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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Flood Recovery Update

June 25, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

On more than one occasion over the past week, I have heard people say, “I have now lived through three 100-year floods in my lifetime.”  Since 2011, and as most recently as last week, we have seen this three times:  torrential rains swelling the Little Sioux River and surrounding creeks to above flood stage, closing major roads in and out of town, and causing many sleepless nights for our residents.

Fortunately, this time was nowhere near the devastation of last summer.  While many residents got water in our basements, we have been able to recover, at least for now.  I have been in close contact with City Hall to assess the need for volunteers to be dispatched throughout the area, and they have advised me that at this time, no one is in need of assistance.  This is all good news, and a trend that we hope continues.

Nevertheless, your United Methodist Church has been ready and able with a response.  A handful of the flood recovery buckets that we still had on hand from last summer have been distributed through the local fire department.  And if you or someone you know is in need of one, you can contact the fire station directly.  Most of the remaining 60+ buckets that we have in storage will be picked up and distributed across Northwest Iowa, to communities like Hawarden, Rock Rapids, and Rock Valley.  They have been devastated with the swelling of the Rock River, and they are suffering damage much like we did last summer.  

I believe it is no coincidence that our text for last Sunday was from Acts 4:32-37, as we continue our journey through the history of the early church.  It was a reminder of who we have been – and who we are called to be – as a generous, self-sacrificial force in our communities and throughout the world:

The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need.  

It is in that spirit that I offer you two ways to assist with the flood recovery of devastated communities throughout Northwest Iowa.  The first is to consider replenishing our supply of flood recovery buckets by assembling and donating one of your own.  A list of required contents is available on the United Methodist Committee on Relief website:  http://www.umcor.org/UMCOR/Relief-Supplies/Relief-Supply-Kits/Cleaning.  Those of you helped with flood relief last year know how invaluable those buckets were to people who had lost a great deal.  You can drop your bucket off at the church, and if you wish, we can credit your giving statement with a $55 non-cash donation, which is the estimated value of each bucket.  

Second, let me know if you would be willing to serve on a recovery team to one of the devastated communities at some point over the next several weeks.  Our Conference Disaster coordinator is working closely with churches and civic leaders in those towns, and we should receive word fairly soon when conditions are right for teams to come in and help with clean up and recovery.  Your efforts could truly put God’s love into action and make a real difference in the lives of hurting people.

Thank you, St. Paul’s family, for being 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

Thank you to all those who helped make Vacation Bible School such a smashing success again this year!  Last week, our campus was teeming with about 75 kids, all learning by the love of Jesus in an fun, exciting way.  Thanks to Korrie Waldner and her team for spearheading our efforts this year, and to all of you who donated time and materials for the cause.  Finally, we are grateful to report that between the kids’ offering and your matching contributions, we raised $1,445 for both the Heifer Project and our missionaries to Africa, Larry and Jane Kies.  Thank you, St. Paul’s!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Les Miserables and the Grace of God

June 17, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

As many of you may have heard, the Cherokee Community Theater is preparing a blockbuster presentation of the acclaimed musical Les Miserables.  In many ways, it will be grander in scale and more epic in scope than anything many of us have seen out of our community theater.  The vocals, live orchestra, acting, set pieces, lighting, and costuming are all amazing, coming together for an opening night this Thursday after many long months of preparation.  If you haven’t purchased your tickets yet for one of eight performances over the next two weekends, do so by calling the box office at 225-4440 or online at cherokeect.org. 

I’m encouraging you to see it not just because I and the girls are part of this tremendous cast and crew, but also because, as your pastor, I believe the story is replete with theological reflections on the nature and richness of God’s grace.  The story of Jean Valjean, the protagonist of the story, covers the last eighteen of his sixty-five year old life, in which he goes from ex-convict, to wealthy business man, to town mayor, to soldier in the Paris uprising of 1832. 

But at a deeper level, the life of Jean Valjean (portrayed splendidly by my friend and Presbyterian minister Ethan Sayler) is a beautiful portrayal of the lifelong work of God’s grace, understood by Wesleyan Christians as “the stages of grace.” 

PREVENIENT GRACE:  “I have bought your soul for God.”

He is, first of all, a recipient of prevenient grace, evidenced by the remarkable mercy shown to him by Bishop Myriel (played by Dave Zelle), who pardons him for the theft of the church’s silver pieces and encourages him to use the silver to make a better man for himself.  Despite his sinful past, and the hatred that had begun to grip his cold heart, God never gave up on him, pursuing him through the unexpected mercies granted to him by the Bishop. 


Still, Valjean continued to live a tortured, conflicted life, concealing the shame of his past behind the fa├žade of a wealthy business owner and town mayor.  It was in this capacity that he unknowingly caused the firing and downward spiral of a poor mother named Fantine, as well as the arrest and potential conviction of a man wrongfully accused of being Valjean himself.  In one of the most powerful moments in the musical, Valjean searches deep within himself, asking “Who am I?” and determines that he must come clean before God and before others.  It is a remarkable moment of repentance, surrender, and confession, characterizing the work of God’s justifying grace.

SANCTIFYING GRACE:  “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

As Wesleyans, we believe that while we are not saved by good works, we are saved for good works.  And the remainder of the story essentially chronicles Valjean’s best efforts to demonstrate care and compassion to those around him.  He rescues Fantine’s daughter Cosette (played beautifully by Libby Peterson) from the treacherous hands of her sniveling guardians, the Thenardiers.  He vows to raise Cosette as his own child, keeping her safe from harm.  When Cosette falls in love with a young man named Marius (played with stirring emotion by Jaden Lux), Valjean risks his own life to save him from the lost battle at the barricade.  And finally, when given the opportunity to exact revenge by killing the town’s inspector Javert (played by Ryan Brown), who had been hunting him down for seventeen years, Valjean chooses to spare his life.  It is an extraordinary series of events for a man who completed his journey from bitterness to beneficence, from cold-hearted criminal to conduit of compassion.  In short, it is a powerful story of a life transformed by the ongoing grace of God which, as my friend Jim Harnish likes to say, “loves us enough to meet us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.” 

I would encourage you to see the production of Les Miserables yourself.  The girls and I have had a wonderful time being part of such an amazing production.  (Incidentally, the girls play town beggars, while I play a prisoner and gang member.  Plus, I get to dance again on stage near the end … always worth the price of admission for the sheer spectacle of it!)  Most of all, I hope you will watch it in order to be swept into such a great example of what the grace of God can do in even the most seemingly irredeemable life.

In other words, I hope you come to find yourself in the story.  For surely, you will.

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Summer Reading List, 2014

June 3, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I’m not sure who originated the concept of “summer reading lists,” but it must have been a person whose summer was much unlike most of ours.  There may have been a time when summers were more relaxed, the pace less harried, and when “the livin’ was easy” (to quote the old show tune.)  I know that’s not the case for most of us any more, but I hope that you still find time to read a good book now and then. 

So, once again, I offer my summer reading list to you, in the hopes that it gives you some insight into what is of interest to me at the present moment, both personally and professionally: 

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.  The first of two novels on my list is about the son of a Methodist preacher growing up in a 1950s small town in the Midwest.  On the surface, it’s a murder mystery, as the town is gripped by a series of untimely deaths during the same summer.  But it is also a deep and substantive meditation on the nature of faith in the midst of suffering, evidenced by this quote in the Prologue by the Greek playwright Aeschylus:  “He who learns must suffer.  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.”

I Captured the Castle by Dodie Smith.  Yes, I know this book is for young adult readers, and I know it’s been around for a while.  But when I bumped into it in the book store looking for something the girls and I could read together, I was hooked after reading the first fifty pages alone.  The protagonist is a teenage girl of modest means living with her family in an abandoned English castle.  The first-person narrative is drawn from the journals she wrote over a six-month period, detailing all that occurs in the castle and her surrounding family.  But the richest parts of the story (at least so far), is the unfolding narrative within her own heart and mind, as she learns to negotiate the changes around her, falls in love, and determines the course of her future.  I can’t wait to finish it. 

For the Sake of the Bride:  Restoring the Church to Her Intended Beauty by Steve Harper.  Steve is a retired professor of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and has been a spiritual mentor to me for some time.  His latest book articulates a “third way” in the ongoing, divisive debate within the United Methodist Church over the issue of homosexuality.  It has been gaining major attention throughout the Methodist connection, and rightfully so.  He writes with a voice that is both authentically personal and profoundly constructive.   

Brainstorm:  The Teenage Brain from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel.  Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and his latest book dispels common myths about the developmental psychology and brain science of teenagers.  As a father of one teenager, and another daughter soon to join her, I figure I could use some guidance from this well-respected New York Times bestselling author.  But the scope of his book goes beyond parenting:  he claims that many adults leave behind the much of what is psychologically valuable in their teenage years, and by reclaiming it, we can live fuller and healthier lives. 

The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis.  This is a collection of every address and sermon he has offered over this first year of his remarkable papacy.  Like many others, I have been impressed by his humility, authenticity, and compassion, which has awoken the institution of the Catholic church.  Transformative leaders maintain consistency between their actions and their words.  I’ve admired his work; this book will help me relish his words.  

If you’ve read any of these would offer me your review, I’d love to hear it.  If you’re interested in any of these books and would like to converse about them, let me know.  And, as always, I’d love to know what’s on your list this summer as well!

Grace, Peace, and a Happy Summer!


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Praying for Pastors

June 3, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Over the past year, I have been impressed by Pope Francis.  It is rare that a church leader of such high ranking can institute such a degree of sweeping reform, both in substance and scope, in such a short amount of time.  Like most other religious institutions, the Roman Catholic Church is predisposed to stability rather than spontaneity, status quo rather than going with the flow.  But Pope Francis has made a remarkable impact, beginning with his first speech the day he was elected, on March 13, 2013, when he offered the following surprising words:

And now I would like to give the blessing. But first I want to ask you a favour. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence.

Commentators remarked that it was the first time that a pope had ever solicited the prayers of the people during an inaugural address.  And then a few months ago, to mark the one-year anniversary of his election, he tweeted this simple phrase on March 13, 2014:

@Pontifex:  “Please pray for me.”

Such humility and transparency from a spiritual figure should not surprise us, but it does.  Many times, Paul asked for the prayerful support of the churches he was serving.  Elijah, Moses, and David all needed the companionship of others to get through their lowest moments.  Even Jesus asked his inner circle of disciples to pray by his side during his greatest hour of need the night before he died. 

So I hope it is not a surprise for you to hear me say that I covet, appreciate, and cherish the prayers you offer on my behalf.  As much as others might see my position as being spiritually unshakeable, I trust you know that all clergy – including your pastor – are sustained in part by the support of the people we serve.  In fact, just this last Sunday, one of you came into my office unannounced as I was preparing for worship, simply to give me a hug and gently say, “I want you to know that I’m praying for you every day.”

Truly, I treasure those prayers.

And now is an important time to offer them.  We are on the brink of yet another few days of gathering as an Iowa Annual Conference.  From Saturday to Monday, clergy and lay delegates from across the state will come together in Des Moines, for a time of holy conferencing, in which we will pray, plan, and discern God’s future for the Conference.  And next week, my Florida colleagues will be gathering to do the same.  There are important challenges, heated controversies, and significant pressures facing the United Methodist Church today, and those are bound to be debated with sizeable passion and zeal.  And aside from these business proceedings, Conference gatherings also afford times for reconnections among clergy, to catch up on personal and ministerial stories of triumph and trial, and find solace and support in each other’s listening ears.   

These are critical days for United Methodist preachers everywhere. So, as I often do this time of year, I offer this invitation for you to be in prayer for me and colleagues throughout the denomination over the days and weeks ahead.

To prompt you in those prayers, here is a poignant prayer written by John of Damascus, a seventh-century Syrian monk and priest.  Listen for the precision with which he captures the breadth and complexity of being a minister, and we’ll find that much of what he prayed for then is still quite relevant 1,400 years later. 

Now you have called me, Lord, by the hand of your bishop to minister to your people.  I do not know why you have done so, for you alone know that.  Lord, lighten the heavy burden of the sins through which I have seriously transgressed.  Purify my mind and heart.  Like a shining lamp, lead me along the straight path.  When I open my mouth, tell me what I should say.  By the fiery tongue of your Spirit make my own tongue ready.  Stay with me always and keep me in your sight. 

Lead me to pastures, Lord, and graze there with me.  Do not let my heart lean either to the right or to the left, but let your good Spirit guide me along the straight path.  Whatever I do, let it be in accordance with your will, now until the end.

And you, church, are a most excellent assembly, the noble summit of perfect purity, whose assistance comes from God.  You, in whom God lives, receive now from us an exposition of the faith that is free from error, to strengthen the church, just as our fathers handed it down to us.  Amen.

I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to serve as your pastor, with great gratitude for the support and prayers you offer me, my family, and other pastors like me.  These are important days to be the church, and I am privileged to serve the Kingdom of God alongside you.

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