Romance: More than Holding Hands

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Be eager to love because that gift comes from the Holy Spirit. Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready. This is my beloved and this is my friend. (James 1:17, Song of Solomon 2:7, 5:16 NRSV). To get heaven’s help with romance you must live out your faith. Pray about loves attraction. True romance involves both the ‘heart and the head.” Real love is spiritual. Chronic health problems will impact any relationship.

There are dozens of factors that attract you to one person or another. We form snap judgments based on physical attractiveness, likeability, competence, money wisdom and financial stability. We are drawn to people like us with a similar family history, tradition and religious preferences. Smiling is a sign of someone who is emotionally well adjusted and has a good personality. Romantic love lasts about two years. Then we grow into a deeper more mature love connection. Get to know your future possible in-laws or step children

When trying to decide if couples will stay together, one indicator is how they describe their courtship, hoping that you chose each other through mutual agreeability and similar beliefs which reflect their computability. These are things like daily habits, past-times, child rearing ideas, political leanings and their goals.

If you’re ready to date, think of it as fun, interesting and possibly enriching. Be sure you are aware of what went wrong in your last serious relationship. In the new relationship: Be friends. Spend time together. Laugh together. Be a good and patient listener. Trust, leave some separate alone time and space.

There are bound to be differences. But, over time your brain gets used to the other person. Sharing understandings reduces anxiety, depression and stress and may boost immunity and longevity. The ultimate key to solid relationships is a good verbal communication. Instead of arguing, give each other the benefit of the doubt by hearing each other out first.

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible,” wrote screen writer Nora Ephron. American poet Ogned Nash said, “Whenever you’re wrong, admit it. When you’re right, shut up.”

Marriage: Two for the See-Saw

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Be subject to one another. Be of the same mind, husband and wife having the same love. And the two will become one flesh. The wife and husband shall fulfill their duty to each other.” (Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:3, I Corinthians 7:8-16,39 NRSV.)

In marriage, a man and a women agree to ride the see-saw of life, with all of its ups and downs, together. (Ruth 1:16).

The vows they make at a ceremonial moment really mean that they get each other in return. Each, gladly, meeting the other’s needs, taking on each other’s burdens. There will always be the other to talk to and to listen to. And they will have countless opportunities to be patient and kind to their sweetheart, while becoming more rich yourself than just you alone. (I Corinthians 13:4-5). These ancient notions are the biblical ideal.

Matrimony is to be thought of as a Divine institution people enter into out of custom, duty or a need to procreate. Most of us think this one relationship should-and could provide the full buffet of satisfaction; intimacy, support, stability, happiness and sexual exhilaration. If the union is not up to the task, then it’s easy and cheaper to unsubscribe and divorce. (2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 12:2).

Marriage is the most intimate and basic of our social institutions but also the one most subject to shifts and change, making single adult life completely attractive. In a survey by Cornell University, couples said “At one point, their long marriage was the best thing in their lives, but it takes work (attention) and is really, really hard” (Corinthians 3:15-17).

The ultimate dream; figuring out how to go the distance, being faithful while bringing out the best in your partner. Studies suggest that married people have better health, better wealth and even better sex than their counterparts; and will, probably, die happier.

How do you find a soul-mate? Choose wisely! Stay married as if divorce is not an option. Charles Swindoll, radio bible teacher said, “To the unmarried; Be patient! Wed someone who is an active Christian. To the married; Be content! To the remarried; Be grateful.”

Dealing with Life’s Changes

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed you will be strong in character and ready for anything. God blesses people who patiently endure testing.” (James 1:2-4, 12 (NLT).

Challenges. Everyone born into this world has his or her unique set of obstacles to confront, not all at once, but scattered throughout one’s days. By my count, there are in fact four types of hurdles: 1) Physical; 2) Medical; 3) Relationships (those earthly and heavenly) and 4) Finances and Property. A mind boggling list.

I recently heard a television preacher sum up stages in life as hurried, worried and buried. The first decade of my existence meant meeting life’s physical demands includes three orthopedic surgery experiences, many walks in parallel bars and up and down countless stairs. Mental challenges came in education and training. Relationships with other people always need attention. Financial stress has been felt the most in my semi-retirement.

I learned the harder it got, the stronger I got. There has been a faith lesson in all of my trials. It’s easy to have faith sitting in church on Sunday. When things get hard, my faith, like an under-developed muscle, is challenged. These challenges push me and my faith stronger, even through pain.

James urges all Christians to show their faith by their works. Paul holds that faith leads to work. James says that works must demonstrate faith. We wouldn’t be tested unless we are doing something serious. It’s like wanting to take a morning walk and finding that the wind nearly pushes you back before you’ve even started.

There are many winds and tides in the human life. In what ways has life tossed you about? Motion picture actor Christopher Reeve (Superman) said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to preserve and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Paul: Apostle at a Gallop

by Robert A Wendel

“I am not ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. In it the righteousness of God is revealed. The one who is righteous will live by faith. God has clothed me with a robe of righteousness. In Jesus Christ the blessing of Abraham has come to Gentiles.” (Romans 1:16-17; Isaiah 61-10, NRSV.)

Paul was a preacher first and a writer second. Both spheres – preaching and writing – were ruled by one great fact – the fact of a living present Lord; and by one all-decisive experience – the experience of union and communion with Him. The heart of Paul’s religion was union with Christ. (Acts 9, 22, 26).

The distinctive Christian attitude is humble trust in God and dependence on what he has done (rescue) through Christ. In short, “faith” (Romans 1:17.) No one could shame this former rabbi into silence until his death in 64AD.
In his life-risking missionary travels, Paul sought out Jewish communities in cities in present-day Lebanon, Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. Unlike other Christians, Paul encouraged converting non-Jews which laid the foundation for the explosive growth of Early Christianity and the final separation of Judaism and Christianity into two separate faiths.

Paul’s bold adventures came to an end in about 60AD when he was arrested for admitting a non-Jew into the Temple of Jerusalem and he was sent to Rome for trial. Acquitted, he stayed there to help organize the Christian Church in the Empirical Capital of the Empire.

Paul is credited with authoring seven books of the New Testament – Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians and Philemon and he may have also written six other letters to young churches and a pair to Apostle Timothy.

This Easter, it is good for us to remember Paul’s words “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor hearts conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corn. 2:9.) “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are to be pitied.” (I Cor. 15:19). Jesus said “Because I live, you will also.” (John 14:19).

Young People: Handle with Care

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Children are an inheritance from
the Lord.  Train up a child in the way he
should go.  A Child is known    by
his doings” (Psalm 127:3; Proverbs 22:6, Proverbs 20:11 (Geneva Bible)

“Children and young people are the future of our Church.”   Senior members around churches have whispered that truism many times knowing: 1) Youth require their own separate ministry; 2) Kids live a kinetic, up-beat pace; 3) For them, traditions only matter at Christmas and Easter; 4) Newbies appreciate church time as time to be with classmates and friends; 5) Still, the continuation of any congregation is on the shoulders of today’s up-and-coming folks.  Handle with care.

Most worshipping fellowships divide themselves in three generational groups: Cradle roll (Infants and pre-public school youngsters); Public school young people and adults.  Out of his love and mercy, God wants all his children to be happy, however they define it, under the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:24-25).

Once and for all, we must put out of our minds that the purpose of life is to enjoy ourselves, to be happy, to have a good time, to make money and to live worry free in ease and comfort.  Real Christians are to attempt to live their lives in service to others laying aside their own desires.

In both Jewish and Christian theology, the much desired birth of a son or daughter is a heritage or reward thought of as a gift from God.   Folly is bound up in a child’s heart.  The righteous follow a clear path in life.  The Lord delivers them from trouble.  Wisdom is gained through discipline. (Proverbs 4:3-5).

R. Benjamin Garrison said “If God has made an impact on us, it will be evident in the children we raise, the ideas we share, the money we earn and spend, in the church we love, the nation we build and protect and in the souls that kneel before Him, each one of us, sometime, caught in the living net of the gospel.”

Grace Undeniable

by Robert A Wendell

“Do Not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace. But, grow in the knowledge of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (Meanwhile), God, himself, will restore, support, strengthen and establish you.” (Hebrews 13:9, 2 Peter 3:18, I Peter 5:10 NRSV).

Grace seems to be the one word in a Christian vocabulary that unlocks the necessity and the power of the relationship between the Almighty and humankind. Still, there are those moments when we doubt that unique connection.   I may not be doing the most exciting things with my days, but in the middle of those highs and lows and downright monotonous chores, one thing remains true:  I am here for a purpose – a mission.  And the mission is to glorify God.  God in all I do.  God in all I say – and in every word I write.

Grace provides ‘the wind beneath my wings.’  Grace is the oil that makes everything run smoothly and gently.  Having a graceful flow to the day or the week doesn’t just come from having a laid-back attitude.  It comes from understanding that grace is God – generated and heaven – sent.

Grace is flexible.  Grace trumps fear and worry with the sure notion that the Lord is at the spiritual helm of our lives.  After all, each one of us is a reflection of God’s all-intelligent control.  Even in pressure-packed times, it’s wise to wait on our Maker.  Feeling grace helps me pursue what seems the right move for that moment.

Grace means there is nothing I can do to make God love me more.  He invites me to sit at His table.  Grace also helps me feel more gracious, looking outward toward others first.  As we actively run toward the Divine and make room for grace, order and pace can ‘flow like a river.

Jerry Bridges, author for the Navigators Discipleship Organization wrote, “Our worst days are never so bad that we are beyond the reach of grace.  And our best days are never so good that we are beyond the need of God’s grace.”

Walking in the Sunlight

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Light is sweet, and it is a pleasure for the eyes to see the sun.  Wisdom is as good as an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun.  Let days speak and many years teach wisdom.” (Ecclesiastes 11:7, 7:11, Job 32:7 NRSV)

It is 2000 in Fredonia, New York.  The local clergy group usually met eight times a year for lunch.  But our January pow-wow was always at 8:00 a.m. to plan for the year’s shared events including a series of Lenten and Advent rotating, fund-raising luncheons supporting community ministry.

Less than two weeks before we all had celebrated Christmas as pastors in our various congregations.  Mine was Fredonia Baptist.

It’s the first month of a new decade and as I watched the sun come into full glow, I wondered what critical decisions would shape the direction of the future.  In the next eighteen years, I would live in Ashland, Ohio, Beckley and Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.  Each relocation changed my live.

We all have made good and bad decisions.  Decision-making really begins as we enter 9th grade to start our chosen course of study taking us through the public high school years.  Career choices, like where to live and work, marriage, children, health issues and retirement, lay ahead.  Our train can run off the track but decisions do not define us.

God is not limited by our poor navigation or circumstances. He is faithful in enabling our personal river to flow to the sea.  And surely, grace from on High lights our way.

British novelist James Hilton wrote Lost Horizon about a group of climbers who stumble upon Shangri-La, a Utopian-like settlement in the mountains of Tibet where people enjoy unheard of longevity.  The High Lama shares this wisdom with the stranded visitors:

‘The first quarter century of your life was, doubtless, lived under the cloud of being too young for things, while the next quarter-century would, normally, be shadowed by the still darker cloud of being too old for them; and between these two clouds, small and narrow sunlight illuminates the human lifetime.” (page 153)

Christmas -Just in Time!

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Blessings on the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has turned his face toward his people and has set them free!  He has raised up for us a standard of salvation.  Don’t be afraid!  May the God of hope fill you with joy.”  (Luke 1:68; 2:10, Romans 15:13)

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful, joyous time of the year.  But, for many folks, it’s a time of acute stress and sorrow.  Physical pain, loss, downright loneliness and depression is common even among church-going Christians.

Our world has been torn by bombings, shootings and world-wide acts of violence.  Natural disasters – fire, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes have taken lives and made thousands homeless.  Families have been broken by troubled relationships.  And it’s hard to escape hearing or reading reports of the above and mistreatment of the fairer sex even reaching the Halls of Congress.

For so many it will be hard to hear or sign the hymns, carols and songs of the season.  It might very well be difficult to think about giving or getting gifts.  Still, in congregations around the globe, the Sunday before Christmas we’ll light the Candle of Joy singing the carols as people have done for more years than we can count.

One such carol is “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with lyrics by Church Rector Phillips Brooks penned in Philadelphia in 1868 as an emotional reaction to the assassination of President Lincoln and the Civil War.  To attempt to heal his spirit, Brooks traveled to the Holy Land.  The young Episcopal priest was so impressed by the worship service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem that ‘he felt at peace’ and told friends, “Forever there will be a singing in my soul.”

Concentration camp survivor Corrie ten Boom made the following entry in her diary for 12/24: “What can we add to Christmas?  The perfect motive is that God so loved the world.  The percent gift is that HE gave His only Son.  The only requirement is to believe in Him.  The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.”

Leitmotif (Thanksgiving)

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Enter (God’s) gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.  Abraham grew strong in faith as he gave glory to God.” (Psalm 100:4-5; Romans 4:20 NRSV)

Recently I watched a bit of the film Dr. Zhivago and I heard enough of the soundtrack of Laura’s theme which serves as a reminder of what happened in the story before.  Germans call this dramatic idea-leitmotif.

Of course, the Thanksgiving holiday has its traditions.  But memory plays a big part in what happens the third Thursday in November.

Memory is a two-edged sword.  It helps us recall heart-warming people and events.  But, family can also bring up mistakes we’d rather forget.  That’s why “the meal” can be so stressful.  Suddenly God’s grace comes into play.

Make a list of whatever you’re not thankful for and measure it against the foundations of our Christian faith.  All of these were written into the Apostle’s Creed which begins “I believe in …”  As Abraham did, in his fallen word, we, imperfect humans, must learn to walk by faith.

“Can we not trust God to give us everything we need?”  (Romans 8:32, Phillips).

French Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen, wrote, “We are God’s beloved children.  We cannot allow the curses of this world to darken our hearts.  We must choose to receive God’s blessings and pass them on to others.”

Friendship and Death in the Silver Years

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Christ brought us the good news.  It shines like a light and offers life that never ends.  He has given eternal life to everyone who has done what is good.”  (2 Timothy 1:10, Romans 2:7, CEV.)

My new MD requested that I get an overnight workup at the hospital to update his office chart.  The next day I decided to stop at the Dollar Store and pick up some get-well cards.  “It seems I’ve been buying them all too often”, I told the clerk.  She snapped back “When our age group gets older, they get sick and die. That’s how it is.”

Even though I didn’t help her, she reminded me of just how wonderful it is to have friendships later in life.  It’s true that my life has been enriched by dozens of friends in a whole handful of places from as far north as Maine and west to Ohio and south to West Virginia, all since September of 1972.

When you’re as blessed as I have been to have pastored four different congregations and ministered in six separate hospitals including the Beckley VA Medical Center, relationships mount up quickly.  I gladly admit that some of the most memorable people in my life are my friends at First Baptist in Beckley.  I felt especially blessed at the monthly Men’s Breakfast.

As a pastor or minister besides friends you harvest of bushel-full of experiences which serve to mature your life.  One of these is death itself.  In congregations, death comes-and-goes like the wind.  In medical facilities or long term housing, a person’s “passing” from this life to the next is considered routine.

Dying is the same for everyone.  Dying doesn’t depend on age, economic status or geographic location.  Dying is a human process just as our birth is.  God has other plans for us.  All we lose is our physical body (I Corinthians 15:53-54).  Dying is a total absence of pain, fear or anxiety.  “Death cuts the cord that keeps us captive to this world” wrote Rev. Billy Graham.

Eben Alexander, M.D., wrote “Friends and family are waiting and looking for us in the afterlife.  None of us is ever unloved.  Our Creator loves and cherishes us beyond our ability to comprehend.” (I John 4:7).