Monday, February 28, 2011

Golden Arches Social Club

Here is something that I have learned about McDonald's: It is a senior citizens center from about 8-11 am. There are retirees of every sort who gather at McDonald's for their "Senior Coffee" and a time of visiting (gossip) with their fellow retirees.

When I see this phenomenon at work, and I see it often, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I think, "Look at these people. They should be a lot more productive than wasting their days at McDonald's." That's when reality sets in and I realize that I am wasting my days at McDonald's.

On the other hand, I have a hint of jealousy for the leisure time that affords them the opportunity to gather without regard to time of commitment. I am envious of the social nature of their gathering. I long for similar opportunities with people in my age group.

These seniors are not trying to impress anyone. They are real, natural. They say silly things to one another. They make fun of each other and share opinions no matter what anyone else thinks. They are a real community.

These men and women notice the absence of members from their community. They express concern for ill members or deaths, or children who are getting divorced, or unwed, pregnant grandchildren. They support each other, without artificially agreeing with everything. They are honest and filled with integrity.

In many ways, the Golden Arches Social Club is exactly what a church is supposed to be. They are a body, an organism. This group serves as a "kind of" family. Maybe my congregation and I should take some lessons.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Basic Christian Stuff: Sacraments

The sacraments are very tricky in the church. Some denominations celebrate, or recognize different sacraments than others do. There are some groups that do not refer to them as sacraments at all. They prefer to call them “ordinances.” This somehow provides some distance between the current celebration of the acts and the traditional approach to them. My personal feeling is that this is a way to provide some emotional distance from the Catholic aspects of the sacraments.

Since I am a United Methodist, and I serve in a thoroughly United Methodist context, my comments should not be construed as normative for all people, groups or times. I am sharing my thoughts on the sacraments, nothing more.

United Methodists recognize only two sacraments, baptism and Holy Communion. There are groups that would include as many as seven sacraments. Those churches also recognize things like “last rites,” matrimony and confirmation. All of these are valid representations of elements of worship, but for me they do not meet the criteria for sacrament. There are two specific requirements for a sacrament:

  1. Its observance is commanded by Jesus. As far as I can tell, baptism and communion are the only ones that meet this requirement.
  2. It is an outward sign of the inward work of the grace of God.

When we celebrate baptism, we are not just symbolically getting wet and remembering what Jesus did. We are experiencing the grace of God. God is at work in the act of baptism. Our obedience to his Word activates the miracle power of God. When we eat and drink in communion, we are not receiving elements to remind us of God’s work, we are experiencing the work of God itself.

Remember that receiving the sacraments is not optional. Jesus instructed us to do these things. When we are baptized, we are obeying God (Matthew 28.19). When we eat the Lord’s Supper we are fulfilling God’s will (Luke 22.19).

One more thing: There is some controversy surrounding the frequency of celebrating the sacraments. People want to have communion less often than they do, and be baptized more often than they are. John Wesley believed that every time believers are together they should have communion. I see no reason to think that this is not a good and workable arrangement. It is not necessarily true that increased frequency of communion would diminish the significance of its meaning. We should eat at the Lord’s Table often.

As to baptism, we would do well to consider the words of Scripture. Ephesians 4.5 makes it clear that there is only one baptism. This essentially means that we receive God’s grace when we are baptized and that being “re-baptized” would be a questioning of God’s power. It is completely possible, however, that a person may desire to renew commitments that were made at her/his baptism. This could even be done with water, either in a sprinkling or immersion experience. This is not a repudiation of the grace of God, but rather a celebration of it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What I Believe About God (for non-theologians)

I believe that God is good. There is no evil, retribution or ill-intent in his nature. He supplies his children with new mercies each day. His love knows no end.

I believe that God has made all that is and he sustains it at all times. We cannot escape his creation. It is everywhere we look, and always surrounds us. We are a part of his creation and dependent upon him for our very lives and well-being.

I believe that God does not enjoy "acts of God." They are a result of the fallen nature of man. God is good and earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis only exist because the world, including humanity is in revolt against God himself.

I believe that God loves people. It is in his nature to love us. After all, he is love itself.

I believe that God is patient and long-suffering. Although we often violate the trust that God has in us, he sticks with us. He is faithful when we are faithless. He continues to love us, no matter what we say, do or believe.

I believe that God is not oppressive. He will not force or coerce anyone into believing in him. God offers us the choice to follow him, and then respects what we decide to do with the choice.

I believe that God is present and active in our lives. We may not always notice him, or recognize his work, but God is always there. In fact, he is all around us, all the time. We cannot escape him, no matter where we go or what we do.

I believe that God is close at hand. He is not far away and removed from our presence. He is right here. He is near to all who look for him.

I believe that God wants people to know him. It is his desire (and in our best interest) to spend time with God. We need to get plugged in to who he is and what he wants for us.

I believe that God knows everything- and that means EVERYTHING. He is knowledgeable on every topic. He knows all that we do or think. God knows.

I believe that God can do anything. There is nothing too great for him. He is not limited by our ideas of time and space. He is powerful, wise and strong.

I believe that God has everything under control. He is not surprised by current events. He knows what he is doing and is in charge all the time.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sue from McDonald's

Sue (not her real name) is a manager at my local McDonald's. She is in her early 20's and attends the local community college. She works hard, but I suspect she plays hard as well. She and I got acquainted because of my frequent and lengthy visits to McDonald's. I go and stay for an hour or more at a time, reading, studying the Bible, or working on some other project.

Eventually, Sue and I got a little bit familiar with one another. She would ask about my family when I came in and I would tease her about her latest tattoo. (She has several very colorful works of art.) We talked, but it was always chit-chat, small talk sort of conversation.

One day I heard Sue singing along with the radio that was playing on the restaurants sound system. I commented that she had a nice voice. She thanked me and told me that she loves to sing with her mother. Because I love music this was a natural point of connection for the two of us. We talked for quite sometime about singing, music styles and tastes. It was an enjoyable conversation.

I should offer one side note before I go any further. A part of my strategy in life is to meet people and tell them about Jesus. When I am in a fast food place that is always on my mind.

The logical thing for me to do then, was to invite Sue to sing at my church. She was immediately nervous, but excited. There were several excuses about why she could not, or should not.

"I don't know any religious songs."
"I'm not very comfortable around church people."
"What will everyone thing of my tattoos?"

We discussed all those things, but ultimately I prevailed. Sue came and sang at my church. The people loved her. She came again and sang. She only came to church on Sundays that she sang for us, but she came sometimes. I am fairly sure that she was attending my little church more than she had ever attended any church before, ever.

Sue still sings for me from time to time. We are still friendly at McDonald's. That is why when Sue witnessed a fatal auto accident, she called me. We met for lunch and she told me the story. She was driving home when a car passed her. Everything seemed fine until another car came over a hill from the other direction. Two people were killed, others injured. Thankfully, Sue was not hurt.

However, there were emotional scars. That is why she wanted to talk. I shared with her how Jesus knows all about the terrible things that happen to us, that we see and that we hear. I got to pray with my McDonald's friend in Pizza Hut that day. What a great day it was.

Sue still doesn't come to church, but I know that God is working on her. I am too.