Jesus inside the beltway: love creates the space for truth

Yesterday, the young clergy leadership forum heard from Bill Mefford, the GBCS point person for immigration reform and other controversial causes. Bill shared with us that he actually spent most of his career as a local pastor to people in the rural midwest and Texas who would disagree with most of the things he’s advocating now. He said the most solid foundation for being able to speak prophetic Biblical truths in your congregation is for people to know that you love them. They can’t get that from the generic benevolence of a handshake and a warm smile. They need to be pursued and valued. Continue reading

Jesus inside the beltway: “Why are you here?”

I am attending the young clergy leadership forum (#yclf on twitter) with the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) in Washington, DC. This is the agency that lobbies the federal government on behalf of the United Methodist Church according to the agenda set forth every four years by our General Conference. I decided I would blog about my experience in a series called “Jesus inside the beltway.” The first question it seems important to ask is why they exist. Continue reading

God’s grace in 4 stick figure drawings

We had the first session of our new member class today. During the first class, we do introductions and give a primer on Methodist theology. We had the fortunate problem of having too many people in the class so our introductions took up all but 15 minutes. I didn’t want us to leave having only done introductions, so I tried to explain in 15 minutes and 4 stick figure drawings the three kinds of grace we talk about in Methodism: prevenient, sanctifying, and justification, along with the Christian perfection that God’s grace draws us toward. The way I’ve illustrated it is a bit individualistic (which of course I would have criticized if someone else had done it ;-)). I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions for improvement. Continue reading

Looking Back on 2012: April-May

In March, I fasted from blogging for Lent. April and May of 2012 were dominated by thoughts about our United Methodist General Conference. There was also a series of violent tornadoes that John Piper decided to interpret as God’s wrath against America for homosexuality or abortion (I can’t remember which one). Since homosexuality dominated the conversation around General Conference, I wrote a few pieces about it, striving to be both faithful to scripture and faithful to people I love who are gay. I also preached a sermon comparing and contrasting the uniformity and top-down vision of the Tower of Babel with the chaos of Pentecost. So here are the 10 from April and May. Continue reading

Ministry with the poor and middle-class self-hate

My name is Morgan Guyton and I’m a recovering middle-class self-hater. I also love hanging out with poor people and I want to love it for the right reasons instead of using it to build a Pharisaic pedestal from which to judge my own kind. I just heard a presentation from Alan Rice on ministry with the poor at our Virginia Conference 5 Talent Academy that knocked me flat on my back. I went to the front of the room trembling afterwards and gave Alan my card saying I wanted one day to plant a “Bethany church” (a church led by the poor instead of doing ministry to the poor). This wasn’t just a spontaneous response to a bombshell speech but a dream that has been marinating for a decade. I wrote that I’ve worked with “urban youth” and I’m bilingual and I know how to rap (silly I know but it was in the heat of the moment). And yet the agonizing thing I realize is that God has gifted me to minister with “my own” people and He’s definitely not going to let me be a shepherd among poor people until I get over my white middle-class guilt and my need to be a hero. Continue reading

Why we need to build this meme: #JesusIsMyCandidate

It was only supposed to be a catchy sermon series to attract attention for our fall kickoff season. At first our senior pastor was worried about being misinterpreted in the heat of an extremely divisive election season. We have a beautifully “purple” church where progressive liberals and Tea Party activists worship together. It’s one of United Methodism’s greatest strengths and sources of agony. We’re one of the few big tent Christian denominations left. So many have split on female ordination, homosexuality, and other political issues. And so a sermon series called “Jesus is My Candidate” seemed entirely appropriate for a congregation in which people of all political persuasions worship and serve together. But now it’s gotten bigger than a sermon series; it’s become a meme — that strange 21st century cyber-object that you attach to a hashtag on twitter or hand over to Willy Wonka on Facebook hoping that it “trends.” The vision God seems to be sharing feels about as ridiculous as Kevin Costner mowing an Iowa cornfield to build a ballpark for ghosts, and I need a James Earl Jones with a much bigger platform to swoop in, put this meme on your back, and explode it. It’s really simple. We get as many people as possible on twitter every evening at 9 pm until election day to share as many personal testimonies and prophetic statements about Jesus as they feel like with the hashtag #JesusIsMyCandidate. And if we come up with songs, videos, flash mobs, etc, using the same meme, we go where they take us. It’s not slacktivism. It’s a 21st century act of prayer and resistance against the designs of Satan to use this presidential election to pummel American Christianity (and I’m not being a melodramatic wing-nut to name it that way). Continue reading

Exceptional American: Rev. Lorenza Andrade-Smith

I don’t know Methodist pastor Rev. Lorenza Andrade-Smith personally, though she is a facebook “friend,” but I have a feeling she would be embarrassed to hear that a blog post was written about her.  Since it’s the Fourth of July and others are probably writing about American exceptionalism, I thought I would write about an exceptional American instead. The concept of American exceptionalism bothers me when it’s a manipulative tool that politicians use to one-up each other or stifle legitimate criticism of imperialist foreign policy. But I feel quite comfortable talking about the people who make American exceptional by dedicating their lives to creating a society that fulfills Thomas Jefferson’s assertion “that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and happiness.” Pastor Lorenza is one such person; she really does make me proud to be an American. Continue reading

Rethinking “Rethink Church”

This past Saturday, I preached on the meaning of church. We’re going through the book of Ephesians in a sermon series, and Ephesians 1:23 defines the church as the “fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Since my theme was “rethinking church,” I decided to check out what resources were available from the United Methodist “Rethink Church” campaign. I found a three-year-old promotional video that I have embedded below. The video gets one thing very right when it says church is a verb, not a noun. I found that to be literally true in the original Greek of my sermon text for the weekend. However, the video also gets something very wrong. It makes “us” the subject of the sentence in which “church” is a verb, instead of Jesus, whose name doesn’t appear anywhere in the entire video.

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The song of God’s power (Ephesians 1:15-23) #rethinkchurch

In the second sermon of our church’s “Big Picture” series, we looked at the meaning of church as described in Ephesians 1:23 — “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” It’s often been said as part of the Methodist “Rethink Church” campaign that church is a verb, not a noun. This is literally true in the Bible’s original Greek. Paul uses the word kleseos in Ephesians 1:18 to describe the “calling” of God’s hope. Ekklesia, the word that gets translated as “church” in Ephesians 1:23, is derived from the same root as klesous. It means literally “the calling forth,” or as I decided to name it, the song of God’s power.


Did Paul obey his General Conference?

If Peter was the first Pope, then Paul was the first Protestant. In the original church as today, there are two basic conceptions of Christian authority: apostolic succession and the priesthood of the believer. Paul represented the latter; he gave himself a lot of discretion as a pastor in the different congregational contexts in which he ministered. He didn’t mail a single Book of Discipline to Corinth, Ephesus, Colossus, Phillipi, Thessalonica, Galatia, and Rome. Each epistle that would make its way into our Biblical canon was practical and contextual though there are theological threads which develop and solidify over the course of Paul’s writing. In Acts 15, in what Methodists like me might call the first General Conference of the church, a council of apostles and elders convened to consider the debate between Judaizers who were teaching that the Law of Moses was necessary to salvation and Paul who was teaching salvation by faith. The compromise adopted by the council was to require Gentiles to avoid sacrificial meats, blood, meat of strangled animals, and pagan sexuality (Acts 15:20). In response to this decision, Paul doesn’t simply obey; he comes up with his own creative, contextual interpretation for at least two of the four items on this list. Continue reading