Pastor’s Blog

by Pastor Todd Bradbury
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



No Greater Love

No Greater Love

No Greater Love
 
What’s the greatest expression of love that you can think of? When has someone cared for you in such a way that you knew, beyond any doubt, that the person loved and cared about you? One of the greatest expressions of love that I heard about comes courtesy of Bethel’s own Zeke Bookman. Back in the late 1980s, Zeke’s wife Doris was sick and Zeke lovingly cared for her. Each morning Zeke would rise early to cook breakfast for Doris. Before he delivered her breakfast in bed, Zeke went outside and carefully selected and cut a beautiful long stem rose and placed it in a vase. He placed the rose on the tray and delivered this beautifully adorned breakfast to his wife each morning. With breakfast delivered Zeke would then make his way over to their grand piano where he would proceed to serenade Doris with some beautiful melodies that brought back memories of yesteryear. Zeke could have kept breakfast simple and just delivered Doris her breakfast in bed without any fanfare, and most any of us would be delighted with that! Not Zeke. He thought carefully about what would please Doris and what would bring her joy and delight. In other words, Zeke allowed love to guide his actions.
 
No Greater Love: Zeke BookmanI was reminded of this love story as I visited Zeke in the hospital. He was recently hospitalized after a bad fall. Zeke is 92 years old and his daughter Betty says, “A bad fall at home has taken Dad on a journey that has included ER rooms twice, Neurological surgery and one very unpleasant rehab for 6 days. Through it all his spirit and sense of humor have remained steadfast. Everyday when we have visited, Dad’s concern has been for his daughters and how they were handling the stress involved in this experience. Dad’s care and concern for us often superseded the care of himself. When its time to order his daily meals he often orders a sweet roll for my sister and a banana for me. Never once has he complained! He remains firm in his faith and belief of treating others as he wishes to be treated. In return the wonderful doctors and nurses we’ve encountered have treated him in a loving and caring manner. From the bottom of our hearts we thank his Bethel family for your love, prayers and support!!!”
 
I was impressed by Zeke’s expression of love for his wife in bringing her breakfast in bed, but what he did for his daughters may be more impressive. Think about it: Zeke is in the hospital in pain with various injuries and when it comes time to order his meals; meals that he needs for his own recovery, he thinks of his daughters and their well-being and orders them something.
 
This gives us a glimpse, a tiny glimpse, of the greatest expression of love that I know of: Christ on the Cross. When Christ was suffering, in pain and agony, dying for our sins, He was thinking only of us. Please take a moment in your day and meditate on that kind of sacrificial love. Then let’s think about how we can practice sacrificial love in our lives. Like Zeke Bookman, let’s let love guide our decisions and actions. I bet if we did this we’d consistently find ourselves in a place of blessing. May God bless Zeke Bookman, his daughters Betty and Pam and may God continue to bless Bethel Baptist Church. Amen.
 
Todd


Spread the Joy of Christmas Year Round

One of my favorite times of the year is Christmas. It’s truly a special time to celebrate the birth of our Lord. I love it when our house is decorated for Christmas, however I don’t enjoy the act of decorating. Here’s where I find inspiration and admiration for Bernice Smith. Bernice is a long time member of Bethel and one of Bernice’s hobbies is collecting Santa Clauses. Bernice has collected so many Santa’s that she has no place to store them so she simply keeps them on display all year long. At Bernice Smith’s home, everyday is a reminder of Christmas Day. Just how many Santa’s has she collected? Bernice says, “Oh my, well over 400 maybe even 500!” I didn’t take time to count, but I’d put the figure closer to 500, it’s a bunch of Santa’s to be sure!

Bernice Smith uses her Santa Collection to share the joy of Christmas year roundIn addition to the Santa’s, Bernice also collects dolls. She has one room with a collection of dolls, antique toys and two dollhouses that her father made. I asked Bernice how she got started collecting all of these things. She said, “I started collecting dolls when my daughters were little girls. I was the oldest of 5 children and my father was in the military and we moved a lot so we were not allowed to have many things because we moved so much. So when I had children of my own I wanted to make sure my daughters could have what I couldn’t.” The collection of dolls started by purchasing two dolls apiece for her daughters Nancy and Sissy. The idea was they could play with one doll and then they would display the other. Bernice told them that they could have nice things if they could take care of them. As time passed her daughters grew out of playing with dolls and Bernice took over and found that she enjoyed collecting and displaying the dolls. So how did Bernice get into collecting Santa’s?

Years ago Bernice noticed that not many folks hung Christmas pictures on their walls, so she started hanging pictures of Santa on her walls. That morphed into collecting and displaying Santa’s. Bernice said, “I loved that all their faces were different. Christmas is such a beautiful time of year and it all ties in with the birth of Christ. These Santa’s took me back to when I was a little girl and I remember learning about the birth of Jesus. When I knew that December was the month of His birthday that was important to me.”

Bernice Smith uses her Santa Collection to share the joy of Christmas year roundAs the Santa collection grew Bernice began to share her collection with others. Bernice has a granddaughter named Mary and Bernice would take a few of the Santa’s to Mary’s school for show and tell and it would bring joy to the children. Then she began to have an open house. She’d begin cooking “a month ahead of time” to get ready for the open house. One by one, people would stream through her house and marvel at the Santa’s, they’d enjoy the food, but I suspect that the thing they enjoyed the most was the fellowship that Bernice created by inviting others into her home. Bernice says, “Collecting the Santa’s and Dolls have brought joy to me and it brought joy to everyone who saw them. I enjoyed it and it was extra joy for me to see the joy it brought to the people who came to see them.”

I wanted to share Bernice’s story with you because Bernice has found a unique way to capture the wonder and joy of Christmas and make it part of her life all year long. Perhaps more importantly, Bernice has found tangible ways of sharing the joy of the Lord. She not only has her open house, but years ago she used to invite the Girl Scouts over to her house and they’d have a fun day of looking at the Santa’s and even making their own Santa. Bernice had a kiln and she’d make ornaments for the Girl Scouts to paint and take home with them. So here’s an example of how someone has taken something that they enjoy and used it to bring joy to others.

One of our Bethel Mileposts is “We’re blessed to be a blessing.”   Bernice Smith has been a blessing to innumerable people in our  community by inviting others into her home to experience the joy and wonder of Christmas.  As I was thinking about   Bernice’s story I thought this article might be more appropriate for the Christmas newsletter, but then I thought that perhaps it’s better that it doesn’t come out at Christmas because we need reminders all throughout the year of the joy of Christmas.  We need to be reminded that the Lord sent his Son to us, to be with us.  That wondrous, Christmas Spirit is something that we need everyday.  So thank you Bernice for that reminder. 

One final thing, I asked Bernice if there is anything she’d like   to communicate in this article.  She said, “Tell folks to save some dates in December for my open house.”  We will let you know when Bernice has her open house.  When she does, do yourself a favor and go.  You’ll marvel at her collection of    Santa’s and Dolls, but the best thing about your visit will be spending time with Bernice.  She’s a treasure and a blessing to many.  Lord, thank you so much for the gift of Bernice’s life.  Thank you for reminding us that the joy of Christmas is a joy we can experience each day.  Help us Lord to use our gifts to be a blessing to others.  Please continue to bless Bernice and her family and please continue to bless our Bethel Church family.  In Christ’s name I pray, Amen.  

Todd