Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Advent is NOT Christmas

Another season of Advent is upon us. Imagine what could happen if the church actually observed and celebrated this season of reflection, repentance, and preparation. Imagine what kind of church we would be if we held off the rush to Christmas and devoted the time to prayer, worship, and repentance. What if the church took the four weeks of Advent to look at itself and its witness in light of the coming reign of God? What if Christians resisted the onslaught of shopping, buying, feasting, and consumption in favor of fasting, prayer, giving, and serving with the poor during the weeks of Advent? What if rather than buying gifts for their families and friends Christians gave their money to the Salvation Army, UMCOR, Heifer International, Bread for the World, or Habitat for Humanity to alleviate the suffering of the poor? What if Christians and the church actually sought to prepare themselves for the coming reign of God on earth as in heaven?

We do damage to our life together as church when we bypass Advent and rush to Christmas. We need those four weeks of reflection, repentance and preparation for the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what Advent is really about. It is only secondarily a time of preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus. This season is the church’s time to look at itself, at our life and our witness in light of the coming kingdom of God. Are we prepared for the coming end of history when Christ returns in glory to claim his Church and planet Earth for himself?

The United Methodist Hymnal contains several Advent hymns (#196-#216). These hymns are a good resource for helping people to understand the meaning of the season; that it is not Christmas and it is not primarily about looking to the past but looking toward the future. Here’s what I’d call an Advent song that will probably never be found in a hymnal but would be very appropriate to perform in worship on the first or second Sundays of Advent. This song was written by Bob Dylan during his Christian period in the early eighties. It appears on his second Christian themed records, “Saved.”

Are You Ready by Bob Dylan

Are you ready, are you ready?
Are you ready, are you ready?

Are you ready to meet Jesus?
Are you where you ought to be?
Will He know you when He sees you
Or will He say, "Depart from Me"?

Are you ready, hope you're ready.
Am I ready, am I ready?
Am I ready, am I ready?

Am I ready to lay down my life for the brethren
And to take up my cross?
Have I surrendered to the will of God
Or am I still acting like the boss?

Am I ready, hope I'm ready.
When destruction cometh swiftly
And there's no time to say a fare-thee-well,
Have you decided whether you want to be
In heaven or in hell?

Are you ready, are you ready?

Have you got some unfinished business?
Is there something holding you back?
Are you thinking for yourself
Or are you following the pack?

Are you ready, hope you're ready.
Are you ready?

Are you ready for the judgment?
Are you ready for that terrible swift sword?
Are you ready for Armageddon?
Are you ready for the day of the Lord?

Are you ready, I hope you're ready.

Copyright © 1980 Special Rider Music

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

For the Nation

Almighty God, giver of all good things:
We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land.
They restore us, though we often destroy them.
Heal us.

We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They
make us rich, though we often exploit them.
Forgive us.

We thank you for the men and women who have made this
country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall
short of them.
Inspire us.

We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in
this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we
have often hidden from its light.
Enlighten us.

We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich
variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless
again and again.
Renew us.

Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun.
Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice,
and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when
all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will
glorify your holy Name. Amen.

(The Book of Common Prayer)

Why United Methodists Should Sing Charles Wesley Hymns

Earlier this fall I lead a district clergy retreat. The DS asked me to make presentations on Christian perfection. He wanted to raise awareness of this very important part of our UM tradition among the clergy of his district. He also encouraged the participants to read my translation of John Wesley's A Plain Account of Christian Perfection into contemporary English, A Perfect Love: Understanding John Wesley's 'A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

The presentations were very well received, the questions and conversation were lively. Much positive energy was generated by the topic.

During the 24 hours with my sisters and brothers in Christ, we had three worship times: evening prayer, morning prayer, and closing Eucharist. These worship services were planned ahead of time by the event planning committee. The only thin I found puzzling and a little disconcerting was the fact that not a single Wesley hymn was included in any of our worship. Considering the topic for the event, I found the neglect of some of the most powerful hymns in the English language on the topic of sanctification disappointing.

This experience inspired me to write an article explaining why United Methodists should sing at least one hymn by Charles Wesley every time they gather, particularly for worship. The article was recently posted on the GBOD Worship web site. You can read it here:

"Top Ten Reasons Why United Methodists Should Sing Charles Wesley Hymns"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Grace is Amazing or "God Loves You and There's Nothing You Can Do About It"

“O that we may all receive of Christ’s fullness, grace upon grace;
grace to pardon our sins, and subdue our iniquities;
to justify our persons and to sanctify our souls;
and to complete that holy change, that renewal of our hearts,
whereby we may be transformed

into that blessed image wherein thou didst create us.”

These lines from a prayer by John Wesley provide insight into the mystery of grace.

John Newton describes this power in his hymn, “Amazing Grace.“ Grace is amazing because it is a free gift from God. God does not love us for what we do; God loves us because we are God’s children. Nothing we do will ever make God love us more and nothing we do will ever make God stop loving. In other words, “God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it” (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8). Grace is amazing indeed!

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ reveal the mystery and power of grace. Grace is the love of God acting in the world before we are aware of God’s existence and embrace. Grace awakens us to who and whose we are; we are sinners who need forgiveness, reconciliation and healing; we are children of the God who is working to help us make our way home.

The parable of “The Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32) beautifully illustrates the dynamic of grace. We see one son who rejects his father’s love while another takes that love for granted. A closer look at the parable reveals that it is really about the father and his love for his children.

The father gives his younger son the freedom to reject his love and life in his household (Luke 15:12-13). After he finds himself alone, homeless and hungry the father’s love helps the prodigal son remember who and whose he is; a miserable sinner and his father’s son (v. 14-19). The father’s love and the emptiness within him awakens him to his brokenness and helps him to turn away from slow, certain death and turn towards home and life. John Wesley called this “preventing” or prevenient grace.

As the “prodigal” son walks home, he rehearses his confession. He understands that he does not deserve to be welcomed home as a member of the family. This turn away from homelessness and death and toward home and life in the father’s household is repentance. This is the work of justifying grace that culminates in the prodigal’s dramatic reunion with his father: All is forgiven. Love has restored the relationship between father and son.

Justification is God’s work for us to restore us to right relationship with God by grace through faith. God’s love brings about an outward, relational change that brings us face to face with Jesus Christ.

The restored relationship with God is the beginning of life in God’s household. For a glimpse of what comes next we can imagine the morning after the prodigal son’s homecoming celebration:

It’s 6:00 am and he is sound asleep in his bed. He is awakened by a loud knock on the bedroom door. Opening the door, he is greeted by the face of his older brother. “Good morning my brother! Have you forgotten that we all have work to do around here? While you were off having a good time with your share of our inheritance dad and I had to do your work along with our own. Now that you’re home you can start doing your part again. Welcome home. Let’s get to work.”

Living in God’s household opens our hearts to grace that heals the brokenness caused by sin. Obedience to the household rules, summarized by Jesus in Mark 12:29-31 (Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.), forms our character into a reflection of Christ (see Galatians 5:22-23). This is sanctifying grace.

God has given us the means to open ourselves to the restoring and healing power of grace in the historic spiritual disciplines: prayer, worship, the Lord’s Supper, Scripture, fasting (or abstinence) and works of compassion and justice. John Wesley called these basic practices “means of grace” because they are the ordinary places God promises to meet us. Practicing the means of grace is how we cooperate with God’s desire to form each of us into the persons God created us to be, in Christ.

Grace is “divine energy” that forgives sin, awakens faith, restores relationships, heals and forms human character from brokenness into wholeness. Grace is the power of the Holy Spirit that sets us free from the guilt and power of sin. Grace is the power of love that sets us free to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love those whom God loves, as God loves them.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Death Penalty: What Would Jesus Do?

Here's an excellent article on The United Methodist Church's position on the death penalty by Jim McAnally. He thoughtfully reports several diverse points of view within the denomination; including the fact that John and Charles Wesley never questioned the appropriateness or justice of capitol punishment.

The Death Penalty: What Would Jesus Do?

Continuting Education Opportunity

Charles Wesley Pilgrimage in England
(Qualifies for 3 CEUs)

Methodists and other Christians around the world will mark the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley’s birth in 2007.

Duke Divinity School and the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church are offering a ten-day pilgrimage in England July 31-August 10, 2007 to celebrate this important event and immerse participants in the legacy of this important Methodist founder.

Dr. Paul W. Chilcote (Professor of the Practice of Evangelism and Wesleyan Studies at Duke Divinity School and President of The Charles Wesley Society), Dr. Steve Manskar (Director of Accountable Discipleship at GBOD), and Dr. Tim Macquiban (Principal of Sarum College in Salisbury, England) will provide leadership for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

The Pilgrimage will acquaint participants with the historical background and religious heritage of the Methodist movement and the life and witness of Charles Wesley.

Participants will visit sites associated with this great hymn writer — Epworth, his place of birth; Oxford, where he studied and taught, and where he founded the so-called “Holy Club”; Bristol, where he helped to form the first Methodist Societies and began to raise his family; and London, where Charles Wesley and his family spent the final years of his life, overseeing the expanding Methodist movement with his brother, John.

The pilgrimage includes Salisbury and a stay at Sarum College, in the shadow of the magnificent cathedral; West Bromwich near Birmingham, Frances Asbury’s training-ground; Glastonbury and Wells, with their connections to the Arthurian legends; Gloucester, associated with the Wesleys’ friend and colleague, George Whitefield; and important sites in London such as St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. Opportunity to experience the England that Charles Wesley knew and loved will abound: the rolling countryside of the Cotswold Hills near Oxford, the fenland around Epworth, the charm of small English villages, and the elegance of the ancient city of Bath.

Participants in this ten-day adventure will also have the opportunity to:

  • Immerse themselves in the ministry, theology, and spirituality of Charles Wesley through daily prayer and worship, visiting historic sites, plenary and small group teaching moments
  • Understand the essential role of Charles Wesley’s hymns in Christian formation in the Wesleyan heritage
  • Have fun!
  • Learn and pray where Charles Wesley prayed and served
  • Reflect, pray, and build relationships in small groups
  • Be equipped to share and articulate what you learn
  • Make a connection between the Wesleyan/Methodist heritage and the life and ministry of your home congregation today

The Itinerary

Tuesday, July 31 Arrival at Ammerdown Centre for lunch around 1:00 p.m.

  • Tour of facilities and settling in
  • Evening Introductory learning time with Paul Chilcote

Wednesday, August 1 Glastonbury & Wells

  • AM Background and overview of Charles Wesley’s life and ministry
  • PM Excursion to Glastonbury and Evensong at Wells Cathedral

Thursday, August 2 Epworth

  • AM Travel by coach to Lincolnshire (West Bromwich en route)
  • PM Visit Epworth parish church & churchyard, Market Cross, the Old Rectory, & Wesley Memorial Chapel
  • Supper at Bawtry Hall, Bawtry

Friday, August 3 Oxford

  • AM Travel by coach to Oxford
  • PM Visit Christ Church College & Chapel, St. Mary’s Church, & free time
  • Evening Return to Ammerdown

Saturday, August 4 Gloucester & the Cotswolds

  • AM Visit Gloucester sites
  • PM Explore the Cotswolds
  • Evening Return to Ammerdown

Sunday, August 5 Bath

  • Worship, Rest & Recreation

Monday, August 6 Bristol

  • AM & PM Visit Charles Wesley House & Centre, The New Room, & Bristol Cathedral
  • Evening Supper at Sarum College, Salisbury

Tuesday, August 7 London

  • AM & PM Visit Marylebone, Wesley Chapel & Home at City Road, Tour of Wesley sites, St. Paul’s Cathedral, etc.

Wednesday, August 8 Salisbury

  • AM & PM Free Day: visit Stonehenge, explore Salisbury & Wiltshire countryside

Thursday, August 9 Salisbury

  • AM & PM Closing lectures, evaluation, worship

Friday, August 10 Departure

  • AM Breakfast & departures

For more information and to register, please go to or call Becky Caudill at 877-899-2780, ext. 7059, email at

A Sermon for All Saints


Steven W. Manskar

The first church I pastored is a small, rural congregation in Maryland. It is the only church I’ve pastored that had a cemetery. Graves in that cemetery date to the early nineteenth century. Every time the people of West Liberty United Methodist Church gather for worship, fellowship, and meetings, the first thing they see before entering the building are the graves of their ancestors. One of the reasons old churches were built in the middle of or in close proximity to a cemetery is to remind the people that the Church is the communion of saints, living and dead.

We worship a God who has defeated the power of death. In Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, death no longer gets the final word. The final word belongs to Christ who called out to the dead man, “Lazarus, come out!” and “Unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus’ word is life in the kingdom of God and freedom from the powers that demean and destroy life. He is the one who that the world “may have life, and have it abundantly.” All Saints is another great celebration of the Church that reminds us that in Christ we are connected with one another here and now and with all those beloved saints who have gone before us; and with those who will come after us.

Celebrating All Saints also helps to remind us that the Church is a living, breathing organism. It is not limited to a place or building. In fact, the Gospel Lesson we just heard helps us understand the character of the church more clearly when we see Lazarus as the church in any age. Lazarus was a close and dear friend of Jesus. Jesus said to his followers, “I have called you friends, because I have made know to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15b). Like Lazarus, when the church wanders from the person and work of Jesus, it gets sick and begins to die. It takes on more of the surrounding culture and less of Christ and his commandments. In the process the church becomes wrapped up and bound, to the point of death, by the culture of success driven by standards of the marketplace and powers of domination, power, and wealth. When the church gets wrapped up in this culture it becomes more of a static thing to be used and consumed than a living, breathing community of love and forgiveness.

This “bound up” church is reflected in the way its members talk about it. For example: Christians say they are “church goers”? We say things like “When church starts …” and “When church is over …”? I’ve noticed this is how many fellow Christians talk about the church and their relationship to it.

It seems to me that the way we talk about the church is an indicator of how we perceive it. The language of “church-going” conveys an understanding of the church as a place, a thing, an inanimate object. “Church” is a place to go to on Sunday morning. It is an activity that we do for an hour each week. “Church” as place has very definite boundaries defined by the walls of the building or the property on which the building sits. “Church” is also bound in time. It begins when we step onto the property and ends when we get in our car and go home.

“Church” is what Christians do on Sunday morning; and perhaps Sunday night and Wednesday night. It is the place to go to have needs met. Christians go to church to be served by their pastor and, if it is a large enough, the church staff. The members pay for the services and programs they expect by putting money in the offering plates on Sunday morning. In return they expect basic services such as exciting, enriching worship that is relevant and well-performed, activities for the children, Christian education, weddings, funerals, and other pastoral services as required. After all, if we pay our dues we deserve good services for our money.

Is this a Biblical image of “church?” Is such a way of “doing” church what we find in the Baptismal Covenant? If you study the word “church” in the Bible you will find that every place the word appears (ecclesia) it references a living, breathing community that is a sign community of the coming reign of God. Paul speaks of the church as a living, breathing organism: “the body of Christ” (52 times). The Biblical understanding of “church” is that of a community centered in the life, death, resurrection and coming again of Jesus Christ. This community is defined by faith, hope, and, most of all, love. It’s mission is to proclaim and model the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, the church is a Christ-centered sign community of the coming reign of God.

The Biblical depiction of the church helps us shift our attitudes and language from “church-going” to “church-being.” Scripture and tradition, along with the popular hymn, help us to see that “the church is not a build, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.” The buildings we call “churches” are simply the buildings where the church meets for worship, teaching, learning, prayer, and planning for living its mission and ministry in the world. The church gathers to worship on Sunday and, when worship ends, the church scatters to witness to Jesus Christ in the world and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

All Saints reminds us that the Church of Jesus Christ is not bound by time and space. It is an eternal community of love, reconciliation and justice that witnesses to the living God who was, who is, and who is coming again. In baptism God marks us as God’s own daughters and sons, as members of God’s eternal household.

Jesus comes to the church today, this church that is in so many ways like Lazarus in the tomb, bound in the grave cloths of cultural captivity and enculturation. Jesus comes to the church today calling “Lazarus, come out! … Unbind him, and let him go!” Let us claim the freedom Christ gives to live, serve, and witness to him and his coming reign on earth as it is in heaven.”