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.”

Listening for His Whistle

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“You who are young make the most of your youth. Relish your youthful vigor. Follow the impulses of your heart. If something looks good to you, pursue it. But know also that not just anything goes. You have to answer to God for every last bit of it. Live footloose and fancy free. You won’t be young forever. Youth lasts about as long as smoke.” (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10 – Message Bible)

“Children are a heritage of the Lord: And the fruit of the womb in his reward. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of (children). Here I am for those didst call me. (Psalm 127:3,5; I Kings 8:53 (KJV).

We learned to listen for his whistle. When we were wanted at home, Dad would simply stand on the back porch and whistle meaning we kids should return home quickly. That unique sound was one of the ways our family connected. The link between parents and children is an emotional one, best described as a lifelong roller-coaster ride full of highs and lows.

Every April, Time Magazine names that years 100 Most Influential People asking well known celebrities to write about each individual. Justin Timberlake wrote about Tiger Woods “Last year Tiger Woods and I spent some time together talking about being fathers.:

We talked about how we want our children to see us and how we have to balance our dedication to them with our completive drive. We wanted our children to watch us at our best. He said that he wanted his 10 and 11 year olds to see him win another Major (Tournament).

On April 14th, Tiger won his 15th Major Tournament (The Masters) in an amazing sports career comeback returning him to the top of pro-golf and allowing him to hug his two children with a sense of redeemed victorious joy.”

If you want to see parents’ pride in their children, watch any of the television reality shows spotlighting young people with surprising performing talent, hoping to become professional entertainers. Pride shows in the smiles of their parents, family and friends.

On the negative side, parents worry about where their children are and just what they’re up to. In Jesus’ life, we read about the time he was “lost in the Temple among the rabbi” (Luke 2:41-52). Or when his family wanted to speak to him fearing he “had gone mad” Jesus replied “Obedience to God is thicker than blood.” ( Mark 3:21-35 Message Bible).

Gen. Colin Powell told The Reader’s Digest “Reaching our children requires conviction that they are capable of success.” Jackie Kennedy Onassis told admirers “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

A Glimpse into the Kingdom

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“We all know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding that we may know Him. Hear for I will speak noble things from my lips will come what is right.” (I John 5:20, Proverbs 8:6, Matt. 13 (NRSV.)

“Strive first for the Kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you. He who wishes to be first, let him be the last of every man, and the (humble) minister to every man. (Matt. 23:11 Aramaic translation.)

Jesus’ disciples all focused on “The Kingdom”. Not that they were concerned about that honor of the King or the success of the Kingdom; no, what obsessed them was their place in that Kingdom. For them, the Kingdom was all about personal power, prominence and position. (Matt. 19:27).

In Mark 9:33-34 the disciples argued about who was the greatest of them. Jesus said, “The first one must be the last and servant of all. “ Those who follow Jesus should not suppose a prime place in the Kingdom of Heaven for themselves.

We love being in control. We love getting our own way. We love being indulged and served. We love being right. It’s hard to admit that we’re more like the disciples who all wanted first place. Jesus said that he did not come to use his power to make their little kingdoms work, but to welcome you, by grace, to a much greater Kingdom than you could get on your own. “I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-3, Psalm 145:13-13)NRSV).

One of the concise parables is contained in a single scripture verse – Matthew 13:33. Jesus taught them saying “The Kingdom is like yeast that a women took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked the dough.”

The woman had a plan. She introduced yeast into the dough and mixed it together. The yeast spread throughout the dough, it fermented, causing the dough to rise. The result was freshly baked bread. So it is with Heaven’s Kingdom. God always has a plan and a purpose. (Psalm 16:4)

Since it’s small beginnings 2000 years ago, Christianity has affected and elevated every successive culture and generation. God has placed his Church in the world permanently. Like yeast into dough, the Church cannot be taken out!

Romance: More than Holding Hands

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Be eager to love because that gift comes from the Holy Spirit. Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready. This is my beloved and this is my friend. (James 1:17, Song of Solomon 2:7, 5:16 NRSV). To get heaven’s help with romance you must live out your faith. Pray about loves attraction. True romance involves both the ‘heart and the head.” Real love is spiritual. Chronic health problems will impact any relationship.

There are dozens of factors that attract you to one person or another. We form snap judgments based on physical attractiveness, likeability, competence, money wisdom and financial stability. We are drawn to people like us with a similar family history, tradition and religious preferences. Smiling is a sign of someone who is emotionally well adjusted and has a good personality. Romantic love lasts about two years. Then we grow into a deeper more mature love connection. Get to know your future possible in-laws or step children

When trying to decide if couples will stay together, one indicator is how they describe their courtship, hoping that you chose each other through mutual agreeability and similar beliefs which reflect their computability. These are things like daily habits, past-times, child rearing ideas, political leanings and their goals.

If you’re ready to date, think of it as fun, interesting and possibly enriching. Be sure you are aware of what went wrong in your last serious relationship. In the new relationship: Be friends. Spend time together. Laugh together. Be a good and patient listener. Trust, leave some separate alone time and space.

There are bound to be differences. But, over time your brain gets used to the other person. Sharing understandings reduces anxiety, depression and stress and may boost immunity and longevity. The ultimate key to solid relationships is a good verbal communication. Instead of arguing, give each other the benefit of the doubt by hearing each other out first.

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible,” wrote screen writer Nora Ephron. American poet Ogned Nash said, “Whenever you’re wrong, admit it. When you’re right, shut up.”

Marriage: Two for the See-Saw

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Be subject to one another. Be of the same mind, husband and wife having the same love. And the two will become one flesh. The wife and husband shall fulfill their duty to each other.” (Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:3, I Corinthians 7:8-16,39 NRSV.)

In marriage, a man and a women agree to ride the see-saw of life, with all of its ups and downs, together. (Ruth 1:16).

The vows they make at a ceremonial moment really mean that they get each other in return. Each, gladly, meeting the other’s needs, taking on each other’s burdens. There will always be the other to talk to and to listen to. And they will have countless opportunities to be patient and kind to their sweetheart, while becoming more rich yourself than just you alone. (I Corinthians 13:4-5). These ancient notions are the biblical ideal.

Matrimony is to be thought of as a Divine institution people enter into out of custom, duty or a need to procreate. Most of us think this one relationship should-and could provide the full buffet of satisfaction; intimacy, support, stability, happiness and sexual exhilaration. If the union is not up to the task, then it’s easy and cheaper to unsubscribe and divorce. (2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 12:2).

Marriage is the most intimate and basic of our social institutions but also the one most subject to shifts and change, making single adult life completely attractive. In a survey by Cornell University, couples said “At one point, their long marriage was the best thing in their lives, but it takes work (attention) and is really, really hard” (Corinthians 3:15-17).

The ultimate dream; figuring out how to go the distance, being faithful while bringing out the best in your partner. Studies suggest that married people have better health, better wealth and even better sex than their counterparts; and will, probably, die happier.

How do you find a soul-mate? Choose wisely! Stay married as if divorce is not an option. Charles Swindoll, radio bible teacher said, “To the unmarried; Be patient! Wed someone who is an active Christian. To the married; Be content! To the remarried; Be grateful.”

Dealing with Life’s Changes

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed you will be strong in character and ready for anything. God blesses people who patiently endure testing.” (James 1:2-4, 12 (NLT).

Challenges. Everyone born into this world has his or her unique set of obstacles to confront, not all at once, but scattered throughout one’s days. By my count, there are in fact four types of hurdles: 1) Physical; 2) Medical; 3) Relationships (those earthly and heavenly) and 4) Finances and Property. A mind boggling list.

I recently heard a television preacher sum up stages in life as hurried, worried and buried. The first decade of my existence meant meeting life’s physical demands includes three orthopedic surgery experiences, many walks in parallel bars and up and down countless stairs. Mental challenges came in education and training. Relationships with other people always need attention. Financial stress has been felt the most in my semi-retirement.

I learned the harder it got, the stronger I got. There has been a faith lesson in all of my trials. It’s easy to have faith sitting in church on Sunday. When things get hard, my faith, like an under-developed muscle, is challenged. These challenges push me and my faith stronger, even through pain.

James urges all Christians to show their faith by their works. Paul holds that faith leads to work. James says that works must demonstrate faith. We wouldn’t be tested unless we are doing something serious. It’s like wanting to take a morning walk and finding that the wind nearly pushes you back before you’ve even started.

There are many winds and tides in the human life. In what ways has life tossed you about? Motion picture actor Christopher Reeve (Superman) said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to preserve and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Paul: Apostle at a Gallop

by Robert A Wendel

“I am not ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. In it the righteousness of God is revealed. The one who is righteous will live by faith. God has clothed me with a robe of righteousness. In Jesus Christ the blessing of Abraham has come to Gentiles.” (Romans 1:16-17; Isaiah 61-10, NRSV.)

Paul was a preacher first and a writer second. Both spheres – preaching and writing – were ruled by one great fact – the fact of a living present Lord; and by one all-decisive experience – the experience of union and communion with Him. The heart of Paul’s religion was union with Christ. (Acts 9, 22, 26).

The distinctive Christian attitude is humble trust in God and dependence on what he has done (rescue) through Christ. In short, “faith” (Romans 1:17.) No one could shame this former rabbi into silence until his death in 64AD.
In his life-risking missionary travels, Paul sought out Jewish communities in cities in present-day Lebanon, Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. Unlike other Christians, Paul encouraged converting non-Jews which laid the foundation for the explosive growth of Early Christianity and the final separation of Judaism and Christianity into two separate faiths.

Paul’s bold adventures came to an end in about 60AD when he was arrested for admitting a non-Jew into the Temple of Jerusalem and he was sent to Rome for trial. Acquitted, he stayed there to help organize the Christian Church in the Empirical Capital of the Empire.

Paul is credited with authoring seven books of the New Testament – Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians and Philemon and he may have also written six other letters to young churches and a pair to Apostle Timothy.

This Easter, it is good for us to remember Paul’s words “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor hearts conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corn. 2:9.) “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are to be pitied.” (I Cor. 15:19). Jesus said “Because I live, you will also.” (John 14:19).

Young People: Handle with Care

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Children are an inheritance from
the Lord.  Train up a child in the way he
should go.  A Child is known    by
his doings” (Psalm 127:3; Proverbs 22:6, Proverbs 20:11 (Geneva Bible)

“Children and young people are the future of our Church.”   Senior members around churches have whispered that truism many times knowing: 1) Youth require their own separate ministry; 2) Kids live a kinetic, up-beat pace; 3) For them, traditions only matter at Christmas and Easter; 4) Newbies appreciate church time as time to be with classmates and friends; 5) Still, the continuation of any congregation is on the shoulders of today’s up-and-coming folks.  Handle with care.

Most worshipping fellowships divide themselves in three generational groups: Cradle roll (Infants and pre-public school youngsters); Public school young people and adults.  Out of his love and mercy, God wants all his children to be happy, however they define it, under the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:24-25).

Once and for all, we must put out of our minds that the purpose of life is to enjoy ourselves, to be happy, to have a good time, to make money and to live worry free in ease and comfort.  Real Christians are to attempt to live their lives in service to others laying aside their own desires.

In both Jewish and Christian theology, the much desired birth of a son or daughter is a heritage or reward thought of as a gift from God.   Folly is bound up in a child’s heart.  The righteous follow a clear path in life.  The Lord delivers them from trouble.  Wisdom is gained through discipline. (Proverbs 4:3-5).

R. Benjamin Garrison said “If God has made an impact on us, it will be evident in the children we raise, the ideas we share, the money we earn and spend, in the church we love, the nation we build and protect and in the souls that kneel before Him, each one of us, sometime, caught in the living net of the gospel.”

Grace Undeniable

by Robert A Wendell

“Do Not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace. But, grow in the knowledge of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (Meanwhile), God, himself, will restore, support, strengthen and establish you.” (Hebrews 13:9, 2 Peter 3:18, I Peter 5:10 NRSV).

Grace seems to be the one word in a Christian vocabulary that unlocks the necessity and the power of the relationship between the Almighty and humankind. Still, there are those moments when we doubt that unique connection.   I may not be doing the most exciting things with my days, but in the middle of those highs and lows and downright monotonous chores, one thing remains true:  I am here for a purpose – a mission.  And the mission is to glorify God.  God in all I do.  God in all I say – and in every word I write.

Grace provides ‘the wind beneath my wings.’  Grace is the oil that makes everything run smoothly and gently.  Having a graceful flow to the day or the week doesn’t just come from having a laid-back attitude.  It comes from understanding that grace is God – generated and heaven – sent.

Grace is flexible.  Grace trumps fear and worry with the sure notion that the Lord is at the spiritual helm of our lives.  After all, each one of us is a reflection of God’s all-intelligent control.  Even in pressure-packed times, it’s wise to wait on our Maker.  Feeling grace helps me pursue what seems the right move for that moment.

Grace means there is nothing I can do to make God love me more.  He invites me to sit at His table.  Grace also helps me feel more gracious, looking outward toward others first.  As we actively run toward the Divine and make room for grace, order and pace can ‘flow like a river.

Jerry Bridges, author for the Navigators Discipleship Organization wrote, “Our worst days are never so bad that we are beyond the reach of grace.  And our best days are never so good that we are beyond the need of God’s grace.”