xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: July 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

What's in a Name?

July 27, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
- Juliet, Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

In preparing for the “God’s Double Agents” sermon series that concludes this Sunday, I did some quick research on the meaning of the names Elijah and Elisha. As is the case with most names in the Bible, the monikers of these two biblical heroes are packed with meaning. Elijah is derived from two names for God: Elohim (“Lord”) and Yahweh (God’s divine name). Literally, Elijah is a creedal statement: “The Lord is my God.” Elisha comes from Elohim and the word Yasha, which means “salvation.” His name is also a statement of faith: “God is my salvation.”

I’m interested in the significance of people’s names, so I like to ask. Some people tell me what their names mean, like “Warrior” (Wendell), or “Son of the Mighty Warrior” (Madison), or “Home ruler” (Harriett). At other times, they will tell me how they share their name with beloved family members. Our older daughter Grace, for example, has the first name of Pamela, after Jessica’s mother. And our younger daughter, Madelyn, is actually derived from both her parents: Magrey (“Ma”), deVega (“de”), and Jessica’s middle name (“Lyn”).

And what about my name, you might wonder? Well, have a seat. My name is a one-of-a-kind mash-up from my father’s first name (“Maghirang”) and his middle name (“Reyes”). And my middle name is Rojas, my mother’s maiden name.

Over the years, I’ve felt that my name is among my most unique traits, as well as one of my greater burdens. There is something affirming about knowing that there is no other person named Magrey in the whole world. (At least from what I’ve been able to ascertain from Google. For all I know, there might be some elderly woman in Indonesia or some warthog in Malaysia with the same name.) But having to spell my name several times over the phone gets old after a while (my wife doesn’t like it when I sidestep the ordeal and tell the pizza delivery guy my name is “Mike.”) And the looks on people’s faces when trying to pronounce my name for the first time can be sheer comedy. I’ve been called MA-gree, MAC-gray, Margie, Marjorie, and – my favorite – Niagara. And if you try to find a personalized coffee mug or keychain? Forget about it. (unless you find Margie with a typo.)

A few weeks ago, I came across a choice little article about Filipino names from The Jakarta Post. The author came to the conclusion that Filipinos have the world’s foremost ability to generate unique names, and provided reader examples as evidence. One very tired-looking mother named her most recent child “Labindalawa,” which means “Number 12.” Another woman named her child “Bonicar,” because – are you ready for this? - the child was “born in the car.” A man named Mike (I seriously doubt that’s his real Filipino name, huh, Jessica?) decided to name his two children “Annie” and “Juan,” for the sheer joy of calling them out in public. (“Annie? Juan?” Get it? “Anyone?”)

One reader coined the process of generating unique names “Filipino-izing,” which is as good a term as any for what my parents did to me:

You get a list of names and then you perform one or more of the following operations: you double bits, add Tagalog nouns, add Spanish religious terms, add English cutesy words, combine Chinese syllables into single words, change V to B and F to P, and then you add a bit of magic and a suffix. To demonstrate, here are some famous celebrity names which have been Filipinoized. Barack Obama becomes “Baz-Baz Joselito Reyes Obayani Jr”. Harry Potter becomes “Harrison Bagwis de los Santos Potter-Pacifico”. Lady Gaga becomes “Our Lady Gaga”. Michael Jackson becomes “Michael Magtanggol del Rosario Jacinto IV”. David Cameron becomes “Dabid-Danilo ‘Boy’ Rizal Camilo”. Fred Flintstone becomes “Pred Antonio Plintstone Isagani III”. [1]

Whew. I guess I should be grateful that my name is simply, “Magrey Rojas deVega.”

I’d be curious to hear the background of your own name. Even if you don’t know its etymological origin, or have a unique story about its source, I hope you are grateful for it. Like many of life’s greatest gifts, it was given to you with neither your choosing nor your deserving. It connects you to a reality beyond yourself, and reminds you of a rich legacy that has been generations in the making. Your name is who you are, and reminds you to whom you belong.

Remember it, cherish it, and live up to it.

In the name of Christ,


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

[1] http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/05/30/meet-us-president-bazbaz-obayani-jr.html

We conclude our summer blockbuster sermon series “God’s Double Agents” with a story about Elisha and the Shunnamite woman in 2 Kings 8:1-15. It’s a follow-up to the story of the widow’s oil, and is titled, “The Case of the Lost Land.”

We are delighted to welcome Rev. Kathy Martin as our guest preacher on August 8. She is campus chaplain at Morningside College and will be speaking to us about the Iowa-Nigeria Partnership, which we will be supporting with a special offering that day. For more information about the fund, and to put in a silent auction bid on a dress made by Nigerian women, check out the displays in the narthex and the Fellowship Hall.

For those not in worship last Sunday, we took up a special offering for Fred Springer, a part of our church community who suffered injuries from a serious car accident that was not his fault back in April. His conditions will preclude him from securing full-time employment, and his family’s bills are mounting as they await disability payments. As fund raisers form around the community, we are asking the St. Paul’s family to contribute to a special “Fred Springer Benefit Fund” that has been started at Central State Bank. If you would like to contribute, make your check payable to St. Paul’s and designate it for the “Fred Springer Fund.” In particular, we would like to raise enough money to pay for two months’ rent (total $850) and defray the threat of eviction.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mutiny in the Pantry

July 20, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

As many of you know, my brother Mykel and his family have been visiting with us from Florida for the past several days. On Friday night, I put on my chef’s hat and prepared dinner for the whole gang: fresh Iowa pork tenderloin, grilled with an apricot citrus and rosemary glaze. I was basically making up the recipe as I went along. As I went out to our garden and clipped out a few sprigs of rosemary, I thought about an excerpt from a sermon I preached a few years ago. It made me chuckle enough to dig it out and re-read later, and I decided to offer it as part of today’s mid-week message.
In case you missed it before, here it is again. It comes with due acknowledgment (and, if need be, apology) to noted author Max Lucado, whose chapter “Light….in the Storage Closet?” from the bestselling book No Wonder They Called Him Savior was the inspiration behind this little fictitious vignette.
Then again, maybe it’s not so fictitious after all….

One evening I was preparing an elaborate dinner for a gathering of significant people, and I was feeling the pressure. This needed to be more than a good meal. I wanted it to leave an impression, and it needed to be magnificent. After hours of work, sounds of culinary progress filled the kitchen. Pots bubbled with boiling broth, pans sizzled with searing juices, and the faucet gurgled over choicely picked vegetables. For a moment, I turned my attention to the star of the show: the sauce. It needed to tie together the whole meal, synchronizing an entire ensemble of flavors. It would be the very mortar of this masterpiece meal.
Nervously, I took a taste. Hmm…needs some work. Not bad, but not perfect, either. I pondered some additional spices.
“Hmm,” I thought to myself. “Let’s try a little nutmeg.”
I reached into the cabinet and pulled a jar marked “Nutmeg” from the spice rack. I unscrewed the lid, and brought it over to the stove.
“Hey, put me down!”
I thought I heard a voice.
“Put me down, I said!”
Was I going crazy? I looked behind me. Nobody. I looked through the kitchen door in the dining room. Nobody there either. I rubbed my ears, shook my head, and went back to the stove.
“Don’t do it, please!”
I looked in my hand at the nutmeg. And there, in the jar, was a face looking back at me. Not just a picture of a face. But an actual moving, living, organic set of eyes, ears and lips. This jar was alive!
I had clearly been cooking too long. “Excuse me?” I said to the nutmeg. Are you talking to me?
“Who else would I be talking to? Emeril Lagasse?” Oh, great, I thought. Not just talking nutmeg. But nutmeg with an attitude.
“Look,” I said finally. “I’ve got some important work to do here. There are these people coming, and they are hungry and want a satisfying meal, and if I could just use some nutmeg, everything will be fine.”
“I don’t think so,” said the nutmeg. “You see, I’m getting out of the spice business.”
“Not worth the sacrifice. All day long people like you are unscrewing my lid, pouring out my contents. Meal after meal. You know, this whole spice thing is just costing me too much. All I wanted when I became a spice was to have a nice spice rack to raise my children. Maybe be part of a nice Christmas dinner or an Easter brunch. You know. The big meals. But I never expected to be asked to give up so much. And for what? What kind of difference is this making?”
“I see your point, I guess. But isn’t spreading good flavor the very reason you exist?”
“Maybe to you. But the recipes lately have just gotten to be too intrusive.”
I determined that this conversation was going nowhere. Clearly this nutmeg was a little short on the meg and heavy on the nuts. So, I put it down.
Next, I tried the rosemary. I unscrewed the lid and began to sprinkle some into the pot, when I heard another voice.
“No, please, no!”
It was a female voice. I looked at the jar. Again, another face. This time, it looked scared.
“Let me guess, “ I said. You don’t want to be used either?
“Please don’t be too hard on me. I just don’t think I’m ready yet.”
“Not ready yet?”
“No, you see, I’ve only been a spice for a very short amount of time. I only became a spice last year, while attending a cooking service. Very touching. I can still remember the chef’s recipe title: “Jesus is Cumen Soon, So You Don’t Have Much Thyme”.
“That’s very nice,” I offered drolly.
“Anyway, I’ve only been a spice for a few months. You might call me just a Spice, uh, Girl.”
“I’d prefer not, Rosemary.”
“So, I just want a little more time to grow in my flavor. I’m just not ready to be spread out for other people’s meals just yet. Check back with me after I’ve cured long enough.”
I put down the rosemary. This was getting to be outrageous. Two spices, two rejections. I looked at my watch. Thirty minutes before the guests arrived. I was running out of time. They were going to be hungry, and some of them were going to be tired. I thought fast.
No nutmeg. No rosemary. Let’s try the paprika.
I knew better this time. Before unscrewing the lid, I looked at the jar first. Again, there was a face looking back at me.
“Don’t even think about it,” the jar said.
At this point I couldn’t stand it. Here I was, in a veritable pressure cooker, having a conversation with a jar of paprika. This one had a nice bushy beard and a set of bifocal glasses. He even had a cute little bowtie and spoke with a heavy Austrian accent.
“And why, pray tell, Mr. Paprika, do you not wish to be sprinkled?”
“I am still in training. I am just a weak flabby spice right now, and I am trying to pump up my intellectual muscles.”
“Of course you are.”
“Right now I am reading everything I can about being a spice. I have read Chef Osteen’s Your Best Lunch Now, Chef Warren’s The Pompous-Driven Spice, and I am currently working through DBS.
“Yes. Dinner By Seven.”
“Hmm. Sounds like you’re plenty ready to be used in the dish. C’mon, I’m getting desperate here. Put the book down and let’s go.”
“No. I don’t think so. There’s much more for me to read. Many questions I’ve got to figure out first. Too many doubts. Once I figure it all out, you can use me then.”
This was getting to be unbelievable. I put the paprika down and looked at all the jars in my spice rack. In unison, they all looked at me and said,
This was Mutiny in the Pantry. A whole rack of perfectly usable, flavorful spices, none of which were willing to be used to spread good flavor for my guests. What was I going to do?
Then I remembered. The salt! I kept that in a separate container from the other spices. If there was anything that could help me out in a pinch, it was a pinch of salt. The world’s most essential flavor enhancer. The stuff of earth. A material of timeless value, used across the cultures as currency, preservative, and seasoning. Oh, salt! Glorious salt! Please don't fail me now!
I reached across the counter and picked up the saltshaker and looked at it.
“Hello,” the salt said to me, with a friendly voice.
“Hello, there. Do you mind if I use you for my guests?”
“No, not at all. But I’m not sure you’d want to.”
Well, I thought, at least this one was willing to be used. I could get past whatever its excuse was. “Why? What’s wrong with you?”
“Well, as it turns out, I’m not really salty anymore.”
“Let me get this straight. You are a saltshaker, full of salt, yet your salt doesn’t taste very salty?”
“That about sums it up, yeah!”
“Oh, lots of uses. During the winter you could sprinkle me on the sidewalks and melt the ice. You could walk on me to keep your feet from slipping.”
“Oh, right. Well then, I guess I don’t have much use to you. Have you tried the spices in the spice rack?”
That was it. I was out of my mind. I put down the saltshaker, having wasted these last precious moments trying to convince a whole shelf of spices that they were valuable, useful, and vital. But they each turned me down.
Just then, the doorbell rang. It was the first of my guests.
I slunked my shoulders. I looked down on the counter. It was the recipe book I had been using to cook all the meals. As I read through the recipes, I noticed something I had never seen before. For each recipe, on the list of ingredients, all of the spices were crossed out. A black line through the black pepper. An “X” through the basil. A line through the lemongrass. Each spice marked out on every recipe.
I closed the book. I looked at the cover. It was a church cookbook.
“Jessica?” I called out to my wife. “Where did we get this recipe book?”
“Same place we got all the spices in the kitchen,” she said. “Remember the old dying church across the street that closed down last week?” One of their members gave them to us.
Hmm. What a shame. So much potential. So much need.

Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”

Stay Salty,


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

We continue our sermon series “God’s Double Agents” with a powerful story of Naaman, a general who needed to be cured of leprosy by Elisha. It’s a sermon titled “The Case of the Incurable Commander” and has a lot to teach us about healing and humility.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Proud to Be in the UMC

July 13, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

John Wesley remembered traveling a great distance to meet a “serious man” who gave him some very valuable advice. “Sir,” the man told Wesley, “You wish to serve God and go to heaven. Remember you cannot serve him alone; you must therefore find companions or make them; the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” [1]

This man revolutionized Wesley’s thinking, steering him away from the typically privatized, radically individualistic faith of his day into one that was built on connections and relationships. This perspective would become the basis for his classes and bands, the small groups that drove the early Methodist movement. It would later be an essential ingredient of Methodist polity, with churches organized into interconnected, interrelated networks.

Undoubtedly, there have been times when the United Methodist Church has been accused, perhaps unfairly, of seeming bureaucratic and overly corporate. But at our best, the connectional system is among our greatest assets, synchronizing our efforts to advance God’s mission and responding to the needs of the world with coordinated vigor. If you want to see an example of just how this is possible, receive a recent example from our own backyard.

Two weeks ago, the day after devastating flash floods hit Cherokee, I sent an e-mail updating you with the latest information about relief efforts and the need for volunteers. Our need was dire: 300 homes damaged by rising waters, with 80 of them deemed “urgent.”

After a few hours, that e-mail was forwarded to the Conference Office in Des Moines, and by the end of the afternoon, I was contacted by Conference disaster coordinator Becky Wood and District disaster coordinator Catie Newman. Within a matter of days, we were receiving daily deliveries from around the district of flood buckets containing cleaning supplies. We received phone calls and pledges of support from our District Superintendent, Bernie Colorado, Field Outreach Minister Sarah Stevens, and even our Bishop, Julius Trimble. They each assured us that we would not be dealing with this crisis alone.

Then, last week, a cavalry of volunteer teams arrived, from Hornick United Methodist, Morningside College, and Grace United Methodist in Sioux City. Over three days’ time, dozens of volunteers logged an astounding 186 work hours and essentially finished off the list of 80 urgent homes by the end of last Thursday. Aimee Barritt, a member of St. Paul’s and the county’s emergency management director, was amazed by this outpouring of support.

“I have never been so proud to be a United Methodist,” she said.

The work of the our denomination has made quite an impression on city leaders, as the city council has decided to make a formal proclamation acknowledging and thanking the United Methodist Church for its efforts.

These are uplifting developments, but they should not be surprising to us. After all, there’s a reason that our newly adopted mission statement includes this paragraph: We are Part of a Global Church: We celebrate our commitment to the universal body of Christ, and commit our support to the ministries of the United Methodist Church around the world. And there’s a reason we strive to be faithful in our apportionment giving, meeting our full requirements every year. And there’s a reason we affirm our ties to the district, conference, and general church whenever we can.

Here’s the reason: when the floods hit Cherokee, and most of the major roads into town were submerged, our community was literally surrounded by water. But St. Paul’s UMC was no island. We continued to be part of a grand, dynamic connectional system, grounded in Wesley’s belief that “the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.”

The work will continue, of course. Now that we are officially past the “recovery” phase of flood work, the county will be doing a thorough inspection of all damaged homes that will take the next several weeks. By the end of the summer or early fall, we anticipate that we will be entering the “reconstruction” phase, which will demand a different set of skills and energies to help people rebuild the damage in their homes. When that time comes, we already have commitments from groups in the state who will converge once again on Cherokee and help out people in need.

It’s the Methodist way, and it’s awfully inspiring to behold. You, too, should be proud of being a United Methodist.

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

[1] The Heart of John Wesley’s Journal, Fleming H. Revell Co., 1903, pg. xix.

Thanks to all of you who helped provide and serve meals to the volunteers who worked in town last week: Roni Timmerman, Jean Anderson, Phyllis Parrott, Penny Lundell, Betty Forest, Don Witcombe, Evan Knapp, and Andrea Cook.

We continue our summer blockbuster sermon series “God’s Double Agents” by hearing the story of Elisha and the miracle of the widow’s oil. Follow along with a daily scripture reading bookmark, available in the narthex or the church office.

On Sunday, July 25, we will be receiving a special offering supporting our Conference’s partnership with the church in Nigeria. Consult the missions board in the Fellowship Hall or this Sunday’s bulletin for more information.