Christmas: A Season of Hope

by Rev Robert A Wendel

If we walk in the light as He himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you. (I John 1:7, Ephesians 1:18).

Every single year the season of Christmas comes slowly upon us. One of the joys of the season is to see holiday displays of many types. Before my 10th birthday I remember making the one hour trip to Pittsburgh to see store window displays and the large city Christmas tree. Much, much later, I enjoyed witnessing seasonal activities in Bethlehem, Pa. and, of course, there were the Christmas Eve services in the churches I pastored. All of these experiencers involved lights. An undercurrent of hope stretched throughout December.

One Christmas tradition has been decorating the family Christmas tree. This custom began in England during the reign of Queen Victoria. One Christmas tree that I easily remember was the aluminum Christmas tree lit by a floor lamp during my teenage years. Another tree was the sanctuary tree formed by poinsettias in the church in Beckley. One drawback was coaxing families to retrieve their poinsettia when the season was over. These customs and traditions form a chain of memory in any Christian’s life.

During the season we celebrate how Almighty God allowed His Son to become a vulnerable child. May the Lord help us to see Him without distraction. “Open our eyes, so that we may behold wondrous things!” (Psalm 119:18).

“God of Hope, help me to be sensitive to those who mourn during the holy, holiday season. Let me speak a word or do a deed or share a tear that point to joy found in you. (Penney Schwab)

Greetings from Rev Wendell

“Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ that you will be enriched in every way for your great generosity which will produce thanksgiving to God.” (1Thessalonians 5:18, 2 Corinthians 9:11 RSV).

I grew up in the age of “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It to Beaver”, which we watched on a black and white television set. So, I am no spring chicken. This realization hit when I began experiencing a series of minor physical setbacks. Much to my dismay, my body is less than it once was. I remember thinking about physical decline while watching games by aging major league baseball stars.

Still, I easily recall events in American history which have made their way into classroom textbooks. 2020 has been a rough year for most of us what with the virus, economic stress, school rearrangements, professional sports at half speed with a whole new set of social recommendations – all in a national election season.

Yet, there have been other years when life seemed on the downswing. Like the year when I graduated from high school in 1968 which included riots in the streets over the Viet Nam war and a pair of assassinations. In 1863 when the country was “engaged in a great Civil War”, to help lift the mood and spirit of the people, President Lincoln declared “that the fourth Thursday of November shall be a day of national Thanksgiving.” Many folks this year may not travel far from their homes to celebrate, choosing to safeguard their health first and foremost.

No matter how these days run their course, you and I have much to praise the Lord for again, hoping much will improve in the months ahead. Enjoy the holiday in small gatherings. Take off your mask while you’re at the table.

Debbie Macomber wrote in Guideposts “Lord, no matter how much change I encounter in my life, You are my constant unchanging source of joy and strength. “

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.”