The Light’s Still On

The following is a recent sermon series I did @TheHillsKy.

If you’re not connected with a body of believers, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly and I will personally connect you with a local church body where you can find fellowship and community.  

From Motel 6, Tom Bodett and the Ad Campaign That Put Us on the Map – The story of The Richards Group’s defining work by Stan Richards

The phone rang. “Stan, I need your help.” 

On the other end of the line was Joe McCarthy. Friend. Former client. Proper Bostonian. I hadn’t heard from Joe in months, but his voice immediately brought back all that I had enjoyed about creating advertising for his former company, Lincoln Hotels—a sophisticated brand that perfectly reflected Joe’s own sensibilities. 

Joe explained his current situation, and it was dire. He’d taken on a new role as the CEO of Motel 6, and the company was struggling. Occupancy rates were falling 2 percentage points per year. 

Now, I couldn’t have imagined a stranger fit for Joe than this budget motel chain. But of course I told him I’d do whatever I could to help. 

As soon as I set down the phone, we began conducting research, studying industry data, and staying at Motel 6’s across the country. Yet after comparing notes on dingy hallways and coin-operated televisions, we came to a unanimous, albeit reluctant recommendation—one that probably meant we would remain a regional agency for a little longer. 

“Joe,” I counseled, “don’t advertise.” 

I told my friend that to spend money on our services, instead of on the motel chain itself, would be a mistake. After all, even if The Richards Group could persuade a guest to give Motel 6 a try, it was doubtful that guest would give it a second chance, given its current state of disrepair. Joe’s primary responsibility, in my opinion, was to bring the motel chain up to the standard of a trusted national budget brand—at a minimum, offering clean, safe accommodations. 

Joe appreciated the recommendation. In the meantime, he asked us to get started on an advertising campaign to relaunch Motel 6 once the remodeling project was complete. So, as extensive motel property and operational changes began in California, we initiated positioning work back home in Dallas.

“Where do you stay when you’re on the road?” Each of the 10 individuals offered a hotel or motel brand, but none mentioned Motel 6. So the same question was asked a second time, and again, no one named the brand we were there to discuss. Worried that we had a misrecruited room, the planner pressed a third time. Exhausted, the participants just couldn’t seem to find another motel to name. 

We were close to canceling the session when someone finally spoke up: “You know, if it’s late at night, I’ll stay at a Motel 6. And I can save enough money by doing that, I can spend it on a tank of gas.” 

Someone else in the room, encouraged, offered, “I do the same thing. And I can save enough to bring a gift to my grandchildren.” 

The Motel 6 confessions continued. It occurred to us that this was simply a group of people who did not want to be perceived by the others in the room as being cheap or poor. As they traded stories, their initial embarrassment transformed into pride. They didn’t stay at Motel 6 because they were cheap—they stayed there because they were frugal. 

There was our simple answer: We would extol the virtues of frugality.

One of our agency writers, David Fowler, suggested working with an NPR storyteller who seemed the perfect fit for the Motel 6 brand. The obscure radio talent had a voice that was immediately likable and distinct, delivering witticisms with commonsensical charm. Almost 33 years later, we all know him by name: Tom Bodett.

The writing for Motel 6 was and continues to be created at The Richards Group, though Tom has always played a large part in the radio work. Few know that Motel 6’s theme line, “We’ll leave the light on for you,” was ad-libbed by Tom and David because a radio script was running short. To this day, if I walk up to the first person I see on the street and say “Motel 6,” he or she will respond with one of two things: either “Tom Bodett” or “We’ll leave the light on for you.” 

    1. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually stayed at a Motel 6, but I do know, that for most of my life, I’ve known the name Tom Bodett, and their tag line, “We’ll leave the light on for ya”.
    2. If you haven’t guess by now, my name is Nate Roemer, I’m the Pastor of The Hills Church in Campbellsburg, KY, and we’ll leave the light on for ya!
    3. In fact, I want you to all say it with me…follow this slide, and just say your name, and let’s say this together…
  1. Mark 5:14-16 (KJV) 14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
  1. When we leave the light on, we’re indicating that we’re expecting someone to arrive and show up!
    1. I’ve picked up on this same habit that Pop had.  Anytime he knew someone was going to be showing up at his and Gram’s house, late at night, or anytime after dark for that matter, he’d always want to make sure the light was on for them!
    2. I can still vividly remember in my mind, him hopping up out of his chair, to go and turn on the light once the motion detector light flickered on…he wanted to make sure that whoever was arriving knew that he was expecting them, and that he was going to make sure that their trip up the steps to his back door was well lit, so that no one would trip and fall.
    3. When the kids, or grandkids would show up, it was important to him that they knew he was always “expecting” them to stop by…even if it was unannounced.  
      1. I know I’ve kinda joked about it over the years, but let me reiterate to us all one more time…let’s not act so surprised and shocked when someone shows up for the first time!  
      2. This is what we’ve been praying for…this is what we’ve been expecting…this is what we’ve been believing is going to happen!  
      3. So, let’s not stand there with our mouths wide open, SHOCKED, that first time visitors, or even return guests have showed up.
    4. We’re expecting them!  That’s why we leave the light on!
      1. Just a couple weeks ago, our church reached a milestone of 48 years of having the light on!
      2. It’s still on, and we’re going to make sure we leave it on, because we’re expecting people to show up!
  1. When we leave the light on, we’re letting our guests know that they’re welcome to come on in.
    1. Let us never forget the struggle that people have just trying to build up the nerve and courage to come to church for the first time!
    2. Several years ago, we did a series about being a welcoming church.  I love that when ANYONE walks into our church, I genuinely feel that we are a welcoming church!  That we KNOW our mission is to help people find and follow Jesus!  
    3. That we’re here to let them know that the light is still on! 
      1. We WANT new people to come in and join this fellowship with us.
      2. We PRAY for them!  We are welcoming them even if we don’t know them.  We have a place at the table for them.  
      3. And we’re never gonna change!
  1. When we leave the light on, those that are hurting and wounded know that we are a place that they can come to.
    1. Have you ever had to go to the Emergency Room after dark?  At any given time, once you get within the general vicinity of a hospital, all of the lights were the ER is will be visible!  
      1. The rest of the building, the lights will either be off, or dim, but if you’re hurt or wounded, and desperate for medical care, then it will be obvious where you need to go!
    2. When people lift up their eyes to The Hills, desperate for help, I want them to know that we’ll always leave the light on for them!  
      1. Because this is where they can find help!  This is a place where they can find healing!
    3. I John 1:6-7 (KJV) 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7 but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
      1. The scripture tells us that being with Him in the light, we have fellowship (we’re not alone) and His blood lenses us from all sin!
      2. Sin has done some serious damage to our world!  There are a lot of people who are hurt, who are wounded, and if we can just continue to leave the light on, then they’ll know this is a place that they can identify as a true place of healing and restoration!
  1. When we leave the light on, those that are lost will know where to go!
    1. People are turning to a lot of different things these days to find help.  
      1. Just a little update here, we were finally able to get our Celebrate Recovery materials ordered, after they had been backordered for a few weeks, and I’m excited about this amazing opportunity for our church!
      2. I can’t wait to flip this light on, so that people that are lost will now have a hope, and they’ll now have an option, and they’ll now have a place to go for help!
    2. Story about the battleship and the lighthouse:

In the darkest part of the night, a ships captain cautiously piloted his warship through the fog-shrouded waters. With straining eyes he scanned the hazy darkness, searching for dangers lurking just out of sight. 

Then His worst fears were realised when he saw a bright light straight ahead. It appeared to be a vessel on a collision course with his ship. To avert disaster he quickly radioed the oncoming vessel.

“This is Captain Jeremiah Smith,” his voice crackled over the radio. “Please alter your course 10 degrees south! Over.”

To the captains amazement, the foggy image did not move. Instead, he heard back on the radio, “Captain Smith. This is Private Thomas Johnson. please alter your course 10 degrees north! Over.”

Appalled at the audacity of the message, the captain shouted back over the radio, “Private Johnson, this is Captain Smith, and I order you to immediately alter your course 10 degree south! Over.”

A second time the oncoming light did not budge. “With all due respect Captain Smith,” came the privates voice again, “I order you to alter your course immediately 10 degrees north! Over.”

Angered and frustrated that this impudent sailor would endanger the lives of his men and crew, the captain growled back over the radio, “Private Johnson. I can have you court-marshalled for this! For the last time, I command you on the authority of the United States government to alter your course 10 degrees to the South! I am a battleship!”

The privates final transmission was chilling: “Captain Smith, sir. Once again with all due respect, I command you to alter your course 10 degrees to the North! I am a lighthouse!”

    1. There are just some things that we can’t change!  And the truth of God’s word is one of them!  We can’t change…WE WON’T CHANGE!  
      1. We have been placed here, and anchored here for a time and a season, for a reason and a purpose, and we cannot alter our course!
      2. Those that are looking to us for help will need to alter their course, and adjust their ways, as we are that spiritual lighthouse.  
      3. Our job is to just consistently, and without interruption, continue to be that beacon of hope, that light that so shines before men and that they will be able to ALWAYS know that where to go…because the light’s still on!

By Nate Roemer

Follow Nate on twitter @regunate