Pastor’s Blog

by Pastor Todd Bradbury

The Lord Has Been Wonderful to Me!

 
It’s truly a privilege to be a pastor because my work allows me to meet some exceptional people who inspire my faith. One such person is Bobby Brooks. Bobby is the cousin of long time Bethel member Robert Brooks. Bobby was born on November 9th, 1946 and he was born with Cerebral Palsy. Bobby has been in a wheel chair nearly his entire life. His father was a military man and Bobby spent his younger years moving around the world as his dad’s duty station changed. Bobby lived in Germany, San Francisco, New Orleans and then the family moved to Florida when his dad retired. Bobby went to schools that could accommodate his special needs and he is a high school graduate. Robert says, “Bobby is smart. He can do the Jumble in the daily paper with no problem and that’s something I struggle to complete.”
 
As Bobby’s parents aged they decided to move back to Richmond to be closer to family. As time went on Bobby’s disease worsened and it became more difficult for his parents to give him the care he needed. So when Bobby turned 40 his family moved him into the Lucy Coor Nursing Facility. When he first went to Lucy Coor Bobby could feed himself and he had some mobility as he could maneuver his wheel chair. He immersed himself in daily life at Lucy Coor. He acted in several plays and he was once voted “King” of Lucy Coor. He also took some art classes at John Tyler and was able to go swimming at Camp Baker. Bobby didn’t allow his disease to get in the way of experiencing life. Time marched on and Bobby’s father passed away in 1993 and his mother passed in 1996. At that point Robert took on the role of Bobby’s guardian. Robert and his wife, Donna, visited Bobby regularly. They watched movies with Bobby, ate with him, and took him to doctor and dentist appointments.
 
Bobby’s disease continued to progress and he got to the point he could no longer wheel himself around so he got an electric wheelchair. This was a huge blessing for many years as it allowed Bobby some freedom of mobility. Eventually the disease took that away as well. Bobby is now 72 years old and is confined to his bed. Most days are spent in his room with an open door facing the hallway so he can watch people walk the halls of Lucy Coor. He no longer has use of his hands so someone has to feed him, bathe him, and take care of any other needs he may have.
 
Think about this: Bobby needs someone to help him scratch an itch or adjust his pillow or blanket. Simply put, Bobby’s body is broken, but his spirit is alive and well. Bobby is a person of faith and he has a rich prayer life. Robert says that on numerous occasions he’d go visit Bobby and he’d enter the room and find Bobby in prayer. Bobby would welcome Robert, but then tell him, “Hold on a moment, I’m not finished praying.” Bobby prays for the Lucy Coor staff, its residents, and he prays for his family.
 
I’ve been able to pray with Bobby on several occasions. One such occasion inspired the writing of this article. I visited Bobby with our Associate Pastor, Gayle Taylor. At the end of our visit we asked Bobby how we could pray for him. Bobby listed several things and among them was that he wanted to pray for his dinner to arrive a little earlier in the day. They started serving him dinner at 6:30 p.m. recently and he used to eat around 5 so by 6:30 he’s starving. Gayle and I prayed and after we prayed Bobby looked at us and said, “The Lord has been wonderful to me!” I found those words to be so inspiring.
 
Bobby has impacted my faith and he’s impacted Robert’s faith as well. I asked Robert how his relationship with Bobby has affected his faith and he said, “Well, first of all, I don’t think of Bobby as a cousin anymore, he’s more like my brother. So the Lord has brought us closer together. I’ve also learned that as you get older, your reliance on the Lord grows because there are many things in life you cannot control, you just have to rely on the Lord. So Bobby has helped me to see that even though there are difficulties in life, the Lord is always there with you, holding your hand as you live your life.” Amen to that Robert.
 
Life is full of difficulties. Life is full of brokenness, but God is there, ever present, always faithful. When we reflect on this perhaps you and I can say, along with Bobby, “The Lord has been wonderful to me!” This confession of praise can be traced all the way back to the Cross of Calvary. Christ went to the cross to pay for our sins, to reconcile us to God, to offer us grace and forgiveness that we didn’t deserve and could never earn. When we reflect on this we truly can say “God has been wonderful to me!”
 
Let’s let Bobby’s confession of praise be on our lips all of April as we celebrate Easter together at Bethel. I hope that you’ll be able to join us for our Maundy Thursday Service, or our Good Friday Lenten Lunch, and I especially hope to see you on Easter Sunday where we all gather together to sing and worship because God truly has been wonderful to us all. May God bless Bobby, Robert and Donna Brooks and may God bless our Bethel Church Family. Happy Easter! He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed!


Useful Imperfections

Useful Imperfections

Useful Imperfections
Have you ever watched an artist work? I had the opportunity to do just that when I spent a couple of hours with Wray Brown one Tuesday afternoon. Wray was born and raised in Chesterfield County and was in the first graduating class of Clover Hill High School. Wray and his lovely wife Susan are long time members of Bethel and Wray is an artist. Wray “turns bowls,” meaning that he takes a piece of wood, places it on a lathe and skillfully shapes the wood into a bowl, or vase, or a plate or even a Christmas ornament. Once the piece is finished, Susan’s talents often come into play as she is able to artistically arrange some flowers in a vase and really bring the piece to life.
 
Wray turning wood - using imperfectionsWray’s passion for woodworking began at Stockton Baptist Church when he was only a boy. There was a gentleman in the church who showed a group of boys how to build a shoe rack. Wray got to sand and glue the wood and he discovered he really enjoyed working with wood. Wray first learned about turning bowls at Elkhart Junior High School but he didn’t start doing it seriously until after he retired from Dupont after 41 years of service.
 
Wray gave me a fascinating demonstration of how the process of turning bowls works. He had me choose a piece of wood and I picked out a small piece of Maple from his wood pile. He set out to make a vase. Wray cut the wood and placed it on the lathe and then I watched in amazement as he skillfully began to remove the bark. Wray would often stop and change the tool he was using or make an adjustment to the machine to get the angle of the tool just right.
 
As the vase took shape he stopped and pointed out imperfections in the wood. There were worm holes, black fungus spots and a knot. He told me how these imperfections will ultimately give the vase its character. As he was shaping the vase I asked him how he knew what cuts to make in shaping the vase. He said, “The wood has a mind of it’s own and it speaks to me and tells me what it needs to become.”
 
Wray finished productsI asked, “How does it speak to you?” He said, “Good question. I’m not altogether sure. It’s a challenge. You have to watch the grain and get the feel of the wood and, if you pay close attention, the wood will let you know if it doesn’t want to be shaped in a certain way. This is why every piece is unique; that’s why I’m not a very good duplicator.”
 
Then Wray showed me what he watches when he cuts. He doesn’t watch the knife blade as it cuts, instead he watches the other side of the piece of wood and sees the image of what the knife has already cut and that helps to guide him to know how to continue to shape the wood.
 
As I watched Wray apply his craft it struck me that the process of turning bowls is a lot like becoming a disciple of Christ. God sees in us the image of what we can become and when we commit to following Christ we all start off pretty raw, but God begins the process of peeling back the bark of everything in us that is not of Christ. Then there are those imperfections that Wray spoke about. He said, “Imperfections gives the finished piece character.”
 
That’s true for us. Something we might perceive as an imperfection, a flaw, or a past failure, God can actually use those things to bring us to a place of humility and ultimately work through those things to actually bless other people. Our imperfections and past failures can become a beautiful source of blessing.
 
God uses our imperfections
 
Finally, there’s one last thing Wray said that I loved. He said, “I’m not a great duplicator.” What an interesting comment. I think that’s true of God. God doesn’t seem to do much duplication. Instead of duplication, God is simply into creation. Each one of us are incredibly unique, a one of a kind work of art, just like Wray’s bowls.
 
As we go forward in faith together let’s give thanks that God doesn’t require perfection. Thank you, Lord, that you actually work through our imperfections and past failures as you continue to shape us into a unique work of art that bears the image of Christ. I want to thank Wray for the gift of his time and I’d like to share one thing he left me with. I shared with him how impressed I was with his art and his talent. He said, “Everyone has a God given talent or skill, why not use it?” Why not indeed! May God bless Wray and Susan Brown and may God continue to bless Bethel Baptist Church. Amen.
 
Todd


Love Stories

Love Stories

Love Stories
 
It’s February. It’s cold and I’m already yearning for warm summer breezes. But if anything can warm our souls in February it’s a love story and love stories are appropriate since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.
 
Dennis and Nancy Glazener's love storyI heard a couple of great love stories recently. In December I had the privilege of attending a breakfast at Ben and Becky Turner’s beautiful home. They hosted the Chick-fil-A Monday Morning Devotional Group for a Christmas breakfast. The food was delicious. As a side note, I got to try Ben Turner’s famous Oyster Stew, and it was fantastic! As good as the food was, the fellowship and conversation were even better. After breakfast we gathered in the Turner’s living room for a devotional and prayer time. Somehow the conversation turned to how we met our spouses. The stories were heart warming and nostalgic.
 
One of my favorite stories came from Dennis and Nancy Glazener. Dennis has a flare for story telling and he instantly had us hooked when he started his story with, “Nancy and I slept in the same bassinet.” Here’s the rest of the story in Dennis’ words:
“I’ve known Nancy Parks (Glazener) ever since I can remember. Her family and my family went to the same church (Black Branch Baptist). Her grandfather donated the land that the church was built on. Both of my grandfathers and grandmothers were early members of that church as were both our parents.
I was born in June 1943, because of that my father had been given a deferment from being drafted into the Army. Shortly after my birth my father was called back for the draft and was inducted into the Army. Upon completion of his basic training my father was stationed at Fort McPherson, College Park, GA. My father had an aunt living in College Park, GA and she was willing to allow my mother and father to live there while daddy was stationed there, my mother planned to travel by train from our home in Chase City, VA to Atlanta, GA to meet my father.
In those days there were no car seats for infants to travel in. A portable crib called a bassinet, allowed mothers to travel with their babies. With me being the first child of our family, my mother did not own a bassinet but Nancy’s mother, Mildred, did. By then Mildred’s first child was old enough not to need a bassinet so my mother borrowed Mildred Park’s bassinet and used that for me to travel by train to Atlanta, GA. My mother said that I slept in it the whole time we lived in College Park (less than a year) and also on the return train trip back home. Shortly after this, Mrs. Parks had a little girl named Nancy and she needed the bassinet for Nancy to sleep in. Little did either mother know that the two babies that slept in that bassinet would marry each other 21 years 4 months and 29 days later and enjoy over 52 years of marriage together.”
Dennis and Nancy celebrate over 50 years of marriageHearing the Glazener’s story, and other’s like it, gives me a thought: We need to tell these stories in Church. Why? We all love a good love story, but beyond that, if we listen carefully and prayerfully to these stories, we can sense God’s guiding hand of blessing. As I listened to Dennis and Nancy’s story it was amazing to me how all of the details of their story were woven together. These circumstances of their birth, where they lived, and how their lives unfolded ultimately led them to the altar to stand before the Lord and a congregation of people to pledge their love and their lives to one another.
 
Would you like to hear some more of these stories? If so, you’re invited to attend a special Valentine’s Dinner on Wednesday Feb 13th at 6:00 p.m. We’ll enjoy dinner together and share a time of story telling. If you can attend the dinner please call the church office and RSVP so we’ll know how much food to order. The cost of the dinner is $7.50 per person and children are free. May God bless Nancy and Dennis Glazener and may God bless Bethel Baptist Church.
 
Todd


Pray Without Ceasing

Pray Without Ceasing

Pray Without Ceasing
One of the verses of scripture that I used to find perplexing is 1 Thessalonians 5:17. The Apostle Paul writes, “Pray without ceasing” or “Pray continually.” How do we pray without ceasing? Does Paul expect us to be on our knees all day, every day in constant prayer? That’s certainly not practical. What gives? Before attempting an answer I’d like to share a story from Judy Pulley about a time in her life when she had to “pray without ceasing.” Here is her story in her own words:
“Have you ever had a time in your life where a prayer request was so heavy you didn’t know how to form the words? One of my life’s heaviest trials was like that. There were people all around me, but I felt alone and helpless.Angela Loelle LewisMy third child is Angela Noelle Lewis, she was born September 11, 1978. She was full term and she came into this world weighing 8 pounds 13 ounces. She was a beautiful, healthy looking baby. She looked perfect!
 
When she was two days old I was looking at her through the hospital nursery window, and I noticed the nurse and doctor rushing around her looking worried. I tapped on the glass to find out what the concern was, only to be told they would be checking her blood pressure. In 1978, that was not a typical vital sign they checked at birth. Dr. David Arkin told me Angela had high blood pressure!
 
What? How? Her pressure read 240/180. Unreal! She was quickly hooked up and monitored by so many devices. I was so upset that they placed me in a private room and the nuns of St. Mary’s would come to me and ask, “Where is your faith?” Faith? I couldn’t even think straight.
 
Then in a specialized ambulance that looked like a floating hospital she was transferred to MCV NICU. Once there, I was told they had never seen a baby with such high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. All of these things happened before she was born. I didn’t know what to do. I just needed my baby safe and healthy.The doctors said they would perform a test the next day, but the test would be invasive and may result in her losing a limb. My mind was racing and the whole room was spinning.
 
Prayer Without Ceasing: Angela and Judy PulleyThat night with a lot of coffee, I did as scripture tells us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. I “prayed without ceasing.” I prayed non stop! The next day I met with three doctors and they said, “We have something to tell you.” My heart stopped, what could it be? One doctor said, “You kept insisting we recheck her heart and so I did and I couldn’t believe it. Your baby’s heart went back to its normal size over night and it’s nothing we have done.
 
I believe this to be a miracle of God.” Yes it was! Only God could do that! Angela got to come home without the invasive test and she only had to take blood pressure medicine. Through unceasing prayer, I believe God performed a miracle for Angela. That was a lesson for me. I’m so thankful for my beautiful daughter and so thankful that we can come to God through prayer and take all we have to Him in prayer.”
 
What an inspirational story! How does Judy’s story help our prayer life? There are certainly times when our prayer life will need to resemble Judy’s intense night of prayer. But here’s the good news. The God who did this amazing miracle for Judy and Angela is very much present in the ordinariness of life. God is with us as we go to work, or do laundry, or prepare a meal, or play with our children. This is what the Apostle Paul is trying to get us to understand. Paul is imploring us to live our lives in a constant awareness of God’s presence so that God is always in our hearts and in our thoughts. If we can live in a state of constant “God awareness” then our lives become a prayer; a sacred offering of ourselves back to the God who created and sustains us. That is how we “pray without ceasing.” May God bless Judy Pulley and her family and may God bless the Bethel Church Family.
 
Todd


Journey in Faith

Here’s a question for you. If we were to park a bus outside of Bethel on a Monday morning and ask you to show up with a suitcase with enough clothes for 5 days and NOT tell you where the bus was going, would you get on the bus and take the trip?
 
Cathy WilliamsonOne of our members, Cathy Williamson has been doing this EXACT thing almost every single year since 2005. In 2005 Cathy, who was living in Maryland at the time, went through a divorce and was going through a difficult period in her life when her sister-in-law suggested that she should take a mystery trip with her.
 
A mystery trip is exactly that: A Mystery. Cathy and her sister-in-law were instructed to show up at the bus pickup point in Southern Maryland with enough clothes for 5 days. The only thing you know for sure is that the trip will be within one day’s drive of Maryland.
 
So Cathy said, “Why not!” She not only went in 2005, but she’s gone nearly every year since. The trip is always the second week in June and she and her sister-in-law have gone to a number of places that she would not have traveled to otherwise. They’ve been to Maine, Savannah, Cleveland, The Finger Lakes of New York, Atlanta and Asheville, just to name a few of the places.
 
On these trips she’s done some amazing things she would have never done on her own, like going on a lobster boat for a day, or going to the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame or walking the glistening beaches of the Golden Isle’s off the coast of Georgia.
While seeing all of these places has been wonderful the real treasure is found in relationships she’s made along the way. Cathy was in her early 50s when she first started taking these trips and she and her sister-in-law noticed that they were the youngest people on the trip. Over the years Cathy has gotten to know many of her fellow travelers as almost everyone signs up for the trip for the following year. Cathy sees herself as a caregiver for a lot of these folks and she’s come to see that helping her fellow travelers is both her ministry and mission.
Once there was a lady who was in her 80s and she’d been battling cancer for three years. Her family was reluctant for her to go on the trip, but they figured she’d be all right because she could use her iPad to email her family daily. Unfortunately, she often had trouble connecting to the Internet and she became stressed every time she couldn’t connect. Cathy often stepped in to help this lady with her technology issues which really helped to lower this lady’s stress level.
I asked Cathy what she’s learned in the 13 years she’s taken these trips. She said, “Some of the trips have been more interesting than others. I love history and I’ve learned that there is so much to see and learn from if you just take the time to look. Also, if you don’t have any expectations about where you’re going then you can embrace whatever comes your way. These trips are really about enjoying each moment of the journey and making the most of it. But the important part is the people you’re going with and the reward is being with the others on the trip.”
That’s a good word for us. As we journey in faith, I hope our focus can be on the blessings of the journey. As Christians, our destination is secure, but what’s unknown to us are the details of our journey. Cathy’s mystery trips remind us of the unexpected blessings of embracing the unknown.
 
Cathy sums this up best when she said, “Part of the excitement of life is that we don’t know the path the Lord has us walking. We don’t know what unexpected direction or detours we may experience, but if we are faithful in following the Lord, without knowing all the details, He will bring us more joy, love, and opportunities to let our life shine with the love of Christ! We will see the hand of God working in and through our lives if we go through life with our eyes, heart, and spirit wide open and expectant.”
 
Amen! Well said, Cathy. May the Lord bless Cathy as she continues to take her mystery trips and may the Lord bless us at Bethel as we embrace the unknown in our journey of faith!
 
Todd


Look for Opportunities

Look for Opportunities

Look for Opportunities
This month I want to share with  you two stories that come from Kevin and Jeanne Yeager.
Kevin and Jeanne Yeager
Kevin works for the Marston Agency and he delivers court papers to courthouses all over Virginia. One Tuesday afternoon Kevin made a delivery to the courthouse in Charlottesville. As he approached the courthouse steps Kevin noticed a young couple in their wedding clothes. “Who gets married on a Tuesday?” Kevin thought.
 
He also noticed that they had a tripod set up and they were trying to take a photo of themselves using the timer on their camera. Kevin approached them and asked if he could take their picture.  This young couple had no idea that Kevin is also a professional photographer and they were about to receive a huge blessing.  Instead of using their camera, Kevin went back to his car and pulled out the pro gear. Then he took numerous shots of the couple.
 
Kevin tried to get them to relax and talked with them about how long they’d been dating and where they were from.  It turns out the  newlyweds were from South Korea.  The couple had attended UVA and she worked in Lynchburg and he had to leave for his job in New York right after the ceremony.
 
After the pictures were taken Kevin told them he’d drop  off a CD of the pictures at her place of business in Lynchburg. True to his word, a week or so later Kevin delivered the pictures to the young lady and she was delighted at Kevin’s kindness. That couple now has a wedding album taken by a professional photographer at no cost to them.  What a joyous blessing!
 
The second story is from Jeanne Yeager. Jeanne has worked for many years at Richmond City Schools as a nurse.  She recently changed jobs and now she’s helping to coordinate the nursing efforts for several schools in the city.
 
One thing that Jeanne noticed in her new job is just how many children need clothes throughout the day. If an elementary student is sick, or has an accident and needs a change of clothes, it’s very difficult for a parent to leave work to help their child.  Many of these parents work hourly jobs.  Many are economically challenged and leaving their job might mean missing a utility payment or not having enough money at the end of the month to make ends meet.
 
So Jeanne decided to do something about it.  She’s putting on a clothing drive at Bethel called the Harvest School Clothing Drive.  Her hope is to supply the nurses in her school with some clothes that children can have in case of an emergency.  We’re accepting clothes for the Harvest Clothing Drive through November 11.
 
There is a common thread in Kevin’s and Jeanne’s story and the common thread is that they both pay attention to the folks God puts in front of them and they both use their work as an opportunity to minister to others.  Kevin said, “There are days that you don’t know when and where God’s going to use your talents to bless others.”
 
This brings to mind something that the Apostle Paul wrote.  In Colossians 3:23-24 Paul writes,
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
I think this describes Kevin and Jeanne’s approach to work.  They view their work as an opportunity to bless others and serve the Lord. As we go about our days, let us receive our work as a gift  from the Lord and may the Lord use our work as an opportunity to bless others.  May God bless Kevin and Jeanne Yeager and may God bless Bethel Baptist Church.  Amen

Todd