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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Dedication of the New Kitchen and Dining Hall

May 28, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

It has been two years and three months (822 days, to be exact!) since the fire that devastated our kitchen and dining hall.  At our lowest moments along the way, we may have thought for a fleeting moment that the day of returning to that space would never come.  But the promise given by God through the prophet Isaiah to the exiles has proven true for us along our own wilderness experience:

Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,you won’t be scorched
    and flame won’t burn you.  (Isaiah 43:1-2)

The first Sunday after the fire, in our first worship service in the community center, our resident guitarist and songwriter extraordinaire Charlie Leissler offered this original song, which beautifully captures the promise of Isaiah:

To another new beginning
Lead us forward from this day
And as one this congregation
Will gladly say

This is Your house
This is our home
This is our gift to You
We will rise up
We will move on
And Your strength will pull us through
Yes Your strength will pull us through

Yes, indeed, God’s strength has pulled us through, and we are finally ready to dedicate our brand new kitchen and Schuldt Dining Hall this Sunday.  After worship, we will gather for a luncheon, joined by three congregations whose support has been essential in allowing us to continue ministry these last two years:  Memorial Presbyterian, Bethlehem Lutheran, and Crossroads Community.  They took up special offerings in the wake of the fire, and allowed us to use their facilities for over forty funeral luncheons and a number of weddings.  In addition, we have invited members of the Cherokee Fire Department to join us, to thank them for their stellar care on the day of the fire.

But Sunday will be more than just a debut of a new kitchen and dining hall.  It will be an opportunity for us to rededicate ourselves, and this campus, for the purposes of putting God’s love into action for generations to come.  Along the course of this reconstruction, we have remembered that our purpose as a church is not to build monuments, but to create movements, and these facilities are merely the tools through which we can accomplish the mission of this church to transform lives, improve the community, and change the world.

And what tools these new spaces will be for years to come!  In addition to replacing lost and damaged parts of the campus, we have made many dramatic improvements:

·      The kitchen and dining hall are now air conditioned, with a new, energy efficient system.  This will greatly enhance the usability of the space throughout the summer and early fall. 
·      We now have a state-of-the art audio/visual system, with the capacity to send a live video feed from the sanctuary down to the dining hall, for use in overflow situations.  The system also enables laptop and DVD projection, and wireless microphone usage.
·      The space is now completely handicap accessible through a renovated northeast entrance, that is at the same level as the loading area. 
·      The electrical service has been upgraded to a three-phase system, that will ease future expansion to the education wing of the campus. 
·      All of the appliances are now energy efficient, including a brand new dishwasher that runs a load of dishes in less than one minutes per cycle.
·      Our residential stoves and ovens have been replaced with a ten-burner, continuous surface stove, two commercial ovens, and a high-capacity convection oven. 
·      We have a new beverage and dessert service center, featuring two Bunn commercial coffee makers with on-demand, filtered, hot water that starts brewing coffee at the touch of a button.
·      We have increased the storage and seating capacity of the space, and with the new flexibility of the nearby Feller Lounge, we can seat more than 250 people at one time.  Both round and rectangular tables now allow us to change the configuration of the seating to meet the needs of each event. 
·      And, of course, the raised ceiling, new windows, and beautiful finishes in the room create a more modern, stylish, and intimate feel in the dining hall.

As you can see, there is much to be proud of in our new space, and we can’t wait to debut it to for the public this Sunday.  But more importantly, this is a chance for us to give thanks to God, for seeing us through the fire, and promising to use this space to put God’s love into action for generations to come.

See you Sunday!


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

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Lesson from Drowning

May 20, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

If it weren’t for a boy named Jason Short, I wouldn’t be alive today.

Seriously.  I can remember as clear as day the moment I nearly drowned in the school swimming pool when I was in first grade.  I have never been the best swimmer, and the pool unit in physical education class always gave me the shivers.  Some of it went fine, like using the kickboards or playing "Marco Polo" in the shallow end.  But on this particular day, I was in the deep end.  We were in the water doing our bobs:  hands on the wall, heads popping up and down into the water to practice our breathing.

Instantly, my hands slipped away from the wall, and I was left adrift on my own.  Instead of swimming back toward the wall, I began to panic, flailing and gasping, pushing further out into open water.  My chlorine soaked eyes made everything look fuzzy, and in between the gasps, I caught a glimpse of Jason Short.

He was a boy in my class, lanky and athletic, and the fastest one in my grade.  He was a terrific swimmer, and he was sitting there on the wall.  His eye caught mine, as I managed to cough out a single word.


I’ll never, ever forget the feeling of his hand clasping mine, and the sharp, decisive tug that pulled me back over to safety.  In one moment I had felt sheer terror; in the next, instant and overwhelming relief.  

There have been times since then, as I’m sure is the case for you, that I have felt like I’m drowning.  Not literally in a body of water, but alone, tossed in the tempests of life, left to the whims of whatever waves and undertows would submerge and swallow me.  That day in Mr. DeYoung’s first grade P.E. class would not be the last time yours truly would ever call for help. 

And I'm sure you’ve said it a few times, too.

The memory of my near-death-by-drowning came to mind when I read the text for this Sunday.  Jesus is counseling his disciples on the eve before his death, knowing that the time would come when they, too, would feel alone and abandoned, left to face the tossing sea billows on their own.  But in the fifteenth chapter of John, he made this promise:

“I will not leave you as orphans.  I will come to you.” 

Jesus promised he would be right there, like a lifeguard, to extend a helping hand to pull us out of the depths of our suffering. 

Great promise, right?  Sounds like a terrific insurance policy, huh?  Well, except for one thing.  Jesus continued:

“Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.”

Here's the catch:  We have to see him first.  Because some people will, and some people won’t.  

Like so much of the spiritual life, solutions to life’s deepest and toughest challenges aren’t quite so simple.  There is no magic wand or Aladdin’s lamp to make all our problems go away.  And simply knowing that the hand of Jesus is always near to steer us to safety doesn’t guarantee that we will sense that presence.  Sometimes, the chlorine seems too thick, and we give up looking.  

What is required, first and foremost, according to John, is the ability to see Jesus.  There’s seeing, and then there’s really seeing

We don’t notice the nuance as much in the English language, but the Greek in which John was written has at least three different words for seeing.  One word is blepo, which is the simple act of using our eyes for physical sight, like the healing of the blind man in John 9.  Another is eido, which adds the dimension of knowing, similar to the way one says, “I see!” when gaining new knowledge.  Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3 that only by being born again could he see the Kingdom of God in this way.  And then there is the word theoreo, which means to search, ponder, and discern.  It’s what happens in John 12, when some Greeks approaching the disciples ask how they might see Jesus. 

All three of those words are used throughout the book of John over thirty times, more than any other gospel writer.  Clearly, he is interested in the subject of sight.

So which word for seeing does John use here, in chapter 17?  

Which form of seeing is required in order for the disciples to sense the presence of Jesus among them at all times, especially in the midst of their loneliness and abandonment? 

And, more importantly, how can you and I see God in the midst of our darkness, and acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit in us, whom Jesus says, “the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him?” 

How can we see, when our eyes are stinging from the chlorine, our lips barely breaking the surface of the water, our muscles cramping from the leg kicks and arm flails? 

What does it mean to see Jesus?

Well, how about this:  come this Sunday, and we'll discover it together.  You'll see for yourself.  

Grace and Peace,


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

John 14:15-21
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
16 I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever.
17 This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.
18 “I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you.
19 Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too.
20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you.
21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them loves me. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Registration closes this Friday for our summer VBS "Weird Animals,” taking place June 16-20 from 9am-Noon. Registration will be open till May 23rd.  The cost is $7 and includes a t-shirt.  Kids age 4 years old thru completion of 4th grade are welcome. Registration forms available at church office, and will also be available in Sunday School classrooms and will be handed out to kids this week. Contact the church office at 225-3955 or Korrie Waldner at 229-7112 with any questions.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Two Prayers

May 13, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

A few years ago I received a precious gift from my dear friend and lifelong mentor Rev. Dr. Jack Stroman, the senior pastor who nurtured my call into ministry when I was a youth at Pasadena Community Church in St. Petersburg, Florida.  He gave me a book called A Diary of Private Prayer by the great preacher and author John Baillie, a minister in the Church of Scotland who lived from 1886-1960. 

Every once in a while, when I need to sharpen my own liturgical language and pay as much attention to the beauty and shape of my words as I do to their content and meaning, I turn to Baillie’s book.  In both my life and my ministry, his prayers have set the gold standard, artistically and accurately capturing both the longing of the human soul and the extravagant grace of God. 

Whenever I take the time to write out my pastoral prayers, I try to strike the rare balance of beauty and truth that Baillie seemed to achieve every time.  You might agree that many preachers (and public speakers in general, for that matter) have drifted so far into their pursuit of the vernacular in the name of “relevance” that they have sacrificed the power of well-crafted, efficiently constructed words.  It’s a caution I must often administer to myself. 

I offer these two of Baillie’s prayers to you now, in the hopes that they speak to you.  You might choose to incorporate them into your own life, praying them in the morning and the evening.  

Morning Prayer

O God my creator and redeemer, I may not go forth today except You accompany me with your blessing. Let not the vigor and freshness of the morning, or the glow of good health, or the present prosperity of my undertakings, deceive me into a false reliance upon my own strength. All the good gifts have come to me from you. They were yours to give and they are yours also to curtail. They are not mine to keep; I do but hold them in trust; and only in continued dependence upon you, the giver, can they be worthily enjoyed.

Let me then put back into Your hand all that you have given me, rededicating to your service all the powers of my mind and body, all my worldly goods, all my influence with others. All these, O Father, are Yours to use as you will. All these are Yours, O Christ. Al these are Yours, O Holy Spirit. Speak in my words today, think in my thoughts today and work in all my deeds. And seeing that it is Your gracious will to make even of such weak human instruments in the fulfillment of Your mighty purpose in the world, let my life today be the channel through which some little portion of your divine love and pity may reach the lives that are nearest to my own.

In Your solemn presence, O God, I remember all my friends and neighbors, my fellow townsfolk, and especially the poor within our gates beseeching You that You would give me grace, so far as in me lies, to serve them in Your name. Amen.

Evening Prayer

O Thou who art from everlasting to everlasting, I would turn my thoughts to Thee as the hours of darkness and of sleep begin. O Son of my soul, I rejoice to know that all night I shall be under the unsleeping eye of One who dwells in eternal light.

To thy care, O Father, I would now commend my body and my soul. All day Thou has watched over me and Thy companionship has filled my heart with peace. Let me not go through any part of this night unaccompanied by Thee.

Give me sound and refreshing sleep.
Give me safety from all perils.
Give me in my sleep freedom from restless dreams.
Give me control of my thoughts, if I should lie awake.
Give me wisdom to remember that the night was made for sleeping, and not for the harbouring of anxious or fretful or shameful thoughts.
Give me grace, if as I lie abed I think at all, to think upon Thee.

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips; when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.

To Thy care also, O Father, I would commend my friends, beseeching Thee to keep them safe in soul and body, and to be present to their hearts to-night as a spirit of power and of joy and of restfulness. I pray also for the wider circle of all my associates, my fellow workers, my fellow townsmen and all strangers within our gates; and the great world of men without, to me foreign and unknown, but dear to Thee; through Jesus Christ our common Lord. 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

This weekend we will join with the wider Cherokee community in celebrating the graduation of our high school seniors.  We have a handful of seniors in our own church that we will be honoring, and we invite you to join us this Sunday.  If you know of someone who is graduating from a college, university, graduate program, or other institution of higher education and training, please send the church office that information so that we can include it in the bulletin.

We continue our “Alive” sermon series by taking a look at John 14:1-14, in which Jesus declares himself to be the “Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  We’ll broaden our understanding of this text beyond its frequent misuse as an exclusionary, judgmental text, and see it as an invitation to live the kind of full, abundant life that Jesus offers us. 

Registration is now open for our summer VBS "Weird Animals,” taking place June 16-20 from 9am-Noon. Registration will be open till May 23rd.  The cost is $7 and includes a t-shirt.  Kids age 4 years old thru completion of 4th grade are welcome. Registration forms available at church office, and will also be available in Sunday School classrooms and will be handed out to kids this week. Contact the church office at 225-3955 or Korrie Waldner at 229-7112 with any questions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

There is More to This Moment

May 6, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Life is filled with constant vacillations between hilltops and valleys, highs and lows.  We chart our time with linear progressions of days and years, but life is never a straight line forward.  It is an undulating wave, meandering through triumphs and tragedies at a random pace, surprising us around every bend with what lies next.  There is no predictability to life, no surefire way of foreseeing the future.  We yearn for what lies ahead, only to realize that it cannot surely be grasped.  We cast anchor for the past, back to the “good old days,” fickly forgetting that the nature of change makes such a return impossible. 

All we have with any certainty is the here and now.  Our only true task is not to fret about tomorrow or get stuck in yesterday, but to focus on the gift of the present moment.  The more we live into and breathe through every moment as it comes, the more we realize that our lives are actually never static, nor our existence ever still.  There is movement in every moment.  

At times, we are moving uphill, ascending steep grades of struggles and suffering, with every step a challenge.  At other times, as we get over the hump, we cruise downhill with speed and glee, hurtling with joyful freedom.  And there are times that we cannot discern exactly what is happening, as the two extremes seem indistinguishable.  

After all, the analogies of “uphill” and “downhill” are too ambiguous, if not downright confusing.  What does it mean to go “uphill,” anyway?  If someone says, “Business is really going uphill,” is that good or bad?  Might it mean that it is rising to the top and ascending towards a peak?  Or perhaps the terrain is too tough, the climb too steep, and the pull of gravity too strong.  Likewise, is going “downhill” a good thing?  It might mean coasting along life with little effort and great contentment.  But in the context of finances, or age, or health, going downhill means something else entirely. 

Maybe it is in their vagueness that such metaphors have meaning, for ambiguity is inherent to every moment.  Notice the next time you take a long walk what happens when you walk up a hill.  When you are going uphill, it might seem at first to be a chore.  Your legs burn, your ankles ache, sweat moistens your furrowed vow, and your shoulders slouch.  But also notice that as you are ascending, you are forced to walk at a more deliberate pace, slowing your speed to enable you to observe your surroundings with keener perception, more focused clarity, and greater appreciation.  Uphill climbs make you notice things around you that you might otherwise have sped past.  You are also exercising those muscles, putting them through a rigor that will lead to increased strength and endurance for the long haul.  Going uphill might seem laborious, but it has its redemptive qualities.

Now notice what happens when you pass the crest and begin the downward slope.  Your speed is quickened, and your effort is eased.  This will feel like a pleasure, one that you wish would linger for a while.  But you must be careful, for it is here that gravity is both friend and foil.  You must watch your feet to avoid even the slightest misstep.  Your forward momentum amplifies every slight move, and a small miscalculation will send you tumbling toward injury.  Your speed feels like freedom, but it makes relishing, savoring, and absorbing the world around you all but impossible.  Going downhill is indeed a pleasure, but it is coupled with great caution.  

The lesson here is simple.  Not only must we live in the moment, we must acknowledge its ambiguity.  And therein lies our path to clear-minded living.  When we go through the toughest struggles, we can dare to believe that something redemptive is still at work, and it will be fully revealed someday.  And even when we experience the highest thrills, we must guard against pride, complacency, and self-deception, for even the slightest misstep can avalanche quickly.  

Highs are not as high as we think they are, but neither are our lows as low as we fear they are.  Every triumph has a subversive side of caution, and every tragedy has a shadow side of redemption.

The Greeks had a word to describe this realization about time:  kairos.  It means the richness and depth inherent in each moment.  It is not the kind of time that moves lifelessly onward, in a sequential march of minutes, days, and years.  Instead, it is a realization that each moment we have is loaded with meaning, including caution and hope and everything in between.  

Here’s one more way to say it:  No matter what you are going through, God is in it.  It may not be clearly evident to you now.  The pain of your struggle may be so intense that you cannot see through the fog of your disillusionment to sense anything beyond the trauma.  But there is a redemptive hand already at work.  Your uphill climb is forcing you to slow down, observe what you would otherwise miss, and develop the musculature to work through the next inevitable climb.  

God is at work, in the midst of uncertainty, because God lives in the ambiguities.  That’s how a mysterious God operates:    just beyond the reach of our senses and sensibilities, but fully approachable through our faith.    “He who learns must suffer,” said the Greek playwright Aeschylus.  “And even in our sleep, pain – which cannot forget – falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” 

And even if life for you is calm and serene, watch out:  God is at work.  As long as there is an inkling within us that flirts with the fallacy that we are self-made creatures, and as long as we walk with a puffy-chested, thumb-nosing swagger, God is ready to conform us into a likeness of humble service that fulfills the image of God within us.  It’s not to say that God uses trauma to teach us a lesson.  I don’t believe in that.  But it is to say that when life is going well, sin exerts its greatest influence, as pride, gluttony, and laziness impede the way of holy living.  

My prayer for you is that you would experience that “awful grace of God” in the midst of your lives, in every present moment.  May you come to know the joy that comes in trusting God in the midst of your hardship, as you take your journey through the ups and downs of life, one step at a time.  

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

Join us this Sunday as we celebrate a milestone in the faith of our seventh graders.  Confirmation Sunday gives them the opportunity to affirm the vows taken on their behalf long ago, and you will want to be part of this sure highlight of the St. Paul’s church calendar.  In addition, for this Mother’s Day you have the opportunity to give the gift in her honor or memory that will make a real difference in the life of a child at Camp this summer.  All of the proceeds that come from this special offering this Sunday will go directly to offset the cost of camp tuition at Lake Okoboji.  

Once again, we will be serving hot dogs town-wide for this year’s annual “Hot Dog Days.”  We will be serving food along Main Street along the north lawn sidewalk starting at 5pm until we run out of food.  If you would like to help with set-up, cleanup, and serving, contact the church office.

Registration is now open for our summer VBS "Weird Animals,” taking place June 16-20 from 9am-Noon. Registration will be open till May 23rd.  The cost is $7 and includes a t-shirt.  Kids age 4 years old thru completion of 4th grade are welcome. Registration forms available at church office, and will also be available in Sunday School classrooms and will be handed out to kids this week. Contact the church office at 225-3955 or Korrie Waldner at 229-7112 with any questions.