Pastor Brad’s Newspaper Column

A Freedom Which Will Never Disappoint Us

Where is your favorite place in Culpeper?  Someone posed that question to me not long ago and I had to do some thinking.  Yes, I enjoy the Cedar Mountain Battlefield because I love Civil War History.  Yes, I enjoy the Culpeper County Public Library.  I’ve lived many places in my life and we have one of the finest libraries around.   Maybe your list might include a variety of restaurants, breweries, parks, specific places or special landmarks.  But for me, when it comes right down to it, my favorite place is the Culpeper National Cemetery. A cemetery?  Some may wonder why, and here is my response.  Every time I set foot on these hallowed grounds with the finely manicured grass and rows of white stones, I always feel that I am surrounded by freedom.  Beginning with the War Between the States through present day conflicts, heroic men and women who sacrificed for this nation and its freedoms are laid to rest in this reverent place.  Through the years I’ve had the upmost privilege of being a part of Memorial Day/Veteran Day Services at the Cemetery.  And on numerous occasions too many to count, I’ve had the distinct honor of presiding over services for veterans and spouses from Virginia and all over the nation.  The blanket of freedom is indeed alive in that place. On July 4, 1776, two hundred and forty-two years ago, our nation declared its independence realizing that freedom directly comes from God.  And there are several references to this freedom in Holy Scripture.  John 8:34-36 reminds us that we are freed from the power of sin as Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever.  So if the Son (Jesus) sets you free, you will be free indeed!  In II Corinthians 3:17 it says wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  Through the Spirit of the living God we are provided with a free gift of faith in Christ.  Galatians 5:13 helps us to understand that we are free not to just focus on ourselves but to serve others as it is written, “For you we’re called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”  And in I Peter 2:16 we are compelled to; “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” What constitutes “living as a free person?”  It means taking personal responsibility for our country, family, faith, actions and work.  It means loving and serving our neighbors.  It’s means clearly understanding that life doesn’t just revolve around ourselves, but responding to the hurting and heartsick. I once met a woman who personifies these characteristics in a powerful way.  This individual was married as a teenager, and quickly had five children.  After her last child was born her husband literally left her for another woman. But instead of soliciting pity and acting out in anger and bitterness, she went to work to support her family.  This woman of faith never gave up, as she literally raised those children on her own.  Eventually, she met a very loving man whom she married, and enjoyed forty years of living.  Simply, I have never known a more generous, compassionate, loving and giving person in my life.  Instead of choosing to be a victim, she clung to Jesus, and chose to live her freedom in raising an awesome family and intentionally reaching out to others and their needs. Whether we realize it or not, we are a free people.  And our liberty comes directly from God.  The God who unselfishly sacrificed his only Son to provide us freedom from darkness/death, and the God who has continually lifted up others to ensure this liberty for generations to come.   Knowing what we’ve been given, let us be compelled and motivated to “live as people who are free.”  A freedom which will never disappoint us.


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Thankfulness, Not Complaints

I was a teen working in my local, hometown, IGA (Independent Grocers Association) store.  My responsibilities were mainly to bag groceries, stock shelves, and radiate a caring attitude of customer service.  I also occasionally ran the cash register.  One day as I was running the register, a mature man came forward with his items.  He continually told me that he deserved a 10% discount because of his age, and that he possessed several coupons to reduce the cost of his purchases.  Before I started checking out groceries, my manager/owner specifically relayed to me that I needed to subtract all coupons before adding any discounts.  This is what the boss said, so that’s what I did. Unfortunately, the shopper was not very pleased at all.  He yelled.  He complained.  He berated me in front of the other customers and staff.  I felt humiliated.  Even at a young age I realized that this behavior was wrong and extremely unhealthy.  Complaining does not build up, but it tears down.  Unfortunately, there is not one of us who hasn’t inappropriately “lashed out” at another. Whether it’s the telemarketers who incessantly call us at the most inconvenient times, the food servers who we deem to be slow in service and attentiveness, a relentless family member or acquaintance who annoys us, or the insurance companies who refuse to pay our claims, we sometimes lose it.  Out of frustration and a lack of feeling cared for, impatience can easily set into our hearts, as grumbling rolls off our tongues. Please don’t get me wrong.  There are legitimate reasons why we need to “speak out.”  When an injustice needs to be confronted, corruption revealed, or another human being freed from abuse, voices and actions are essential.  But just wanting to have our own ways, desiring control, and taking out a “pound of flesh” on another is wrong, and far from God-like. Holy Scripture has a lot to say about complaining.  In Numbers 11:1-3 we’re told that the Hebrews were complaining about their misfortunes, and God acted decisively against their complaining.   James 5:9 tells us, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”  And in Ephesians 4:29 it is written, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Instead of our first response being that of complaining, how about a response of thankfulness?  Being grateful for every blessing that comes from God.  Being thankful for others and the services which they provide. In I Thessalonians 5: 16-18 it says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I once ministered to an extremely thankful person.  She had spent her life being a rural mail carrier, and this individual did more than just deliver the mail.  She actually checked upon, and had relationships with her aging clients.  This woman had a servant’s heart.   Eventually, as her eye sight was deteriorating, she was forced to retire.  But there were no complaints.  This believer in Jesus read her beloved books, and continually reached out to others.  I was utterly amazed at her gratefulness, especially when someone did the smallest thing for her.  As I memorialize her, I sometimes wonder if her thankful attitude stemmed from her simply serving and loving others?  As it is written in II Corinthians 9:11-12, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. “ I know.  Sometimes it’s just too easy to complain, get it off our chests, desiring to feel that something could be changed or accomplished.  But have we ever truly felt how the other person feels at the end of our wrath?  My dad used to always share with me that old antidote, “you win more bees with honey then you do with vinegar.”  When we chose to complain rather than be thankful, I think it says so much more about us rather than the person receiving our unkindness.”


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Church: Freedom, Not Control

The tears would flow each time the automobile drove down the long lane from the farm house. The woman sitting on the passenger’s side felt humiliated and beaten as she had to spend time with her overbearing mother-in-law. From the beginning of the marriage when the mother of the groom told the gathered guests that her son was marrying beneath himself, she systematically tried to control the lives of her family. She tried to control their jobs. She tried to control their parenting. She tried to control the grandchildren. Her forceful actions caused resentment, and at the time of her own husband’s death, not one wanted her to live with them. Her controlling ways had alienated those that she was supposed to love and nurture.
 
Control. Some believe it’s their mandate. Some believe they’re called to bring order. Some believe they’re the ones to get things done. But if we’re going around telling others what to do, trying to impose our own wills while not allowing others to express them own selves, then exerting power over another becomes a big, unhealthy problem. So why? Why do people feel the compulsion to control others and situations? Is there a lack of self-esteem? Do individuals feel out of control in their past or present lives? Is there a sense of worry that things won’t get done? Or is there a god-like complex? Incessant control is neither helpful or productive. In James 1:19 it says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Control and oppression are not of God!
 

Even though us humans like to be “puppet masters,” that’s not the Lord’s plan for our lives. God first freed us from the control of sin by sending Jesus to be our Savior. In Romans 6:6-7 it is written, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” Secondly, because we’ve been freed, we can love and serve other’s in Christ’s name. Galatians 5:13 says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” There will always be those who blatantly or covertly try to control others and events. But that darkness does not represent God. The Lord has ultimately freed us through the shed blood of Jesus himself so we can focus less on self, but more on others. And one of the ways we can do this is through encouragement. In I Thessalonians 5:11 it is written, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” And in Hebrews 10:24-25 it says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as it is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” There are various ways that we can offer this encouragement Maybe it’s through a kind word or an offer of support. Maybe it’s to recognize the talents in another or to be present in times of hurt and sadness. Maybe it’s through a call, email, text or instant message, or taking the time and praying for others. Encouragement is a powerful tool that has long lasting effects. I remember a time when I first started at the seminary, and was having a hard time adjusting. Out of the blue came a phone call from my Uncle Gary who encouraged me in my studies and call. Later, he sent me a prayer that meant a great deal to him in his own life. His encouragement lifted me, and set me on a positive course. Control is indeed fleeting, but freedom is forever. May Jesus break the strongholds of control in our lives, as we bask in his freedom to love and serve others.


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Church: Freedom, Not Control

The tears would flow each time the automobile drove down the long lane from the farm house. The woman sitting on the passenger’s side felt humiliated and beaten as she had to spend time with her overbearing mother-in-law. From the beginning of the marriage when the mother of the groom told the gathered guests that her son was marrying beneath himself, she systematically tried to control the lives of her family. She tried to control their jobs. She tried to control their parenting. She tried to control the grandchildren. Her forceful actions caused resentment, and at the time of her own husband’s death, not one wanted her to live with them. Her controlling ways had alienated those that she was supposed to love and nurture. Control. Some believe it’s their mandate. Some believe they’re called to bring order. Some believe they’re the ones to get things done. But if we’re going around telling others what to do, trying to impose our own wills while not allowing others to express them own selves, then exerting power over another becomes a big, unhealthy problem. So why? Why do people feel the compulsion to control others and situations? Is there a lack of self-esteem? Do individuals feel out of control in their past or present lives? Is there a sense of worry that things won’t get done? Or is there a god-like complex? Incessant control is neither helpful or productive. In James 1:19 it says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Control and oppression are not of God!

Even though us humans like to be “puppet masters,” that’s not the Lord’s plan for our lives. God first freed us from the control of sin by sending Jesus to be our Savior. In Romans 6:6-7 it is written, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” Secondly, because we’ve been freed, we can love and serve other’s in Christ’s name. Galatians 5:13 says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” There will always be those who blatantly or covertly try to control others and events. But that darkness does not represent God. The Lord has ultimately freed us through the shed blood of Jesus himself so we can focus less on self, but more on others. And one of the ways we can do this is through encouragement. In I Thessalonians 5:11 it is written, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” And in Hebrews 10:24-25 it says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as it is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
 

There are various ways that we can offer this encouragement Maybe it’s through a kind word or an offer of support. Maybe it’s to recognize the talents in another or to be present in times of hurt and sadness. Maybe it’s through a call, email, text or instant message, or taking the time and praying for others. Encouragement is a powerful tool that has long lasting effects. I remember a time when I first started at the seminary, and was having a hard time adjusting. Out of the blue came a phone call from my Uncle Gary who encouraged me in my studies and call. Later, he sent me a prayer that meant a great deal to him in his own life. His encouragement lifted me, and set me on a positive course. Control is indeed fleeting, but freedom is forever. May Jesus break the strongholds of control in our lives, as we bask in his freedom to love and serve others.


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