| Clergy Corner

CLERGY CORNER: Digital wafers and virtual wine

Posted on 19 April 2018 by LeslieM

“… on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” (I Corinthians 11:23b-25)

Some call it “The Lord’s Supper.” Some call it “The Eucharist.” Some call it “Holy Communion.” There are many names but just one purpose and that is to connect us. When we gather to receive the wafer or bread, wine or grape juice, we connect with God and we connect with our fellow communicants. If I were to look for a trendy word to describe this experience, I would call it “The Divine Connection.” Indeed, it is a divine connection.

Are we connected? Some people would say that we are more connected than ever. We have smart phones, computer tablets, Apple watches, as well as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snap Chat. Wifi is available in every Starbucks or McDonalds. We panic when we lose our cell phone signal on road trips. We are so connected that we are actually in bondage to technology. If I leave the house without my cell phone, I actually break into a sweat. I am just as guilty as anybody else in this regard. But are we really connected?

I hear people complain all the time about going to restaurants and seeing people sit across the table from each other and text. They are not making eye contact. They are not listening. They are not speaking. They are texting. Are they texting each other? That would be pretty sad. Are they ignoring each other and texting their friends? That is sadder yet. They may be making a digital connection but they certainly are not making a human connection.

I know that technology can be a great asset. I know that there are ways that churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship can utilize technology in very helpful ways to communicate. I heartily endorse the use of technology in churches because I use it all the time. Case in point, I am writing this from my computer.

If homebound people cannot attend worship but can stream a sermon … terrific. If someone is out of town and wants to stream a sermon … terrific. If someone wants to listen again to a sermon I left recorded on a website … terrific. And then I come to a realization. While the sermon is a major part of our worship experience, it is not the only major part of our worship experience.

I can listen to a sermon and I can sing along with hymns and songs, but Holy Communion is an experience that I cannot simulate with technology. There is no such thing as a “digital wafer.” There is no such thing as “virtual wine.” If you want to experience Holy Communion, the only way that is possible is on a human-to-human level.

I happily bring Holy Communion to homebound people or hospitalized people, and every worship service at Zion includes Holy Communion. Human interaction is the only possible way to distribute communion and I have to say that this is good. The lack of human interaction is taking its toll on society whereas Holy Communion is one of the last vestiges of human interaction left.

Even for faith traditions that do not celebrate Holy Communion in the manner in which we do, we celebrate communion in the general sense of the word. Communion and community have a common root and faith-based communities are sacred space where humans interact in person. Our places of worship provide an invaluable service during the digital age. We pray together; we praise together; we sing together; we listen to one another and we speak to one another. When someone in our community is hurting, we empathize, sympathize and hug. Technology cannot do any of these things.

May we people of faith never lose sight of the important role we play in the lives of the people we serve. When God speaks to his people it is through sending people, not text messages.

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

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CLERGY CORNER: C.J.’s final thoughts: why the little things matter

Posted on 12 April 2018 by LeslieM

When you discover that nearly 80 percent of NFL players are either bankrupt or in a financial hardship within three to five years following their career playing football, and that 70 percent of lottery winners become broke, it’s only natural to wonder what happened? While it may seem that a proverbial straw broke the camel’s back, the truth is, whether financial ruin, a plane crash or even an overnight success, it’s never just one thing. Compounded factors, often the little things, added over time become that final piece of straw.

For the NFL players it begins in high school — if not before — as special treatment erodes personal responsibility. Similarly, lottery winners are statistically poor money managers prior to their windfall. It’s a poor decision hours before the crash or the years touring in dive bars and on college campuses before the breakout hit trends on iTunes. We know this, and in “the real world,” we accept and plan for this truth.

Yet, for many, as it applies to matters of faith, we’re waiting for some big, miraculous moment to launch us into action. We gaze longingly at the doers vastly impacting the kingdom and we think they must be special — confusing capacity for faithfulness. And so, we wait upon the Lord neglecting to do our part.

That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate times to be patient. However, we can’t use spiritual sayings to justify inactivity. In doing so, we’ll miss the powerful and unique ways God wants to use our lives to complete His plan.

For me, my move to Texas was a culmination of little decisions to be faithful — and it didn’t even start with me. I have my family to thank. Because of their faithfulness, I learned to seek and nurture a relationship with God, one that would provide the confidence needed years later to depart my profession as an airline captain and begin working full-time with students. I had to embarrassingly choose to miss a friend’s wedding for financial reasons, but doing so led to chance encounter with an athletic director and school administration who hired me as a coach and teacher. In the classroom I felt called to start a youth ministry.

Then, a choice had to be made: stay as a teacher or go accept a full-time ministry position. God called me to the latter. And in a season of assessing my own personal ministry impact, God revealed a new direction that would draw upon my leadership as a captain, communication skills as a national itinerate speaker, content development and facilitation of such as a teacher and decade of mentoring — [to leave the church at Deerfield Beach as Youth Pastor] and to serve at a thriving church in Lubbock, Texas.

Even in my abbreviated tale, it’s apparent that I did not gather my life and spontaneously decide to move west on a whim, but again, years of a faithful pursuit and obedience led me to do so.

Here’s the kicker: I’m not special. while I might have different gifting and skills, or capacity, they aren’t better or worse than yours. We each can find joy and contentment knowing that we experience game-changing momentum toward reaching the capacity of our calling by abiding in the little things faithfully. God has an incredible plan and purpose for your life just as He does for mine, and they’re both equally exciting and Kingdom-altering because, in the end, it’s not about us. However, the difference will be in the choices we make: whether to treat faith like a lottery, hoping for that big break, or by deciding here and now to live a life worthy of our calling by investing in the seemingly insignificant spiritual disciplines that give power to our prayers, bring wise counsel into our presence and give us the assurance of God’s trustworthiness.

I sign off with this challenge: What is God calling you to today that has the potential to manifest itself into something unimaginable later, to become your Texas? No matter how small it might seem, never underestimate God’s ability to use the ordinary for the extraordinary. Say, “Here I am, Lord,” listen, then go do in faith.

Once the NextGen pastor at The Church at Deerfield Beach, C.J. Wetzler is currently the student pastor at The Message Church in Lubbock, TX. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. He loves to mentor the next generation of leaders and considers himself a fast food connoisseur. For questions or comments, connect with him on social media: @thecjwetzler.

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CLERGY CORNER: Reconnecting at Passover

Posted on 04 April 2018 by LeslieM

Fifteen years ago, my friend observed a Passover in Japan while I was in Russia, this is his story:

It was a few weeks before Passover 1997. Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, of Chabad World Headquarters in Brooklyn, requested of my colleagues to travel to the Far East and conduct public Passover Seder for the Jewish community living in the remote city of Kobe. Our journey was to go to Japan; and the numerous encounters with hundreds of Jews residing in that part of the world remains etched in my heart.

My colleague, Moshe Leiberman (today a Rabbi in Boston), supervised the meticulous procedures of koshering the Synagogue kitchen for Passover and preparing the food for the Seder. We did not know how many people to expect; there are wandering Jews to be found in every corner of Japan. To our astonishment, our first public Seder attracted close to 200 Jews, most of them from very secular backgrounds, some have not attended a Passover Seder in decades.

The energy was great. We sang, danced, ate the crunchy matzah and drank the tasty wine. The guests were into it, eating up the discussions as much as the delicious meal.

In the middle of the Seder, I was searching for words to describe my sentiments. My memory brought forth a moving Chassidic tale — one of my personal favorites — about the holy Rebbe (spiritual master) of Barditchov. Here it goes …

A drunkard’s seder

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchov (1740-1810) was one of the great spiritual masters of his generation. One Passover, following an emotionally charged Seder, the Rebbe was told from heaven that Mosheleh, the water carrier’s, Seder was superior to his. “This year,” he was informed from above, “G-d’s most lovable Seder was that of the water-carrier of Barditchov.”

The next day after services, the Rebbe’s disciples went up to Mosheleh the water carrier and asked him to come see the Rebbe. Mosheleh came before the Rebbe, and he began to cry bitterly. He said, “Rebbe, I’ll never do it again. I’m so sorry; I don’t know what came over me.” The poor man was devastated. The Rebbe said, “Listen, my dear Jew, don’t worry so much; just tell us what you did last night.”

Here we must interrupt the story for a moment. It is well known that, generally, intoxication and alcoholism are viewed in Judaism as repulsive and destructive. Yet, our dear Mosheleh was orphaned at a young age and was miserably poor. He sadly succumbed to the temptation of alcohol as a way to deal with his agony and stress. Essentially, Mosheleh was a good and innocent man, a G-d fearing individual and a pure heart, but this temptation, unfortunately, got the better of him, and he drank often.

The “problem” is that on Passover you can’t drink whiskey. So Mosheleh had a tremendous idea: He’ll stay up the whole night before Passover and drink an amount of whisky that would keep him “high” for eight days straight, throughout the entire Passover holiday.

This Moshe did: When the night before Passover arrived, he drank and drank, until the minute when you must stop eating Chamatz (leaven) on the morning before Passover. When the clock struck 20 minutes after nine, he took his last “L’chayim” and he was out cold.

Seder night arrived. His wife came to wake him and said, “Mosheleh, it’s really not fair. Every Jewish home has a Seder. We have little children, and we are the only ones who don’t have a Seder.”

Mosheleh gazed at the Rebbe of Barditchov and continued relating his tale: “By then, did I regret that I drank so much the night before! Did I regret it! I would have done anything not to be drunk. But I couldn’t help it. So I said to my wife: ‘Please wake me up in an hour. I just can’t get it together yet.’ My wife kept waking me every hour, and then every half-hour. Then, suddenly, she came to me and said, ‘Moshe, in 20 minutes the Seder night is gone and the children are all sleeping. Shame on you. You are a disgraceful father and husband!’

Gevald! I was so devastated,” Mosheleh told the Rebbe. “Here, my children are precious beyond words and I am a lousy alcoholic father, I didn’t even give them a Seder. I realized how low I have fallen, how my addiction destroyed my life and my relationships, how I sold my soul to the devil of alcohol. So, with my last strength, I got out of bed and sat down at the Seder table. I said to my wife, ‘Please, call our holy children.’

She called the children and I said to them, ‘Please sit down very close to me, I have to talk to you. I want you to know, children, that I am so sorry that I drank. I am so sorry that I am a drunkard. If my drinking can make me not have a Seder with you, then it’s not worth it.’ I said to my children, ‘I swear to you, that I’ll never drink again in my life. But, right now, it’s Seder night, so let me just tell you the Passover story in a nutshell.’”

Mosheleh said to the Rebbe, “You know, I was still drunk, and I barely know how to read Hebrew. But, I tried my best. I said, ‘Children, I want you to know that G-d created heaven and earth in seven days. Then Adam and Eve ate from the Tree and were thrown out of Paradise. Since then, everything went downhill: There was a flood, there was a tower of Babel that was as much as I knew.

Mosheleh said to the Rebbe, “Then came Abraham and Sarah. They began fixing the world again. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah and their 12 holy sons. Then Pharaoh made slaves out of us, and tonight, G-d took us out from Egypt.

“’My Sweet children, now we are also in exile. And I want you to know that the same G-d who took us out from Egypt is still alive and present and very soon He will liberate us from this exile too.’

I turned to G-d, and said: ‘Father in heaven, thank you so much for taking us out of Egypt. And I beg you, sweetest father, please take us out of our present exile very soon’! Rebbe, I’m so sorry. I couldn’t say anything more because I was still drunk.

I Took the Matzah, Maror and Charoses situated on the table and ate them. I filled four cups and drunk them one after another, I turned over and I fell asleep again.”

The holy master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Barditchov, was crying bitter tears. He said to his disciples, “Did you hear that? Did you hear that? I wish that one time in my life I should communicate Yiddishkeit (the Jewish spirit) to my children the way Mosheleh the water carrier gave it over to his children Seder night. I wish that once in my life I should converse with G-d like Mosheleh did during his Seder.”

A woman’s tale

I concluded the story and then I said:

I want you to know that I celebrated many a Seder-night in a very observant Jewish community in New York. Yet I get the feeling that G-d’s most lovable Seder was the one done right here, in Kobe, Japan! Many of us here this evening may be unaware of the detailed Seder rituals and customs, and so many of us may not even know how to read the Haggadah in Hebrew. But, my dearest brothers and sisters, the sincerity and the passion of so many Jews thirsty to reconnect with their inner soul — this I’ve never seen before during a Passover Seder and I thank you for allowing me this special opportunity.”

I felt that the story has stirred up deep emotion in the audience. I could see tears streaming from some people’s eyes. But one woman was sitting at the other end of the room and was weeping profusely. She later approached me and related her personal tale: “I grew up in a very assimilated home,” the woman said. “I know almost nothing about Judaism. I’m living here in Japan for more than 20 years, working as a school teacher and involved in the mystical disciplines of the Far-East.”

She related to me that she was uninterested in attending the Seder, as she felt completely alienated from Judaism, yet a friend persuaded her to come.

The only thing I remember about Judaism,” she continued, “was that my grandmother would always tell me that I have a special spiritual connection. Why? Because you are the 10th generation of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchov.”

Who is Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchov? That my grandmother never knew. She just knew that he was some great man who lived in Eastern Europe. And she insisted that I always retain this piece of history in my memory. So, thank you Rabbi, for serving as the messenger of my holy grandfather to bring me to come back home this Passover night,” the woman said to me.

I wiped a tear from my eye and thanked the Almighty for sending me to Japan for Passover.

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

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CLERGY CORNER: Plato, DNA & God

Posted on 29 March 2018 by LeslieM

Who knows why we experience what we do, meet who we do, or read something when we do. Some say the what, who, and when of our lives are elements in a divine plan, and some say they are nothing more than pure serendipity. Whatever the case, they are the parts that make up our lives and formulate our view of the world. I recently had a what, who and when experience that put a more hopeful spin, at least for me, on our troubled world.

The what part of the experience were words attributed to Plato which acknowledge that love, in all its glorious manifestations, is what each of us seek in our lives. The who part of the experience, was David Christian, from San Diego State University, and his explanation of DNA, from which our search for love logically proceeds. The when part of the experience was re-reading The First Epistle of John, and specifically the words “God is love,” which for me, tied the whole experience together.

Now before going any further, we need to acknowledge that most theologians identify four different kinds of love: empathy, friendship, erotic and unconditional. The love at the core of our being is not apportioned by these distinctions; it is just there, as necessary to our well-being as is the air we breathe.

First, Plato’s words are as true today as they were when he wrote them in the 4th century BC: “Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back.” Yes, God created us as unique individuals but our creation is defined and completed by our relationships with God, with our fellow men and with those we love. We have probably all considered the question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This question also applies to human beings: “If we wander through the days of our lives without any meaningful relationships, do we even exist?” The answer is an affirmative. Yes, a tree does make a sound, and yes, we do exist. Plato reminds us of this truth about ourselves with his words: “Those who wish to sing always find a song.”

Second, each of us has some measure of control over our relationships and whether or not we lift up our voices in song. However, the makeup of our DNA is another question. The essential components of our DNA are beyond our control.

David Christian described DNA as two chains each containing clusters of atoms. These two chains bond together when the atoms of one chain exactly match the sequence of the atoms of the other chain. Mea culpa if my understanding of Professor Christian’s description of DNA goes down the wrong track, but if it helps to remind us that our hearts are only complete “when another heart whispers back,” then I think we are on the right track to understanding that we are created for meaningful relationships; it’s in our DNA.

Finally, there is Saint John’s declaration that “God is love.” This is where the what-who-when experience gets complicated. If “God is love,” and if the first chapter of Genesis tells us that “God created man in His own image,” then how do we explain evil and hatred in the world? The answer, of course, involves God’s “gift” of free will. This gift enables us to act either in love or in hatred. Why were we given such a gift? We were given free will because, without it, our expressions of love or hatred would be meaningless; they would only be mindless reactions to the people and events around us. Our reactions are only meaningful if they emanate from our free will.

God’s gift of free will to mankind assures us that there is hope in the world. It enables us to respond to people and events by finding a song to sing based on the love God sang to the world, from the moment of creation; a melody He placed in each of our hearts.

Rev. M. Tracy Smith, SSA, Rector is from the Saint Peter’s Anglican Church, 1416 SE 2 Terr., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-695-0336. Wednesday: Holy Communion at 10 a.m., Sunday: Holy Communion at 10 a.m.

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CLERGY CORNER: The most influential person in human history

Posted on 22 March 2018 by LeslieM

Palm Sunday observances in churches around the world mark the beginning of Holy Week, the days leading up to and including Christ’s passion and death on a cross. During this time of year, thousands of believers travel to Jerusalem to trace the footsteps of Jesus during the days leading to His crucifixion. Those unable to make the journey overseas will celebrate in their churches with palm fronds, Good Friday observances, cantatas, plays and Resurrection Sunday services. This is the time of year where, despite doctrinal differences or faith traditions, Christians everywhere are unified in their recognition of the significance of this period.

I was thinking about this when I reflected upon Jesus’ influence some 2000 years after His crucifixion and resurrection. In fact, believers and unbelievers alike are being impacted by His life and teachings to this day. A quick Google search revealed that Jesus consistently ranks at the top of surveys and determinations of the world’s most influential people. A few sites put others ahead of Him, Aristotle in one case and Mohammed in another, but the teacher from Galilee is consistently in the top rankings. As a religious leader, Jesus was and is certainly influential, but evidence abounds that He has impacted other areas of society as well.

Nearly a 1/3 of the world’s population, two billion out of seven billion people, identify themselves as followers of Jesus’ teachings. The Bible, which gives details of Jesus’ life and ministry, is consistently the most read book in the world, and a bestseller as well. The teachings of Jesus have influenced our modern valuations of human life and dignity. In the 1st Century, children were abandoned or sold into slavery. Early Christians were known to rescue newborn babies who had been left in Rome’s trash dumps. Jesus’ interaction with children, women, the sick and the poor revealed His estimation of their value. The first hospitals, orphanages and feeding programs came into being through Christians’ efforts to obey His instructions.

In the arena of education, His influence is evident as well. Only the elite of the ancient world had access to education. The libraries of the monks inspired the first universities of the 12th and 13th Centuries. Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard were formed originally as Christian institutions. In America, the Puritans were the first to pass laws mandating the education of the masses, and Biblical literacy was the emphasis of children’s reading texts for 200 years. Science and Christianity seem to have a combustible relationship in the thought and discourse of many today. It can be argued, however, that the Christian view of a rational God who is the source of rational truth inspired the possibility of scientific laws. Many of the founders of modern science were influenced by Christianity, including Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur and Blaise Pascal.

Time and space would not permit me to detail the influence of Jesus and Christianity upon our concepts of liberty, justice and equality, or upon art, literature, music, words, symbols, holidays, our calendar and a host of other areas of life that we may take for granted.

Whether or not one agrees that Jesus was the most influential figure in human history, it cannot be denied that He has had a remarkable impact upon the world. His 3 ½ years of ministry and teaching have touched countless lives on every continent of the earth, and His influence is an ongoing reality throughout the world today. May the power of His life and teachings inspire you this season and for all time.

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: Prayer, not platitudes

Posted on 15 March 2018 by LeslieM

If my people, who are called my name, will humble themselves and pray… then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

After my article was submitted last month, the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas occurred. Our hearts broke on Ash Wednesday as the news unfolded throughout the afternoon. If Ash Wednesday is a day when we confront the reality of our mortal and broken nature, we certainly saw evidence of this on that very day.

I was taken aback when I heard a brokenhearted student speak. She was clearly frustrated from hearing leaders say “you are in my thoughts and prayers.”

She said, “I want action.”

I certainly do not blame this young woman for her frustration. She just experienced a nightmare nobody should have to face, especially a child. I do not think she was rejecting thoughts and prayers. I think she was frustrated by the fact that this phrase was used as a platitude. I think she felt that the public figures who used these words were trying to appease her, pat her on the head and tell her everything was going to be OK. But, tired of inaction, tired of appeasement and patronization, she spoke out not against prayer itself but against platitudes.

What is a platitude? Merriam-Webster tells us that a platitude is “a banal, trite, or stale remark.” The Cambridge Dictionary definition is “a statement that has been repeated so often that it is meaningless.”

I remember a time in seminary when I heard my New Testament professor express his frustration. A classmate of mine experienced two tragedies in a row. He returned home because his father died unexpectedly from a heart attack. And, while he was at home helping his mother, overcome by the stress of the preparations, he suffered a stroke. We found out about this when we went to class and saw his empty chair. Our professor told us what happened.

Then, he shared with us his frustration, which was not unlike the frustration of this brave student, saying, “I have heard you say to your friends ‘I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.’ It is like you are putting a band-aid on a broken arm. When this class is over, I want you to go to your dorm rooms and get on your knees and pray for David. He needs more than your words, he needs your prayers.”

I appreciated the honesty of my professor, as well as his wisdom and frustration. He reminded us that prayer is not a platitude, but it is action.

I did go home. I did get on my knees and I prayed for my classmate. I know others did as well.

David returned to seminary a couple weeks later. His mother began her recovery and was doing well. His family was healing from the loss, and David was able to return to his studies. I believe that our prayers were heard.

When we confront a national tragedy such as the massive shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, we may feel helpless. The good news is that we can do something and, as one who believes in the power of prayer, we can do a lot.

I say to all of us brokenhearted residents of Broward County to do more than say the words “I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.” Let us be called to action, get on our knees and pray.

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

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CLERGY CORNER: Controversial topics and what students are saying

Posted on 08 March 2018 by LeslieM

As a parent desiring to train up your children with a biblical world view, be encouraged by the responses given by young people from varying ages, schools, socioeconomic status and nationality in the following areas:

NFL protest

Colin Kaepernick told NFL Media that he started the national anthem protest by taking a knee because he was “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” While Kaepernick may have desired to raise awareness of a serious social issue, the students like Lucas, 12, a Deerfield Beach Middle School student, had this to say, “I feel like you should be able to express your first amendment rights, but not in such a way that’s disrespectful to the citizens and the country.” Katie, 16, a Deerfield Beach High School student added, “There’s people out there literally dying because they love this country.” Overall, among this group of students, the protest failed to convey its message.

Gender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria, as defined by Andrew Walker in God and the Transgender Debate: What does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity, is when “someone experiences distress, inner anguish, or discomfort from sensing a conflict between their gender identity and their biological sex.” While the students expressed compassion for those experiencing such distress, when it comes to children “it should not be encouraged,” says Anna, 16, Highlands Christian Academy student, “they’re not old enough to make that decision.” Julia, 18, also a Highlands Christian Academy student, agrees, citing the example of a young boy wanting to be a girl because he was envious of his parents’ affection toward his baby sister, mistaking their attention being related to gender.

Same-sex marriage

Author Andrew Walker also notes about a post-Christian nation, “With declining [Christian] influence, greater opportunity emerges for different value or ethical systems to displace Christian morality as the widely accepted norm.” As such, Wilson says acceptance is growing for gay and lesbian relationships. However, even though both gay and straight individuals possess the “same inherent dignity,” these teens, again, while open to compassion and embracing the person, affirm the Biblical view: God’s design and purpose for marriage (is between one man and one woman).

Abortion

With the advancements in biology, which have shaped science curricula, students like Julia, were able to clearly articulate the stages of birth and intelligently argue against the choice for abortion. While the group predominately favored the pro-life stance, due to the complexity of the issue, some students did wrestle with how to respond should a young girl become pregnant due to circumstances beyond her control. Based on responses, greater awareness and how to respond is needed.

#metoo movement

Students were not aware of this movement.

Illegal immigration

When it comes to the topic of illegal immigration, the students concluded the following: 1) Quicker, and simplified, path to citizenship is needed for those seeking a better life and are here working. 2) Illegal immigrants who choose to consume from entitlement programs without any contribution should face deportation. 3) The United States should use federal dollars in support of citizens in need within the border. 4) There is need for an intentional conversation leading to viable immigration reform over simply saying, “build the wall.”

Gun control

The night I conducted this interview was the eve of the Douglas Stoneman shooting. Many present shared their personal connection to the school, from having friends there to having graduated from the school.

When I asked the question about gun control, one student said, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” followed by applause from the group. Yet this impassioned response, which included voicing support for carrying a firearm for protection, included being in favor for smart gun regulations — such as exploring new methods to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the country.

They also expressed their concern for a more effective method to address mental health issues.

In summation: students engaged in a growing relationship with Christ tend to predominately reject relativism, and when faced with situations that challenge universalism, avoid generic talking points and search for real solutions.

C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at The Church at Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. He loves to mentor the next generation of leaders and considers himself a fast food connoisseur. For questions or comments, connect with him on social media: @thecjwetzler.

[Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect views of The Observer].

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CLERGY CORNER: A Moment of Silence for Stoneman Douglas

Posted on 01 March 2018 by LeslieM

Teaching children that murder is wrong because it is against the law, or it is not “nice,” or it runs against the social norm, does not penetrate the core of many youth. It is a shallow argument. By teaching our children that the Creator and Ruler of the world has deemed certain behaviors as wrong and evil, and this Creator cares about the behavior of every person and expects of him/her to behave with goodness and kindness toward others, and will hold this child responsible for their actions, we can hope to ingrain these values in them in a far more effective way. The child must be given to understand that the world is not a jungle, for there is a Creator and Master who sees and evaluates all his actions.there is, in the expression of the Talmud, an “eye that sees and the ear that hears.

When morality is based on my own moods and inclinations, or the norms of the school or the society, I can end up justifying the most heinous crimes. Germany was the most advanced nation in science and philosophy, yet in the name of science it produced the most chilling criminals in the annals of human history.

King David put it in Psalms: “The genesis of wisdom is the fear of G-d.” When children are inculcated from the youngest age with a “fear of G-d,” in the healthiest sense of the term, with a recognition that G-d has deemed certain behaviors evil, and He is watching them, there is a far greater chance for them to behave morally, despite internal turmoil and all types of challenges life my confer upon them.

There is one man I know seeking to create some change in one city.

At the border of Crown Heights and Brownsville, in an impoverished corner of Brooklyn, stands the hulking, tan brick building that houses P.S. 191, the Paul Robeson School.

The school serves a student population that is remarkable in its disadvantage: 99 percent of its roughly 300 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade qualify for free or reduced-price lunches; some live at the homeless shelter next door.

But, every morning at 8:30, half an hour after rambunctious kids come bouncing into the building in their blue school uniforms, this school becomes remarkable in a different way.

It gets quiet. For a full minute, there is only silence.

After a teacher and a handful of students announce the moment of silence over the loudspeaker system and offer something to think about for that day — a personal goal, or how to help someone else — each and every person at P.S. 191, from the littlest 4-year-old pre-kindergartener to the principal, pauses for 60 seconds.

P.S. 191 has been observing this morning ritual for the past three years, ever since Avraham Frank, a Chabad Chasidic Jew heeding the late Lubavitcher Rebbe’s call (back in the 70s and 80s when the violence in schools increased dramatically) for a daily moment of silence in public schools, walked in off the street and introduced the idea to the principal. So far Frank, a white-bearded 64-year-old with a day job managing home attendants for New York City’s Human Resources Administration, has persuaded administrators at 13 public schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens to institute a moment of silence.

His goal, he said, is to get moments of silence into schools “all over the city.”

Though school-sponsored prayer in American public schools has been prohibited since the 1962 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Engel v. Vitale, voluntary, student-initiated, private prayer is not. In response to the ban on school-sponsored prayer, there has been a nationwide push for the introduction into public schools of daily moments of silence that students can use to pray or reflect.

I have seen tremendous changes behavior-wise and in terms of punctuality,” said Sonia Witter- Clue, the supervising school aide. “The kids want to be here for the moment of silence. When they miss it, you can see they’re upset.”

Her 5-year-old granddaughter and 8-year-old son, both students at P.S. 191, love it so much that they insist on having a moment of silence even at home on the weekends, she said.

And it has had a direct impact on the kids’ academic success, said Hadar Gafhi, the school’s assistant principal.

It focuses the children,” she said. During the moment of silence “they’ve made their resolutions for the day and are ready to learn, and they get right to work,” Gafhi said. “We’re seeing tremendous academic growth in our kids.”

Today, we need a paradigm shift in education both at home and in schools across the country. We must teach our children to be “mentchen” not only for the police not to get them in trouble or for people to disapprove of their behavior, but because there is something called right and wrong — and it matters. Kids will get that.

Thirty years ago, on May 17, 1987, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, penned a letter to President Ronald Reagan in The White House.

…It is particularly gratifying that you… bring to the attention of the Nation and of the International community the need of upgrading education in terms of moral values, without which no true education can be considered complete.

Consistent with your often declared position, that ‘no true education can leave out the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life and human striving,’ you, Mr. President, once again remind parents and teachers, in the opening paragraph of your Proclamation, that their sacred trust to children must include “wisdom, love, decency, moral courage and compassion, as part of everyone’s education.” Indeed, where these values are lacking, education is – to use a classical phrase – “like a body without a soul.”

With the summer recess approaching, one cannot help wondering how many juveniles could be encouraged to use their free time productively, rather than getting into mischief – if they were mindful of – to quote your words – a Supreme Being and a Law higher than man’s…”

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

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CLERGY CORNER: Parkland, Black Panther and God

Posted on 22 February 2018 by LeslieM

Why did God allow this to happen? That was the question my youngest daughter asked as we watched the news coverage and wrestled with our emotions over the recent tragedy at the High School in Parkland. I’m not sure that my answer satisfied her, or me for that matter. The question is always difficult to answer whenever it is asked in times of personal or public heartache. I mumbled something about our freedom to make our own choices in life, and how God does not force His will or His way upon any of us. We are free to choose and, unfortunately, some choices result in pain and suffering, for ourselves and others. The young shooter made some decisions last week that have severely impacted families, our community, and our state. Much hand-wringing, anger, despair and frustration are being displayed as a nation comes to grip with another sad 21st Century reality.

If God did, in fact, intervene to give us all only what we desire, and prevent any loss, would we be happy or satisfied? An affirmative answer is too easy to express, and the question demands further consideration. We’re all different and have varying tastes, preferences and experiences that combine to make us as unique as we are. What pleases one horrifies or offends another, and, when we are thrust together in community such as we are, it is inevitable that conflict will arise. Laws are enacted to provide boundaries for our protection by limiting our freedom. For the most part, we all try to live peacefully and make compromises when necessary to maintain harmony; but, every now and then, something happens to remind us of our imperfection.

Why did you leave him behind? That was the question posed by T’Challa to his father in the movie Black Panther. A young boy, of royal lineage, was left fatherless and alienated from his ancestral people, which gave rise to anger and a warped view of reality that he would grow up to impose upon his people and the world. That decision to leave him behind ultimately led to a nation in turmoil and a world in jeopardy. The fictional conflict in Black Panther and the real tragedy of Parkland converge at the point of consequences to decisions that are made by broken individuals. The villain of the movie and the shooter in the school are both tormented souls in need of healing and guidance. Proverbs 14:12 notes, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” When we reject the collective wisdom of family and community, we are left to our own imperfect perceptions informing our decisions, with potentially disastrous consequences.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers us guidance as to how we should live. With respect to those with whom we differ and oppose, Matthew 5:44 records, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” The implementation of that directive alone would spare us from many of the tragedies we impose upon each other. God will not force us to do it, however; we are left to choose our own way.

It is my prayer that more of us would choose the way of love and peace, the way of God. My heart goes out to the victims of last week’s violence, along with prayers for comfort, peace and strength for their families. I pray for the tormented souls among us who need to be heard, healed and cared for. I pray for our government and legislators to heed the cries of the children in the streets, and to take steps to better protect them. I pray for a return to the safety, guidance and stability that used to mark the nuclear family. I pray that all of us would heed the wisdom of God and make better decisions for ourselves and those around us.

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: Joy in discipline

Posted on 15 February 2018 by LeslieM

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 1He was in the wilderness for 40 days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

(Mark 1:12-13 NRSV)

The 40 days of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter. This is a season when we are encouraged either to give up something decadent or start something healthy. I have always found Lent to be a joyous time even during the struggle. In our resistance, we are reminded why … it is because of God. And when I crave something decadent, I am forced to think about God. And let’s say, during Lent, I think about God a lot.

My son and daughter came back from Youth Group with a burning question. While Lent is 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to Easter, Sundays are not factored into the 40 days. Therefore, do Sundays count?

And, if Sundays don’t count, would it be OK for us to break our pledge? My kids deducted that there is a loophole in Lent. My daughter gave up chocolate during Lent, but if the Lenten Loophole allows, maybe she could have a candy bar on Sundays. My son gave up pizza during Lent, but maybe Sunday would be a day where he could enjoy a cheesy slice of heaven.

I don’t think I had a great answer. But I did ask them the question: “What does your conscience tell you?” They both seemed disappointed. They made the right choice. Maybe my answer wasn’t that bad after all. But that wasn’t the only time I was confronted with the “Lenten Loophole.”

A choir director who served in a church I once served did not like Lent because she found it to be, in her words, depressing. We omitted the word “alleluia” from worship during Lent and would bring it out during Easter really giving that word a new and special meaning.

In the meantime, in an effort to find happy and uplifting music without the word alleluia, she found music that was a little quieter and more contemplative and, in her words, she found that music depressing.

Can we sing this song?” she asked as she handed me a piece of music riddled with the word “alleluia.” I told her no, for obvious reasons. She said “But, Sundays don’t count during Lent.”

Truthfully, this started a great conversation. We talked about the value of being quiet and contemplative. We talked about the traditions that most people brought with them to Florida, namely, observing Sunday as a part of Lent. And we found some music that was happy and uplifting that didn’t include the specific word “alleluia.” I think we both grew from this conversation.

Before I go any further I want to make it clear, Sundays do count during Lent. Easter is a moveable feast but always lands on a Sunday. Ash Wednesday is a moveable feast but always lands on a Wednesday. Omitting Sundays from the 40 days is a matter of Math, not a matter of Faith.

But I think the bigger issue is loopholes. What do we gain by looking for an escape clause? What benefit do we receive when we are given permission to cheat? And, ultimately, who are we cheating? Who are we kidding?

There is joy in discipline. When we resist temptation, we find ourselves stopping, pausing and reflecting on why. The why is God and the moment of contemplation is a moment of joy. I look at Lent less as an obligation and more as an opportunity. And, when I confront a day or more over and above the 40, I embrace this as yet one more opportunity.

What do we find in a loophole? We find empty space. At best, we experience a delicious moment that disappears and leaves us unsatisfied. We may even find disappointment. But we will not find joy.

Joy is hard to come by. But Lent is God’s gift to those of us who seek joy. Have a blessed and joyous Lent.

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

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