Walking in the Sunlight

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Light is sweet, and it is a pleasure for the eyes to see the sun.  Wisdom is as good as an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun.  Let days speak and many years teach wisdom.” (Ecclesiastes 11:7, 7:11, Job 32:7 NRSV)

It is 2000 in Fredonia, New York.  The local clergy group usually met eight times a year for lunch.  But our January pow-wow was always at 8:00 a.m. to plan for the year’s shared events including a series of Lenten and Advent rotating, fund-raising luncheons supporting community ministry.

Less than two weeks before we all had celebrated Christmas as pastors in our various congregations.  Mine was Fredonia Baptist.

It’s the first month of a new decade and as I watched the sun come into full glow, I wondered what critical decisions would shape the direction of the future.  In the next eighteen years, I would live in Ashland, Ohio, Beckley and Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.  Each relocation changed my live.

We all have made good and bad decisions.  Decision-making really begins as we enter 9th grade to start our chosen course of study taking us through the public high school years.  Career choices, like where to live and work, marriage, children, health issues and retirement, lay ahead.  Our train can run off the track but decisions do not define us.

God is not limited by our poor navigation or circumstances. He is faithful in enabling our personal river to flow to the sea.  And surely, grace from on High lights our way.

British novelist James Hilton wrote Lost Horizon about a group of climbers who stumble upon Shangri-La, a Utopian-like settlement in the mountains of Tibet where people enjoy unheard of longevity.  The High Lama shares this wisdom with the stranded visitors:

‘The first quarter century of your life was, doubtless, lived under the cloud of being too young for things, while the next quarter-century would, normally, be shadowed by the still darker cloud of being too old for them; and between these two clouds, small and narrow sunlight illuminates the human lifetime.” (page 153)

Christmas -Just in Time!

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Blessings on the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has turned his face toward his people and has set them free!  He has raised up for us a standard of salvation.  Don’t be afraid!  May the God of hope fill you with joy.”  (Luke 1:68; 2:10, Romans 15:13)

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful, joyous time of the year.  But, for many folks, it’s a time of acute stress and sorrow.  Physical pain, loss, downright loneliness and depression is common even among church-going Christians.

Our world has been torn by bombings, shootings and world-wide acts of violence.  Natural disasters – fire, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes have taken lives and made thousands homeless.  Families have been broken by troubled relationships.  And it’s hard to escape hearing or reading reports of the above and mistreatment of the fairer sex even reaching the Halls of Congress.

For so many it will be hard to hear or sign the hymns, carols and songs of the season.  It might very well be difficult to think about giving or getting gifts.  Still, in congregations around the globe, the Sunday before Christmas we’ll light the Candle of Joy singing the carols as people have done for more years than we can count.

One such carol is “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with lyrics by Church Rector Phillips Brooks penned in Philadelphia in 1868 as an emotional reaction to the assassination of President Lincoln and the Civil War.  To attempt to heal his spirit, Brooks traveled to the Holy Land.  The young Episcopal priest was so impressed by the worship service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem that ‘he felt at peace’ and told friends, “Forever there will be a singing in my soul.”

Concentration camp survivor Corrie ten Boom made the following entry in her diary for 12/24: “What can we add to Christmas?  The perfect motive is that God so loved the world.  The percent gift is that HE gave His only Son.  The only requirement is to believe in Him.  The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.”

Leitmotif (Thanksgiving)

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Enter (God’s) gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.  Abraham grew strong in faith as he gave glory to God.” (Psalm 100:4-5; Romans 4:20 NRSV)

Recently I watched a bit of the film Dr. Zhivago and I heard enough of the soundtrack of Laura’s theme which serves as a reminder of what happened in the story before.  Germans call this dramatic idea-leitmotif.

Of course, the Thanksgiving holiday has its traditions.  But memory plays a big part in what happens the third Thursday in November.

Memory is a two-edged sword.  It helps us recall heart-warming people and events.  But, family can also bring up mistakes we’d rather forget.  That’s why “the meal” can be so stressful.  Suddenly God’s grace comes into play.

Make a list of whatever you’re not thankful for and measure it against the foundations of our Christian faith.  All of these were written into the Apostle’s Creed which begins “I believe in …”  As Abraham did, in his fallen word, we, imperfect humans, must learn to walk by faith.

“Can we not trust God to give us everything we need?”  (Romans 8:32, Phillips).

French Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen, wrote, “We are God’s beloved children.  We cannot allow the curses of this world to darken our hearts.  We must choose to receive God’s blessings and pass them on to others.”

Friendship and Death in the Silver Years

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Christ brought us the good news.  It shines like a light and offers life that never ends.  He has given eternal life to everyone who has done what is good.”  (2 Timothy 1:10, Romans 2:7, CEV.)

My new MD requested that I get an overnight workup at the hospital to update his office chart.  The next day I decided to stop at the Dollar Store and pick up some get-well cards.  “It seems I’ve been buying them all too often”, I told the clerk.  She snapped back “When our age group gets older, they get sick and die. That’s how it is.”

Even though I didn’t help her, she reminded me of just how wonderful it is to have friendships later in life.  It’s true that my life has been enriched by dozens of friends in a whole handful of places from as far north as Maine and west to Ohio and south to West Virginia, all since September of 1972.

When you’re as blessed as I have been to have pastored four different congregations and ministered in six separate hospitals including the Beckley VA Medical Center, relationships mount up quickly.  I gladly admit that some of the most memorable people in my life are my friends at First Baptist in Beckley.  I felt especially blessed at the monthly Men’s Breakfast.

As a pastor or minister besides friends you harvest of bushel-full of experiences which serve to mature your life.  One of these is death itself.  In congregations, death comes-and-goes like the wind.  In medical facilities or long term housing, a person’s “passing” from this life to the next is considered routine.

Dying is the same for everyone.  Dying doesn’t depend on age, economic status or geographic location.  Dying is a human process just as our birth is.  God has other plans for us.  All we lose is our physical body (I Corinthians 15:53-54).  Dying is a total absence of pain, fear or anxiety.  “Death cuts the cord that keeps us captive to this world” wrote Rev. Billy Graham.

Eben Alexander, M.D., wrote “Friends and family are waiting and looking for us in the afterlife.  None of us is ever unloved.  Our Creator loves and cherishes us beyond our ability to comprehend.” (I John 4:7).

An Ache Within

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Holy and beloved clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Bear with one another.  Forgive each other.  Above all, clothe yourself with love.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:12-14, 17, NRSV.)

In all my years of being involved in ministry as a pastor, hospital chaplain and teacher, I have yet to go off to bed for the night thinking “Well done today.  You did everything that needed doing.”  As I expected, my life has been filled with a sense of never having done enough.  Although there is a blessing of simply being needed in a wide variety of ways by a great spectrum of folks.

In the daily grind of pastoral opportunities, there always been at least one lonely person I didn’t visit, one who needed a ride to the mid-week fellowship meal or bible study, someone whose mood would have been lifted by a handwritten note or a birthday card.  And there’s that regular parade of utility bills.  The moment we move into town, God gives church shepherds an ache only action will satisfy.

The gospel speaks to believers and unbelievers.  Sunday morning worship serves to remind us of the gospel’s comforting influence.  Paul was pre-occupied with Christ.  Seven times in his letters he brings three little words together; faith, hope and love, to each us that Christians are an optimistic bunch (I Cor. 13:13).  The triad of faith, hope and love is the very heart of our faith.

Like anyone, I thought that our wedding was the most important event of that day.  Just before the 2:00 PM church service, Dr. Frey, one of the two ministers, commented to me, “I conducted a funeral at 10:00 AM earlier this morning.”  His message was that whatever ministry happening right then is all that is important for that person, couple or family.

How wonderful it is to know that God is with me on my journey helping me to let go of the unnecessary and to hang onto the essential (Philippians 4:11), being content… in what I can do.

Restoration Projects

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Shall I forgive my brother as many as seven times?  You must forgive your brother from the heart.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.  You ought to forgive and comfort him.  Old things are passed away: behold all things are become new.” (Matt. 18:21-23, 35; Matt. 6:14-15; 2 Cor. 2:7;2 Cor. 5:17, NRSV.)

My former wife Kathryn’s family has owned fifty acres in the New York state mountains since 1912, on which they erected a pair of cabins and use as a family get-a-way.  During a vacation visit we went up there and I watched my father-in-law restore the large picnic table everyone ate upon breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After he stripped the table down to the bare wood, I saw why someone had painted it white.  It was ugly.  The top was gouged, discolored and scarred.  That was one day.  A second day began with me thinking “Will this table, which was so much part of the property, ever live again?”  Mr. Roberts placed the veneer on top, applied an oak stain and clear varnish.  Like new, the table was returned in all its grandeur, ready for another generation or two.

Seeing what happened with that old picnic table reminded me of what God can do with people.  He can forgive us of any sin and sand away our scars and imperfections if you will, and transform us into new creatures.  That’s how amazing His grace and how glorious His love is.

Fred Bauer wrote “Thank God that with Him sin knows no size, and that His forgiveness can take us to paradise.”

Marilyn Morgan Helleberg wrote for Guideposts, “Mr. Clark cheated my doctor father out of a considerable sum of money.  My dad was not a vengeful kind of man.  Then one night Mr. Clark was brought to the hospital ER hemorrhaging critically.  He said “I wouldn’t blame you if you let me bleed to death, Doc.”  Their blood types matched.  So, the doctor donated his own blood, saving Mr. Clark’s life and giving himself the opportunity to forgive.”

Summer Lift

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven.  A time to laugh, a time to dance, a time to be quiet and a time to speak up.  It was like a dream!  We were filled with laughter, and sang with joy.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4,7; Psalm 126:1-2 New Living Translation)

Suddenly comes summer.  A chance to relax.  Put the date book aside.  Wear lighter clothes.  Eat ice cream, hot dogs, watermelon, and hamburgers, maybe even some cotton candy

A time out.  A planned break from our working life, perhaps an intentional relocation for days or a week or two. An opportunity to spend extra time with our children, our extended family or friends.  Vacation; a chance to literally take time to slow down and “smell the roses.”  Rest is a gift of God.“ (Heb. 4:9-11)

In our down time can come a gentle thought and we lift up our eyes.  It might be a story of kindness, heroism or courage as we read a novel or biography lying on a sandy beach or while sitting outside our pup tent in a wooded clearing with our pages turned by an occasional breeze.

While we’re driving our automobile, we might hear the notes of a melody long forgotten, stirring up teenage feelings of days gone by or nights replaced by today’s bright sunshine.

On his vacation I clearly remember how my dad would get so much pure job from showing us kids the places where he ‘grew up’.  That could have been meant to remind us that we had memories too.,

In the decades of ministry I have left, I want to promise myself to lift up my eyes to life so that I may read the guideposts along my way and not miss the important turns in the road.  Now, as a community minister I will lift up my eyes to love, not close my heart to the knocking hand, the tender cry or the anxious reach.

After all, at my ordination, Dr. Asquith told me “Your ministry will be among people in low places.”  Life’s narrow places, weekdays outside church walls, is where I am most needed, summer and winter!

The Kindest Cut

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Do not overlook hospitality to (strangers), for some have entertained angels without knowing it.  King David asked, “Is there no member of Saul’s family to whom I may show kindness?  There is a son of Jonathan; he is a cripple, lame in both feet.”  David replied “I mean to show him kindness for his father’s sake.  Mephibosheth will be a regular guest at my table.” (Hebrews 13:2, 2Samual 9:3,10 NEB, NET

As a boy, I was fortunate to have been in the Cub Scout and Boy Scout Programs from age eight to age eighteen, earning the God and County Award.  Later as a pastor after six years as a District Chairman in western New York State, I was awarded the Silver Beaver for outstanding service to the local Scout Council and its troops approved by the National BSA Court of Honor in 2003.  Every Scout knows the Scout slogan “Do a Good Turn Daily”

“This does not mean that you should do one good turn every day and then stop.  It means you should always be looking for opportunities to help others, quietly and without boasting.   Remember that a good turn is an act of kindness, not just something you do because it is good manners.  Good turns should be done for family, friends, children and adults and especially for those who are not able to do the task themselves.”  The Boy Scout Handbook.

It was the noon hour Thursday, March 8th at a busy lunch counter in the Waffle House in La Marque, Texas when 18  year-old Evoni Williams noticed 78 year old Ardain Chpentair, who suffers from weakness in his hands, having trouble cutting his ham.  So, Miss Williams offered to cut it for him.  Another patron photographed it all and put it on the internet.  A local college official saw the recorded event and responded giving the waitress a $16,000 scholarship for the next calendar year,

One Sunday, after concluding the weekly worship at the Beckley, WV VA Medical Center, an elderly volunteer asked me to have lunch with him at a nearby restaurant.  VA staff lifted me into his Land Rover.  After we finished our meal, we were in a tough spot until I noticed a pair of W.V. State Troopers eating and they kindly agreed to lift me into the chapel volunteer’s vehicle, one cop saying “Glad to do it chaplain.  You prayed with my dad before his same day surgery at the VA.”

A Moroccan proverb says “God is merciful to those who are kind.”

Easter: The Glad Surprise

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” “His mercies never come to an end.  The Lord is good to those who wait for him.  I will hope in him.”  (Psalm 90:14, Lamentations 3:22-25NRSV)

There is something exciting about a ‘glad surprise”.  It carries with it an element of elation, of life, of something over and beyond the surprise itself.  Look backward and count for yourself the many surprising moments that have gladdened your own life.  All of them have to do with hope.  Take the simple change of the seasons.  One day there is no sign of life.  Suddenly, comes Spring!

A much needed surprise can also arrive at the end of a long tunnel of tragedy or tribulation.  We’re stumbling in the dark.  We fall at a stairway, like Jacob’s Ladder.  Those steps lead us from darkness into light.  The most meaningful, life impacting, glad surprises come our way directly by God’s Almighty Hand.  So often joy is unpredictable.  God is never late.  So, our blessing comes just in time.

For us Christians, East morning offers us real, touchable evidence of our future resurrection, the ultimate glad surprise.  In Luke, an angel asked , “ Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here.  Jesus has risen.”  Luke 24:5, NRSV Adapted).

It is the announcement that life cannot be conquered by death.  Darkness is not our eternal future.  Here on earth there is strength added when labors increase, our multiplied peach matches multiplied trials.  Therefore, the lives of true believers are bottomed out by the glad surprise of life everlasting in a home beyond the stars!

In the meantime, people of all ages in so many places are hungry for hope wanting to be in a pace where there will be no more pain, stress loneliness or death.  Wait!!!

Life’s a Pressure Cooker

by Rev Robert A. Wendel

“We want you to be aware of the affliction we received in Asia.  We were so unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. We would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  We have set our hope (knowing) that he will rescue us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 NRSV).

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighted down with the worries of this life.  Be alert at all times, praying that you will have the strength to escape all the things that will take place (until) you stand before the Son of Man.”                (Luke 21:34-36 NRSV).

Webster’s Dictionary defines a pressure-cooker as “a special air-tight, hermetically sealed kettle-like pot used to prepare food quickly by using the pressure of steam.”  If we refer to our life situation as “living in a pressure cooker”, we mean that we feel like we’re living under a great deal of pressure and stress.

Busyness puts us all under a note of urgency.  When the pressure on you mounts, how do you decide which way to go, which priorities to devote more time and energy to accomplishing?  Priorities can be age related, deadline sensitive, educationally demanding, vocationally required, family tied, financially compelling, socially imposed or health conditioned.  The intensity of internal/emotional concern we feel depends on the tension between obligations and expectations welling up within us.

During the first three-fourths of his life, Saul of Tarsus became a well educated, respected Jewish rabbi and even a citizen of Rome.  Then, between 33-36AD, he met the risen Christ and his priorities were completely reversed, making him a very strong spokesman and traveling missionary for the fledging Christian faith and its followers, to whom he wrote thirteen Epistles found in the New Testament.

For St. Paul, there were both high points and low times.  As he wrote the first chapter of his second letter to the Church at Corinth “Be aware of the affliction we received in Asia.” (v.8) This ‘suffering’ may have been serious illness, physical persecution or unfair criticism.  The apostle’s reaction was (1) To rely on God, and not himself; and (2) To gain count on the Lord’s rescue.

Jesus told his disciples “Don’t let your hearts be weighted down with the worries of this life.” (1) Pray that you will have the strength to escape all the things that will take place until (2) You stand before the Son of Man.”  (Luke 21:34-36.)  Life is understood backwards; but lived forward.