The third verse of the hymn, God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale is “God of the rainbow, God of the Cross, God of the empty grave. How does the creature say grace, how does the creature say thanks?”
While a student, I remember a professor asked these two questions during class. The first was, “If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” The second was, “Did you ever stop to think that you may be the only Bible some people will ever read?” Though these were great discussion starters, I fear if taken too seriously, these questions would drive most of us into seclusion. However, it does help to be reminded what faith looks like.
Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer of the sixteenth century, is responsible for the concept or doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Luther believed the work of God in Christ remained the task of anyone who took seriously the way of Jesus. In a similar manner, but less bound in terms of doctrine, is the idea of the sainthood of all believers. In writing to the early Church, Paul reminded followers of Jesus of the historical rootedness in faith. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” Heb. 12:1. Time and again, in most of his letters, Paul would claim victory for those present by recalling the work of the saints past; encouraging the gathered community to draw strength from those who have gone before.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes praising the people for remembering “the inheritance they have in Christ, and their graciousness toward the Saints. This is yet another connection Paul makes between the past, present and future of the Church. He does not make a distinct separation between these, rather suggesting that in faith, we draw spiritual power for the work ahead from the beloved who have gone on before. Whether we believe this concept figuratively or literally is open to speculation and debate. However, few could argue that effective mission and witness could be a blessing for generations. More problematic is the question of where saints come from and what they look like.
The historic Church is replete with Saints of all sorts. From A to Z and back again, we can find the name and description of their sanctifying deeds which render them just beyond our ability to relate. Yet, we too quickly forget that the Saints of the Church are (were) flesh and blood. In other words, common sinners like you and me who got out of the way in the name of faith and let God use them to greater good.
What sanctifies them is not their beatific behavior, but the blessed manner with which they move throughout the historic memory of the Church. We all know a saint or three. When we close our eyes they come into view. They could be family or friends, a Sundayschool teacher, usher, maybe even a pastor. They serve to remind us of the connective tissue of the community whose story is tied to the will and wonder of God.
We read of these folks in the Bible, sing hymns about them, offer prayers of thanks for them, but in our wildest dreams, we don’t consider becoming them. However, God is not yet through with us and that is God’s intent. The old hymn says, “Have thine own way Lord… mold me and make me after Thy will.” The language of a fairly recent country song says it differently, but just as well. “Well I’m just an old lump of coal, but I’m gonna be a diamond someday.” We all have to be something, why not be a saint?
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
The letters of Paul to Timothy are words of encouragement from an experienced missionary and pastor to a young colleague. Background material tells us that Timothy was the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother, and had become a follower of Jesus before Paul visited Lystra and asked him to become part of the team. The gift of Paul as an experienced teacher is evident in 2 Timothy 2:8-15. Paul uses the words, remember, endure, obtain, remind, warn, and avoid, as keys to effective witness and ministry. This follows an opening salutation and words of encouragement in the first chapter.
Paul knew that Timothy was encountering false teaching and skeptics in the same community, so he instructed Timothy to remind the people of the relationship Jesus had to them through history and through their hearts. Paul goes on to say that the relationship of Christ to people of faith, in general and with him in particular, has enabled him (Paul) to endure ridicule and imprisonment.
In a line in the passage Paul states, “Charge them before God to avoid disputing over words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” Vs 14 RSV. In verse 16, Paul calls those involved in participating in arguments to avoid such “godless chatter.”
Paul has been called the author of the great Church doctrines on Justification and Sanctification, and arguably is the most significant theologian in the history of the Church. Here he states as he did many times, the basis of a life of faith. Love God, accept Christ and witness to his grace and hope, don’t spend much time on vain arguments, and love each other. He could not have been more plain or direct.
So why across two thousand years of Church history have our divisive actions toward each other not changed? It couldn’t be that we have something better or more important to do than he instructed. It cannot be called false teaching for the words are quite similar to those Jesus used in sending the disciples out. We must, therefore, be hard of hearing or we think we have something better to say and are waiting for God to listen.
In the past friends have extended themselves in loving kindness to me for reasons not clear. I have been sent flowers and other times I have been sent very kind messages. Sometimes we touch people in ways unknown because of things we do and because of how we live. I claim no personal credit for these intentional acts of kindness. I will say that I find myself most effective as a person of faith when I get out of the way and let the Spirit move where it may.
These actions also cause me to think about when I last demonstrated gratitude to someone for their presence in my life. Most of the time I think a response must be large or grand, but the reality is small things count in large ways. A note, a phone call, a flower, even an email can communicate a loving thought and lift a spirit.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
October 20, 2013
In Webster’s Dictionary, the definition for the word “prayer” is as follows: “Pray (verb) 1. Make entreaty or supplication 2: to address God with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving.” Prayer has been called, “the souls sincere desire,” but what happens when we pray? We adore, petition and ask for intercession by God, but what assurance have we of connection with the Holy?
The first proof we have is found in the Bible. The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation record personal relationships between God and the body of believers. The second proof is the ministry and teaching of Jesus. Time and again Jesus is recorded as taking time in private to pray. The Lord’s prayer (recorded in two forms in the gospels) has been called the most perfect prayer for its simplicity and thoroughness. Finally, the greatest proof we have is found in our experience and those around us.
When I was a child, my mother took the time to teach me to pray. Not in seminary language with textbook theology, but in words born out of the experience of her heart. In terms vivid and real she knew prayer worked. Not as a toy that our wishes would be met. Rather, as a tool to communicate with God that our needs be known and our strength be renewed in relationship. I remember asking after a prayer was not answered, “Why bother if the prayer isn’t answered?” My mother responded, “We pray not for results, but to better understand the will and love of God inside us.”
It is important to remember that while prayer never frees us from pain or suffering, it is a constant reminder of the loving presence of God.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
When I was in Jr. High School, a popular saying when hearing the frustration of someone was a repetitive rhyme, which went something like this. That’s life! What’s life? A magazine. Where do you find it? At the newsstand. How much does it cost? Thirty-five cents. Why read it? To learn things. What if I can’t afford it? THAT’S LIFE! It may seem silly now but in a pre-video age this was considered exciting and entertaining.
Of course, life wasn’t and isn’t a magazine. Life is a gift from God. It is good, great, grand and glorious, an experience worthy of our complete attention and involvement.
In writing to the early Church on the way of faith, 1 Tim. 6:6-19, Paul advises believers to “seek gain in Godliness,” not in material wealth. To us, as moderns, the idea of materialism in biblical times might seem strange. However, the particulars
may differ across history, the elements of the sin of greed remain the same. For greed says I’ve got mine, it matters not how, and if I can get some of yours too I will. Generosity speaks a different language. It is one which understands that all we have, and all we are, is a gift from God. As such that gift is most valuable when lived toward the will of God in concert with friends and neighbors.
Here the author does not argue against wealth, but in favor of generous and responsible living and giving. Verse ten is the most misquoted and perhaps the most misunderstood line of scripture. It read “For the love of money is the root of all evil,” and goes on to say this has caused some to wander from God. The next verse clarifies that the aim of all we have is best directed and most useful when aimed at righteousness. For centuries people have bent this scripture to mean that money is evil. The author states clearly money is wonderful, to love money more than God is evil.
The author closes with a word to those of means. “As for the rich of this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but of God… They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous…” So money is not bad, only in the hands of the unrighteous can money be abused. The deeper meaning is found in the statement that once one has achieved a measure of wealth, spiritual responsibility increases. If we take the author seriously, it will cause us to alter the way we give. When an opportunity for stewardship comes, usually we consider the nature of our financial health. Here Paul suggests we consider our spiritual health. The ushers will now wait upon us…
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
Just a reminder to all that co-ed basketball is happening tonight (Thursday, 9/19/13)@ 6 PM. You don’t have to be a NoHoFUMC member to play. All are welcome to our fellowship of sportsmanship. http://www.nohofumc.com
We just uploaded a video snippet from our Children’s Moment last week to our official facebook page! Please like our page. We will transition to it being our only facebook by Jan 1, 2014. https://www.facebook.com/pages/North-Hollywood-First-United-Methodist-Church/277516165601426
September 15, 2013
I Timothy 2:1-7 asks and answers what a life of prayer looks like. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” There is nothing vague or hidden in these words. This book, written probably by one of Paul’s disciples to Timothy, a spiritual child of Paul for the purpose of effectively ordering the life of the early church. The instructions here, throughout the second chapter, deal with what effective worship looks like, especially with regard to the community at prayer.
The author insists that rather than telling God what to do, effective prayer seeks the presence of God in order to understand the goodness already shown. According to Dr. Kendall McCabe professor of preaching and worship and United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, “While all prayer may contain some element of combining petition and thanksgiving, true prayer always tends toward praise.” Theologian Frederick Buechner says the following with regard to prayer in his book Beyond Words. “We all pray whether we think of it as praying or not. The odd silence we fall into when something very beautiful is happening, or something very good or very bad.” Buechner goes on to say that what is most important in the teachings on prayer by Jesus, the message is to pursue prayer with regular effort. Moreover to “Believe somebody is listening. Believe in miracles. Even if our half cocked prayers are not answered, we are to keep beating on the door of prayer knowing God will eventually come and answer the door.”
Too often we seek to simplify prayer. Treating it like some kind of shopping spree, where we tell God what we want; and then depending upon the answer discern God’s will. Prayer in fact is a complicated process involving presence and relationship. When we make ourselves open to the presence of God by being fully present ourselves, we don’t just deepen our relationship with God. We mature as spiritual beings to the point where we begin to listen to our life in relation to what it means to be a person of faith. Then the focus shifts from words to holy thought and action. In other words something worthy of praise.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
First United Methodist Church of North Hollywood
4832 Tujunga Ave.
North Hollywood, California 91601
8:15 AND 10:30 AM SUNDAY MORNING