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.

Resolving to Open My Bible

by Rev. Robert A. Wendel

Before each New Year, I glance at that year’s daily bible reading plan knowing that disciplining myself by having a regular brush with the scriptures would be an encouragement and deepen me spiritually.  But, life gets busy.  So quiet time and good reading often get forgotten.  Woe is me!

These are the days or weeks when my life just isn’t running smoothly as it’s supposed to.  A sudden crisis, an unexpected call for help from a friend or stranger, a challenge in my own life, over-extending myself trying to meet others’ expectations or trying to crowd too many public obligations into my datebook, any of these can push even that morning’s prayer life into tomorrow’s corner.

Still, I’m aware that it’s spiritual things that keep my life running smoothly and help me handle the sharp turns, the uphills and the downhills.  When I was growing up at home, I remember how our whole family went to church every Sunday and many afternoons in the kitchen Dad would show me how to find bible cross-references, then ask me to play some classic vinyl LP’s to which he would whistle.

The important reason to study scripture is to help each of us define and strive to live a life that reaches beyond and above what is normally expected of us.  We’re reminded how Jesus lived and what he taught as priorities for our time on earth.  As any pastor can tell you, the bible offers us concrete guidance for overcoming our weaknesses while ‘running toward” God’s finish line.

While I was a chaplain at the Beckley VA Medical Center, I was privileged to lead a Thursday afternoon bible study for men who called the facility home.  One day I asked one older vet what was his secret to success? He thought carefully and answered “We need only have two loves in our lives:  for God and for the people who happen to be in front of us at that very moment.  That’s Christianity in a nutshell.

The January ABC Men’s breakfast will again be on the second Saturday morning of the month  beginning at 8AM and usually done before 9:30 AM.  Gentlemen, come, eat well and be physically and spiritually satisfied.   Phil Parvin will offer us his thoughts.

Reigniting Hope at Christmas

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Christmas is coming again!  It’s time for greetings, gifts and glad times.  Christmas is one of those times when our hope is reignited because our heavenly Father sent his Son to earth to offer believers the ‘certain hope’ of a future life in eternity.

Hope, here and now, energizes us for the many conflicts and setbacks which we encounter along earth’s many pathways around us and within us.  Christmas hope is not simply wishful thinking.  The hope we acknowledge during Advent is found only in Christ, grounded in the reality that Jesus came in weakness and meekness and will come again in glory to redeem the world.

So, during this happy season, you and I should have confidence in God’s future.  This Christmas, all of us look forward to remembering the past through the power of memory and the rekindling of the spiritual lights that lead us back to the Bethlehem story of a babe in a manger.

Many of the young Christian fellowships which received letters from Paul lived in fear and collective anxiety.  Yet, they speculated about the day when the Lord would return again and set things right.

Today, like them, we are able to bear the present darkness because, we believe in the coming dawn, a dawn in which doubt and shadows give way to abiding contentment because ‘God is with us’, day and night, giving us more love than our hearts can hold.

We do not live by experience alone but by experience tempered with great expectation.  This is the purpose of Christian hope, to help us contend with this ‘humbug world.’  We have some idea of where we are because we have some idea of where we’re going.  Glory to God ‘for us unspeakable gift’, Jesus!

This month’s ABC Men’s breakfast, as always, will feature great food and fellowship on Saturday, December 13th at 8:00 a.m.   Rev. Frank Miller from Parchment Valley will offer our devotion.    See you guys there!!

Making Rounds, Being Thankful

by Rev Robert A Wendel

The Thanksgiving holiday is an ideal day to take at least a few moments to reflect on those things and people for which you are thankful.  Good health is, surely, a primary blessing sought by everyone.

In October, I participated in the day-long fall conference of volunteer chaplains at Appalachian Regional Hospital.  The “good word” shared by facility administer Rocco Massey concerned the vital importance of “making rounds” walking around the floors, connecting with patients, staff and visitors as the best way to maintain a high quality of patient care and satisfaction.  Every trained chaplain learns that lesson early.

After one week of hospital duty at ARH, I try and take it all in, patient by patient, profoundly grateful for life.  But, this month I’ll be sixty-six years old and no one lives forever.  I, too, will face a day when news about my health will not be good, when, like so many in health care settings, my fears will be real as I notice my own health break down, when mortality grasps my hand and will not let go.  So, I ask, “What has being a chaplain at six different facilities in thirty-five years taught me?”

Above all, I affirm that each day I live will be acknowledged as a pure gift, a moment of time that is unique, unrepeatable that must be savored,  Second, I resolve to live each day with one primary purpose; to try and show love or respect to at least one other child of God.

And finally, the greatest gift that I can offer to my Heavenly Father is my heartfelt thanksgiving.  For it is simple gratitude that is, often, the most healing medicine to humankind and it is thanksgiving that transcends all time and death.

Saint Ambrose said “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.”   Michael Levine wrote “The sign outside the gates of salvation says “Be grateful.”

The devotional speaker for the next ABC Men’s Breakfast on Nov. 8th at 8:00 am will be Rev. Jonathan Turner.

As always, we hope you’ll be able to join our fellow men for food, fellowship and some very good words.

Watching the Pews on Sunday

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Most folks in the church know that being a chaplain at Beckley VA Medical Center is what, originally, brought me to Beckley nine years ago.  Before doing that specialized ministry, I had been a four-time pastor for congregations in New Hampshire and New York.

In my very first local clergy meeting in the Garden State, one of the more experienced fellow pastors said “Robert, over time you’ll be privileged to hear the stories of every person or family in your pews.”

So, I can’t help it.  Each Sabbath, I try and notice who has joined us in worship. Conversely, I make a mental note of who is not present that week.  There are a whole bundle of reasons why potential worshipers are missing:  the flu bug bites, health care or retail personnel must work, the car won’t start, the snow drifts are just too deep or grandchildren beckon.  My own mother worried, “I might start coughing, bothering those around me.” These days, being in church is merely a one weekend option.

A philosopher once observed that in life we always find time for the things that are really important.  Jesus put it another way “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Luke 12:34.  He didn’t make church-going a pre-requisite for finding the kingdom of heaven; he only promised that he would be present whenever two or three were gathered in his name (Matthew 18:20).  That, it seems to me, is a good enough reason for his fans to huddle up regularly at the meeting house.

Fred Bauer, an editor and free-lance worker for Guideposts, a trustee and fellow pew sitter who became a supporter and good friend of mine while I was a student minister at Christ Congregation, Princeton wrote, “Whenever worship becomes a burden, heal my blindness O Heavenly Father.”

Thinking about adult discipleship, Lisa Simmons of WV/ABV advised “How often we in the local church experience and allow the slow fade of adults from our community of faith.  Make it simple.  Let the person know they were missed.”

Being a Bridge Over Troubled Waters

by Rev Robert Wendel

The worst word in the English language is hopeless.   It certainly is a negative adjective.  Hearing of the unexpected, sudden, premature death of actor/comedian Robin Williams who, reportedly, took his own life, I couldn’t help but wonder what might have prevented such a tragedy.

In my fifth year as pastor of Fredonia Baptist Church in New York, I had the sad duty of conducting the funeral service for a second semester freshman at the State University of New York in Fredonia.  Academically, he was doing fine.  But, to solve a temporary personal problem, he chose a solution that was final.

This young man was much loved.  The sanctuary was filled to overflowing with family, friends, classmates, teachers and college staff.  They all had lost a son, brother, nephew, grandson, friend and a good student who felt isolated and unable to see past the dark hole of his own pain.

During the service, I asked for a show of hands from those who would not mind a telephone call in the wee hours of the morning from a depressed friend who needed to talk.  Every hand was raised, without hesitation.  Literally, they all would have helped this guy had he only called.  Suicide is not a solution.

As one of only a handful of ABC endorsed institutional chaplains and pastoral counselors in West Virginia, one of my favorite Bible verses has become when Saint Paul advised the Galatians “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:2, NRSV).

Heartaches bring people together. Christian friendships have an immense power to mend a broken spirit.  A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.  We never forget those with whom we have cried.  Healing happens from the inside out, felt but unseen.

Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, whose own son committed suicide, turned to what Paul wrote to the young Christians in Rome saying “I mean I want us to help each other with the faith we have.  Your faith will help me, and my faith will help you” (1:12, NCV).

Rev. Warren explains “In authentic Christian fellowship people should experience a mutual dependency.   This mutuality is the art of giving and receiving: it’s depending on each other.  All of us are more consistent in our faith when others walk with us and encourage us.”  Be a bridge for someone !

The next Men’s Prayer Breakfast is Saturday, September 13th.   Mike White will be doing a presentation on his recent trip to the Holy Land.    This is something you won’t want to miss !!!

Beckley Day of Hope



10:00 am.

YMCA Soccer Complex

A variety of healthcare services will be available as well as a prayer tent.

Hope Starts here in your city, your community, your neighborhood. The Convoy of Hope event is just the beginning of a long-lasting movement that has the power to transform people’s lives, inspire compassion and service and bring people and organizations together like never before. This is a collaborative effort to bring hope to a city through free groceries, health screenings, job fairs, family portraits, haircuts, prayer, activities for children and more.

Volunteers are needed to help in the event. 

Call 304-252-0717 or contact Rev. Wendel if you can help.

Being Happy

by Rev. Robert A. Wendel

These days the internet has hundreds of daily lists and tips on everything from losing or gaining weight to medical help and financial pointers, travel articles, cooking suggestions and relationship advice.  Most of what is “posted” can require just simple common sense.  Still, we ordinary folks can’t know everything about everything, even if “Father knows best!”

If you and I are searching for a list of life’s ‘do’s don’t’, we’ll never outdo the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments found in the 20th chapter of Exodus.  Undoubtedly, people with spiritual roots pay attention and try their utmost to abide by those rules written in stone so very long ago.

Happy Christians don’t covet.  They are perfectly content with what they already have.  It’s enlightening to discover that there is a direct link between happiness and being obedient to the laws that God gave Moses to share with us.

In one way or another, every Sabbath day preaching pastors, priests and rabbis continually urge those sitting in the pews to apply lessons from the Bible to our everyday life right here, right now.   Time and time again I am amazed at how what I listen to in sermons and weekly prayers serve as an echo of where my heart is on that particular day.  So, as it should my happiness level rises.

One clear sign of lasting happiness is the sincere desire to be good and do good.  The Apostle Peter preached “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good and healing.”  (Acts 10:38)

Going about doing good seems to be the way to ultimate happiness.  What would life in this sad world be like if everybody “went about doing good?”  We’d be following in Jesus’ footsteps.  We’d be doing our part to heal the sorrow and sadness which lingers inside so many.

Let’s work to change the happiness level..   You may be just the person to give your family member or neighbor a lift!  Here’s an idea “Invite him or her to church!”

A note our ABC Men:  From September through May we enjoyed the blessing of wonderful prayer breakfasts thanks to the great cooking, inspiring devotional moments, fellowship time and timely prayer.   Be sure and join us on the second Saturday in September for more of the same.   Our fall devotion leaders will include Mike White and Phil Parvin.