'What really matters'

Bishop encourages incarcerated men at Lee to hope in God, knowing it’s never too late to start anew

By Jessica Brodie

BISHOPVILLE—Men incarcerated at Lee Correctional Institute got a special visit from United Methodist leadership last month as South Carolina’s resident bishop and their district superintendent brought a word of hope in God.

Bishop L. Jonathan Holston and Florence District Superintendent Terry Fleming headed to Lee Dec. 1 on the invitation of Chaplain Edward McKnight, bringing what McKnight called “a powerful message” about seeking the Lord and focusing on what truly matters: peace and transformation in Christ.

“For the bishop of the South Carolina Conference to come to Lee was a memorial event. The men were ecstatic. There was such a joy and peace exemplified with the men and staff present. The men were asking, ‘When is the bishop coming back?’” McKnight said of Holston and Fleming, noting the men welcomed them with “open arms” and hope they will come visit again soon. “The message on hope gave the men hope and will forever show them the love of Christ.”

Drawing from Romans 12:9-21, Holston preached on “What Really Matters,” explaining that no matter our past or our present, God sees us and called us to a positive, righteous life with him at our helm.

As the bishop noted, God understands who we are, and he understands that doing his will is not easy.

Sometimes, God will ask us to do something we do not want to do.

But, Holston said, what really matters is knowing that in spite of everything, God can enable us to walk his path; it’s never too late.

Holston lifted up three points in driving home his theme. First, he said, our past matters.

“We need to make peace with God,” Holston told the men. “We need to make peace with our past.”

He asked the men to examine what they need to let go of to get right with God.

“When you ball up your fist, nothing can get in or out,” he said. “You have hope when your past is redeemed.”

Second, Holston said, what matters is that we allow God to transform our present and allow change to happen. “When people see you, they need to see you as you are. I can’t let what is wrong with me keep me from who God is,” Holston said.

He told the men their actions must be different when we are truly following God’s will and way.

Finally, Holston said, what matters is understanding our future can and must be redirected.

“When you find yourself thinking and doing the wrong thing, you need to make a U-turn,” he said, reminding the men they can overcome evil by doing good.

“You need to latch on to people who believe that you can have a future,” Holston said. “This is what matters most.”

He ended by leading the men in singing “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” lifting up the beautiful truth that God sees us all no matter what we’re done or where we are currently, whether behind bars or on our knees.

This is what really matters, Holston said.   

Holston said it is important to remember people who are behind bars are still valued children of God who need our love and care.

“These inmates, they’re still people of God who need to hear a word of faith and hope and love and grace and mercy,” Holston said. “There are members of their families living in our communities, and some of them are ostracized. They need to hear a word of faith and hope and love and grace and mercy. We all must open our eyes and look at the fields, as Scripture tells us—they are ripe for harvest. The world is ripe for harvest, is it not?”

McKnight said words cannot express how much the visit of the bishop and district superintendent touched him as chaplain of the men at Lee.

“The men here at Lee felt that they were not forgotten,” McKnight said. “I was hearing the Lord say, ‘Keep doing what you are doing; your labor is not in vain.’ My work was validated and God used the Rev. Terry Fleming and Bishop Holston to let me know that God is pleased. I was reminded of the Scripture verse in 1 Corinthians 15:58: ‘Therefore my beloved brethren be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for your labor is not in vain.’

“Our labor for the Lord is never in vain. To God be the glory.”

McKnight also lifted up the reminder by Methodism founder John Wesley to “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

McKnight assisted with this article.

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