Just How Open?

thEarlier this week my son and I spent a couple of days in Madison, Tennessee for his work. On the way back Wednesday I happened to look out of the window and noticed this Red Roof Inn with a green roof. I just had to laugh. Doesn’t a Red Roof Inn with a green roof kinda send the wrong message? I wanted to stop, walk in to the front desk and ask if they knew where I could find the Red Roof Inn? My son wouldn’t stop the car.

Earlier this week we were talking about evangelism and hospitality. My thought (right or wrong) was that hospitality was the wrong word for what we are called to do, and evangelism has been corrupted by all the buttonholers, track leavers, walk-up-behind-you screaming people who think they are the only ones who know what God would have us be about.

Now this leads me to think about another empty phrase the United Methodist Church has spent millions of dollars on getting the world to believe: “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” This phrase is supposed to describe who we are as United Methodists.

Now, I know what it was supposed to be… We know we are not as OPEN as we should be thor even want to be as a church or as individuals. This phrase was to be a self-fulfilling prophecy… where if we say it enough, hear it enough, buy into it enough we will start believing it and acting it out in our daily living. For years that logo was everywhere… even an olympic commercial.

Here is the problem with this prophecy… not enough people really believed it. I remember preaching on this – and I did this often, because I believe it is who we really are. One response to a message on being open was: “Just how open do you mean, preacher?” I knew they meant don’t include those people I don’t approve. My response was “We are to be as open as God is open with us.”

I am really surprised that we no longer hear about this. Does it mean we have given up on being open, we don’t think it will work, or it is not who we are? I pray that we will continue with this thought because this IS who we really are… who we are called to become… and how we are supposed to live. An old college professor said: “Every time you think you have your philosophy of life all settled – all worked out – God comes along and breaks into your circle… because your circle of life is not big enough to include all the people God would include.”

So keep on opening up until you include all the people God would include.


I have published three new books which are listed at the bottom of the header above. I would be very grateful if you would take the time to click on each title and read a sample chapter. The Sayings of Noah is a sermon series I wrote for Lent which came from the sayings my grandson, Noah, made around the time he was four years old. It is a lite Lenten approach. The Daily Moments with Pastor Steve are daily devotionals. And the Grieving Heart is a collection of uplifting funeral homilies I have given over the years. I hope you will enjoy reading these and even more I hope they will help you help others.

Thanks, Steve.


Hospitality vs. Evangelism

thRecently I received a request from The Circuit Rider Magazine to offer my thoughts on the tension in the Methodist Church between Evangelism and Hospitality. I believe some examples will appear in the May/June issue.

Although in 40 years of ministry (from 1973 to 2013) we have tried renaming and relabeling evangelism, I believe many Methodists fear the word and practice of evangelism. To be fair, we have seen the misuse of tracks and visitation to seek to force people into belief. I remember back in the 1950s in Greensboro North Carolina, there used to be this old man who carried a sign which read “the end is near.” People would be fisherscasually walking down the street and he would sneak up behind them and scream at the top of his voice “are you saved?” We might not have been, but we certainly needed to be saved from him, because he scared a lot of people right out of their skin.

As a student pastor in rural North Carolina back in the 70s I would lead our small congregation in Sunday afternoon walks through the community. We knew who most of the people were, we had their names on the cards we were carrying. One Sunday afternoon my lay leader and I knocked on Mr. Wilkins front door. Mr. Wilkins was this old farmer type who came to the front door with shotgun in his hand saying: “I told you churchy people to stay off my property. Now you get on out of here before I have to use this gun.” My lay leader and I went back to our car, and filled out Mr. Wilkins card saying we don’t think he’s interested. Evangelism was put on the back burner for a few months, while we reevaluated our procedure.

This little church that did evangelism also did hospitality but didn’t know it. There was this old man who lived down on the corner from the church. Not much family to speak of – not much else to speak of. He didn’t have anything, except some sort of mental problem. The people in this little church didn’t make judgments. They simply organized ways in which they could make sure he was warm in the winter, comfortable in the summer, had clean clothes and something to eat. They didn’t do that because they needed the new member. They did that because he was one of God’s children who needed help.restore-hospitality-logo

Today when we hear the term hospitality I still can’t help but think of people sitting around with teacups on their laps in the sacred parlors of churches, or people assigned to welcome you at the front door. Hospitality is thought of as something you do when someone comes to you. I know that’s not what we’re saying it is but that’s the connotation many of us have.

I believe we are still confused about hospitality – radically caring for people – so much so that we go out to help them even before they realize they may have a need for the grace we represent. We are not going out to HOOK them. We are going out to show them the love of Jesus Christ without judgment. And in so doing we make the pathway back to the church much easier.

(Sorry about earlier errors… I am using voice recognition software and it adds some really crazy words). If I only had the mind sharp enough to find all those errors. I will do better in the future.


I have published three new books which are listed at the bottom of the header above. If you would like to take the time to click on each title and read a sample chapter, I would be very grateful. The Sayings of Noah is a sermon series I wrote for Lent which came from the sayings my grandson, Noah, made around the time he was four years old. It is a lite Lenten approach. The Daily Moments with Pastor Steve are daily devotionals. And the Grieving Heart is a collection of uplifting funeral homilies I have given over the years. I hope you will enjoy reading these and even more I hope they will help you help others.

Thanks, Steve.


Light at the End of the Tunnel

FullSizeRenderOver the past 40 years of ministry, I have had many people think that they were in the bottom of the pit from which they could see no light, or deep in a tunnel and could not see the light at either end. Scripture tells us that God came to bring light to those who are living in darkness (those who dwell in darkness have seen a great light.) Recently my son and I made a trip to Madison, Tennessee. On that trip we had to go through a tunnel – really two tunnels. And I don’t like tunnels. As we were going to this tunnel I took this picture. It proves, at least to me, there is light at the end of a tunnel.

If we are sensitive at all, we have probably been brought to the bottom of the pit by the hurtful words and condemnation of others. If we have lived life in the real world, things have happened which pushed us into the pit– from which we could not see any light.

I remember my first night in the Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. It was one of the most frightening, awakening to reality nights I have ever experienced – other than a little trip to Vietnam. It is my first night. I have three years, 364 more days to serve as a United States Marine. We are standing at what we think is attention at the end of our bunks. This drill instructor walks up to the man three bunks down from me and punches him square in the nose. It knocks him out. I don’t know about you, but that made an impression on me. I remember laying in my bunk that night, in the dark, thinking to myself “oh my God, what have I done?”

Days happen to all of us where something comes along and punches us right in the nose. We also think this is a blow from which we will never recover. This time the mistake is so bad, so real, so binding that I will never find my way to the right path.

I can’t help but think of those 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by Isis simply because they were Christians who stood up and would not deny their faith. I look at this line of men marching across the desert and I wonder what they must be thinking as they are walking toward their own death. They force me to ask myself “do I have that kind of faith?” Certainly for them there was no light in their pit – no light at the end of the tunnel. At least no light the world gives – it must have been the light that God gives – the light that helps us to see Christ even in the midst of the most terrible tragedy – the most unspeakable horror – the most unreal circumstance. These men, moments away from death, knew that Christ was with them and that in their death nothing would be lost.

Whatever we may be facing we need to know that the light of Christ shines upon us. We need to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We need to know that Christ will never forsake us or abandon us no matter what! Feel the embrace of God. Experience the warmth of God’s grace. And walk in the path that leads to light.


I have published three new books which are listed at the bottom of the header above. If you would like to take the time to click on each title and read a sample chapter, I would be very grateful. The Sayings of Noah is a sermon series I wrote for Lent which came from the sayings my grandson, Noah, made around the time he was four years old. It is a lite Lenten approach. The Daily Moments with Pastor Steve are daily devotionals. And the Grieving Heart is a collection of uplifting funeral homilies I have given over the years. I hope you will enjoy reading these and even more I hope they will help you help others.

Thanks, Steve.


Watching Your Church Burn

fire3This past Friday, February 20, 2015 news came across the airwaves that a church in Reidsville was burning. It looked familiar, even though they did not mention the name of the church at that time. I mentioned to my wife that this church looked like Mt. Carmel, in the Oregon Hill section, between Ruffin and Wentworth. Sure enough the news finally told the sad news that it was Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church.

I know that church because I spent five years in the Ruffin Church – just down the road – four years while I was in seminary at Duke and one additional year so my son could graduate from Rockingham High School. We held joint services with that church during Lent, Easter and Thanksgiving, and sometimes even had joint revival services. I am sad for the people of that church. I know how they are feeling this morning.

You see, back on Good Friday in 1974 a large weather system went through the western part of our state. We were serving our first year on the Murphy Circuit. During the night a cat 5 tornado hit Murphy. Ranger UMC – one of the churches I served was an old white two story building – was hit by the tornado, knocked off the foundation and gas from a broken gas line caught the building on fire and burned it to the ground. It was a terrible site and an even worse feeling. The following Sunday the District Superintendent met with the people of the church and they overwhelmingly decided to rebuild. Ranger has a beautiful building today.

In the spring of 1976 the Pine Bluff UMC I was serving was hit by lightening from a violent thunder storm. The lightening struck one of the trees in the front of the church, followed the roots to the church and set it on fire. Unlike the Ranger church, we heard the fire call and stood in the front yard of the church watching our it burn with tears of sadness running down our cheeks. We were lucky that we had a fellowship hall to meet in until we could rebuild. Pine Bluff has a beautiful church building today. We rebuilt that church in less than a year completely debt free.

I can’t find the words that adequately express the emptiness, sadness, loss and despair one feels as you watch your church burn… you feel so helpless. It is like “Wait a minute, this isn’t supposed to happen… churches are God’s house… they are not supposed to burn.” What a wake up call to how fragile a church really is. Some churches burn down and fall apart long before the flames ever start. The backbiting and power battles leave many a church an empty shell before the clouds begin to gather.

I must add that the people of the Ranger Church and the Pine Bluff Church came together and worked hard, prayed hard, and pulled together to make their new buildings a place where God would dwell… where God would live… where God would be alive through them. Yes, they were good people before the tornado and the lightening. Afterwards they were even closer… they had been through the storm, survived the fire… picked up the rubble, joined hands and hearts and built something even better… a church where Jesus would live.

Keep the people of Mt. Carmel in your prayers and in your heart. One thing I hope you will join me in doing… send them a check to let them know you care and want to help them rebuild. Rev. Glenda Bennett is the pastor. I pray that we fill up her mail box with checks and their hearts with acts of kindness. (GBennett@wnccumc.net)


I have published three new books which are listed at the bottom of the header above. If you would like to take the time to click on each title and read a sample chapter, I would be very grateful. The Sayings of Noah is a sermon series I wrote for Lent which came from the sayings my grandson, Noah, made around the time he was four years old. It is a lite Lenten approach. The Daily Moments with Pastor Steve are daily devotionals. And the Grieving Heart is a collection of uplifting funeral homilies I have given over the years. I hope you will enjoy reading these and even more I hope they will help you help others.

Thanks, Steve.


Dream a Little Dream

th“And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.’ Excerpt from Genesis 41:14-36

Recently I got a little nostalgic as I wandered through I-Tunes looking for some of my oldies but goodies of the 60’s and 70’s. Man, that sure was some good music. One of my favorite groups of those days was the Mama’s and Papa’s. And Mama Cass Elliott had a voice that just wouldn’t quit. I spent some time listening to their songs but focused in on one of my favorites… Mama Cass singing; “Dream A Little Dream of Me.” It got me to thinking about dreams. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. Does it mean something if I do or don’t? Who knows? I do know that it is 2 am, I am retired, and I am up writing this devotion because I was awakened by a dream… or some God nudge, or something.

Lately I have been dreaming a lot…. every night. You see, I and contemplating writing a mystery/adventure fiction novel. I have never tread those waters. So one of the first things I must do is decide what kind of novel, who are the main characters, what is the storyline and where I want to go with it. Every night I have been dreaming about this story. I hope that soon I will dream the dream that captures me and fills me with the passion of the story.

The Rev. Will Green, who was both a pastor and psychologist, led a group through a series of dream workshops in which they shared their dreams. Each imagined having had the dream of one person who would share his or her dream. As each shared the dream’s meaning for the others, the original dreamer took notes and identified interpretations that resonated. The group became the “Joseph” of this biblical story. The idea of the group was that God speaks though our dreams in symbols or code so that our conscious mind will not suppress them and divinely inspired messages can get through. I don’t know if that is true or not.

However, I do believe that we should pay attention to those hunches, and not suppress them. Test significant dreams, visions, or hunches with others you trust, and then prayerfully act on them. Your dream, vision, or thought may be the difference between life and death, for you, for someone you love, for a generation, for the world. If it isn’t, after discernment and prayer, know when to let go.

I remember having some kind of divine nudges (even though at the time I didn’t understand it that way) to go visit someone, to preach a certain message, to talk with the youth about a special topic, or lead the congregation in a special time of prayer. Many times when I did not act on that nudge I regretted not acting on what I then believed to be a nudge from God. I could have helped someone if I had only listened and acted on that Divine nudge. So, I am learning to be sensitive to the nudges from God. I don’t always get it right but I am getting better at listening for God to speak or tap me on the shoulder.

What is the dream or hunch God gave you? God is still sending Divine hunches, many more than we acknowledge. Work on your listening skills. God just may be wanting to use you as an instrument of His grace. Listen and be ready to act.

Gracious God, Help me discern and share the dreams and thoughts you give me today that have divine purpose. Help me sharpen my listening skills so that I may hear you calling, feel the nudge and act in your behalf. In and through Jesus. Amen.


I have published three new books which are listed at the bottom of the header above. If you would like to take the time to click on each title and read a sample chapter, I would be very grateful. The Sayings of Noah is a sermon series I wrote for Lent which came from the sayings my grandson, Noah, made around the time he was four years old. It is a lite Lenten approach. The Daily Moments with Pastor Steve are daily devotionals. And the Grieving Heart is a collection of uplifting funeral homilies I have given over the years. I hope you will enjoy reading these and even more I hope they will help you help others.

Thanks, Steve.


Critical Reflections

ernestholmes172213The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in faithful love. Psalms 145:8

God loves you. But what are you telling yourself about yourself? When you look in the mirror, are you staring back at your biggest cheerleader or your harshest critic? If you learn to give yourself the benefit of the doubt – if you can learn how to have constructive conversations with the person in the mirror – then your self-respect will tend to take care of itself.

But if you are constantly berating yourself – if you are constantly telling yourself that you cannot measure up – then you will find that self-respect is always in short supply.

The next time you find yourself being critical of the person you see in the mirror, think for a moment about God’s love for you, and then ask yourself if the criticism is really valid. If it is valid, make changes… if not, lighten up.

Saint Francis de Sales said it so well; “Have patience with all things, but mostly with yourself. Don’t lose courage considering your own imperfections, but instantly begin remedying them. Every day begin the task anew.”

Dear Lord, I know I am always on my own back about something I did wrong or did not do well or forgot to do at all. I look in that mirror and I am very critical of the person I see. That person is not the person I want to be nor the person you want me to be. Help me to forgive myself. Help me to mend myself as I hand my imperfect self over to you yet another day that you may change my heart and make me new. Touch me with your loving embrace that my heart may also be warmed by you. In and through Jesus. Amen


I have published three new books which are listed at the bottom of the header above. If you would like to take the time to click on each title and read a sample chapter, I would be very grateful. The Sayings of Noah is a sermon series I wrote for Lent which came from the sayings my grandson, Noah, made around the time he was four years old. It is a lite Lenten approach. The Daily Moments with Pastor Steve are daily devotionals. And the Grieving Heart is a collection of uplifting funeral homilies I have given over the years. I hope you will enjoy reading these and even more I hope they will help you help others. Thanks, Steve.