Pastor Brad’s Newspaper Column

Self-Giving or Giving Thanks?

So, what are your favorite thanksgiving memories? When I was growing up, we always had to go to the Hales’ Farm for this auspicious occasion and experience a circus-like atmosphere.  I always marveled at my aunt’s ever-changing hair color (orange was my personal favorite), and the incessant use of cigarettes which caused a plume of smoke to waffle throughout the house.  My grandmother would always express her passive delight that she had to make three different kinds of dressings, one with oysters, one without oysters, and one without celery to satisfy our foodie needs. And like clockwork, my grandfather would chime in with his dismay at the yearly, rising cost of a gallon of oysters.  Then, my older cousin would usually detail his high school exploits bordering on some sort of juvenile delinquent behavior.  Welcome to the Hales Family Thanksgiving! I know that each of us has our own thanksgiving stories and memories. But when it comes right down to it, what is the real significance of the holiday?  Has it become just another day off where we gorge ourselves, fight with family, watch football and prepare for Black Friday shopping, or do we truly see this as an opportunity to be thankful for all of God’s blessings in our lives? As soon as I learned how to write, my parents would have me sit down and pen a thank you note whenever someone did something nice for me.  I’m not sure how much of that happens today, but they were teaching me how to respond positively to someone’s generosity.  And in Holy Scripture we see others sharing their thanks to the living Savior.  In Psalm 107:8-9 the psalmist says, “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the children of man.  For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.”  In I Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In a world where we are so preoccupied with self-giving, it is easy to take things for granted, isn’t it?  Years ago, my wife and I were visiting family up north when we had the opportunity to stay in a beautiful, winter home.  But as the cold winds blew and the snow piled up, we realized that the home had limited heat, and there were no means to clear the drive.  We just expected that these things would happen when they didn’t.  In life we have so many expectations on how things should be, that we sometimes forget to give thanks for the things that are continually provided by God without fail. Whether it’s the air we breathe, the clothes on our backs, the food in our mouths, the places to live, the employment to pay bills, or the transportation to get us where we need, these are all blessings.  And the greatest blessing of all was Jesus, who was willing to sacrifice his life, so we could experience total forgiveness and life forever in his name. Outside of it being the right thing to do, ultimately, isn’t it more gratifying to be thankful for the kindnesses that others have shown us, rather than only self-focusing on our own needs? Earlier this week I found myself in the automobile repair shop getting the car inspected.  Everything was fine except needing some new windshield wiper blades.  Feeling extremely happy that there was nothing majorly wrong with my vehicle, I went to the cashier to pay the bill.  Then I received the word that someone I knew had paid the invoice in full!  Out of pride I tried to prevent this generosity from happening, but the person wouldn’t allow it.  And I cannot tell you how grateful and humble I am for this act of love. Knowing that we should be upmost grateful concerning these worldly acts of goodwill, maybe they will compel us to be so thankful for everything that God has and continues to do for all of humanity. Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is truly about?


Civility- Why Not Give It A Try?

I’ll never know how he remained calm and de-escalated the situation, but he did.  Many years ago, I was visiting one of my church members at his place of business.  As the store was about to close on a Saturday afternoon, a disgruntled patron walked in, and began to yell at the owner.  He furiously attacked and hurled expletives.  I happened to be in the back room, and the customer had no idea of my presence.  But as the barrage of vile flowed from this guy’s mouth, I couldn’t help but focus on my friend’s reaction.  Most would have lashed back at the uncontrolled man and put him “in his place.”  This escalation could have ratcheted up the situation and may have led to a more difficult result.  But thankfully, that was not the church member’s response.  Instead, in a soothing, humor laced tone, he literally brought a peaceful spirit into the altercation, as the angry customer became tranquil in his demeanor.  My friend brought civility to an uncivilized episode. Lately, it seems that incivility is ruling the day in our society.  If someone does not like you’re driving, they may respond with an unkind gesture.  If someone does not like a retail service, they may scream at the poor cashier.  Even at the highest level of government, political figures sometimes blatantly lie, and pummel their opponents.  These days, if you don’t readily agree with someone’s way of thinking or ideology, they want to metaphorically “run you over with a bus.”  How very, very sad. The word civility means “formal politeness and courtesy in behavior and speech.”  So why is this not readily practiced in many corners?  Maybe people want to control.  Maybe people want to be right.  Maybe people aren’t tolerant of other opinions and views.  Maybe people get frustrated and instead of dealing with their emotions and anger in healthful ways, it comes out in an inappropriate manner.  Holy Scripture speaks on how we should treat and interact with one another.  God’s Word is calling us to love your neighbor as yourself.  Its compelling us to serve others, as Christ himself has provided us the example of service.  We’re warned not to be haughty, arrogant or prideful, but to have humility and be humble.  When it comes right down to it, every human being was made in the image of God.  Shouldn’t we treat each other accordingly? Isn’t it ok to be tolerant of others?  Isn’t it ok to agree to disagree on heartfelt issues?  Isn’t it ok to respect another, rather than instantly judging them on their appearance, clothing, way of living or agendas?  Isn’t it ok to work for peace, rather than jumping instantly to anger? Not long ago I was handed a pamphlet from the Rotary International Organization.  It was entitled, “The Four Way Test for Conflict Transformation.”  This process is based upon asking four questions- 24 words.  The questions included: “Is it True?”  “Is it fair to all concerned?”  “Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships?”  “Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?”  Imagine, actively working to bridge gaps, heal wounds and deal with conflict in a constructive manner. Believe me, I’m not trying to live in denial by having a Pollyanna, Doris Day kind of attitude.  I realize that there are great differences of opinion on a multitude of political and social issues.  My thoughts have to do with being civil and respectful in our discourse and debates with one another.  When we allow ourselves to lose self-control in our interactions, it defeats the purpose. Growing up, my parents incessantly drilled into me that you treat others with kindness and respect.  They clearly taught that no one is better than another, so I better treat people well.  I hope that our present climate will one day change, where the first reaction of an individual is not to initially lambast another for being polarized, but to be open enough to freely discuss and share.  Instead of thinking that I will be civil once the other party begins to act accordingly, it can’t wait any longer.  It must start with us. Civility- Why not give it a try?


I’m Entitled. Yeah, Right.

When I was a child I incessantly asked my father for an allowance. I thought I deserved one for going to school, doing things around the house and being a decent kid. I think he had enough of my pleas as this is how he responded to my inquiries. He said, “Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have clothes on your back? Do you have food in our mouth?” That is your allowance! At first, I didn’t appreciate his answer as a few of my other friends were receiving some “cash on the side.” But as I got older his reasoning made so much sense. Why should I receive something extra for things I was supposed to be doing in the first place? Why did I think that I should be entitled to even more, especially since I wasn’t doing anything extra ordinary?

The word entitlement means “having a right, expecting special treatment.” I know it’s easy to blame the younger generations for being spoiled and entitled, but is it any different when an older person demands privileges because of age or believes that they have the right to express whatever rolls off their tongues? An entitlement attitude is centered solely on self. The sense that “it’s all about me,” “and I deserve whatever I want.” If left unchecked this proclivity to entitlement can cause control issues, isolationism, loneliness, and anger.

Another opposite of entitlement is need. Rather than thinking that we always deserve, there must be an understanding that we can’t do everything ourselves. I realize that self-reliant individuals don’t want to admit that assistance is sometimes essential, but that’s exactly the case. Whether we need help in our relationships, help with education/training, help with our health or help with loved ones, the need is there. In a spiritual way our greatest need includes the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of life forever. And that has been provided through God’s grace in the shed blood of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

One extremely cold night, as I was driving down an ice-covered road in rural Upstate New York, I literally couldn’t tell the edge of the road from the snow filled ditch. Not exactly knowing where I was driving, I got stuck in the ditch.

Since these were the days before cell phones I decided to start walking to the closest house with a poll light. But just before I started out I saw other lights slowly coming down Rock Road. As the vehicle inched closer I couldn’t believe my eyes.

It was my neighbor Aaron with his tractor. He was plowing drive ways and just happened to come upon me in my time of need. He kindly pulled me out as I slowly made my way home. Yes, there are needs that we ourselves cannot fix, but we have a God who promises to give us strength and assistance to deal with these challenges.

In a world where some think that they should always get a trophy or are entitled and deserving of certain things, all it does is to weaken resolve, respect, and responsibility. Instead of demanding entitlement, may we humble ourselves in service and need. Let us be grateful for the thing that we certainly don’t deserve be we still freely receive. God’s never-ending love in Jesus!

Humanity was not created by the living God to focus on self. We were literally created in God’s image to serve, and to have a relationship with the one who can help and save us. In the Gospel of Mark 10:45 Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus the “King of Kings” and the “Lord of Lords” didn’t expect others to serve him, but he was willing to sacrificially give his own life to serve the world. Instead of our self-focus, can you imagine what our community would look like if we took the time to connect with our neighbors, show kindness/generosity to the needy, and intentionally encourage others who are down? We were fearfully and wonderfully made to serve, not to be self-absorbed.


An “Aging” Opportunity

Every eight seconds.  Today in America someone is turning sixty-five years of age every eight seconds.  This equals into more than 10,000 people daily as this trend will continue over the next 30+ years.  By 2030, one out of every five Virginians will be at that age threshold.  A majority of people moving into Culpeper today are fifty or better.   Our community was just recognized as a fast-growing retirement area.  The “age wave” is coming ashore, but what does this really mean? Some may believe that aging is bad, as it means we’re getting older, sicker, and less productive in our living.  While there are certainly both physical and psychological changes which occur in the aging process, there are also a plethora of benefits to becoming older.  The opportunity of time.  The opportunity to try new things.  The opportunity of learning. The opportunity of becoming politically active. The opportunity of forging new relationships.  The opportunity to work.  And the opportunity to serve.  While every person ages differently, becoming mature does not prevent us from living life to the fullest.  And that’s exactly God’s view. In Holy Scripture we read how God promises to take care of and use us for his purposes as we become older.  In Isaiah 46:4 it is written, “even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you.  I have made, I will bear; I will carry and will save.”  The concept that the Lord using us to share his “Good News” to future generations is seen as the psalmist cries out in Psalm 72:18, “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”    And in II Samuel we’re told about an aged man named Barzillai.  Barzillai served King David as David’s son, Absalom, was trying to wrestle the kingdom away from his father.   Are you interested in learning more about God’s plan for us as we grow older?  I have just written a free bible study called “Scriptural Retirement-Serving and Sharing Jesus.” It can be downloaded on the Internet at Culpeper is a great place to age!  Outside of the recreational, educational, cultural and medical infrastructure that is available there are other resources that will also assist us as we get older.  Do we need help with Medicaid/Medicare?  Do we desire access to transportation?  Do we seek Meals on Wheels or other nutrition programs? Do we have an urgency for other senior services?  Please call 540-825-3100.  This is the one-stop phone number to the Community Services Board-The Area Agency on Aging.  Do you suspect any kind of elder abuse or concerned about an older neighbor?  Please call 540-727-0372.  This will connect you to the Culpeper Human Services-Adult Protective Services.  Are you interested in networking with other senior providers or would like to plan activities like the Senior Prom, the Aging Expo and other events?  Please call Aging Together at 540-829-6405.  Do you wish to be a part of a weekly senior group that meets at the Culpeper County Library on Wednesday’s from 10am-2:00pm?  Consider joining The Silver Citizens Club sponsored by the Culpeper County Parks and Recreation.  For more information call 540-727-3412.  Many churches in the area also provide programs and ministry to older adults. Realizing that many of our older residents desire to keep living in their homes if there were supports available, members of the faith, governmental, social service and business community have come together to form a task force group called, “Culpeper Livable Aging Community” (C.L.A.C). The purpose of this group is to look for ways to help people to “age in place.”  For more information, please call 540-270-1026.  Aging is alive and well in Culpeper, Virginia!  But as a community we’re not looking at getting older as just the final stage of a person’s life.  We see it as a wonderful opportunity to grow, experience, learn and serve.  The process of aging cannot be altered or stopped.   However, in our mature years, we can certainly live life to the fullest and make a positive impact upon the generations to come.