happen when a congregation like ours takes its mission seriously, and works to put God’s love into action.  Nothing I did could have happened without all of you.  I am merely the conductor, you are the musicians.  I didn’t make a sound, but now your songs are ringing throughout the land.


But here’s the astonishing thing.  Are you ready for this?  The most surprising thing I experienced the past few days was not winning the award on Saturday night.  Nor was winning that award even the source of my greatest pride over the weekend.

That came the next day, when I told the girls that their father had won the award.  They asked if I had to make a speech, and I said yes.  Then, Madelyn asked if I mentioned them in the speech, and I told them that I did.  I told them that I mentioned the importance of my family, and that I would be thanking them in the letter I am sending the Chronicle

“Yes!” Madelyn exclaimed, pumping her fist in the air.

“You like that, huh?” I said, thinking that she was delighted to have her name said in public.  I mean, what ten-year old wouldn’t want to have the spotlight on them, and be able to brag to her friends that she was part of such a big moment.  Right? 

And that’s when she surprised me. 

“There’s only one thing on my bucket list,” she told me.  (Wait a minute, I thought.  She’s only ten years old and she has a bucket list?) 

“Really?  What is it?”

“I have always wanted to have someone else receive a really big award, and know that I was one of the persons that helped them make it happen.  Now I can cross that one and only thing off my bucket list.”

For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, this preacher was at a loss for words.

Madelyn gets it.  And so does Grace.  The most important thing in life is not the accomplishments one garners, but what others around them are able to achieve because of their influence.  Maddy and Grace are already learning a lesson that it’s taken their father years to finally understand:  helping others succeed is the greatest success you can achieve.

Yes, winning Citizen of the Year was an amazing individual honor to receive.  But serving as your pastor, and father two these two girls … well, this conductor couldn’t feel more proud.

Grace and Peace,


[1]  http://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion

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

We are thrilled to announce that our brand new kitchen and dining hall, damaged in the fire more than two years ago, will be fully operational starting Easter morning, April 20!  On that day, the facility will be available between the 7:00 and 10:10 services, for us to share in coffee and brunch items.  We will then be able to have after-church fellowship time there every Sunday following.  To help us prepare for the opening of the facility, consider joining us for a campus-wide clean-up day on Saturday, April 19.  And on, Sunday, June 1, when we move to our summer worship schedule at 9:30, we will host a community-wide grand opening event with a full meal and formal dedication of the kitchen, dining hall, and Feller Lounge after the worship service. 

Last Wednesday, I received astonishing totals from our three Wednesday night youth groups.  We now have fifty middle high and high school students attending our mid-week programs, and I have also learned that the 7th-8th grade group is having so many visitors that they have just about outgrown meeting in the Chapel.  If you would like to help support this amazing growth, to help fund meals and materials for their weekly meetings, consider making a financial contribution to the youth fund, or even simply bring a 2-liter bottle of soda to the church office.  We give thanks to God for these wonderful kids, and the faithful adult volunteers who serve them.