Pastor Brad’s Newspaper Column

Prayer: Anytime, Anywhere

By: Pastor Brad Hales
   June 18, 2013 is a very special date for me. It was the day that I had the unique opportunity to pray at Congress. In front of the chamber with television lights radiating downward, I was given the awesome privilege to offer prayer at the beginning of that day’s session of the Unites States House of Representatives. Because of living in a constitutional republic which guarantees its citizens the right to the free exercise of religion, I prayed asking God’s blessings upon its people, its government and its military. I also prayed that as a nation we would repent, and turn back to the Lord following the Scriptural words of Joel, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
   But this is only the tip of the ice burg. As a pastor in Culpeper I have had numerous opportunities to pray at public gatherings in this community. Whether it’s before the meetings of the County Board of Supervisors, Human Services Board, National Cemetery remembrances and funerals, National Day of Prayer activities, or even Culpeper Medical Center events where the plaque in the front lobby of the building clearly expresses that the hospital was dedicated to the Glory of God, I have prayed. And it is my sincere hope that one day I will be offered the invitation to pray at the beginning of the Culpeper County School Board Meetings asking God’s blessings, protection and safety upon the students, faculty, staff and administration.
   Prayer is a good thing. I realize that there are some who do not practice it or believe in its effectiveness. I realize that that are some who only think it should be done privately. I realize that there are some who are afraid of praying thinking that they are doing it the “wrong way.” But I’m here to tell you that prayer is a wonderful, free, gift of God. It can be done anytime or anywhere, as we are guaranteed that the Lord will hear and respond to our petitions. In fact, Holy Scripture is filled with numerous examples of prayer. We’re told that Jesus frequently went away to a private place to pray. In the Gospel of Luke Christ himself provides us with the framework of the Lord’s Prayer. And the Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:6, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
When we pray we gain strength, encouragement, and the knowledge that Jesus is with us and helping us in our hour of need and trial. When I was a seminary student years ago in my training to become a pastor my new wife and I had little money to live. So little, that we didn’t know how we were going to eat and pay our bills. So, we prayed. Then one day, out of the blue, this letter came to our apartment with a check. And here is what the note said. “I’m not sure why, but I felt that I needed to send this money for you today.” Answered prayer! Through prayer, I’ve seen people healed. Through prayer, I’ve seen people delivered from darkness. And through prayer, I’ve seen people gain hope and meaning for their lives.
   Even though we may live in a world that scoffs at the notion of power in prayer, please do it! If you meet someone in public and they have a need, pray for them right there. If you’re on the phone and someone is struggling, pray for them right there. If you’re online and someone needs direction and comfort, instant message them and pray for them right there. Let us not be inhibited to pray for our governmental institutions, leaders, and other situations, because when we pray, things will happen through the grace of the living God in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. As Holy Scripture compels us in II Chronicles 7:14, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”


A Love That Won’t Let Us Go

The “official” day of love is on our doorstep.  Yes, February 14, Valentine’s Day, when love will be expressed in flowers, cards, chocolates, going out to eat, dancing, and the expression of other “heart felt” overtures specifically designed to show our deep devotion and care to those special persons in our lives.  While these signs of affection and romance are so very important and sincerely warranted, we also realize that love is much more than a piece of cardboard which spits out a song when opened, or a multi-colored, hard candy in a shape of heart, which shares a cheesy slogan along with being hard on the teeth.  Love is sacrifice.  Love is truth.  Love is action.  Love is presence. Even in this sometimes hard, apathetic and self-centered world, we are still touched by a self-less love that is not bent on just receiving, but giving.  I was blessed to encounter this in my very own family.  In 1965, my maternal grandparents were suddenly killed, as their car was picked up, and thrown into the ditch by a night time tornado.  My two aunts, aged 10 and 14 were also in the automobile as they sustained serious, and long healing injuries.  After this horrific event my mother became her sister’s guardian, and when my parents were married a year later, all the parties began to live together under the same roof. Along with all this I was added to the mix many months later.  Through the years I came to understand that this was not an easy scenario.  There was grief, little money and limited room.  But that didn’t matter, because it was about sacrifice and love. So how is it possible for us humans, even imperfectly, to share this sacrificial love with another?  Because this love comes directly from God, and his Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  A love that will never let us go.  In the New Testament Book of I John 4:7 it is written, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. And whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”  Clearly, love only exists from God, and this love is provided to us to share.  So how do we know that God is serious about this sacrificial love or not?  Is it just words or are their actions behind it?  In I John 3:18 it says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth.” These days we are so inundated with words, aren’t we?  Whether it’s the internet, cable television or even a phone solicitation, how do we know if the things being said are true, or “fake news?”  Not long ago I received a phone call from an organization that wanted me to donate to their cause.   They wanted me to make a verbal pledge over the phone.  When I said that I wanted to see some information first, they balked.  So, I refused.  Some words seem hollow, but not the Word of the living God.  In John 3:16 Christ himself says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” In these true words we see that God is providing us with his sacrificial and eternal love in Jesus.  The greatest love ever known to humanity.  A love that will never let us go. As we come upon the recognition of Valentines, the worldwide day of love where the names of Hallmark, Russell Stovers and Cupid take center stage, let us realize that love is far more than just words and simplistic platitudes.  The foundation of all love itself is God.  And God showed us this sacrificial love by sending Jesus Christ to be our Savior.  As we are reminded by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13:13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”


A New Year, A New Creation

He had the privilege of watching new creation come, realizing that it was only possible through God.  These were the experiences of my paternal grandfather Joe Hales, who spent his life farming.  He planted corn, soybeans and wheat on approximately 120 acres of black sand.  And as a kid growing up, I distinctly remember him telling me stories about the crops.  Grandpa told me about the times when the hail and wind storms would break off the leaves of the young seedlings, but they always seemed to grow back.   He shared with me about the droughts where the land would become parched.  But somehow, enough precipitation would suddenly appear to water the fledgling plants.  My Grandfather Hales made it clear that he was just the steward, the manager of the land, but it was God who made things happen.  Grandpa was the guy who just plowed the ground, planted the seed, and harvested the bounty.  But it was the Lord who newly created year, after year, after year. And through God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we are given the opportunity to become his “new creation” as we begin a new year.  In II Corinthians 5:17 it is written, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” So, what does it mean to be a “new creation” in Christ?  It means realizing that nothing can take us away from God’s love.  It means we’re saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus.  It means even though we sin, we realize that through repentance, we are totally and absolutely forgiven through the shed blood of Christ.  It means that we’re going to “let go” of the past, and let God.  But this will probably be the hardest thing for us to do. Why?  Because we hate to “let go.”  Sometimes it’s easier to hang on to old habits and unhealthy behaviors rather than becoming “new creations.”   We get so accustomed to specific ways of living that we fight to hold onto the “old creation.”  I’m the kind of guy who hates to get rid of his clothes.  I will keep wearing the same tee shirts even though they are ridden with holes and the material is pulling away from the collars.  These shirts are in such bad shape but I refuse to part with them.  But my wife doesn’t have the same problem.  She has systematically replaced the old tees with new ones.  And this is what Jesus has done for us. Through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, Christ has literally broken the old, and brought in the new.  In Mark 2:22 it says, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the wine will burst the skins-and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins.  But new wine is for fresh wineskins.“  Jesus is the new wine, and we can be those new wineskins, filled with Christ himself through the Holy Spirit.  And as we have Jesus himself in us, we can begin the year living as his new creations, filled with faith, hope and love. In John 10:10 it is written, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  In 2018, we don’t have to allow the darkness to keep us captive and conflicted.  We don’t have to allow the darkness to keep us negative and neglectful.  We don’t have to allow the darkness to keep us selfish and sullen.  As new creations of Christ Jesus we are being provided the ultimate gift to live not just for ourselves, but to serve and encourage others. The task is set before us.  The choice is ours.  Do we want to continue living in the past, or to embrace the future?  May we follow the words in Ephesians 2:22-24, “To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”


CHURCH: Drawn in by The Light

By Pastor Brad Hales

     They were drawn in by the light.  In the late 1980’s I was a volunteer youth group leader for a church in Northwestern Ohio.  The senior high young adults had gathered one Sunday evening for a Christmas party in the basement of the building.  I vividly remember one, long table adorned with food, drink and frosted covered sugar cookies.  Unfortunately, only a few of the youth attended the event, as we wondered what could be done with the remaining edible items.  As the evening was winding down, a faint knock was heard coming from the glass, outside door leading into the church.