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.

Eating Oatmeal and Apple Pie

by Rev Robert Wendel

Every school day morning during my high school career, I ate oatmeal for breakfast.  Many of those same nights, I enjoyed a piece of homemade apple pie.  Some bitter cold mornings as the shafts of light illuminate my bedroom, I imagine that I hear my mother saying “Come, finish your dad’s oatmeal.”

Beginning in the late 1930’s, as soon as he married mom, before and after his hitch in the Pacific Theater in WWII, dad used the GI Bill and worked the 7AM to 3PM shift as a machinist in the steel mill on Neville Island in Pittsburgh.  In 1958, Pittsburgh Screw & Bolt relocated its operation south to Mt. Pleasant, Pa.  Our family set its roots down an hour south of the “Burg”.  So, morning after morning, without fail, days started with hot oatmeal cereal.

For her part mom was a hospital trained nurse, working the 3PM to 11PM turn, doing what was later called ‘private duty’ home care for the wealthy home bound patrons first for $16 a night and later $21.00.  As for dad, the most he ever took home from the mill was $7,000 in 1966.  There they were, a hard working couple raising six children and a pet or two, all without extra help from grandparents or any “babysitters.”

It wasn’t always smooth sailing.  I easily remember the big steel strike of 1959-60, before Federal Food Stamps, when things got so bad that dad and guys from the plant hard to stand in line for federal surplus canned pork and gravy, flour, sugar, lard, cheese and more beans than we kids could count.  That pair of Christmas’ Santa’s sleigh made only a whistle-stop at our house.

Even during the rough times, mom continued her nursing duty while dad made dinner, many nights,  remembering to “surprise” mom with a fresh made pie once she arrived home.  So, there I’d be ready to hear her predictable, frequent question, “Bobby, do you want a piece of apple pie?”

This month we have celebrated another Labor Day holiday.  What are the lessons my parents taught me around the virtue of honest Christian wage earning? As we kids were often reminded,  “To get a good job, get a good education.”  No matter what your work, be faithful to the tasks before you.  Your most important job may well be raising the children the Lord brings into your life.

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.