| Clergy Corner

CLERGY CORNER: Hope for the future

Posted on 27 October 2016 by LeslieM

What the future holds has always piqued our interest as human beings. We have experiences and memories of the past, and are fully acquainted with the events of the present, but we have no guarantees concerning the future. Consequently, some have claimed to be able to predict the future and speak confidently about what is to come. Crystal balls, horoscopes, cards, psychics and fortune tellers are some of the things and people that many consult for information about their personal future. No one has all the answers, however, and many prognosticators have been proven false or deceptive.

When it comes to the future of the world or society, there seems to be a common feeling that things will be worse than they are right now. Every generation has probably had doomsayers who saw and predicted the decline of society or the end of the world. George Orwell’s classic, 1984 envisioned a world that had devolved into a “negative utopia” and even though that year has come and gone, many are convinced we are still headed in that direction. The Y2K scare of 1999 had many expecting a major disruption of life as we know it once 2000 arrived, and a misreading of the famed Mayan Calendar predicted that the world would come to an end on December 21, 2012.

In his much touted television series, The Story of God, Morgan Freeman traveled the world examining the beliefs of various religions. One episode on the Apocalypse reviewed how differing faith traditions viewed the end of days. In the Bible (Matthew 24:6-7), Jesus predicted specific signs of the end. “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” In 2 Timothy 3:1-4, the Apostle Paul adds, “But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

The evening news and our daily experiences confirm that those predictions are coming true in our time. These do appear to be the last days; however, believers in every generation for the last 2,000 years have perceived that theirs would be the last. No one knows when the end will come, only that it will all come to an end someday.

But how do we then face the future? Are we to be fearful and anxious? Are we to ignore the signs of societal deterioration and live as if all is well? Thankfully, both Jesus and Paul offer hope along with their predictions. Believers are encouraged to be faithful to the truth, and to prayerfully take note of the unfolding signs. Jesus promises a reward and eternal life for the faithful and believing.

The point is this: regardless of the unknown, and even with indications of difficult times ahead, believers can face them with hope. A life oriented around God has a sure foundation on which to stand when things get shaky. Consider Psalm 46:1-3, 7. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…The Lord Almighty is with us the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Bishop Patrick L. Kelly is the pastor of Cathedral Church of God, 365 S. Dixie Hwy., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. 954-427-0302.


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CLERGY CORNER: Does being human mean being different?

Posted on 19 October 2016 by LeslieM

We have different names, different colors, different shapes and different sizes. We eat different foods and enjoy different sports. We have different houses of prayer and we have different books of prayers.

Are we really that different? There seems to be a never-ending cycle of hate and war throughout the world based on these differences. There also seems to be an ever-growing divisiveness within our own communities. How do we change that? Are humans really just different, separate beings that will always clash? Does being human mean being different? What is it that divides us and what is it that can unite us?

I propose we go back to the beginning …

When G-d created the first human being, the Bible describes it like this: “And the Lord, G-d formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul.” [Genesis 2:7]

So what divides us is the physical body. We are different people with different histories. Let me explain what unites us with a story: The story is told of an opera singer who was known for his readings and recitations from the Classics. He always ended his performance with a dramatic recital of Psalm 23. Each night, without exception, as the actor began his recitation, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” The crowd would listen attentively and then rise with thunderous applause, in appreciation of the actor’s ability to bring the psalm to life.

One night, just before the singer was to offer his customary recital of Psalm 23, an old man from the audience spoke up. “Sir, would you mind, if tonight, I recite Psalm 23?”

The actor was surprised by this unusual request. However, he invited the old man to come onto the stage to recite the psalm, curious to see how the ability of this man weighed against his own talent.

Softly, the old man began to recite the words of the psalm. His voice was parched and weak, and his tune pretty lousy.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want … Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff-they will comfort me. Only goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord for many long years.”

When he was finished, there was no applause. There was no standing ovation as on other nights. All that could be heard was the sound of weeping. The audience had been so moved by the man’s recitation that every eye was tearful.

Amazed by what he had experienced, the opera star queried, “I don’t understand. I have been performing Psalm 23 for years. I have a lifetime of experience and training —but I have never been able to move an audience as you have tonight. And frankly, you have a horrible voice and can barely carry a tune. Tell me, what is your secret?”

The old man humbly replied, “Well, sir, you know the psalm … but I know the Shepherd.”

My dear friends, get to know the Shepherd within each and every one of us!

What unites us is our Creator, our Shepherd, our G-d. Get to know the shepherd and you will get to know the song of life. When we sing the Psalm, it will bring unity — peace, love and tolerance!

We humans were created with a body and a soul. The soul was given in order to bring unity, not to divide us! So, if we see another human, we must realize his uniqueness, which is his soul, is a part of G-d, our G-d, and that’s exactly what unites us!

So, next time you want to hate or divide, just stop and think that what makes us human is not the body, but the soul!

[Malachi 2:10]Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why should we betray, each one his brother, to profane the covenant of our forefathers?

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the Director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches located at 2025 E Sample Rd in Lighthouse Point.For all upcoming events, visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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CLERGY CORNER: Everything speaks

Posted on 12 October 2016 by LeslieM

Years ago, while visiting my airline’s corporate office, I witnessed what must have been the quickest rejection of a job applicant. A young, shaggy-haired man with baggy clothes, hanging low around his rear, approached the front desk and requested a job application. The secretary asked if he would like to complete the form and submit it immediately. He declined and moped toward the exit. Before he could step outside, the secretary shot me the “not in a million years” look about this young man.

This young man’s dress and demeanor reminded me of a conversation I had with a teen around the same time. This teen felt that individual expression should trump societal norms, but there is a reason you pass the rolls and not throw them, unless you’re at Lambert’s Cafe in Missouri where it’s expected. While I do believe in expression of individuality, my flight kit had a comic with people floating in the water with a plane sinking; the caption read: “Bad day at work.” Things like dress or table manners transcend the individual. They say something about what you believe about yourself and others.

I’ve met with many parents who desire that their children learn to respect authority yet think nothing about speeding, which is a subtle (or sometimes blatant) disregard for authority. Little do these parents realize that they are undermining their own authority. (Dear Alanis Morissette, that’s real irony).

This line of thinking inspired me to develop the Everything Speaks message series. As a professional speaker, I learned many years ago — like our appearance and driving — that everything speaks; everything communicates something about what we believe, even if unintentionally. It’s why we value things like punctuality, firm handshakes and grace.

During the message series, we discovered that how we pray, how we surrender and how we serve each say something about what we believe about God’s power, sovereignty and our own depth of love for our neighbor.

If we have a weak prayer life, it can communicate to others that we believe our God is weak and unable. A hesitant surrender can expose a lack of trust in God. And a torpid level of serving might broadcast a lack of concern for others. Everything speaks. So I challenged my congregation to pray some risky prayers. I say risky because if you pray them earnestly, prepare to never be the same, again.

Pray: Search me; Psalm 139:23 — “Search me, O God, and know my heart.” Ask God to reveal the sins and fears in your life that are keeping you from the plan He has for your life.

Pray: Break me; Job 17:1 “My spirit is crushed, and my life is nearly snuffed out.” Pray for a brokenness that requires a dependency solely on God, which fosters intimacy, clarity of purpose, and your God-given identity.

Pray: Use me; Luke 22:42 — “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Pray that, because of you, others would come to know Christ and your actions would bring glory to God.

Pray: To desire the world less and Him more — downward mobility versus upward mobility. (My prayer growing up: Lord, help. Please help me to want to love You, to know You and to serve You.)

Pray: To be rich in the things that matter — invite family into a better story: prayer and reading the Word, serving together; be known more for what you give than what you have; seek intimate and purposeful relationships; view school/work/career as a mission field not a paycheck, etc.

Pray: To be fully surrendered to His will — trusting in His provision and strength to die to old habits that keep you at anything less than full surrender. His Word: learn it, love it, live it.

Referencing John 13: Pray: To get up — to leave a place of comfort and familiarity. (Jesus left the table); free up your schedule by setting your priorities and living them. Pray: to open up—to not only be more trusting/vulnerable, trusting ultimately in yourself and God’s voice in your life, but also about being someone that is trustworthy. Pray: To do it — Put your purpose (and redemptive story) into action with empathy and mercy in a way that brings God glory through serving your neighbor … loving them as you love yourself.

C.J. Wetzler is the Next-Gen pastor at First Baptist Church of Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. For questions or comments, he can be reached at cj@deerfieldfirst.com.

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CLERGY CORNER: Strive first for the Kingdom of God

Posted on 05 October 2016 by LeslieM

And his righteousness

But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

I would like to introduce myself. My name is Pastor Jeff Gross and I am the new pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Deerfield Beach. I am grateful to serve the people of Zion, Deerfield Beach and the surrounding area. I moved here from Lakewood Ranch, Florida (outside of Bradenton). Moving from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic has transformed me into a morning person. The sunrises inspire the soul.

I have been a pastor for 22 years and, as a matter of fact, I celebrated my 22nd anniversary on the first day I preached at Zion. I cannot think of a better place to launch my 23rd year of ministry than in Deerfield Beach. And 22 years is a short period of time. I certainly do not pretend to be an expert, but I have learned a few things on this journey and, perhaps, some wisdom that has helped me not only become a better pastor but a more faithful person.

As a young pastor, I complained that seminary didn’t prepare me well enough. The older I get, the more I realize that seminary cannot possibly teach you everything you need to know in order to be a pastor. I began my career in rural North Dakota, 35 miles north and west of Fargo. I befriended an older and wiser colleague, something I highly recommend, and he told me: “Seminary taught me how to be a theologian. My parishioners taught me how to be a pastor.” I took those words to heart and, to this day, I believe that.

Continuing education is also encouraged and this is a great opportunity to learn more things that are not necessarily taught at seminary or even brush up on those lessons that were learned years ago. I have also read many great books recommended to me by fellow pastors. Many of these books were about the mechanics of running a church. There are “how to” books on just about everything from Youth Ministry to Multicultural Ministry to Stewardship. There are inspiring biographies written by successful pastors who brought in thousands of members to their congregation, the method used to attract new members. I have read several books addressing the post-modern age and the challenges that face the ministry as a result in this cultural shift. And I would categorize this material as “the mechanics of how to run a church.” And, I want to make it clear, this is good reading.

But here is what I discovered in my journey … I was starting to feel some burnout. The joy that once filled my soul was starting to dwindle and I kept comparing my ministry to the models within these many books, and I would get discouraged. I recalled Matthew 6:33 from a Sunday-School song “Seek ye first the kingdom of God….” The simple melody and the profound words took me back to my childhood and childlike faith. But it also re-oriented me because I discovered that my continuing education was in pursuit of “and all these things” and not “the Kingdom of God.”

The problem was, I wasn’t reading my Bible first. There was just too much material to read, but Scripture came second. I discovered, the hard way of course, I was filling my mind with knowledge while my heart was running on empty. That simple shift, reading the Bible first and seeking God’s Kingdom first made all the difference in the world. And “all these things,” as Jesus promised, they do come in good time.

Christian education is a lifelong journey, regardless of whether you are trying to become a better pastor or just a better person. There are a lot of good books out there. Read them. But first, read the Bible. That simple shift can make all the difference.

Pastor Gross is a pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, located at 959 SE 6 Ave., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, contact 954-421-3146 or visit www.zion-lutheran.org.

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CLERGY CORNER: What are your plans for the fall season?

Posted on 29 September 2016 by LeslieM

Now that most of us have had our summer vacations, it’s time to look at the calendar and plan for the things we can do this fall season. Our places of worship are certainly planning a full schedule of services and events to honor our Lord, encourage our fellowship and foster the commonweal. Our Lord is also making plans for each of us, and our enjoyment of what He has in store for us will not be nearly as costly as our vacations and will likely be more rewarding. Our Lord doesn’t charge for the splendors He has to give us!

Some of us are “morning people” and some of us are “evening people;” but it makes no difference to our Lord because He has gifts for us all. As for me, I’m a morning person and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to begin my day looking eastward at a glorious Florida sunrise and feeling the touch of our Lord in the warmth of His sun’s rays. I’m also an evening person, and how better can a day end than to spend some time in the coolness of a fall evening illuminated by the light of the moon which our Lord hung in the sky for our pleasure. These are times meant for reflection about our days, for wonderment at our Lord’s creation, for dialogue with Him, and to listen to what He has to say to us. If you include these times for reflection in your fall plans, our Lord will richly reward you for the time you spend with Him.

Our Lord has gifted us with Holy Scriptures so we can study and understand His will for us and make it a part of our lives. He has also inspired creative artists and enabled them to project His will in their artistry by using the language and imagery of their own generations. We are indeed fortunate here in South Florida to have so many venues where our Lord’s will is on display in the works of our creative artists – our museums are wonderful examples of this and many of them have “free admission days” – so you can enjoy them without even having to reach into your pocket! The Norton Museum, in West Palm Beach, has Paul Gauguin’s Christ in the Garden of Olives, a dramatic oil painting to help us understand Christ’s agony on the night before His crucifixion. The NSU Art Museum, in Fort Lauderdale, will soon offer a new exhibition of works by Anselm Kiefer, a contemporary German artist who depicts the human response to human suffering. Holy Scripture deals with this in the Book of Job; Kiefer deals with it with brush and paint. And then, there is the Pérez Art Museum in Miami. When you go there, please don’t miss the wonderfully moving painted plaster sculpture by George Segal of Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael. It helps us understand that there are times our Lord may ask us to do something that is painful in the short term but needed in the long term. Make a museum visit part of your fall plans and you will have an opportunity to “read” Holy Scripture in a new and contemporary language.

And now for music. Why? Because as Thomas Carlyle said: “Music is the speech of angels.” You can make an argument that Holy Scripture is laid out like a classical symphony in four movements. First, there is chaos, until “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Then, there are generations of disobedience while mankind learned to live under our Lord’s laws until He “put His spirit within us, and caused us to walk in His statutes and keep His judgements.” Third, our Lord became incarnate and walked among us to make certain we understood He will keep every promise He ever made. And the symphonic story is resolved in the Book of Revelation. We see the Divine Presence on a throne, not dealing with chaos, but looking out upon a peaceful “sea of glass like unto crystal.”

We are very fortunate in South Florida because there are many places for us to go and hear the musical “speech of angels.” If you’ve got a few bucks, get a ticket to one of Seraphic Fire’s concerts. You ain’t heard an angel sing until you’ve heard them!

Finally, I’m the first to admit that I’m not as familiar as I should be with the music of our current generation. I don’t know how much of what they’re doing is a reflection of our Lord’s will in the world. If it isn’t, then I challenge our young musicians to listen to our Lord, and project His will in their music; it may be the first time their audience has ever heard from our Lord in a language they understand. That would be missionary work of the highest order.

Rev. M. Tracy Smith, SSA, is a rector at St. Peter’s Anglican Church at 1416 SE 2nd Terrace in Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. Morning prayer is Wednesday at 10 a.m., Holy Communion is Thursday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m. For more information, call 954-695-0336.

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CLERGY CORNER: Little things, big consequences

Posted on 22 September 2016 by LeslieM

Have you ever been faced with opposing but equally intriguing points of view? Take the perspective of small things for example. Some will say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” while others will tell you that “little things mean a lot.” We’ve all heard a variation of “He can’t see the forest for the trees” countered by “the devil is in the details.” One side recommends paying attention to the small things, while the other advises prioritizing what is most important, and keeping the big picture in mind. How is one to determine which option to take? Both propositions sound reasonable, and in our hurried way of life we are reluctant to spend more time than necessary on anything.

I think a good measure of discernment is necessary to correctly manage the small stuff/big stuff conundrum that we will all occasionally face.

Discernment is the ability to distinguish between good and bad, between an investment and a mere expense, between short-term pleasure and long-term benefit, and other such contrasting facts and experiences of life. Our maturity as adults is often demonstrated in our ability to make those kinds of distinctions. Some are easy to make, of course, but there are others that will require more thought and deliberation.

A tiny scratch on the car door might not be a big deal, but a tiny spot of oil on the driveway can signal a serious problem. It may seem a small thing to be cordial when registering a complaint with customer service but it may mean the difference between satisfaction and exasperation. Little things have the potential to become big things or to impact the big picture. All the more reason to pay more attention to them rather than dismissing them offhand. In business and relationships the small things add up and can affect our advancement, promotion, and success.

In Matthew 23:23-24, Jesus rebuked some of the religious leaders for emphasizing minor issues while neglecting weightier matters. He called them “blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” The point is that proper discernment and careful attention will enable us to give both big and small issues the appropriate value. After all, the big picture is a collaboration of the small details as they are understood, organized, managed and executed.

I loved to read Aesop’s fables when I was a child. As I’ve grown older, the stories and their meaning have taken on greater importance. The story of Androcles and the Lion tells how the slave Androcles escaped and sought refuge in the forest. He happened upon a Lion groaning in pain and faced with continuing his escape or tending to the wounded animal, he paused to remove a thorn from its paw. Later both the slave and the Lion were captured, with Androcles sentenced to death by being thrown to the hungry Lion.

The anticipated slaughter took an unexpected turn when the Lion raced toward Androcles intent upon devouring him until it recognized him as the kind stranger who had eased to his pain. The Lion licked his face with affection, and caused the Emperor to demand an explanation. Upon hearing the story, both Androcles and the Lion were set free. The slave’s little thing, pausing to tend to the wounded animal, led to a bigger consequence: his life and his freedom.

May God give us the wisdom and the grace to properly discern between the various matters of our lives, and to give the appropriate attention to both the big issues and the small things that we face. May we discover that what Jesus said in Luke 16:10 was true, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much.”

Bishop Patrick L. Kelly is the pastor of Cathedral Church of God, 365 S. Dixie Hwy., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. 954-427-0302.

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CLERGY CORNER: Be like a tree

Posted on 15 September 2016 by LeslieM

Ki Hoadam Eitz Hasode” – a Man is likened to a tree, (Deuteronomy 20:19.)

But Why? Why are we compared to a tree? Isn’t there a more befitting metaphor?

There are people who only leave an impact when there is no major heat, warmth and passion in their lives. When the game is waning and there is not much action going on, they become sensible. In the morning and evening hours, when they are very young or quite old, when things are quiet and calm, they are ready to give of themselves to others and invest in eternity. As long as the sun in their life is burning hot, they are too caught up in themselves to reflect on how they are impacting others.

When are you coming home dad?” our children ask us. And the answer: When the sun begins to set. When I get older, and finally make it, when I retire, then I will begin to spend time with my children, with my soul, with my G-d, with my spouse.

The problem is that those who needed our shade and our comfort during those days, don’t needed as much now when the sun has began to set. They missed the opportunity…

However, there is a life which can be likened to the shadow of a tree. Under the branches of a tree, you can always find shade and comfort. No matter if its morning, midday or evening, the tree always casts its healing shade and invites every passerby to bask in its tranquil and reinvigorating environment.

This represents the type of person who never ceases to remember that he or she is an ambassador of G-d at this very moment to bring light, clarity and love to the people around him and her. No matter where he or she stands in life – if the sun is just rising, or its fully aglow, or it is on its way down – this person never fails to be a leader, to serve as an agent of love, hope and trust. This person does not get drunk on his own accomplishments, but remembers his duty to those around him, the loved ones, to community, to our nation, and to our world.

The Talmud relates the following story:

An old man was planting a tree. A young person passed by and asked, What are you planting?

A carob tree, the old man replied.

Silly fool, said the youth. Don’t you know that it takes 70 years for a carob tree to bear fruit?

That’s okay, said the old man. Just as others planted for me, I plant for future generations.

Friends, are you and I “planting” something in our lives which our grandchildren will be able to look at and say, “Thank you grandpa; thank you grandma?” That is why the Torah compared us to the tree in the field.

Is your jar full?

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.”

The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things — your G-d, your soul, your family, your children, your health, your friends, your passions, your conscience — things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.”

If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to build a relationship with your soul, with your spouse. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

When he had finished, there was a profound silence. Then one of the students raised her hand and with a puzzled expression, inquired what the beer represented.

The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of L’chayim’s.”

As we approach the High Holidays we must take inventory of our deeds. We must realize that to be a tree is to give shade to those around us no matter what type of leaves or fruits we may or may not have.

Join a community, help others, give of your time, give of your money; just make sure your sharing your shade.

Join us for the High Holidays at our new location. Call to reserve: 347-410-1106. Email: tzvidechter@gmail.com.

Membership not required.

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CLERGY CORNER: Criss Cross Crash Theology

Posted on 08 September 2016 by LeslieM

If you were like me as a kid, Christmas morning was the most anticipated morning of the year. I would toss and turn all night until about 4 a.m. when I would embark upon the mission of waking my parents — year after year to no avail.

In my 12th year of life, there was added expectancy. I was confident Santa Claus would deliver the year’s hottest toy: a Hot Wheels Criss Cross Crash track set. Undoubtably by 9 a.m., my Hot Wheels cars would be whirling along the clover-shaped track, zooming through one of four intersecting “crash zones.” Months of agonizing waiting would finally come to bear its fruit in the form of epic crashes.

Santa delivered, both figuratively and literally. An overwhelming sense of happiness burst forth as I ripped the wrapping paper to reveal my Criss Cross Crash track set. The moment had arrived. Immediately I began to build the track. Wait a minute. This can’t be right. Where is it? It has to be here! No. No! These were my thoughts as I realized that one piece of track was missing. I had, for the most part, lost every little league baseball game up until this point in my life, and yet somehow, this moment was considerably more deflating.

As soon as the stores re-opened my dad and I went to make an exchange only to experience calamity number two: No Criss Cross track sets in stock. In this moment of crushing disappointment, somehow I found myself in the BB gun section of the store with my dad asking the most glorious question of all, “Would you rather have a BB gun?” Life changed forever. Criss Cross Crash would fall to the bottom of the memory pit — forgotten, thanks to my new Daisy pump-action BB gun rifle, and the countless hours spent protecting my backyard from an invasion of GI Joe and Ninja Turtle action figures — and my sister’s New Kids on the Block figurine.

I learned a valuable lesson that Christmas: Sometimes you have to give up something you love for something you love more. And 15 years later, God would have me revisit this wisdom.

During my mid-20s, I came across Pastor Craig Groeschel’s book titled Chazown: Define Your Vision. Pursue Your Passion. Live Your Life on Purpose. Pastor Craig uses the Venn Diagram method to reveal how when our spiritual gifts, core values and past experiences merge, we discover a clearer understanding of our God-given purpose. It was through much prayer, meditation and wise counsel that I discovered my God-given purpose.

At age of 27, I gave up something I loved (flying commercially) for something I loved more (investing in the next generation).

Too often we are afraid to fully surrender to the will of God citing the example of the wealthy ruler who asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life (Luke 18:18). When Jesus instructed him to sell all his possessions, we know that he left sorrowful, unwilling to give up what he loved—in his case, wealth (Luke 18:22-23). We fear Jesus will ask us the same of us regarding whatever it is we choose to love more than Him. But when we grasp the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross, we will acknowledge that the things we love are “worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:7-8). It is in this revelation that our response will differ from the sorrowful ruler as we willfully give up the things we love for the One we love more to live the purpose God has for our life — knowing everything we need can be found in the provisions of our Savior. He is all we need.

C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at First Baptist Church of Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. For questions or comments he can be reached at cj@deerfieldfirst.com.

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Posted on 01 September 2016 by LeslieM

Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is a time of paradox.

The Jewish calendar distinguishes between two qualities of time: “mundane” work days, and “holy” days, such as Shabbat and the festivals. Shabbat is a day we are not involved with all material endeavors, a day devoted to the spiritual pursuits of study and prayer. The festivals likewise transcend time, each providing its unique spiritual quality to the journeyer through calendar and life.

In this respect, the month of Elul resembles the “holy” portions of the calendar. Elul is a haven in time, a “city of refuge” from the ravages of material life, a time to audit one’s spiritual accounts and assess the year gone by, to prepare for the “Days of Awe” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by repenting the failings of the past and resolving for the future, to immerse oneself in Torah study, as well as prayer and charitable activities. Elul is the opportune time for all this because it is a month in which G-d relates to us in a more open and compassionate manner than He does in the other months of the year. In the terminology of Kabbalah, it is a time when G-d’s “13 attributes of mercy” illuminate His relationship with us.

And yet, unlike Shabbat and the festivals, the days of Elul are workdays. On Shabbat, the Torah commands us to cease all materially constructive work. The festivals, too, are days on which “work” is forbidden. Regarding the month of Elul, however, there are no such restrictions. The transcendent activities of Elul are conducted amidst our workday lives in the field, shop or office.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains the paradox of Elul with the following metaphor: The king’s usual place is in the capital city, in the royal palace. Anyone wishing to approach the king must go through the appropriate channels in the palace bureaucracy and gain the approval of a succession of royal secretaries and ministers. He must journey to the capital and pass through the many gates, corridors and antechambers that lead to the throne room. His presentation must be meticulously prepared, and he must adhere to an exacting code of dress, speech and mannerism upon entering into the royal presence.

However, there are times when the king comes out to the fields outside the city. At such times, anyone can approach him; the king receives them all with a smiling face and a radiant countenance. The peasant behind his plow has access to the king in a manner unavailable to the highest ranking minister in the royal court when the king is in the palace.

The month of Elul, says Rabbi Schneur Zalman, is when the king is in the field.

When the farmer sees the king in his field, does he keep on plowing? Does he behave as if this were just another day in the fields? Of course not. Elul is not a month of ordinary workdays it is a time of increased Torah study, more fervent prayer, more generosity and charity. The very air is charged with holiness. We might still be in the field, but the field has become a holier place.

On the other hand, when the farmer sees the king in his field, does he run home to wash and change? Does he rush to the capitol to school himself in palace protocol? The king has come to the field, to commune with the processors of his bread in their environment and on their terms.

In the month of Elul, the essence and objective of life becomes that much more accessible. No longer do the material trappings of life conceal and distort its purpose, for the king is paying a visit. But unlike the holy days of the year, when we are lifted out of and above our workday lives, the encounter of Elul is hosted by our physical selves, within our material environment, on our workingman’s terms. — (Based on an address by the Chabad Rebbe on August 25, 1990.)

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the Director of Chabad of the North Broward Beaches. New location coming soon. For all upcoming events, please visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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CLERGY CORNER: A post-summer reset

Posted on 25 August 2016 by LeslieM

The end of summer brings an opportunity for new beginnings in a variety of ways. School children heading back to classes prepare for new lessons, projects, exams, and the like. Moving up a grade usually means meeting new teachers and possibly new classmates. Transitioning from elementary to middle school, or from middle school to high school means learning your way around a new environment, along with taking new classes and making new friends. For teachers and support staff, the experience is similar. There are new kids to work with, new schedules to keep, and sometimes new educational standards to be implemented.

Parents go through a reset as well. Vacation days with great summer experiences have ended. Kids are out of the house and back in school. There are forms to be filled out and bus routes to confirm. Traffic for the morning commute to work increases, along with anxiety levels during the ride. These end-of -summer rituals predictably occur as most of us make the adjustments both physically and emotionally. Even nature prepares to bid farewell to summer in order to make room for autumn. Change, transition, adjustment and renewal are all around us at this time of year.

Most of the year has passed at this point and we are looking at just a few months left. At the beginning of the year, many people made plans and set goals to be accomplished. Now is a great time to review and assess and to make adjustments, if necessary. The opportunity to reset or begin anew at the end of summer gives us a chance to confirm which goals are most important, and to focus on the things that matter most. Even challenging circumstances may provide us with new lessons, different options, and a change in direction.

There is a movement among churches to capture this sense of renewal at the end of summer by inviting congregants back to church. Attendance usually diminishes during the summer months, causing some churches to adopt a summer schedule of fewer services. As vacation days come to an end and the kids head back to school, people are encouraged to reconnect with the fellowship and worship that church offers. There is even a national “Back to Church Campaign” that provides resources and ideas to congregations that desire to reach out to regular attendees as well as attract new people.

In all of life’s pursuits none should be considered more important than the development of our faith. Connecting with God and finding your purpose through Him is a very rewarding experience. I was impressed with several of the athletes who publicly gave thanks to God for their victories in the recent Olympics. They acknowledged that their abilities were granted by Him and rightly gave God the glory. Even some who came up short offered thanks for the opportunity to compete at such a high profile level.

As we say goodbye to the summer months and adjust to the coming season, why not reset our spiritual lives as well. If you’ve been out of church, or out of contact with your community of faith, why not reconnect and reaffirm your relationship with God. Bring the entire family and make a purposeful decision to move forward with faith, focus and gratitude. Seize these new days, and this new season, with a fresh attitude.

May you discover the joy of the Psalm (96:1) who declared “O sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord all the earth.” There is much more to experience and enjoy in life. Sometimes all you need is to reset.

Bishop Patrick L. Kelly is the pastor of Cathedral Church of God, 365 S. Dixie Hwy., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-427-0302.

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