Pastor’s Blog

by Pastor Todd Bradbury

The Dark Days

Our mission at Bethel is to lead transformed lives by experiencing, embodying and extending the grace of Christ to others. How we each go about fulfilling this mission will be unique to each one of us and fulfilling this mission will likely reveal our “ministry.” All of us are called to be ministers of the gospels. That doesn’t mean we will each preach, teach, or lead a small group, but every Christian is called to love God, love others and minister to others. To quote C.S. Lewis, “Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”
 
Anne Brandon with her two sons Michael and CarterThe Lord has given Anne Brandon a unique ministry, but before I share her calling, let me share a little bit about Anne. Anne is literally a life long Bethel member. She was on the “Cradle Roll” at Bethel. She grew up in Midlothian and she has two wonderful sons, Michael and Carter. Anne has a very successful Real Estate career. She’s worked for Long and Foster Realtors for over 40 years. While Real Estate is Anne’s vocation, her calling is to help remove the stigma attached to mental illness and to love and care for people who are suffering with mental illness.
 
This is Anne’s testimony in her own words,

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Joy in the Journey

Joy in the Journey

Joy in the Journey
 
Have you been at a place in your life where you wanted to throw your hands in the air and shout, “Lord help! I’m not sure how much more I can handle!” Ed and Jennie Watson know that feeling, and certainly had reason to shout these words from the rooftops. In 2011, the couple relocated to Blacksburg, VA where Ed had accepted a position with Virginia Tech. With a well-developed career in construction and design of academic facilities across the state of Virginia, Ed was ready for the challenges that a major university would offer, and Jennie, ready to support Ed and his career goals, resigned from her teaching job, sold their home in Midlothian, and joined Ed for this new adventure. For most of 2011, this couple drove from Blacksburg to Richmond (to visit their son), to Raleigh (to visit their daughter), or to Greensboro (to visit Jennie’s aging parents) every weekend. Then, in April 2012, the unthinkable occurred.

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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.”

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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