The Love of the Running Father

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“While the son was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.  Whoever does not love does not know God for God is Love.”  (Luke 15:11-32; I John 4:8 NRSV).

In Sunday School and again during seven semesters of seminary, I was taught that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, teaching a principle to be put into practice.  In the Jewish culture of olden days, things were explained in word pictures.  Jesus was speaking a language that his neighbors could easily understand.  Despite changes in culture, time and technology, parables remain timeless reflections of the human condition.

The first century Jewish culture was a honor/shame drive society.  Nearly everything that was done sought honor and avoided shame.  A central message of all three parables; the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son is that God has a tender personal concern and a joyous love for individuals who are lost in sin and repent.  The last of this trio of progressive value parables deals with the relationship between a father and his younger and older sons, one a rule-breaker and the other a rule-keeper. (Luke 15:11-32).

In those days a Middle Eastern man never ran.  If he wanted to run, he would have to lift his robes so he would not fall.   It was humiliating and shameful for him to show his bare legs.  So why did he run?  If a Jewish son lost his inheritance among Gentiles, he would be totally cut off from his community as if he were dead.  The father ran to protect his son from this total rejection – a kezazah.  So instead, took the shame rightly due his younger son.

We long for a love that can’t be forgotten.  Our Heavenly Father put our shame upon his Son Jesus so that we can be forgiven, restored, accepted and gifted with a clean slate.  God calls us and waits for us or our lost acquaintances, to begin the journey back toward Him.  Willingly, God is watching, ready to welcome us back (I John 4:8).

Our next ABC Men’s Breakfast will be at 8:00 am on Sat. Sept. 10th.  Join us and invite a friend. During the summer months food supplies at Helping Hands are low.  Help those in need.

Hearing Hope-Filled Testimonies

by Rev Robert A Wendel

In this unbalanced world for us religious people holding out hope is like walking a tightrope.  So often we tell ourselves that we hope it will be better tomorrow than it is today.  By our very nature, we Christians try and be an optimist lot.  We are positive because what is the alternative?  Despair.

In 2003, ninety-one year old author and Chicago newspaper commentator Studs Terkel wrote the book Hope Dies Last:  Keeping Faith in Troubled Times.  In it he said “Throughout history there have always been certain kinds of people who had a hope.  It’s practical for us human species to have hope.  I hope that memory is valued.  Of course, I want peace, grace and beauty.”

This May, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Office of Facebook, told graduates of UC Berkley, “One year and thirteen days ago my husband died.  Dave’s death changed me in many ways.

I learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface and breathe again.  In the face of the void – in the face of any challenge – you can choose joy and meaning.  Lessons about hope, strength and light will not be extinguished.  You will be defined not by what you achieve but how you survive.  I hope that you will live your life with joy and meaning, without pain, grateful for each step.”

Rick Warren, Pastor and author  of The Purpose Driven Life,  whose son took his own life wrote “I am thankful that God sees all I go through.  He cares.  He grieves with me.  Even though I don’t have all the answers, God does.  When I give him the pieces he can turn crucifixions into resurrections.  God never wastes a hurt if we give it to him.”

As Saint Paul wrote newly converted Roman Christians, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace believing so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 15:13 NRSV)

Finding Lasting Happiness

by Rev Robert A Wendel

As an endorsed ABC chaplain and pastoral counselor, those wanting my help often tell me “I just want to be happy.”  Happiness is a fast moving target, usually beginning with “When or if only….I could find romance, the right job, a better car, a bigger house or have more cash in the bank.”  And there will always be those lingering wishes around body shape, health or family concerns.

Sometimes we think that having just one wish granted will make us happy,   So, the Scarecrow wanted a brain, the Tin Man wished for a heart, the Cowardly Lion longed for an extra dose of courage  Charlie Brown just wanted to kick the football.  In real life, what we want may not be right for us.

The more feel-good stuff we do, or have, the more we need to achieve.  Many times we make choices that we think will insure our happiness in the future like making decisions for our retirement.  When we feel good, we’re more likely to do good.  That’s why a honeymoon is so memorable or the Yuletide Season can seem to put a bounce in our step and a smile on our face.

True happiness is a spiritual quality.  It is a part of our God-given character.  God intends for you and me to share our individual gift of happiness.  No one showed a better example of sharing happiness than when Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples at a final religious supper.

The Master told those followers, “I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you.  Happy are you when you serve one another” (John 13:15-17).  When we make others happy, we find happiness for ourselves.

This season’s series of Lenten Community Luncheons sponsored by the Beckley Clergy collected $1,091.00 which was donated to Hospice House.  Our clergy encourage each Beckley congregation to again volunteer and financially support our Beckley Day of Hope on August 13th.   During January through March of this year, Helping Hands served 2,032 families and 4,087 individuals.

Frank Miller will lead our morning devotional at our final ABC Men’s breakfast until September at 8:00 AM on Saturday, May 14th.  Gentlemen, let’s show the WV Men’s Director that we enjoy being together.

Job’s Bend in the Road

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives.  And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.”  (Job 19:25-27 NRSV)

Job says, “After my flesh has been destroyed, yet, in my flesh I will see God” (v. 26 NIV). Job does not know Christ.  He recognizes God as his Redeemer.  Despite his earthly suffering, Job believes that his only hope is to cling to his faith in the Almighty, trusting that in the next life he will stand rightly before God.

Like Job, if life seems to have turned against you, there is an eternal future that is brighter and beyond our wildest hopes or dreams.  Justice will one day win out.  God will replace pain and evil.  And right will eclipse wrong.  In the end, God wins.  And so will we.

There is a  famous story about the day physicist Albert Einstein took a train trip.  When the conductor made his first round asking for tickets, the old world-class thinker could not find the item.  The kindly conductor replied “That’s ok sir. I know who you are. I trust you.”  When the conductor made a second round, Einstein was on his knees still searching and telling the conductor “It’s not a matter of trust.  I don’t know where I’m going!”

There is nothing like hope to keep us going through this life.

There is nothing like a lack of assurance to make us afraid.

If you are without Christ in your life, your steps are marked by uncertainty.

No evil fate will overtake the soul who trusts in God and with Almighty help will do what is right.  Even when death comes, it need not be the end of the road, but a bend in the road leading to life that shall richer, fuller be.

Once again, at 8:00 on April 9th, our Deacons will prepare a fine breakfast for our men.  Plan to be in attendance.  

During the summer months, please donate to Helping Hands with food for those in need.

Rolling Away the Stone

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“The Jews said, “Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man.  Could he not have presented Lazarus’ death?” When Jesus reached the tomb he said “Take away the stone !”  He told Martha “Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:36, 39-40, TNJB).

Death is usually the last thing we want to talk about.  It makes us feel uncomfortable. In spite of all of our medical advances, we haven’t been able to conquer it.  We may be able to postpone it. We may tame its violence but death is still there waiting for us.  Death spares no one.  Our human perspective focuses on our immediate welfare instead of God’s glory.

Martha needed to know that Jesus was in control.  He is in control-and he cares.  Jesus instructs the onlookers: “Remove the stone.” (v.39a).  Just before ‘calling for Lazarus’, Jesus replies, “Martha, did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the wonder of what God can do?”(Phillips).

Our faith should be the marker for everything in our lives.  Not just for salvation but every prayer and action.  Like Martha, we know all the right words to say and all the proper Christian moves to make.  But, is our faith alive?  The last great test is death.  Faith dreams that God will stand by us.

In his book Moments with Majesty, Jay Hayford wrote .”I live in the hope of the resurrection without fear of death and without bondage to the endless grieving of those who have no such hope.”

If you follow Jesus long enough, you are going to experience the miraculous.  You are going to do what he did.  You are going to wash some feet and welcome the stranger.  You are going to care for the poor.  As a catalyst along the way you are going to offend some stiff-necked Pharisees.  Whose stone will you roll away?

Thanks to everyone who prepared and donation to our Lenten Lunch to support Southern WV Hospice.  Our ABC Men’s Saturday breakfast returns to First Baptist at 8:00 am on Saturday, March 12th.  Frank Miller, Director of the Parchment Valley Training Center, will offer the day’s devotions.  Gentlemen, please join us.

“At Your Mercy, Lord!”

by Rev Robert A Wendel

I have always enjoyed stories, books and movies about the exploits of the Knights of the Round Table.  Those gentlemen lived by a strict code of honor.  The phrase “At your mercy!” conjures up medieval images.  Picture a swordsman, his weapon slapped from his hand, lying on the ground, with his rival’s swordpoint against his throat…breathlessly crying, “At your mercy, kind Sir!”

With God, mercy isn’t an uncertain option but a divine certainty.  It is guaranteed compassion.  At specific points of our greatest need *(Hebrews 4:16), be they any sort of physical or emotional trauma, confusion, uncertainty, disappointment or death itself.  Remember the humble Bethlehem innkeeping husband and wife who allowed a young couple use of their stable as an emergency birthplace (Luke 2:7).

The shepherd boy David had learned this all too well.  In His wisdom, the Almighty chooses to meet our needs by showing his love toward us through the hands and hearts of others be they friend or stranger.  So many times in my own life’s journey I have been the recipient of an overflow of thoughtfulness and kindness.  My ride to church each and every Sunday by the van drivers is just one consistent example.

Any church, including ours, likes to think of itself as a ‘family’, ever-ready to extend itself to members and attendees through prayer, kindly written notes, cards, telephone calls, visits, assistance with household upkeep or home cooked meals during illness or when death touches their lives.  All of these are welcome “acts of mercy,” often passed on when we ‘pay it forward.’

God’s mercy has been great and He has shown it to each of us.  It is wonderful to receive such mercy at the hand of one of His loving children.  It is more wonderful still to be the hand that touches, at the end of His arm, reaching so very many crying out for mercy just when life wants to cut so deep.

During the 2016 Lenten season our ladies have kindly agreed to host a mid-day soup and sandwich luncheon  on Wednesday, February 24th, beginning with a time of devotion at noon sponsored by the Beckley Clergy Group.

Our ABC Men will be the guest of the Crab Orchard Men for the National Day of Prayer Breakfast on Saturday, February 27th at 8:00 a.m.

Plotting the Next Course

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Do you see yourself taking life’s challenges and difficulties in stride or are you beaten the moment you flip a page in your day planner or with each new dawn?  You can’t pick up a road map to Utopia at the local AAA office or in the Go-Mart around the corner.  So often we’re simply afraid to risk a move or take a chance because the shift in a new direction may “take us off course.”

If Saint Paul had such timid thoughts, what would have ever become of the many fledgling Christian fellowships he touched and inspired in his three missionary journeys or through the 13 letters he composed for them or younger disciples?  Paul, surely, learned the art of prudent changes in direction all during the second half of his life.

And remember, Saul’s faith walk began with him being the most loyal of properly educated Jews.  Jesus stopped him in his tracks, changed his name and lit in him a new flame to burn and light the way for new believers, even into our 21st century.  Along the way it was not all ‘smooth sailing’.  There were put-downs, theological arguments, personal physical pain, imprisonments and ship wrecks.   Still Paul faithfully  “walked through every open door.”?  (I Corinthians 16:9).

As Paul did so very well, are you willing to spend the time and energy to help build the spiritual foundations of others?  Willing to become what Charles Swindoll calls “the brick and mortar of their lives?”  The relationship between an experienced Christian and a young person or a new believer is always marked by encouragement.  If you’re a new disciple, will you listen and learn?

Long time pew-sitters encourage most effectively by showing others, close up, that Jesus has been in their life, ever-ready to help them ‘stay the course!’  In the New Year “Make your light shine so that others will see the good you do and will praise your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16 CEV).

Our January ABC Men’s monthly prayer breakfast will happen on Saturday, January 9th at 8:00 am.  Church moderator Earl Whitener will offer the morning devotion.   Please plan to join us.

At a community worship service in December conducted by area clergy, $281.00 was collected  as an offering and given to Helping Hands Ministry.   Thank you to everyone who helped meet holiday needs.

A DATE TO REMEMBER – Sat. Feb. 27th at 8:00 AM – National American Baptist Men’s Breakfast at Crab Orchard Baptist Church

Exchanging Darkness for Light

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Every Christian knows that Christmas is for celebrating.   Celebrating the gift of God’s Son to us.  For us.  “The Son of God has come, Light has entered the world.  A Savior is here and our sins are forgiven.” (John 8:12)

What a grand reality.  In the midst of all the sad, distressing news coming across the wires and internet these days.  Just when our nights are the longest and our days seem filled with problems and too much pain, we are reminded again that God’s own Son came to earth to live and die among us.

We rejoice because Heaven-sent joy came to earth.  We give gifts because the grandest One has been given to us.  We feast because the Bread of Life has been provided.  We sing carols because all the earth must hear those bright melodies again.

Still, amid all the brightness, our souls remain in death’s shadow.  The power of human failure to stain the soul with sin is inescapable. Defeat and darkness continue to shade tomorrow’s horizons.  The burden of our guilt leaves ridges in the mind which clouds the soul making it hard to gain confidence enough to look for tomorrow’s sunlight.

As we light candles this Christmas Eve, let’s you and I ask our mighty and loving Savior to dispel these shadows.  As we lift our voices to sing carols, let’s praise the One who came to break the back of condemnation and restore our union with the Almighty Creator, to enable us to become all we were meant to be, children of our glorious Father.  (John 3:17).

As we move through this Yuletide, join me in a duel declaration:  “We receive your Light, Lord Jesus – purge our souls and let us live in your light.  We will share Your Light – having so freely received your Love, we will share it with family, friends and strangers, in this blessed Holy Season.  Heaven’s Light has come and the darkness will never be the same!”

The Food We Have Provides a Blessing:  Our gentlemen will share in yet another breakfast at 8:00 am on Saturday, December 12th.  Area Minister Jim Anderson will share WV/ABC information and inspiration.

Special thanks to all who provided and shared in our Fall Harvest Dinner and to everyone who gave to our Helping Hands food drive – many blessings !!!

Feeling Charitable in the Fifth Season

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Everyone knows that the earth has four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.  To the Christian way of thinking, there is a fifth season, the season of charity which happens every November and December.  Of course, this special time of kindness is directly linked to our Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  We hope that each person or family sits down to a fine Thanksgiving feast and later has some presents under the Christmas tree, creating a feeling of food cheer shaped among family and/or close friends.

Such a wish or blessing, for all souls, does not come easy.  In each community there are food drivers of all types by young and old, specially prepared meals in church kitchens, community meal sites, hospitals, long term care facilities and anywhere our watchful military is on duty during the year’s last two months.  Even Scrooge gave his bookkeeper, Bob Cratchet, the day off from work.

Maybe now would be a good time to remind ourselves of just how much need there is in our city.  Let’s begin with a particle tally from Beckley Day of Hope, a community event held here in mid-August;  Guests: 2,599.  Hot meals: 3,800.  Groceries; 4,200 bags.  Shoes:  1,215 pairs.  Health screenings:  1,055 and Helping Hands reports these totals for the month of September.  Households served:  801.  Totally family members served:  1,597.  Food: 747.  Clothing:491.  Emergency needs: 26.  New clients: 53.

A letter published in the October 12th issue of a national weekly news magazine may say it best:  “We need to stop marginalizing people who struggle.  So many people live pay check to pay check.  These are regular people who have fallen on hard times.  They are parents whose  child sits with your child at lunch, the unemployed dad you see at the Laundromat, the mom struggling to wrangle her small toddlers through the grocery store, the disabled elderly person or the homeless vet sitting on the park bench.  I can tell you these people just need a little compassion, a little tolerance and a little help.”!

In a wealthy, blessed congregation such as ours, each Fifth Season of the year, it would be wise for all of us to mind what Jesus said “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48)  “We are to use our wealth, time, talent and knowledge to glorify God and benefit others.”  (I Peter 4:10).

Beckley’s American Baptist Men Enjoy Breakfast at 8:00 am

In October, 28 gentlemen from our church, the Fellowship House and the Crab Orchard Fellowship enjoyed another great breakfast and a brief moment of inspiration “Notes on the Lord’s Prayer.”  Guys, please join us for more of the same at 8:00 a.m. on the second Saturday in November.

Asking Why Not at the October Table

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“You see things and say “Why?”  But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?” George Bernard Shaw from his play “Back to Methuselah,”  quoted by Robert F. Kennedy.

World Communion Sunday is always the first Sunday in October.  Christians around the world gather in worship and share a communion moment known as the Lord’s Last Supper.  We come together and support one another, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, at tables from every culture, every land, every people and every global and economic situation possible.

Christians do a bold thing.  We dare to proclaim hope and peace ‘round the world.  On this single Sunday, we dare to proclaim unity within the Church of Jesus Christ and the hope that all people might have the power, as Paul says “To comprehend what is the breath and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that they might be filled with the fullness of God.”   We are To imagine living in a world where there is no anger and abuse, no addition and neglect, no greed and pride, no murder and rape, no oppression and torture, no hunger and homelessness.

In a world where everyone understood the extent of Christ’s love for us and God’s compassion, would there be these things?  Would there be wide-spread income inequality in such a world?    Would there be life-changing, life-ending disease in such a world?  Would there be war and weapons of mass destruction in such a world?

We long for such a world.  We tired of money having the greatest power  We tired of hearing and reading about violence in our homes and communities.    We tired of watching countries tear themselves apart internally.  We long for better times on this earth.  “Why can’t we all get along?”

Once a year, on World Communion Sunday, we come to the Lord’s precious holy table with bread or rice cakes or tortillas or oatmeal cakes, and remember the broken body of Jesus.  We drink wine or grape juice being grateful that Christ , God’s only Son, died, taking our sins to His pitiful cross.

For our part, may each of us be peacemaking wherever we go, not afraid to ask, “Why not Lord?” God, help us, heal us, and guide us until we, in turn, arrive at our promised Heavenly Home!

This month, our Saturday morning Men’s Breakfast will include, as it always does, good food prepared by the best all-male kitchen crew in West Virginia, wonderful fellowship and a brief Bible-based devotion.  Gentlemen, please join us at 8:00 am on October 3rd.

Also a special thank you to the ladies for all their hard work providing lunch after the recent funerals here at FBC.  Your dedication in caring for these families is greatly appreciated.