Angel & Soccer Star


Shirley posted these two pictures several years ago as throw back pictures on Facebook and they popped up as a memory on Facebook the other day. I remember these pictures from a long time ago. I think this was one of Noah’s first years playing recreational soccer at Pleasant Garden, and perhaps Abby’s second Christmas program at the church. I look back on those precious faces and I see so much hope and trust in them. Who would believe that yesterday Noah entered school as a High School freshman and Abby entered the seventh grade? (BTW – Noah still advertises (after all these years) Nike Sportswear, and Payton Manning stoled Abby’s play signal and used it right up to his last game.)

I think back over the years and wonder… did we do it right? Did they always know they were loved? Did they know we were always there for them? Did we make life better for them? And the big question is did they see Christ in us?

Time flies by and we forget along the way to stop in the moment and ask those questions of ourselves. If we are making an impact on our grandchildren is it for good, bad or indifferent? We look with great pride on Joy and Stephen and the love they have and express for their children. They would do battle with the devil himself over those children. They have taught them by example a great sense of responsibility for themselves and to their community and friends. They are always at church helping out where they can… doing what needs to be done. They have done for Noah and Abby that which we could not do for Stephen… give them roots. It has been a joy to watch them grow up at Pleasant Garden with their friends and family… a support system who cares enough to never let them down.

Thanks to all the PGUMC family for accepting, loving and caring for my family. You make me so proud to have been a small part of that church.

A little housekeeping here: if you want to get notification of this blog through email please click on the “Follow Steve’s Blog” on the right side of the page and enter your email address. Each time a new blog is posted you will be notified by email. When you get that notification just click on the title of the post and it will take you to my page. Thank you so much for sharing in these blogs.

Thanks for taking a look at my books.


The Wounded Healer

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” – Isaiah 40:1

The psychologist Susan Silk published an article about the psychology of comfort called “Ring Theory,” or, for short: Comfort In, Dump Out. It’s personal for her: after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and in the hospital, she got tired of having to comfort people who were supposed to be comforting her.

Ring Theory puts the wounded person at the center of a circle, and everybody else in concentric rings around the wounded. Their distance from the center corresponds to the closeness of their relationship: spouses are closest in, followed by family, close friends, work colleagues, and, finally, Facebook friends.

The rule of Ring Theory is that you have to comfort anyone in a circle smaller than yours, and get your own needs met by someone in a circle larger than yours.

The priest Henri Nouwen didn’t coin the phrase Wounded Healer—Carl Jung did that—but Henri popularized it. He said that we Jesus-people are called to put our wounds, once they have begun healing, into the service of the newly wounded, and he also told this story:

A Rabbi came to the prophet Elijah and asked, “Tell me, when will the Messiah come?” The reply, “Go ask him yourself,” surprised the Rabbi. “Where is he?” he asked. “He’s sitting at the gates of the city,” Elijah said. “But how will I know which one he is?” the Rabbi inquired.

“He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all of their wounds all at one time and then bind them up again; but he unbinds his wounds one at a time and then binds that wound up again. He says to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed and I must always be ready.'”

If we are the hands and feet and wounds of Christ in the world, what does it mean to be “always ready”?

It has something to do with sitting among others who are wounded. 
It has something to do with only unbinding one wound at a time. 
It has something to do with acknowledging that we are not only here for ourselves, but might be needed, and called by God to respond to that need, at any moment.

Dear Lord, bind up my old wounds, and help me to get a grip, that I may comfort in, and dump out, as the day requires, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


PS: Due to circumstances beyond my control and for the good of the church, I will be suspending my blog. Thank you for reading the blogs and devotions over the years. It has meant a lot to me to be able to share with you in this manner. God speed to all of you.

Those Crazy Teens

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

And this is His commandment, that we believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. 1 John 3:23

Seventeen-year-old Courtney Thorp goes to Shell Rock Senior High School in Iowa. There’s another thing you should know about Thorp. You should also be aware that when she was nine months old she was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy. It is an illness which can negatively affect speech, balance and many other aspects of an individual’s life.

Mainstreamed in her education, Thorp, along with her parents, were always dedicated to minimizing those negatives.

Even though she knew her daughter was an upbeat kind of kid, when Thorp’s mother heard her only child had been nominated for homecoming queen, she was worried. Yes, the kids at Thorp’s school always seemed to be nice, but … maybe this was some kind of prank: a cruel hoax which some bad-attitude students were playing on her daughter.

Thorp’s parents received some degree of peace when the school’s associate principal called and assured them the nomination was legitimate, and there was no ill will or cruelty in it.

I have to tell you the night the homecoming king and queen were crowned, Thorp’s mom ended up in tears. In her words, “I lost it.”

Had the assistant principal been wrong? Nope. Not at all. Mom “lost it” because her daughter’s coronation as queen was marked by applause, cheers and high-fives by the rest of the court. The homecoming king said, “It was such a great feeling when she won. She comes to school every day with a big smile on her face. She is happy 110 percent of the time. She loves life and she makes the best out of everything. She’s a big inspiration to everybody.”

So, that’s the human-interest story from Iowa.

Now there are two reasons that narrative has been shared. The first reason is because it’s easy for these days for my blog (and me) to center on the sad, the sick, the terrible, and the tragic. For you and for me that can be discouraging and depressing. I felt it was time (after the Mad as Hell rant) for something upbeat. The second reason the story is shared is because here is a high school filled with kids who get it.

I think they get it partly because of parents, partly because of their stable community, and partly because most of them are members at one of the churches in Shell Rock. These kids may not know it, but part of their specialness has to do with their belief system. It is a system which says we are redeemed sinners, no one is perfect, we all fall short of the mark, but we have Jesus who loves us and by his mercy lifts us to the Father’s throne, and restores us to the Father’s house.

Knowing this Jesus the teens of Shell Rock, Iowa, have put into practice an attitude of love and acceptance… By God’s grace may their attitude become contagious all around the world.

Hopefully, our time together tonight has made you feel a bit more thankful for Jesus and a whole lot more thankful for some of the Christian kids who are coming after us.

Dear Lord, today we give thanks for kids who conquer problems and those who support those who need it. Most of all we give thanks for Jesus who taught us how to love and support someone else. In His Name. Amen.

Grace and Peace


PS. We think our cat is watching the Animal Channel while we are away every day. We even found cat nip on the TV remote the other day. She has learned to sit at her bowl and rattle it until we come fill it. She is almost 14 years old… so old cats can learn new tricks.

On The Back Pew

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Finally, [the spirit] took me to the inside court of the Temple of God.” – Ezekiel 8:16

Have you noticed that most people, when they come to worship, don’t sit up front? The back of the church tends to fill up first almost as predictably as the bottom of a glass will be the first to be filled with water. You have to get there early to get a good back seat. Why is that? If we are attending a concert or a lecture, we would charge down front where the “good seats” are, even pay extra for those seats. But why not when we come to worship?

I have heard a number of theories. People want to be able to see who else is there, which is easier to do from the back. And it is easier to slip out quickly during the last hymn if you sit in the back. Some say I am just more comfortable back here.

Those explanations may be part of the story, but I have heard another theory. That theory states that we don’t immediately go to the front because that would feel like a definitive declaration of faith. Sitting in the back you can still feel like you have one foot in and one foot out. To stride down the aisle and sit in the front feels like skipping right to the “your whole self in” part of the hokey pokey, and we may not be ready for that. Our own experience of faith often is more qualified, more tentative than that.

If doubt or uncertainty disqualifies us from worship, we will have many empty churches. Some of us live lives of doubt, diversified by faith. Others of us live a life of faith, diversified by doubt. And in the church there is room for us all. Even at the front of the church.

In the Temple in Jerusalem there was an inner court, reserved for the righteous, and an outer court for everyone else. Gratefully, in the United Methodist Church, it is all an inner court and we are all invited there – no matter who we are.

Thank you, O God, that your invitation to me is not based on my righteousness, but instead flows from your graciousness, in and through the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Grace and Peace


Really, Paul?

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. […] To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people . . . .” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Dear Paul:

All things to all people?  Really?

Here’s the thing, Paul: you had a wonderful, tradition-inspiring gift for words.  You were, let’s be honest, the creator of the sound-bite.  But sometimes those 30-second snippets are misleading.

I am positive you were not a full-time tent-maker and traveling evangelist, while also being a loyal and devoted family-man, who took care of his relatives, made dinners, cleaned the house, and still had the energy to take his spouse out on a romantic date now and then.

You know why I’m certain? Because it’s not possible.  

I know plenty of people who try to do all those things (except, maybe, the tent-making) because they think it is their good, Christian duty. “I must,” they repeat, “be all things to all people.” They end up – frazzled, anxious, depressed, and suffering from one broken relationship after another.  

I know this isn’t what you meant. You know that being everything to everyone usually means nothing to anyone. I’m pretty sure you meant you were able to do one thing, with one person (or group) at a time.  And that one thing?  It was love.

Jewish, Gentile, weak, powerful – whoever, whatever, however – you loved them.  You joined people where and as they were, so they might know the love of God who joins them where they are.  

So can we publish a clarification – an editor’s note, of sorts?

You, Paul, called to be an apostle of God by Christ Jesus, were not all things to all people.  You were one thing – love – to one person at a time.

Yet, through the miracle of the gospel, that’s more than enough to reach us all.


Steve (on behalf of the tired everywhere)

All-knowing, all-capable God, remind me I am not You – and you don’t want me to be. When I’m tempted to do it all, remind me it is (hard) enough to do the one thing you do ask of all people – to love the  person in front of me right now. And then help me do it, in and through Jesus.  Amen.

Grace and Peace


I Thank God For You

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now. 7a It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart….” I Philippians 1:3-5, 7a

Yesterday I was honored to preach the homecoming service at Ruffin UMC. This was the church I served while going to seminary at Duke. We spent five years there – stayed an extra year after school to allow our son to graduate from high school.

I am not sure that homecomings really meant all that much to me early on in life or in my career. I guess it is perhaps because I didn’t understand their importance to us as a community. Now that I am older, retired, and have been in ministry for 40 years, I understand and appreciate homecoming celebrations. It is a celebration of a time you spent together, perhaps a time that changed your life, but especially the people who surrounded you as you shared that time together. So we go back to remember as we walk those paths again with friends we have made and lives that have touched us with the love of God. We tell stories, laugh, maybe even brush back a tear. But we travel back to another time and appreciate time shared together.

Yesterday I spoke to a congregation about a congregation that cared for and nurtured me, a young struggling student pastor, and helped to prepare me for ministry and sent me on my way to serve others. Their guidance and nurture was a gift from God which the Ruffin Church did with such compassion and care. I had been at other churches who didn’t give a hoot if I became a good minister or not, who really didn’t care all that much about us. But Ruffin was a special church that accepted its calling to nurture young people preparing for ministry.

There may not be any rewards or recognition for what you have done here on earth, but God knows your heart is filled with compassion. He knows all the young ones you have tried to help prepare for ministry. And in God’s heart you are loved, you are appreciated, you are a great church.

Thank you Ruffin UMC for loving us, caring for us, and nurturing us in the direction of being a good servant of Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord, thank you for the people of the Ruffin Church, and people like them in churches all over the world, who take on the thankless and some time troublesome task of preparing the young for ministry. I thank you for them, O Lord, for they changed my life and blessed me for all the work ahead, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


We’ve Only Just Begun

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” – Galatians 2:20

Once upon a time, a dandy named Francis heard the gospel. He gave away his own money, then stole his father’s to help the poor. Dragged before the bishop for judgment, he stripped off his clothes and, naked as a jay, strode out of town, a newborn. He’d been baptized as an infant, but this was the moment it took.

He became poor himself, suffering with the ragged on the streets. He sang about Brother Sun and Sister Water, preached to birds, did therapy with killer wolves, and lured the cream of Assisi’s youth into the evangelical madness of his mercy. To everyone’s revulsion, including at first his own, he embraced lepers, kissing their sores. Townspeople pelted him with stones.

He hung out in a ruined chapel, the Portiuncula. One day its crucifix spoke to him: ‘Repair my church.” Stone by stone, he rebuilt the chapel. Some say Jesus meant him to reform The Church, but Francis was literal-minded, inclined to the concrete, doable things in front of his nose.

Hungry for honor, he’d once gone to war. He returned traumatized, a haunted peacemaker. Which is why he’s the patron saint of stowaways, having hidden on a boat headed to Egypt where he crossed enemy lines, found the Sultan, commended the gospel to him, and tried to end the fifth crusade. It didn’t work, but the Sultan thought he was a rare lovely Christian and made sure he got home safely.

Francis loved everybody, even the luxurious Pope down in the holy cesspool of Rome (who’d surprised everyone by approving the Franciscan Rule). But most of all, Francis loved Jesus, following him with unhinged joy down to the last detail of Christ’s freedom and agony. One night, legend says, seraphim lasered the wounds of Jesus onto his scrawny flesh.

Before Francis died, naked on the ground outside the Portiuncula—dust to dust—he told his brothers, “I have done my part. Christ teach you to do yours.” He also said, “We have only begun to live the gospel.” We, even dying Francis, have only begun.

Now he’s in Paradise with Jesus. It’s said that in the morning mist, angels can’t tell them apart. His heaven teems with talking birds, repentant wolves, laughing water. The Pope’s there too, singing duets with the Sultan. And lepers, thousands of lepers, roses blooming on their skin where Francis kissed them.

Most merciful God, on this day when we remember your servant, Francis, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world, so that by following his example, we may delight in every creature with perfect joy, and seek a path to peace in all we do, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


St. Francis Oct. 4, 1182

God’s Love Endures Forever!!!

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.  Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.” – Psalm 107

How many times in any given day are we assaulted by bad news? Seems like we can barely recover from one depressing declaration before we are confronted by another. If it’s not a car repair, it’s a house repair. If it’s not a headache, it’s a heartache.  If it’s not a problem finding a job, it’s a problem keeping a job. If it’s not a mortgage meltdown, it’s another financial bail-out. If it’s not national security, it’s the national debt. If it’s not hell at the workplace, it’s hell in your home life.

But in the midst of cascading deficits, constant debacles and continuous depressions, the Psalmist declares that there is Good News, which every believer in God ought to be talking about.  And this Good News is not illusory; it does not deny the fact that we live in perilous times, and it does not attempt to shift our focus to an otherworldly utopia.

It is the Good News that despite all of the troubles, trials and traumas we face, love endures.  The Love of God is steadfast, and it endures forever!  Ain’t that Good News?

It is the Good News that all of our suffering is redemptive – which is to say that God uses our pains to produce greater stamina, greater integrity and greater maturity in us. In God’s processes of redemption, bad is exchanged for good.  Ain’t that Good News?

It is the Good News that despite all that has transpired to tear us apart, God has gathered us together – “from the lands, east and west, north and south.” And it is our togetherness that gives us strength to face the challenges ahead.  Ain’t that Good News?

Somebody ought to say so!

Dear Lord, please do not allow our recitations of bad news interrupt our declarations of the Good News!  Give us hearts to believe, eyes to see and courage to speak, in and through Jesus. Amen

Grace and Peace


Looking Back – Leaning Forward

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:6-13

A little while ago Shirley and I found and old box of pictures. It was almost like we had found a hidden treasure. We spent over an hour going through these pictures and remembering all the events and times they brought to mind. Like: Shirley and I standing in the snow a week before I made the trip to Paris Island for Marine boot camp. Our wedding pictures and remembering the rush of that weekend and how the Captain told me “If the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you one.” He didn’t want to let me come home and get married. Many pictures of our son, Stephen, in many different stages of his life. How proud we were and are of this young man. The houses we have lived in and the churches we have served… wow, what a life we have lived… and how we have been blessed to serve God through the church. And finally, we noticed the pictures which chronicled our increasing age – and how life was morphing our looks. I think that was when our journey through the pictures ended. I could go on, of course, as we did that morning, wading into all of those times and places until we were chest deep—heart deep—in nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a very natural and powerful emotion, particularly for those of us who are older.  But nostalgia has its dangers.  If it gives us renewed appreciation for the ways God has blessed us in the past, then it can be a wonderful occasion for thanksgiving. But nostalgia also can make us idealize the past and in ways that make the present pale by comparison.  So nostalgia can rob the present of delight and the future of hope.  

As Christians we draw on the past in a myriad ways, of course, but our faith is always forward leaning.  We are assured that the good old days, no matter how good, are nothing compared to what God has in store for us. Paul quotes Isaiah to remind the Corinthians, but perhaps also to remind himself: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” So the advice for all of us is to look back, yes, and be thankful. But lean forward to all that God has in store for us.

Dear God of yesterday, today and tomorrow, help us to look back in ways that keep us thankful, but leaning forward enough to keep us alive and real in the faith of Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


A Horrible Retirement Speech

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“When he heard the words, ‘Chest of God,’ Eli fell backward off his stool where he sat next to the gate. Eli was an old man, and very fat. When he fell, he broke his neck and died. He had led Israel forty years.” – 1 Samuel 4:18

When I read this scripture for today I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I have just retired after forty years of leading the church. Some think I am old. Some even think I am fat. Thankfully, I got a well-intentioned roast as I got ready to retire – and there was no fire – and no neck breaking – just gracious people having a good time as they celebrated my leaving and the coming of a new pastor. That’s the way it should be… know when to retire… and expect and encourage a refreshing new spirit to follow.

What a horrible retirement speech at the end of a long career. No one wants to be remembered the way Eli was in today’s scripture. We’ve all seen that happen before. The leader who builds something impressive but can’t see when it is time to step aside. The retirement that happens a few years too late. If he’d stepped down a few years earlier, the retirement celebrations would have had a whole different feel to them. 

What are we going to do without you around here? Did you mean it when you said we could call you about anything?  I can’t imagine this place without you.

But when the person stays too long, people might say all those things, but they don’t really mean them. There’s a hollow ring to the speeches of people trying to be kind, when what they are really thinking is: It’s about time.

Eli, who had a genuine call from God, should have stepped aside and allowed the people to celebrate his years of work. Instead he stayed, and started listening to all the wrong people. His degenerate sons started stealing the temple meat, but even worse, they lost the ark of the covenant. How do you lose the ark of the covenant?! They took it into a losing battle and lost it. And when their father heard the news, he skipped the retirement party and keeled over. 

When the scripture mentions that Eli was fat, it was not a comment on his physical fitness. He was fat because he too had been eating the fat marbled temple meat. He had benefited from his sons’ corruption. He had truly lost his calling.

Why couldn’t he see it? Why couldn’t he see himself with any clarity? When did he lose his vision?

Dear Lord, guide us in accepting our callings and also in accepting when it is time to allow someone else to follow theirs. Let that be the right person, the one who has a calling too, one who will bring an exciting new spirit to us all, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


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