Life’s a Pressure Cooker

by Rev Robert A. Wendel

“We want you to be aware of the affliction we received in Asia.  We were so unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. We would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  We have set our hope (knowing) that he will rescue us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 NRSV).

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighted down with the worries of this life.  Be alert at all times, praying that you will have the strength to escape all the things that will take place (until) you stand before the Son of Man.”                (Luke 21:34-36 NRSV).

Webster’s Dictionary defines a pressure-cooker as “a special air-tight, hermetically sealed kettle-like pot used to prepare food quickly by using the pressure of steam.”  If we refer to our life situation as “living in a pressure cooker”, we mean that we feel like we’re living under a great deal of pressure and stress.

Busyness puts us all under a note of urgency.  When the pressure on you mounts, how do you decide which way to go, which priorities to devote more time and energy to accomplishing?  Priorities can be age related, deadline sensitive, educationally demanding, vocationally required, family tied, financially compelling, socially imposed or health conditioned.  The intensity of internal/emotional concern we feel depends on the tension between obligations and expectations welling up within us.

During the first three-fourths of his life, Saul of Tarsus became a well educated, respected Jewish rabbi and even a citizen of Rome.  Then, between 33-36AD, he met the risen Christ and his priorities were completely reversed, making him a very strong spokesman and traveling missionary for the fledging Christian faith and its followers, to whom he wrote thirteen Epistles found in the New Testament.

For St. Paul, there were both high points and low times.  As he wrote the first chapter of his second letter to the Church at Corinth “Be aware of the affliction we received in Asia.” (v.8) This ‘suffering’ may have been serious illness, physical persecution or unfair criticism.  The apostle’s reaction was (1) To rely on God, and not himself; and (2) To gain count on the Lord’s rescue.

Jesus told his disciples “Don’t let your hearts be weighted down with the worries of this life.” (1) Pray that you will have the strength to escape all the things that will take place until (2) You stand before the Son of Man.”  (Luke 21:34-36.)  Life is understood backwards; but lived forward.

Life Shaping Verses

by Rev Robert A. Wendel

“O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64-8 NRSV).

“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7 NRSV)

My first fall at Princeton Seminary in 1976 I selected one or two scripture verses to focus on during the following 11 or 12 months and did the same for the next two years.

After my graduation, I decided to make an annual pick each January or February for the coming year. I keep that written on the extra blank pages of the Bible I carried to each class on the Old or New Testament.

What scripture versus would you decide to keep in mind as we begin a New Year?  Would your selection highlight one of God’s many promises or focus on words you’d find particularly encouraging based upon what you think might happen to you in the coming three hundred plus days?

One rule for your pic, you may designate any verse only once as the years fly by.  During my pastorate in Arcade, New York our church youth group enjoyed this yearly exercise.  The favorite verses with a brief comment in somethings printed in the Guideposts Magazine founded by Dr. Peale, currently published in Carmel, New York.

A suggestion.  Collect written responses from any adult Sunday School class or week-day Bible Study on the question, “What is your favorite verse?”  You’ll be amazed at all the great answers you’ll read!  Share them during the next session.  My personal choices for 2018 open this month’s pastoral essay.

My wish for 2018 for everyone and our congregations is that we read and preach more Bible.  For Christians young and old there’s simply no better resource to use to shape and mold our lives!

From Humbug to Hallelujah

by Rev. Robert A. Wendel

“Be strong and courageous and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to (Christmas) is finished correctly.” (1 Chronicles 28:20, New Living Translation adapted).

“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are God’s ambassadors and God is using us to speak to you.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, New Living Translation).

Christmas comes but once a year. Right. We celebrate Christmas on December 25th, designated as the birthday of Jesus. But, as we all know, merchants in America have managed to turn a single day’s event into a whole season, beginning about November 1st and lasting almost until New Year’s Day, January 1st.

The Church calls the weeks before the 25th of December Advent. In the business community now there’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday, all geared toward sales and profits.

For times like these for the Christian Church’s part, it and its leadership want you and I to be nourished by God’s divine love. Our natural response should to ‘to love and care for others.’ When holiday fatigue dulls our senses and makes our inner spirit numb, we need to rekindle our compassion, remembering that our Heavenly Father’s gift of forgiveness came to us all in the form of a babe born in Bethlehem.

This Christmas, like never before, let God’s love move you from humbug to hallelujah and reignite and uplift your sense of charity, care, compassion and hope.

A short story by Francis Patrick Sullivan ends:

“She got up from the pew, wondering if she had put enough in the offering plate as it went by her. Near the church portico against a pillar and totally covered in rags, was someone holding a handwritten sign. The sign said “I am hungry.” The woman put a handful of paper money into the sign maker’s collection jar and said “I am not!”

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.