Pastor Joey Reflections

Thoughts from North Hollywood First United Methodist Church.

REFLECTIONS:August 17, 2014

Do you read advice columns?  They illustrate perfectly how relatives and religious people say some wonderful and awful things.  In one column, a while back, a person wrote to say that his understanding of faith called for him to ‘spiritually divorce’ himself from anyone whose views were not in tune with his.  The advice columnist response was this thinking did not fit with the general understanding that theology is about love rather than hate.  So the concept of staying apart from those who disagree with you would not be wise.  In a recent column “Ask Annie” was queried on how to stop a relative from being a bully?  Citing an earlier bit of advice where Annie had said simply leave when relatives become insulting and overbearing (the advice seeker) said this did not seem fair, and wanted to know how to change the behavior of said relative?  Annie responded by saying leaving is always the first best option because while we cannot change the way others treat us, we can remove ourselves from toxic circumstances.  
I remember hearing a lively and engaging sermon some years ago.  The title was “You Can’t Box God, Your Arms Are Too Short.”  The premise was similar to most of the writings of Paul.  Who are we to argue with the workings and wonder of God?  Yet we humans have been doing just that for millennia.  Fighting with God over who is elect and who is damned?  Creating our own rules with regard to who is accepted and who must be shunned in the name of faith?  Even to the point of killing people simply because their views are different. It happens yet today.  In Romans 11 Paul is responding to serious questions.  The first is why and how Gentiles can be part of the realm of God?  The second is, if this is so, what becomes of Israel with regard to being the elect, or chosen of God?
In his wonderful rhetorical idiom the Apostle asks and answers the questions.  Did God reject Israel?  Of course not, and then to underscore this point, “I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.” As to how gentiles are part of the ‘Party’ Paul writes in verse thirty-two “God has imprisoned all in disobedience in order to show mercy to all.”  This, of course, ended all dissent, debate, and demeaning treatment in all religious arenas.  Remember our brother writes before the Church split East and West, denominations, the crusades and all the fun religious bigotry of the twentieth century.  His point then and now still holds.  It is God who invites and invests in humanity.  In our dissent and undignified beliefs and behavior we often miss God’s graciousness.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS:August 3, 2014

Story has it that the mother of Ray Charles, fearful of her son’s dependence on her sought to change the path of his life. Blind since birth she had tended to his every need, until the realization that she would not always be there for him.  The next day she made him get ready on his own.  While he screamed and wailed behind his bedroom door she listened in agony on the other side.  The change she had chosen for her son was incredibly difficult, but she explained she was doing this for his future.  He went on to fame and fortune, remaining fiercely independent, both as a recording artist, and as a businessman, being one of the few artists of his era to control the master recordings to his music.
Genesis 32:22-31 is the ‘bookend’ to chapter 28:10-19a.  In chapter twenty-eight Jacob is on the run from his brother Esau.  Having cheated him out of his birthright for a bowl of soup a few chapters earlier, Jacob now has stolen the family blessing belonging to Esau.  Having sent his family across the Jabbok river he settles in for a nights rest but as in chapter twenty-eight he gets none.  Where in the earlier story he visioned his ancestors, here he spiritually wrestles with God. So bold is Jacob that with the Holy he will not quit until he receives a blessing.  Therein his name is changed to Israel, because he has ‘struggled with humans and with God and prevailed’. Jacob (Israel) then changes the name of the place to signify the Holy encounter.
In athletics someone with talent is referred to as a ‘game changer.’  In the realm of faith God is ‘The Game Changer’.  God saw something in Jacob, which Jacob himself could not perceive, leadership and hope.  This errant vagrant grandson of Abraham was changed both in name and spirit by the blessing of God. A gifted theologian Max Lucado puts it slightly differently. “ While it is true that God loves us as we are, God does not expect us to stay where we are.”  This is the spirit of Holy change to which we are all invited.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

The Wisteria are blooming early this year. Feel free to stop by our courtyard sometime. It’s a great place to reflect.

REFLECTIONS: July 27, 2014

Matthew’s gospel records the parable of the mustard seed.  In words attributed to Jesus he writes.  “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field, it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of all shrubs and becomes a tree, so that birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (MT 13:31-32)
My first appointment as a senior minister was to the high desert community of Twenty Nine Palms.  I can assure you the area contained at least 29 palms.  In addition, it had more varieties and sizes of cacti than I ever imagined.  Shortly after arriving, we received a visitor to our home who pointed to a cactus in the front yard and said, “Be careful that is a jumping cactus.”  Our guest then took a leaf from another plant, placed it close to the cactus and the cactus spines “jumped” at the leaf.  We were told that species of cactus, known as Ocotillo, were called jumping cactus because of this defense mechanism used for its survival.
We live in a world fraught with danger.  Some day we would be hard pressed to find one good reason to provide shelter and care for anyone other than self.  Our heads tell us to be safe and protected.  To build strong defenses.  To throw barbs when threatened.  However, our hearts and souls long to be like that mustard seed.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: July 20, 2014

The word character as defined in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary is a “Mark of distinctive quality, or one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual.”  Another interpretation is related to theater and artistic performance.  In each case character development is important.
The Biblical narrative is filled with characters.  When we say the names of our faith history, images come to mind. The names of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Matthew, John, Mary or Paul, each calls images to our minds in terms of spiritual tradition.
Genesis 28:10-19 is a story of character, both kinds.  Jacob has left his homeland after cheating his brother out of the family birthright and blessing. He stops in Luz to rest and dreams of a ladder reaching to heaven on which angels move up and down.  He hears the voice of God pronounce a blessing and offer protection.  In the morning Jacob marks the place as Holy and names it Bethel, meaning house of God.  In verses 20-22, Jacob vows that if God will provide for and protect him, he will give a tenth of all he has to God.
Jacob cannot escape being a character for his name means trickster.  Yet, God chose this cheat to lead a nation.  In time, of course, Jacob transforms from a character to a person of great character, a patriarch of the faith.  The true character in this narrative is that of God.  The nature of God is to choose us first, love and care for us more and have a greater interest in our care than we do for ourselves, others, or God..
The Bible records God choosing flawed persons to demonstrate holy activity.  From King David to the Disciples and back again God tapped people we would not hire to clean our restrooms to do mighty acts in the name of faith.  Such is the character of God.  It remains a message of grace, which causes me to believe there is hope yet for this character.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: July 13, 2014

Throughout his letters to the emerging Churches of the first century, Paul consistently wrote about two themes.  The importance of grace over the law, and the tension existing between mind, body, and spirit.  As an excellent student of Church law, Paul came to know, through his relationship with Jesus, that when placed beside grace, legalistic thought becomes shrill and ultimately a deterrent to the development of disciples of Jesus Christ.  In regard to the relationship between mind, body, and spirit; likewise, he argued for the emphasis on the Spirit.  In his letters to the people of Rome and Corinth along with those to Galatia and Ephesus, he wrote that while we may not always trust our physical yearnings, we can rely on the work of the Spirit in our lives.
In Romans 8:12-17, Paul speaks of the “spirit of adoption” we find with Christ in relationship to God.  He says that this relationship welds us to God and nothing can sever it, not even death.  In verses 1-11 of the same chapter, he puts forth the understanding that to live for human wants and needs is to die spiritually, while real living is found in an existence lived toward God.
Paul was writing from his life experience rather than lofty heights.  He shared as much in Chapter 7:14-16, “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way; but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes that God’s spiritual command is necessary.” (The Message) Paul sees this as a life-long process, but not something we always get right.  A couple of examples in his letters are: Galatians 5:22-26, “…The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law…”  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.”  (New Revised Standard) Then to prove he is with us in the Spiritual quest, he writes in Philippians 4:14-15, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you.”
The Apostle was acutely aware of lock step certitude in matters of faith.  His own rigid adherence to absolutes with regard to interpreting the call and claim of God on the lives of believers had caused him to lose his sight both literally and spiritually.  Only when he began to view life through the lens of the grace of Christ and the leading of the Spirit did his sight become clear and strong.  For Paul, a restless spirituality is one that will never rust.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: June 29, 2014

Tomorrow is June 30th.  One half the year will be gone.  One half of a year of prospects, possibilities, and promises spent, or not spent.  One hundred and seventy-nine days have slipped by.  We can pause now and remember opportunities missed, chances lost, mistakes made, and tasks left undone.  Another possibility is to remember it’s only half time.
We have one hundred and eighty-six days left in this year.  This translates into four thousand, four hundred and sixteen hours.  Each of those remaining hours has sixty minutes and every minute, sixty seconds.  We are time bound and calendar driven people, but it does help to remember great and good things can be done in little time.
The apostle, Paul, writes in his letter to the Philippians of his own half time.  He sought to encourage them in the work of faith to understand that he was not finished himself, yet he pressed on to the goal of faith.  “I DO NOT THINK THAT I HAVE ALREADY REACHED IT; THE ONE THING I DO, HOWEVER, IS TO FORGET WHAT IS BEHIND ME AND DO MY BEST TO  REACH WHAT IS AHEAD.”  His goal (and ours) is the call of God in Christ.  That call is to do and be the work and wonder of a loving Creator.  To do justice and be loving-kindness whenever and wherever possible.  Not when we find time, as we make time, or sometime, but every time we are given the opportunity.  In the meantime, it is half time.  Plenty of time to have great, good fun at playing the fields of the Lord.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
OUTDOOR MOVIE NIGHT!!! Come and enjoy the first day of Summer with a movie under the stars! This Saturday (6/21/14) 6:45 PM - DINNER Movie begins after the sun sets!

Come and enjoy the first day of Summer with a movie under the stars!
This Saturday (6/21/14)
6:45 PM - DINNER
 Movie begins after the sun sets!

REFLECTIONS: June 22, 2014

We live in a time of specialty drinks.  From the ordeal of ordering a simple cup of coffee, to organic power drinks, each beverage is customized.  Even water needs to come from a European well or mountain stream.  When we were children soft drinks were a treat, as were lemonade and ice tea.  However, we did have two options for a drink of water out of the kitchen faucet, or on a very hot summer day, straight from the hose.  Did you cringe at the last sentence?  Those of us who lived the experience did as well.  In eighth grade science we learn that water is necessary for life.  In fact, we as humans are mostly water, with an allowable factor of hot air and malarkey thrown in.  The Space Program of the United States of America seeks signs of intelligent life on other planets.  Any hope of proof comes with the discovery of a water source.  For life to exist there must be clean drinkable water.
In John 7:37-39, the promise of life giving water first given in the Book of Numbers 20:1-13 is retold.  Moses and the people wander from Kadesh seeking to enter Canaan without water until God instructs Moses to strike a rock for living water.  In the text from John it is with Jesus being ‘life giving spiritual water’ who in relation to God gives life through the spirit as well. Just as Moses was challenged and threatened in the desert, Jesus is criticized then plotted against by religious opponent; just as the promise of a ‘Land’ was held before the people of Israel.  In the third chapter of John, Nicodemus, a religious leader comes to Jesus at night to ask about the Realm of God.  In verse five Jesus points that ‘ no one can enter God’s realm without being born of water and spirit.’  While this confounded Nicodemus and some within the early Church along with some today as well, it is consistent with early Christian practice rooted in Paul’s writing, the text of the Book of Acts, and the teachings of the Apostles.  
We are told by Cultural Anthropologists that Native American tribal practice held that water was drawn at daybreak with enough brought to last the day.  The next morning any left from the day before was considered ‘dead’ and poured out.  An interesting concept with regard to modern hygiene and how stasis promotes disease.  What is suggested in John’s text through the words of Jesus is that we, like Nicodemus, are called to a double birth; one with water and one from above as in the Holy Spirit.  It is both fitting and refreshing we begin the season of Pentecost with this helpful  reminder.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: June 15, 2014

Today is Trinity Sunday on the liturgical calendar, set aside for recognition of the idea of God in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The word “trinity” does not occur in scripture, but support for a Trinitarian doctrine comes to us from Paul’s writings, along with those of Matthew and John. Though not part of all Christian churches, the belief in the Trinity is the first Article of Religion found in the Doctrinal Standards and General Rules of the United Methodist Church.
Based on the writings of John Wesley, the Article reads, “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible.  And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Wesley’s words penned over two hundred years ago have remained a constant in our doctrinal heritage.
A modern definition of the Trinity comes to us from theologian, Frederick Buechner.  He writes, “If the idea of God as both Three and One seems farfetched and obfuscating, look in the mirror someday.  There is (a) the interior life known only to yourself and those you choose to communicate it to (the Father).  There is (b) the visible face, which in some measure reflects that inner life (the Son).  And there is (c) the invisible power you have which enables you to communicate that interior life in such a way that others do not merely know about it, but know it in the sense of its becoming part of who they are (the Holy Spirit).  Yet what you are looking at in the mirror is clearly and indivisibly the one and only you.”
Two definitions:  one classic, one modern; yet, neither capture the whole nature of the doctrine.  At best they are inept.  For how does one define or explain the personality of God?  At worst they are, of course, blasphemy for they anthropomorphize the Holy.  However, the best we can hope for in liturgy and doctrine is to obtain a glimpse and glimmer of who God really is.  God is loving and forgiving, I am sure She will forgive the ways and means in which we do so.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
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