Prayer and Praise: Reaching for God

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Psalm 92:2, 34:1, 121:2, 93:3, 22:34 “Praise the Lord Ye that fear Him. They shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall be born. One shall receive a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his Salvation. (Geneva Bible).

I’ve had a life-time of learning to strike a fair balance between helping and supporting others and receiving the same from family, co-workers or friends. I easily remember being reminded that I should express my thankfulness more often,

During my Boy Scout days, I remember how the troop would fashion a crude wooden cross and have a short time of evening vespers prayer before we bedded down for the night at the campsite. We formed a circle, everyone got themselves calm, the scoutmaster offered a short meditation and together we sang the chorus “Day is Done, Gone the Sun.” It had been a good day.

In my later work as a church pastor, I often reminded myself that the best beginning of any prayer is to be thankful. Of course, we all have daily needs. But God also listens for our praise. Prayer was a regular exercise said before supper each night and as we six kids settled into bed each evening. Our simple supper grace was “We thank Thee God for the food upon our table. Amen.” We recited the bedtime prayer which begins “Now I lay me down to sleep….” First used in 1711. The general purpose of any prayer is to help us to connect with our Maker in a public or private way. There is no more encouraging habit.

During my grade school days, each weekday began with the pledge to the American flag, a brief Bible reading and the class saying the Lord’s Prayer. By Junior High School, such a routine was halted as unconstitutional, replaced by a brief silent prayer. Yet, still today, a chaplain or clergyperson opens each session of the U.S. House and Senate with prayer.

There are occasional events such as weddings, funerals and holiday observances along with school activities which punctuate our lives. Prayer is the spiritual glue.

“The same loving hand that created you and me. If He is your Father, he must be my Father too. We all belong to the same human family. Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Christians. All people are children of God.” Mother Teresa.

Bible Lessons in the Kitchen: Leaning on the Word

by Rev Robert A Wendel

God is our refuse and strength. If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me. A river of streams make glad the city of God, welling up to eternal life. Christ is an over-flowing fountain, supplying his people. Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on the law, day and night. Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46).

There is a process which every Christian must experience to arrive at a good level of maturity. This is spiritual growth developed over the span of a whole lifetime by Bible reading, prayer and regular community worship.

My family all gladly attended Sunday worship and ate dinner together at 1:00 p.m. Dad often showed me how to understand portions of the Bible while we two sat at the post dinner kitchen table. We often looked at the scriptures mentioned in the Sunday sermon. I remember during the meal each of us six kids was asked “What did the preacher preach about this morning?”

I am deeply saddened to know that too many of today’s folks don’t take time to increase their understanding of the Bible within the family circle. The Christian scripture forms the basis of our personal morality and community living. In every disruption, daily frustration or uncomfortable situation God is our strength and a very present help. He never leaves us. In fact, He keeps us going. When our lives seem to fall, He lifts us up!

God desires a personal relationship with each of us. And so, I sincerely seek Him in prayer, by reading the Bible and being present in regular worship and congregational business sessions, listening for the Lord’s voice.

On the morning of his funeral New York Times published a message from U.S. Rep. John Lewis. He wrote that “When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and power of everlasting love be your guide.”

Good Deeds Can Defeat an Epidemic

by Rev Robert A Wendel

The Kingdom of God is within you. I will gather all the survivors. I will set them together like sheep in a fold. The Lord is at their head. “My People have been lost sheep. The Lord was the hope of their ancestors. (Luke 17:21, Micah 2:12-13, Jeremiah 50:5-6)

Across dozens of countries coping with the virus, people are acting unselfishly or accepting lifestyle changes required by state and national governments. Schools at all levels, holiday events and sporting contests have been cancelled. Since early spring, it has been a season of shared sacrifice and stay home time. The world has also witnessed a burst of good will.

People are giving up daily activities in favor of protecting the safety of their neighbors. Such acts and folks looking after their friends and co-workers are a form of love which sends a clear message of healing to those struck by the virus or anyone afraid of it. The most often used catch-phrase of these days is “We’re all in this together!”
Scripture tells us “Do not throw away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded.” (Hebrews 10:35). No matter where we are in life, good things will outweigh the bad. Still, by June over 100,000 Americans have died by contracting the virus.

When doubt has surfaced in my thinking, I am reminded of a verse from Isaiah, “Quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (30:15). Our confidence can be challenged. But we have whatever it takes to carry on, no matter what is happening in the world around us.
Bishop Tutu (1931) wrote “We humans can tolerate suffering, knowing that God can transform it and allow us to fulfill our role in His plan.”

Mending Broken Bodies: A Slow Process

by Rev Robert A Wendel

The Lord heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. I will feed them with Justice.  I, their God, am with them. (Psalm 147:3, Ezekiel 34:16,30 NRSV).

I realized after telling my medical history to my doctor’s assistant, that my broken body is the result of a series of childhood traumas.  Born prematurely with genetic hyper-tension and spastic paraplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, walking has been a daily effort for six score and ten years.

Oh, there has been a list of personal victories like graduating from high school, college and seminary as well as my having been a pastor to four Baptist congregations and having been chaplain in five hospital settings.

My physical disadvantages helped me relate to anyone with broken bodies or minds.  Down deep, I’ve always known that healing is a slow process and that getting through life we must learn to lean on friends.

I can easily remember times when wearing a cast after surgery, I would have to be lifted or carried where I needed to be much like the friends who lifted their friend to the roof, so he could be at the feet of Jesus. (Luke 5:19-25).  May we trust God’s healing method and may He expect our best effort and patience during the restoration.

After 30 years in a wheelchair, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote, “Never doubt in the darkness what you believed in the light.  When hardship settles in, doubt and fear surface.  The only sure dike against such feelings in memory, when in summer, we could enjoy a deep dive into God’s goodness. (Psalm 105).

Pain and Suffering: The Darker Side of Easter

by Rev Robert A Wendel

‘The Son of Man must suffer for the sake of many. Thy will be done.” (Psalm 13; Romans 5:3; Matthew 6:10 RSV)

In the world-wide Christian church the last seven days in the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth is known as Holy Week. Older and more formal worship communities focus on the Cross of Good Friday and the death of the Savior. Less formal churches highlight the night of the Last Supper. All Christians hail Easter as the highest holiday of each church year.

The Jewish prophet Isaiah wrote about the Passion of Christ some 700 years before it happened. This series of scriptures is known as the Suffering Servant Passages in Chapters 42-53. Isaiah predicted the future birth of Jesus in Chapter Nine (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Since September, I have been learning the power that physical pain can have in a person’s life as I have been battling a persistent case of cellulitis in my lower legs. So, this temporary problem has given me the opportunity to focus on the pain and suffering in the Easter Story.

Palm Sunday is full of joy. The cleansing of the temple came next. Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts, challenging the authority of the religious leaders. Probably on Wednesday of Holy Week an unknown woman washed his feet while Jesus and his disciples were at dinner. Judas betrayed the Master on Wednesday as well.

Thursday was the Passover Seder followed by emotional pain as Jesus prayed in the garden. And, of course, Friday included the suffering and death of the Savior. Let us not overlook his suffering as we mark another Holy Week.

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received him, to them He gave the power to become the sons and daughters of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:1-2, 4, 11-12).

Why do we love? Because we were created to. We are made in the image of divine love. That’s the truth, as Christ reassured us. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make ye free.” (John 8:32). John Talbot

Red Ink in the Gospels

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“You call me teacher for so I am. Teach me your statues. If (anyone) loves me they will keep my words and my Father will love them.” (John 13:13, Psalm 119:12, John 14-23 KJV).

The gospels were written between 40 AD and 100 AD. There are other first century sources not included in the standard biblical text. The Gospel of Matthew reflects the method and deliberation of a careful Hebrew man. Young John Mark betrays the eagerness of a man who does not think too long before he acts. Luke is the work of a warmhearted Greek physician. John reveals the profound brooding thoughts of a devote apostle who had pondered long upon the mystery of Christ.

Red print (1901) is like a grammatical slowdown sign. These words, phrases and paragraphs are the essence of Jesus’ instructions for life, first recorded by Mark decades after the resurrection.

The story of Jesus began as an Aramaic and Greek oral tradition. Some non-academic New Testament publishers print Jesus’ supposed actual words using red typeface like bright patches of scarlet among all the lines of black ink.

Jesus was indeed a man of new words. “Let your light shine.” (Matthew 5:15). “Come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:21). “Make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19). “I am the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25.)

This Lenten season we’ll read the red letter sentences and think about what Jesus thought was important. He is our salvation.

According to Thomas Jefferson “A valuable talent is that of not using two words when one will do.” Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen remarked “Only the teachable find a teacher, only the docile find the doctor, only the humble find God.”

Learning the Value of Others

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Before leaving them, Paul told the Ephesians “Now I am turning you over to God, our marvelous God, whose gracious word can make you into what he wants you to be and give you everything you can possibly need in the community of holy friends.” (Acts 20:32 The Message.)

The Message, Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the New Testament, gives us a glimpse of Church life as Christianity began to take root.

“Things calmed down and the Church had smooth sailing for a while. All over the country of Israel, three decades after the Resurrection, the people still felt a deep reverence for God.”

They did not need Paul. To accomplish his mission, Paul needed them. Well-traveled, Paul had discovered the value of dependence. He learned the value of other believers. Leaders in the churches he began must keep those congregations going after he is gone.

Don’t try to go out there on your own. Remind yourself that those around you may be the key to your (or your church’s) very survival or success. Believe it or not, each one of us needs a support network. Nobody can handle all the pressure over the long haul. Companionship is essential. Sooner or later, you will need someone to pick you up. We are neither invisible or irreplaceable.

In His church, God is looking for broken vessels, wounded hearts and humble servants, even those who have had weak track records and whose life is scar ridden, but who have come to appreciate the value of others.
Paul David Tripp wrote “In Christ, we have everything we need to live in peace with God and the people he has placed in our lives.”

Paul and Timothy: Missionary Champions

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Go, make disciples of all nations baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Proclaim the message. Be persistent. Rebuke and encourage with the utmost patience. Be sober. Endure suffering. Do the work of an evangelist. Carry out your ministry fully.” (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:2-5 NRSV).

From the day Jesus returned to Heaven, Christianity became a missionary faith. Rabbi Saul was commissioned by the Risen Christ in 36AD to begin this ever expanding work as Paul (Acts 9:1-9).

Along with him came Timothy. Timothy was born and circumcised by Lystra, Turkey of a Jewish mother, Eunice, and a Greek father, evangelized and baptized by Paul. He joined the older Apostle on his Second Missionary Journey to fellowship in present day Greece in 51 AD. (Isaiah 42:7-9).

Paul sent Timothy to Corinth to help straighten out problems there. He failed. But went onto Ephesus to encourage that new group of believes (1 Timothy 1:3). Near the end of his life, Paul was in a Roman prison cell. Young Timothy, though often sickly himself, did his best to see to Paul’s needs. (4:11-14). He stayed in Ephesus, serving there as a ‘missionary superintendent’ until his martyrdom in 97AD.

Sometime in 67AD under 24 hour Roman guard, Paul wrote a pair of urgent letters to Timothy. As JB Phillips says, ‘The second letter aimed to stimulate Timothy’s faith and courage and renew his faithfulness.” Some scholars say unknown writers really authored the letters in about 85AD, putting Paul’s name on it.

Charles Swindoll, Chancellor of Dallas Seminary, urged students, “Explain the Sunday morning scripture lesson in season and out of season. Don’t by lazy. Do your homework. Avoid wholesale plagiarism. A water-downed gospel may attract large crowds, but it has no eternal influence.”

As we begin 2020, elected or appointed board and committee members should be aware of these versus from the 28th Chapter of Matthew and the 4th Chapter of Second Timothy, since they boldly declare the real purpose and mission of any Christian Church as needing to have a consistent What-Would-Jesus-Do-attitude.

Quoting Professor Tony Campolo, “Let us preach Christ and be faithful in proclaiming the gospel. But let’s leave judgment up to God.”

Making December Connections

Rev Robert A Wendel

“A friend is a loving companion at all times and a brother born to share your troubles. He who conceals another’s offense seeks his Goodwin. The Lord watches over the way of the righteous.” (Proverbs 17:17-18, 9, Psalm 1:6 NEB).

Building up and maintaining relations is what really matters over the holidays and as the years go by. During the winter merriment, our drive to please folks with gifts should not crowd out recognizing that we have been surrounded by people who have made an impression on our lives and reaching out to hem – connecting in appreciation.

In July, I read “Make Your Bed”, a brief personal account of his life as a Navy SEAL by Retired Admiral William H. Craven. During training in a parachute jump gone wrong, Craven broke his pelvis. As he slowly physically recovered, his wife cared for him and reminded him “who he was.”

Friends came by the house. Each shared a faith that he would, indeed, rebound. Many of his Navy pals could see his future positional. Craven said “I never forgot those people. Anything I have achieved in my life was the result of others who have helped me along the way.”

Everybody knows the fictional moving of George Bailey, manager of a small Building and Loan in Bedford Falls who contemplates jumping off a bridge just before Christmas because $8,000 of the depositors’ money had been misplaced by Uncle Billy on the way to the bank.

George is rescued by Clarence, a wingless angel, and shown how necessary his life has been to his neighbors who, in gratitude for his faithfulness, “saved the day” because George has truly had A Wonderful Life.

Isaiah described this kind of friendship as one that pleases God because it comes to the aid of someone in anguish saying “If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted sol, then your light shall dawn in the darkness.” (Isaiah 58:10 NKJV). True religion cannot be separated from compassion and a conviction for social justice.

This December, make an honest effort to acknowledge folks who have made your life fun. Director Frank Capra ended the 1946 film with George holding a copy of Huckleberry Fin from Clarence with the note “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Bonhoeffer prayed, “Lord, give our frightened souls again salvation and thy promises fulfilled. If it be thy will again, give joy to this world. Bring us together in the light the Savior brings.”

I have just received my annual Christmas check from the American Baptist Churches and I encourage you to contribute to the Retired Ministers & Missionaries offering in December.

Blessings at the Half-Way Pole

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“When Yahweh your God enlarges your territory as he has promised you, and you say “I should like to eat meat’. If you want to eat meat you may eat as much as you like. Be faithful in all of the instructions I have given you so that your sons (and daughters) after you may be happy.

Yahweh keeps his help for honest people and those on the way of his devoted ones. All his paths lead to happiness. I will give peace to the land and you shall sleep with none to frighten you. (Deuteronomy 12: 20,28; Leviticus 26:6 Jerusalem Bible)

Thoroughbred horse racing is often called The Sport of Kings. Oval race tracks in the United States are one and one quarter miles long with the mid-pole being the half-way point in the race.

Those folks who are ages 50 through 69 can claim to be at life’s half-way point. You’ve earned, and can share, meat on your table. Meat on one’s table was a clear sign of good fortune.

The long Thanksgiving holiday may be the best time to take stock of the several blessings we’ve had during the year or have encountered during the first half century or so. Are you, truly, enjoying the fruits of your blessing today? Yes! There’s always something else to acquire, something to do, or one more hill to climb.

But, in your fifth or sixth decade, you are on the top of some hill right now; and it took some doing to get there. So, in the midst of your striving, be sure to look around and savor the God-given view.

Your children, by now, have given you a special kind of satisfaction and maybe grandchildren meaning your family name will continue. So, you feel a pull to care for grandchildren and/or you’re caught between launching your children and staying on the ground to care for your parents. For most people these years mean fewer choices.

Joshua Dubois offers this prayer. “Dear God, thank you for who you have made me. There is a lot yet to do. But this Thanksgiving let us not forget that there is a lot you have already done. Bless us with joy, the happiness that comes with the knowledge of you. Amen.”