Helping People over the Rough Spots

by Rev Robert Wendel

Jesus had a lot to say about money.  Grace and gold are inseparably bound together.  The need for earthly security and our spiritual life will be forever linked as one.  Plain and simple, sufficient financial resources can help straighten out almost any area of somebody’s life.

The primary survival motive of the unchristian is “get and keep.”  The driving force of the dedicated Christian should be “give.”  Remember, Jesus reminded his listeners, “Give and it will be given” (Luke 6:38).  The clear difference between these two opposing life philosophies is ‘believers trust that God will keep his promises.  Congregations that learn to count on the Lord’s providence have a genuine sense of charity toward their neighbors.  Such compassion draws people to Christ and his church.

On school year Sundays, as I walk through the door, on the parking lot side of the building it’s impossible not to notice 14 colorful backpacks, lined up and being filled, in our welcome center, for delivery to a local elementary school, as an undeniable expression of our church’s faithful mission outreach, a tangible witness that we really do care.  This effort and the well-known ministry at Helping Hands, bridge the gap between our good fortune and those around us, literally, living from paycheck to paycheck.

Oh, I know that we should never gloat thinking “We have done enough!”  And there are times when I get concerned that some recipients of available charity begin to see themselves as ‘entitled’, letting greed rule the day.  The August Beckley Day of Hope can, easily, fall prey to such notions.  But, too much kindness is never enough.  One house fire, flood, automobile wreck, loss of a job, or family medical crisis, can find you or me in the next bread line.

A relatively new idea, these days, has come to be known as, “Paying it forward,” helping with something today because tomorrow you and yours may need a boost over the rough spot in the road.  “May we give, Lord, as  you, have extravagantly given to us!”

Cheering for Number 22

by Rev Robert Wendel

For the first 18 years of her life, there was nothing unique about Lauren Hill. She was a bright, stunningly attractive blonde high school student who wanted to play college basketball,  wearing a game jersey embroidered with the number 22.

Then, suddenly without warning doctors discovered an inoperable cancerous growth inside her brain that would, in a matter of months, surely and quickly take her life. Yet, Lauren began attending freshmen classes and faithfully practicing with new teammates at Mount St. Joseph College. After all, her fondest wish was to play in her first collegiate contest. But, the deadly cancer was closing in on her.

Her resolve, spirit and courage was celebrated last November 2nd when the tipoff for the lady’s game against Hiram College was moved up on the year’s schedule and played at Xavier University’s Citas Center, before a sold-out crowd of 10,250 and a regional television audience. Miss Hill scored the first and last baskets of the Mount’s 66-55 victory over Hiram College.

So many admiring fans had known to go and cheer Lauren on because she had allowed her very personal story to ignite a regional and national campaign against forms of childhood cancer, doing ratio and television interviews, holding two call-in telethons and requesting individual on-line donations of $22.00. On her October 1st birthday, this crusader was still hoping for more donations.

Amazingly, by her funeral in April, even attended by the Hiram squad, Lauren’s foundation had raised well over 1.4 million dollars. One of the newscasters who interviewed Lauren said, “The only time she broke down (crying) was when she thought of all the young kids who were dying of the same awful disease.” The slogan for the effort was “Don’t Give Up!” Not yet two decades old, Lauren Hill taught us a great lesson, a lesson worthy of our applause.

Billy Graham wrote, “A happy life is not one filled with only sunlight, but one which uses both light and shadow to produce beauty. Hard times can become a blessing because they form a backdrop for the radiance of the Christian life. In the words of Thornton Wilder: “Without your wounds, where would your power be? In love’s service, only wounded soldiers will do.”

Our church is certainly blessed with the financial resources to support several local, regional, and national causes. Each time we personally or collectively do so, we extend the love of Christ to people in our wounded world!

Dispensing Encouragement

by Rev Robert Wendel

I am fortunate to be one of only seven clinically endorsed American Baptist Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors in West Virginia, a Princeton Seminary trained, acknowledged specialist in pastoral care and counseling.  More than anything, my calling has always been to dispense encouragement.

Most often my encouragement has come into play each time I have had bedside or ER conversations and prayer with folks originally at the Beckley WV Medical Center and currently at BARH hospital here in town, a ten year ministry.

Among the founders of the early church, some writers have referred to Barnabas as a person ‘who distinguished himself as an encourager…a motivator of others in order to meet the needs of the church.’  (Acts 2:44-45,) wrote David Jeremiah.

Barnabas was generous. He was kind. He was involved in the lives of other people.  Barnabas was filled with faith-faith in God, and he had a deep sense of faithfulness in representing the virtues which Jesus taught his followers.

As we survey Barnabas’ life, there are three transferable qualities that you and I can work to build and maintain in our lives:

First – Encouragers perform while others pretend.   The monetary gifts Barnabas shared were the catalyst that prompted the generosity of others in the fledging assemblies.  His gifts were genuine and sincere, with no sense of reciprocal obligation    (Acts 4:34-37.)

Second – Barnabas saw potential not problems.   The true followers of Christ were skeptical of Paul’s supposed conversion.  Barnabas had heard Paul’s testimony and was willing to accept his change of heart.  When no one wanted anything to do with Paul, Barnabas stood up for the underdog.  He believed him and went with him to Antioch (acts 15:22-29).  Later when Paul refused to let John Mark accompany him, Barnabas saw John Mark’s potential and let the younger man go with him to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-40).

Third, Barnabas cared more about people not prominence.   I the eleventh chapter of Acts, Barnabas had been commissioned by the Church in Jerusalem to go to Antioch and ‘strengthen their souls’, saying “We must go through many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God”(14:22).  More important than any notoriety he might receive was the welfare of those who were coming to know the Lord.  So, Barnabas asked Paul to share in this critical ministry, thus offering those believers the best possible teaching.

No matter how much it hurts, encouragers find a way to share and support those whose inner-spirit and faith may only be a flickering flame.   Be a life changer.  Be an encourager.

Minister in the Pew: Already Missing the Elephants

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Have you been a fan of elephants at the circus?  Well, the next time they’re in town, rush out and see them because they are being pulled from all the Ringling Brother’s shows by 2018.  Kids love these large, majestic creatures, whose trunks sway as they ample around the center ring.

The absence of the performing elephants will certainly be a big change under the world’s most famous Big Top.  We humans don’t like change, even if changes come slowly.  We know what we anticipate seeing or doing at most public events. There’s a script in our heads that’s been there since the days when we begged our parents for cotton candy.

If we’re counted present at most regular Sunday morning worship services, we know in that hour there will be three hymns, a sermon, an offering and a rundown of the congregation’s upcoming doings.  We just don’t like surprises especially on the Sabbath.  Everyone knows we conclude this weekly ritual at noon.  Lunch awaits.

Pastors often refer to God as our rock.  It’s reassuring to lay hold of this picture of the Almighty, to catch the stability, the permanence and the strength we find in Him.

In this time of unexpected change, knowledge that God is enduring and unchanging is a source of unshakable comfort even for now-and-then Christians.  Still, we all have to handle the things that disturb us.  Sometimes, we call them “the elephants in the room.”  Often there is no inner peace this side of those human struggles.

Non-believers have been known to mock these who seek refreshment, renewal or some sort of personal, spiritual recharging within the confines of our faith and our relationship with our Maker.  No weakness here, only abiding, honest joy!

This certainly is a word of assurance and it can be ours even after this year’s beautiful Easter flowers have served their predictable, unchangeable purpose, reminding us – Jesus lives!  And indeed, one day, so shall we.

Minister in the Pew: Doing Some Soul-Searching

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Yes, it’s cold outside, there’s ice on the roads and snow on the ground, at record levels. It looks more like Christmas than being just six weeks away from another Resurrection Sunday. Western Christian churches call the forty days preceding Holy Week, Lent – a time to evaluate one’s spiritual connection to Jesus.

During the Lenten season, many fellowships conduct membership classes. Baptists, traditionally, include Individual adult baptism moments during Easter morning or evening worship services.

Once again, Christ seems to be urging you and me to reflect upon our personal relationship with Him. To underscore that, many pastors feel led to focus his or her seasonal teaching and preaching on helping listeners re-think just where they each ‘stand with the Lord.’ And that is, surely, a good thing.

We find ourselves living in the mist of many responsibilities, worries, anxieties, demands, and difficulties. Not only are our personal lives, ‘stressed out’, today’s media headlines, sometimes, can cause us to lose focus on Christ and His call to reform our lives and live according to the gospel.

Many Christians don’t even want to do some honest soul-searching.  Still, thankfully, thousands of committed believers do respond to the opportunity that this spring rite affords for prayer, the giving one’s financial offerings and reflection, coupled with regular Sabbath morning, evening or mid-week  prayer and bible study experiences.

This does not have to be a morbid time. Yes, we may need to re-examine our relationships with family, co-workers, school mates, neighbors and even fellow church members, making likely changes necessary so you and I can become more Christ-like in our attitudes and everyday relationships.

The handful of weeks before Easter sunrise can also serve to remind us how the life we live really does reflect our co-operation with God, acknowledging His abundant grace during our ordinary days, ever so glad for Jesus, who is always ready to strengthen us and literally carry us from the darkness of this world to a bright Easter dawn or glowing sunset!

Minister in the Pew: Thankful for Balcony People

by Rev Robert A Wendel

A common boast for so many young people these days is “I am a self-made man or woman.”  That is a feeling it’s hard not to think about oneself in our completive market-place like world.  But, it is seldom true.  Yes anyone may have been self-motivated, self-starter.  Usually there is someone outside our family circle urging us along or helping us notice the psychological potholes.

In Baptist churches, these singular cheerleaders might be sitting in the last pew in the sanctuary or up in the balcony.  For the church’s pastor, there’s also his or her loyal, faithful spouse, each Sabbath, taking in what is heard from the pulpit or from regular listeners or the occasional visitor.

Sunday, after Sunday, I could look up while reading the morning scripture or text of that weeks’ sermon and there they were my wife and those who cared about me and my ministry and the impact it was having upon the flock I was charged to shepherd until the Lord pressed me with a new “assignment.”

One such person for me was Mrs. Ladeel Mizwa, the flower lady, who also prepared the trays for each Communion observance.  She was one on the church board in my church in Fredonia, never neglecting to speak up at each monthly board meeting.   When I talked with her, in mid-week, her extra comments would help me be aware of which of the members might need some time or effort from me.

I sent her a Christmas card in December and received a very thoughtful note from her professor daughter telling me that she had gone to be reunited with her husband in heaven earlier that month.

Even now, I can still see Mrs. Mizwa up there taking my various types of ministry in, here in Beckley, wishing me well.  It was hard to let this good lady go.  But, we can hold on to all the good things she said, did and made happen when she was here.  Thank  you Lord, for all the people who have helped shape my ministry.  I’ll always remember to look in the balcony.

The February ABC men’s breakfast will be at the Crab Orchard Baptist Church at 8:00 a.m. on Sat. Feb. 28th with Rev. Frank Miller leading the devotions.  Please plan to join us.

At the Advent lunches in December $482.00 was raised and given to the Women’s Resource Center by the Beckley Clergy Association.  A bit over $200 of that money was raised at the lunch that was held here on Dec. 10th.  Thanks for your support and your help.

Resolving to Open My Bible

by Rev. Robert A. Wendel

Before each New Year, I glance at that year’s daily bible reading plan knowing that disciplining myself by having a regular brush with the scriptures would be an encouragement and deepen me spiritually.  But, life gets busy.  So quiet time and good reading often get forgotten.  Woe is me!

These are the days or weeks when my life just isn’t running smoothly as it’s supposed to.  A sudden crisis, an unexpected call for help from a friend or stranger, a challenge in my own life, over-extending myself trying to meet others’ expectations or trying to crowd too many public obligations into my datebook, any of these can push even that morning’s prayer life into tomorrow’s corner.

Still, I’m aware that it’s spiritual things that keep my life running smoothly and help me handle the sharp turns, the uphills and the downhills.  When I was growing up at home, I remember how our whole family went to church every Sunday and many afternoons in the kitchen Dad would show me how to find bible cross-references, then ask me to play some classic vinyl LP’s to which he would whistle.

The important reason to study scripture is to help each of us define and strive to live a life that reaches beyond and above what is normally expected of us.  We’re reminded how Jesus lived and what he taught as priorities for our time on earth.  As any pastor can tell you, the bible offers us concrete guidance for overcoming our weaknesses while ‘running toward” God’s finish line.

While I was a chaplain at the Beckley VA Medical Center, I was privileged to lead a Thursday afternoon bible study for men who called the facility home.  One day I asked one older vet what was his secret to success? He thought carefully and answered “We need only have two loves in our lives:  for God and for the people who happen to be in front of us at that very moment.  That’s Christianity in a nutshell.

The January ABC Men’s breakfast will again be on the second Saturday morning of the month  beginning at 8AM and usually done before 9:30 AM.  Gentlemen, come, eat well and be physically and spiritually satisfied.   Phil Parvin will offer us his thoughts.

Reigniting Hope at Christmas

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Christmas is coming again!  It’s time for greetings, gifts and glad times.  Christmas is one of those times when our hope is reignited because our heavenly Father sent his Son to earth to offer believers the ‘certain hope’ of a future life in eternity.

Hope, here and now, energizes us for the many conflicts and setbacks which we encounter along earth’s many pathways around us and within us.  Christmas hope is not simply wishful thinking.  The hope we acknowledge during Advent is found only in Christ, grounded in the reality that Jesus came in weakness and meekness and will come again in glory to redeem the world.

So, during this happy season, you and I should have confidence in God’s future.  This Christmas, all of us look forward to remembering the past through the power of memory and the rekindling of the spiritual lights that lead us back to the Bethlehem story of a babe in a manger.

Many of the young Christian fellowships which received letters from Paul lived in fear and collective anxiety.  Yet, they speculated about the day when the Lord would return again and set things right.

Today, like them, we are able to bear the present darkness because, we believe in the coming dawn, a dawn in which doubt and shadows give way to abiding contentment because ‘God is with us’, day and night, giving us more love than our hearts can hold.

We do not live by experience alone but by experience tempered with great expectation.  This is the purpose of Christian hope, to help us contend with this ‘humbug world.’  We have some idea of where we are because we have some idea of where we’re going.  Glory to God ‘for us unspeakable gift’, Jesus!

This month’s ABC Men’s breakfast, as always, will feature great food and fellowship on Saturday, December 13th at 8:00 a.m.   Rev. Frank Miller from Parchment Valley will offer our devotion.    See you guys there!!

Making Rounds, Being Thankful

by Rev Robert A Wendel

The Thanksgiving holiday is an ideal day to take at least a few moments to reflect on those things and people for which you are thankful.  Good health is, surely, a primary blessing sought by everyone.

In October, I participated in the day-long fall conference of volunteer chaplains at Appalachian Regional Hospital.  The “good word” shared by facility administer Rocco Massey concerned the vital importance of “making rounds” walking around the floors, connecting with patients, staff and visitors as the best way to maintain a high quality of patient care and satisfaction.  Every trained chaplain learns that lesson early.

After one week of hospital duty at ARH, I try and take it all in, patient by patient, profoundly grateful for life.  But, this month I’ll be sixty-six years old and no one lives forever.  I, too, will face a day when news about my health will not be good, when, like so many in health care settings, my fears will be real as I notice my own health break down, when mortality grasps my hand and will not let go.  So, I ask, “What has being a chaplain at six different facilities in thirty-five years taught me?”

Above all, I affirm that each day I live will be acknowledged as a pure gift, a moment of time that is unique, unrepeatable that must be savored,  Second, I resolve to live each day with one primary purpose; to try and show love or respect to at least one other child of God.

And finally, the greatest gift that I can offer to my Heavenly Father is my heartfelt thanksgiving.  For it is simple gratitude that is, often, the most healing medicine to humankind and it is thanksgiving that transcends all time and death.

Saint Ambrose said “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.”   Michael Levine wrote “The sign outside the gates of salvation says “Be grateful.”

The devotional speaker for the next ABC Men’s Breakfast on Nov. 8th at 8:00 am will be Rev. Jonathan Turner.

As always, we hope you’ll be able to join our fellow men for food, fellowship and some very good words.

Watching the Pews on Sunday

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Most folks in the church know that being a chaplain at Beckley VA Medical Center is what, originally, brought me to Beckley nine years ago.  Before doing that specialized ministry, I had been a four-time pastor for congregations in New Hampshire and New York.

In my very first local clergy meeting in the Garden State, one of the more experienced fellow pastors said “Robert, over time you’ll be privileged to hear the stories of every person or family in your pews.”

So, I can’t help it.  Each Sabbath, I try and notice who has joined us in worship. Conversely, I make a mental note of who is not present that week.  There are a whole bundle of reasons why potential worshipers are missing:  the flu bug bites, health care or retail personnel must work, the car won’t start, the snow drifts are just too deep or grandchildren beckon.  My own mother worried, “I might start coughing, bothering those around me.” These days, being in church is merely a one weekend option.

A philosopher once observed that in life we always find time for the things that are really important.  Jesus put it another way “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Luke 12:34.  He didn’t make church-going a pre-requisite for finding the kingdom of heaven; he only promised that he would be present whenever two or three were gathered in his name (Matthew 18:20).  That, it seems to me, is a good enough reason for his fans to huddle up regularly at the meeting house.

Fred Bauer, an editor and free-lance worker for Guideposts, a trustee and fellow pew sitter who became a supporter and good friend of mine while I was a student minister at Christ Congregation, Princeton wrote, “Whenever worship becomes a burden, heal my blindness O Heavenly Father.”

Thinking about adult discipleship, Lisa Simmons of WV/ABV advised “How often we in the local church experience and allow the slow fade of adults from our community of faith.  Make it simple.  Let the person know they were missed.”