Advice for the Journey

By Robert A. Wendel

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017 Rev. Billy Graham will hopefully celebrate his 99th birthday.  Graham, best known American and television Protestant crusade evangelist of the last six and a half decades, came from humble beginnings.  Voted a ‘most respected American’ 60 times since 1955, his supporter-core is middle-class conservative believers.

Raised on a North Carolina farm during the Great Depression of the 1920’s and 1930’s, “saved’ at age 15, attended Florida Bible Institute earning a B.A. from Wheaton College and graduated in 1943.  He began his ministry conducting meetings as a Youth for Christ speaker and married Ruth Bell, daughter of missionary parents to China.  Dr. and Mrs. Graham had five children together, all of whom are engaged in some form of Christian work.

Their son Franklin succeeded his father as president of the Billy Graham Association and Library.  He also directs the outreach of Samaritan’s Purse and its Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Ministry which is supported by hundreds of congregations including many fellowships in the ABC/USA.

Since 1947 Dr. Graham has been a prophetic voice proclaiming the faith in some 185 countries with listener totals in his stadium-size gathering reaching a reported 215 million people.  Many of these were also broadcast to a global television audience, the last being in New York City in 2005.  His lifetime radio and television listeners and viewers is estimated at some 2.2 billion world-wide with 3.2 million “Coming forward to publicly declare faith in Jesus Christ as personal Savior.”

A Southern Baptist author of more than 30 books, interviewed by the Readers Digest at the release of his book “The Journey” in 2007, the now silver-haired minister offered these insights into achieving greater happiness:

  1. Make it your goal to live at peace with others.
  2. Treat others as you’d like them to treat you
  3. Guard your tongue. Use it for good instead of evil.
  4. Never repay evil for evil.
  5. Avoid revenge. Don’t be a captive of the past.
  6. Practice the power of forgiveness.

In a 1995 television interview, Larry King asked Dr. Graham, “How would you like to be remembered” to which the preacher replied “That I was faithful.”  King then asked “What do you think of Heaven?”   Graham responded, I’m looking forward to it!”

Responding to Rescue Opportunities

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all…”  (Galatians 6:10, KJV)

It’s not unusual for professional Major League umpires to make split-second decisions in their line of work, during the course of a game, a series of games between two teams or even a whole season.  John Tumpane was to be the home plate umpire that night in May during a game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh between the Pirates and the Tampa Bay Rays.

After lunch while jogging across the Roberto Clemente Bridge directly behind the gall field, John spotted a woman who had climbed over the railing and was getting ready to jump into the water below.  Quickly moving forward, the ump grabbed her arm and asked someone to call 911.  She shouted “You don’t care about me. I want to be in a better place.”

Mr. Tumpane replied “I’m not going to let you go.  Let’s talk it over.”  She repeated, “No one wants to help me.”  John told her, “We’re all here to help you.”  By then on the bridge walk-way handcuffed to the structure guardrail, the upset young lady replied “You’ll forget me by tomorrow!”  As paramedics, a police boat and even a helicopter arrived, Mr. Tumpane told them “I will not forget her.  I was just glad to help.”

In his three-year teaching ministry, Jesus was a story teller.  His thirty-eight short stories included in the gospels are referred to as parables, earthly tales with a heavenly meaning.  Several of these home-spun illustrations are about the simple farm life, family relations or missed opportunities.

The best known rescue parable is related in the tenth chapter of Luke’s gospel (10:25-37) in about 300 words, Luke, the Greek physician, recounted the story about how an unidentified man had been robbed, beaten and left for dead on the Jericho Road.

This story was told in response to a lawyer’s question concerning the relationship between the Jewish law and eternal life.   The Master’s salvation was “You must love God and your neighbor.”  So, the questioner asked “Who is my neighbor?”  The Samaritan didn’t know much about God or the Jewish law.  But, he was human and willing to do what he could for this needy person, right then and there.

Most church-goers believe in helping the unfortunate but would rather write a check than to be directly involved with the other person’s troubles.  Like the other two travelers in the parable, they would rather just ‘walk on by.’  Jesus’ lesion here is “The best way to get to heaven is to be involved with life.  Do what you can, whenever you can, to whoever you can!

Practicing Prayer

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Nehemiah prayed, “I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy from them that love him and observe his commandments:  Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes be open that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray now before thee for thy people… “ (Nehemiah 1:4-5, KVJ.)

Praying is never easy.  Praying out loud, in public, is even harder.  I remember being asked to offer grace before breakfast in the home of our overnight host, when my wife Kathryn and I were living in Connecticut in 1985 during my year as a Resident Chaplain in the State Mental Hospital and were delegates to the Annual State Convention representing First Baptist Church, Middletown.

I obliged, trying to include everyone and everything in my quests I sent heavenward.  When I’d lifted my head, the young pastor said, “Bob, you forgot to ask the Lord to bless our food!”  Everybody ‘round the table new I meant well!

Decades later, as Pastor of the Freedonia Baptist Church in New York, I was privileged to offer grace before each weekly Rotary Club luncheon meeting.  And in 2001 at the commencement of students from The New York State University Campus in Fredonia, I wrote a prepared script for the afternoon’s invocation and benediction.  Every six weeks at First Baptist Beckley, my prayer took days to think through, since I wanted my invocation to match the morning scripture.

Here’s the pastor prayer delivered on ABC Youth Sunday by a young lady who was a sophomore at Jamestown Community College in Dunkirk, New York who was active in our BYF.  “O Father, Thou knowest our nature and readest our innermost thoughts and nothing can be hidden from Thee.  Help us, then, to unburden ourselves of every disguise we wear before the world and find strength in being what we are, Thou humble and grateful children.  Enable us to put off shame and pretense.  Be patient with any of us who still prefer vain shows and empty pride to the freedom and security of Thy truth.

Enable us to carry out from this place peace and strength that we gain here, because we have talked with Thee.  May we be able to work more patiently for Thy Kingdom, bringing light upon the problems that perplex the world, dispelling the night of doubt and fear with Thy sheltering love.  Amen”   Leaving the platform, she added, “Be sure to pray!”

Minister Abroad: Never on Sunday

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“He who honors Me, I will Honor”  ( Samuel 2:20).

When one is honored all rejoice.” (I Corinthians 12:26)

Jesus replied “The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

It’s summer.  In the sports world, it’s outdoor track and field season.  I always take notice when athletes honor their faith convictions on the field of play.  There’s such a story as re-told in the Academy Award winning motion picture “Chariots of Fire”.

In 1924 at the Summer Olympics in Paris, Eric Liddell of Scotland refused to run a pre-race heat because it was scheduled on the first day of the week which is faith taught him would violate the Sabbath (I Samuel 2:20).   Liddell managed to negotiate an unheard of switch with Harold Abrahams, a devote Jew, from the 100-meter dash he had trained for to, instead, compete in the 400meter event later in the week for which he had not trained.

On July 11th running in the difficult outside lane, by the final straightaway Eric lead the other runners by four or five yards.  Liddell won the race in a world record and gold medal winning time of 46.06 seconds thrilling the cheering stadium crowd. (I Corinthians 12:26).

Liddell answered newsmen saying “I had no formula for winning the race.  Everyone runs in their own way.  Where does the power come from to see the race to the end” From within.   Jesus said “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.”   If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race” (Luke 17:21).

The next year, young Liddell left Edinburgh to return to China where he had been born to Scottish Presbyterian missionaries.  Two decades later he was taken prisoner with other Christian missionaries having to spend the last months of his life in a Japanese internment camp dying in occupied China in 1946.  All of Scotland mourned.

Leaving his memorial service an attendee remarked “It is a blessing when someone has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he comes as close to it as anyone could when meeting Eric Liddell.”

Minister Abroad: Dusting Off Seminary Notes

by Rev Robert A Wendel

I feel fortunate to have earned my M.Div. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary after completing three years of on-campus studies and being taught by a world renowned facility which included Bruce Metzger, Bernhard Anderson, Seward Halter and Seminary President James McCord.  On June 4th as we celebrate another Pentecost, here are some of my notes from Dr. McCord’s sermon-like classroom lecture: Easter Hope, given in Stuart Hall during the Spring of 1979.

“The meaning of biblical history is justification by faith and forgiveness of sins.  Is this not true of our lives as persons?  Being a Christian means that our past, with all its burdens, is canceled when our sin is forgiven, and that God opens up a new future filled with fresh possibilities for us when he justifies us by faith.  We know the experience of being freed through God’s redeeming grace.  It happens to us again and again when we confess and are forgiven.

God is able to overcome our mistakes and create new opportunities for building a world that is just humane and more in accord with his intention for his people.  Easter is a guarantee of all this.  The Easter event began when the Word became flesh, when God and (humanity) were united forever in Jesus of Nazareth.  In this act God took our future upon himself and at Easter life triumphed over death for all eternity.

Easter represents the triumph of light over darkness, freedom over bondage, hope over despair and life over death.  It is the miracle of grace that enables us to rise above the perils of today and to become witnesses and partners in God’s work of making all things new (Acts 2:37-42).

St. Pauls’ great statement on the resurrection includes a doxology: “But, thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  However, he did not stop there.  In the light of the resurrection every human being is set free to serve the living God.  So, Paul concluded “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for your labor is not in vain in the Lord (I Corinthians 15:17.)”

As President McCord told us students many times, “I cannot think of a better definition of Christianity than that ”give, give, give.”

Minister Abroad: Starting Over

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gifts each of you has received.  After you have suffered for a little while, the God grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will, himself, restore, support, strengthen and establish you.”  (I Peter 4:10;5:10 NRSV)

In the world of televised sports, instant replays have become ordinary.  Viewers and officials can look at plays, shots, tackles and even horses and automobiles or punches over and over again.  So, I moved out of Beckley to Waynesburg, sure that I would be able to, successfully, replay some of my college experience of 40 years ago, remaining what the M&M Board calls ‘a wondering minister’.

In exactly four decades, Waynesburg has changed and ‘my college’ is now a larger university.  Many of my college professors and well-known staff have died.  But, Miller and Hanna Halls are still the center of campus and downtown is still lined, on both sides, with familiar stores and shops.  It feels good to return to First Baptist Church and sense that I will again be able to use my God-given gifts to help, teach, counsel or encourage others in this community.

We all know that it’s really impossible to start over.  In the now-or-never battle of priorities, the secret lies in taking care of life’s biggies now – today or tonight.  You remember the old Sunday School song “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”  We are each called to use our unique abilities to “make our world a better place.”

As you look at Beckley First Baptist and the neighborhood and community where the Lord has planted it, there is no need to ‘start over’.  The old church still stands.  But, as Jack Hayford wrote “Begin again.  The Lord calls us (no matter where we are), to return to those things which His Word teaches and which release the power of His presence among us.”

I will always be thankful for the years I spent among you all happy that some of my skills and education were sometimes put to good use and my observations on church life were allowed to be expressed.  But, just as the Lord expects more from me, He wants First Baptist Beckley to meet its future challenges.

Stopping by Woods

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Let your words be few before God.  My heart waits in silence for God.  Jesus kept silent.  There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.”  (Eccles 5:2; Psalm 62:1, Matthew 15:23,  Eccles 3:7.)

A television interviewer asked Don Henley, the drummer of the Eagles rock and roll band, “When you’re in your car and the radio is on, what music do you listen to?”  He quickly replied “I turn the radio off.  Silence is a good thing.  We need more of it.”

Lines from Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”  also serve to remind us of our need for quiet time in our overcrowded lives.  “Whose woods these are I think I know.  He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow.  The woods are lovely dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.”

There have been times in my hospital ministry when I realize that calmness can be a key to pushing back fear in the face of illness.  This quality of peacefulness can serve to put us in our place in the world while drawing us closer to our Heavenly Father and bring a focus to our prayers even in an otherwise noisy Sunday morning worship service.  Yes.  I understand that silence during radio broadcasts makes station staff nervous.  For decades, our worship hour over local air waves has brought comfort to our homebound members and friends.

Welcoming Christ into our lives can quiet physical and emotional storms.  As we grasp a hold of Jesus’ calming presence, we often find ourselves discovering practical answers to even mountains-sized challenges.  God’s peace is always available.  There is no substitute for the transforming effect of spiritual stillness.  It’s a God given gift each of us can rely on daily.  As we do, we can experience more deeply its steadying effect on our daily tasks, be they large or small, extra-ordinary or routine.

 

Aging Thoughts

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Respect old people.  Do not rebuke an old man.  Wisdom is with aged.  Lev. 19:32; I Tim. 5:1; Job 12:12

Jesus proved by his resurrection that we are God’s spiritual expression, made for this world, yet to live again in a paradise yet to come.  Christ destroyed the notion that our time on earth has age limitations.  Positive folks say “Age is just a state of mind.  You’re as young as you feel.”

Regardless of the number of candles on your birthday cake, as the years add up if we use common sense to maintain our physical bodies and minds, we can live long, useful, productive lives.  Genesis 1:26 assures us that the Almighty gave humans control of all creation, including ourselves.

Still, we know that the natural aging process imposes restrictions on our strength and endurance.  As the decades we feel a drop off from what we could accomplish twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years before.  The onset of physical disorders and diseases does weigh heavily upon our later lifestyle.

No matter the circumstances, you and I don’t need to feel overwhelmed.  Sometimes the senior crowd get chagrined for not being able to do what they used to be able to do.  It’s alright if our pace slows down just a little.  Younger people will always glide along at a faster pace.

With advancing years comes the wisdom to enjoy little victories that may arrive with each new dawn and serve to comfort us all through the night.

The great British physician Sir. William Osler wrote, “Each night we should pull down a mental curtain, shutting out the past and another curtain shutting out our tomorrow and go to sleep unburdened by remnants of the past or anxieties about the future.”

We all know the truism, ‘Take care of today.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.”  As St. Paul wrote, “Forget those things which are behind.  Reach for those things which are in front of us.  Let us press toward the high marks given us by Christ.”  (Phil.3:14).  May God bless us.

The next men’s prayer breakfast will be Saturday, February 25th at Crab Orchard church at 8:00 a.m.  Come and enjoy a great time with your brothers in Christ.

Under Construction

by Rev Robert A Wendel

The final stop for many visitors to the Billy Graham Library, Museum and Grounds in Charlotte, NC is often the prayer garden where Dr. Graham’s wife of sixty years, Ruth Bell Graham, daughter of medical missionaries to China, was laid to rest below a grave marker engraved with the Chinese character for ‘righteousness’ and English sentences, “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

Isn’t that really what our earthly life is really all about? The Lord, in his patience and grace, is working on us all, through the experiences and events of our lives., until bringing us to an end which only he himself knows. You and I can be far too quick to judge someone else’s spiritual progress, while forgetting to realize just have much patience our heavenly Father has showered upon us during our earthly sojourn.

The older we get in our walk, the more we should admit that perfection for we mere mortals is impossible. Every follower of Christ should have confidence that God’s love and faithfulness will carry us through all the high’s and low’s that spiritual character building may require.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless, before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever” (Jude 1:24-25, Adapted),

While God is shaping and reshaping us, making you and me ready for heaven, may we thank those whom we may have ‘rubbed the wrong way,’ insulted or overlooked, extending grace filled understanding to us. This may be the best New Year’s resolution we make for 2017!

Gentlemen, please remember to join our church friends and our guests from the Fellowship House for our January 2017 ABC Men’s Breakfast on the Second Saturday of the New Year.  Everyone resolve your blessings with others in the days and weeks ahead.

Joy by Candlelight

by Rev Robert A Wendel

It is Christmas Eve in the Year of our Lord 1800. First Lady Abigail Adams is carefully placing a holly wreath and a single white candle in each window of the new Presidential Mansion. The uncompleted White House would be the home she shared with her husband John,  young country’s elected leader. Just a month before, on the first night under roof, the happy couple prayed together:

“O Lord, in Thy Name, we dedicate this house. We invoke Thy blessing upon all who now and hereinafter shall dwell here. May none there but a good and wise man ever rule under beneath its roof.” During WWII, FDR had these lines carved into the mantle of the State Dining Room.

Just as President and Mrs. Adams felt joy over the arrival of another Christmas holiday, so should we. That first year in the nation’s official residence was a difficult one. The streets of the capital were muddy carriage paths, conflicts were brewing all over Europe and felt on this side of the Atlantic. President Adams’ election was very bitter one. Some wondered if bad feelings would be forgotten.

Words in carols like — “Peace on earth, good will toward men” — seemed out of place in such a bloody world.” In the USA, Adams was told that something must be done or our Christmas religion would die.

Over the years the human situation has not changed much. There are still young people enjoying the excitement of living in new places, trying out new ideas in a world with plenty of wars, bitterness, and misunderstandings. For more than Twenty Centuries, Christmas has come again giving believers the chance to light simple candles in the darkness as reminders of the hope of Jesus.

The sight of holiday candles on Christmas Eve 2016 will lift both our hearts and excite our spirits, serving to remind you and me that Yuletide seems to come just when we need it most. For one hour, leave your burdens and worries at the door and join us on December 24th.”   There are many ways to think and do for others during December 2016. Consider supporting at least one of the community opportunities encourage by our church. Dec. 9th and Dec. 16th we offer a community luncheon and our deacons will hold our men’s breakfast on Saturday, December 10th at 8:00