| Clergy Corner

CLERGY CORNER: Life after Resurrection

Posted on 28 April 2016 by LeslieM

The film Miracles from Heaven recounts the real life story of Anna Beam. Suffering from an incurable condition, the 10-year-old girl has a near death experience (NDE) that dramatically changes her life. Made on a modest $13 million budget, the heartwarming story has delighted audiences worldwide and earned about $70 million at the box office. In recent years, there have been increased accounts of people who reportedly had a NDE. Studies focused on the after effects of such an experience have revealed common traits among those who supposedly died and came back to life. An amazing ability to live in the present, an abiding sense of deep confidence, decreased interest in material possessions, a strong sense of life’s purpose and a greater spiritual awareness are among those traits.

Though all survivors do not exhibit all of these traits, they possess enough of them to show how life-changing a NDE is. One’s outlook may change, his disposition may be significantly altered, and life is not lived in the same way as before. In some instances, one may even be completely different after having died and come back to life.

A similar change can be noted in the lives of true Christian believers. Spiritually, they have experienced death and now possess a changed outlook on life. Believing in Jesus Christ means that we have died to sin and have been raised to new life. Paul, the apostle, confirms this in Romans 6:4, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

There should be a distinct difference in our motivations, focus and prospects compared to what they were before we experienced new life. Many believers have attested to the change that following Christ has made in their lives, and to their lives. The late gospel singer/songwriter Walter Hawkins had a popular song on one of his albums that proclaimed, “a change, a change has come over me; He changed my life and now I’m free.” In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul puts it this way, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

This change is revealed in the interactions of the risen Savior with His disciples in the gospels. In the 40 days between His resurrection and His ascension, the Lord confirmed for His followers back then, as well as for those who follow Him now, that salvation is more than just the restoration of fellowship with God, it is a call to service, an assignment in the kingdom, and life’s purpose is now to live in such a way as to bring glory to God.

Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to His disciples were deliberate and intentional. They confirmed that He was indeed alive, but also included specific instructions about the ministry His disciples had been preparing for. He commissioned them to take His message to their people and ultimately to the nations of the world. Their obedience to the Lord’s directives brought about the establishment of the Christian church and way of life, which has impacted the world for 21 centuries.

Having celebrated the annual observation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, believers must now engage in self-examination of their own lives. The truths of our faith must be lived out and validated in our witness to the world. Then, others will know that there is not just life after death, but there is life after resurrection as well.

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

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CLERGY CORNER: The First Commandment

Posted on 21 April 2016 by LeslieM

The Biblical account of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt has been one of the most inspiring stories for the oppressed, enslaved and downtrodden through out history. From the American Revolution to the slaves of the American South, to Martin Luther King’s “Let Freedom Ring,” the narrative of the Exodus provided countless peoples with the courage to hope for a better future and to act on the dream.

Moses’s first visit to Pharaoh demanding liberty for his people only brought more misery to the Hebrew slaves; the Egyptian monarch increased their torture. The Hebrews would not listen any longer to the promise of redemption. Now, let us pay heed to this strange verse in Exodus, in the Torah portion Vaeira:

So G-d spoke to Moses and to Aaron, and He commanded them to the children of Israel, and to Pharaoh the king of Egypt, to let the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.

G-d is charging Moses with two directives: Command the people of Israel and then command Pharaoh the king. However, the verse is ambiguous: What did G-d command Moses to instruct the people? The message for Pharaoh is clear: Let the children of Israel out of Egypt. But what is it that Moses is supposed to command the people themselves?

The Jerusalem Talmud says something profoundly enigmatic:

G-d instructed Moses to command to the Jewish people the laws of freeing slaves.

The Talmud is referring to a law recorded later in Exodus: If a Jew sells himself as a slave, the owner must let him go after six years. He is forbidden to hold on to the slave for longer. This was the law Moses was to share with the Israelites while they were in Egyptian bondage.

Who is free?

The answer to this question is profoundly simple and moving, and is vital to the understanding of liberty in the Biblical imagination.

Before Pharaoh can liberate the Jewish slaves, they must be ready to become free. You can take a man out of slavery, but it may prove more challenging to take slavery out of a man. Externally, you may be free; internally you may still be enslaved.

What is the first and foremost symptom of bring free? That you learn to confer freedom on others.

The dictator, the control freak, or the abusive spouse or parent, does not know how give others freedom. He (or she) feels compelled to force others into the mold that he has created for them. Uncomfortable in his own skin, he is afraid that someone will overshadow him, expose his weaknesses, usurp his position or make him feel extra in this world. Outwardly, he attempts to appear powerful, but, inwardly, his power is a symptom of inner misery and confinement.

Only when one learns to embrace others, not for whom he would like them to be, but for whom they are, then can he begin to embrace himself, not for whom he wishes he was, but for whom he is. When we free those around us, we are freeing ourselves. By accepting them, we learn to accept ourselves.

Who is powerful? He who empowers. Who is free? He who can free others. Who is a leader? He who creates other leaders.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power,” Abraham Lincoln said. Ask yourself, do you know how to celebrate the soaring success of your loved ones and constituents? Do you encourage them to spread their wings and maximize their potential? Can you allow others to shine?

Pharaoh may set you free physically. But former slaves can become present tyrants. People who were abused often become abusers themselves. It is what they know about life; it is the paradigm they were raised with. They grew up in abuse and slavery, so they continue the cycle with others. The first Mitzvah the Jews had to hear from Moses, before even he can go the Pharaoh to let them go free was: One day you will be free. Remember that freedom is a gift; use it to free others.

Celebrate Passover – The Holiday of Freedom – with Chabad. We have a place for you at our Seder. To reserve, call Rabbi Tzvi at 347-410-1106

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

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CLERGY CORNER: First-hand relationship

Posted on 14 April 2016 by LeslieM

Let me share with you a few of my favorite places to eat here in South Florida. (Trust me; I have a point.) When I want a great burger and fries, there’s no place I love more than Flanigan’s Seafood Bar & Grill. Pizza, now that’s a toss-up because, with so many New England transplants in SoFlo, there’s a plethora of great pizza stops. I’ll give my shout out to Big Louie’s and Mizner Pizzeria. Last, but certainly not least, a true staple of the southeastern states, the “Pub Sub” from the Publix Deli. Can you find a better sandwich?

It’s easy to want to share with you my favorite food stops, but there is one thing I cannot do and that’s tell you how great the food is at the Olympia Flame Diner. Why? Because I’ve never stopped in to have a bite. I’ve heard excellent reviews. I’ve seen pictures of the place when I Googled it for this article, but, the fact remains: I have no first-hand experience.

I imagine the above logic makes sense. Few people — if any — review movies they haven’t seen. So allow me to insert what author and speaker Jon Acuff calls a “Jesus Juke” — radically altering the course of conversation toward Jesus.

Are you consuming your Word daily? Do you spend intentional time in the presence of our Lord hearing from Him through meditation on His Word? Are you experiencing Him personally—without ceasing?

Matthew 28:19 commands us to “… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

I have to ask, how can we fulfill this great commission with any authenticity and authority if we have yet to truly experience the life-changing message of the Gospel first-hand?

Joshua 1:8 says, “Study [the Word] continually. Meditate on it day and night so that you will be sure to obey everything written in it.” When we do so, He promises to “draw near to you,” James 4:8.

Think about that; the Creator of all the galaxies and beyond wants to draw close to you.

To put that in perspective, I’d like to draw from the science presented by Reverend Francis Chan. The speed of light travels at 186,000 miles per second … yes second! A light year then is a measure of the distance that light travels at that 186,000 mile per second for a whole year. That’s far! So how many light years would it take to travel from one end of our galaxy – the Milky Way Galaxy, the one in which our solar system resides – to the other? 100,000 light years. Let that sink in. Still not impressed? Scientist estimate there are 350 billion galaxies like our Milky Way in space. And somewhere, tucked deep within our universe, is Earth, where the Creator of those galaxies and beyond desires to draw close to you in a personal — first-hand — relationship.

It is then, and only then, when we will be able to understand our identity in Him, able to venture into a lost world in desperate need of a Savior. With authority, fervency and joy, we will share what we know about our faith, not from having only read a Yelp review, but from our personal experience: a changed life. In this depth of knowing Him, others will come to know Him, too. He is a relational God who has given us the ultimate text message: His Word. Read and respond; for you have been set apart for His purposes. And because of your obedience, His will will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

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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CLERGY CORNER: The division

Posted on 07 April 2016 by LeslieM

Passover matzah has always been divided. One part of our people, let’s compare it to the smaller part of our matzah, still stubbornly sitting at the “seder table”. They sit around the table of their ancestors, following the traditions, continuing the rituals, studying the laws and telling the story. This is the smaller part of the matzah, the minority of our people, which refuses to get up from the Passover table and find other alternatives for life and for happiness. Yes, they sometimes sit there with closed eyes, half asleep, but they are present. These are the Jews who wake up each morning remembering that we are part of a long narrative — beginning with Abraham, culminating with Messiah — and we ought to live our lives inspired by this narrative. They don a tallis, wrap tefilin, go to the synagogue, pray to G-d and send their children to Jewish schools to receive an intense Torah education. These are the Jews who celebrate Shabbos, eat kosher, would not eat a meal outside of a Sukkah or wear a garment made of wool and linen.

The larger part of the matzah — the majority of our people — have wandered from the seder table, into foreign pastures. They have found alternatives to Torah. Indeed, most of our nation remains ignorant and, in many ways, apathetic to our heritage and its wisdom; millions of our brethren feel alienated from our people and its story.

And the split of the matzah continues. We continue to be a divided people. The small part of the matzah often looks with disdain at the larger piece of the matzah: “I am at the seder table; you are lost and estranged;” while the big part of the matzah often looks at the small piece of matzah with bewilderment and pity, wondering how it manages to remain so isolated and detached from modernity and the new world.

Here we will discover the secret of the Matzah. Open your hearts…

The Rebbe’s Calling

April 19 marks the 114th birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (1902-1994), who was born in Ukraine, just days before Passover. Growing up at the height of the revolutions which swept the world and captured the hearts and souls of millions of Jews, the Lubavitcher Rebbe observed firsthand the “matzah” being split, fragmented, broken and then almost completely consumed by the flames of Stalinism and Nazism.

The larger part of the matzah may be absent from our seder table, but it is still matzah; our matzah may be divided, but we are still one matzah. Millions of Jews may be absent from the seder table, but they may never be forgotten. Most importantly: we cannot conclude our seder if we do not bring back the larger piece of matzah which has been gone from the seder table.

The small piece of matzah will never be capable of reaching the culmination of its seder if it will not reach out to its brother-matzah and bring it back to the seder table, recognizing the truth that we are one people and each of us has a place of dignity at the eternal table of Jewish history and consciousness.

This, the Lubavitcher Rebbe believed, was the mission of our time. The seder is almost complete, the story is almost finished. Messiah is at our doorstep. The meal has been eaten, and we have had our share of maror, of bitter herbs and suffering.

And now we must remember the Afikoman. We must search for the Afikoman (matzah), and, with much love and sensitivity, bring it back to the table, and let it reunite with its own essence, with its own story, with its own soul.

Only then will we be able to conclude our journey and truly be “Next year in Jerusalem.”

Please encourage unity in your family in your community, in your country and in our world!

If you need a place for the Seder please contact the Rabbi at chabadoflighthousepoint@gmail.com or RSVP for our Community Passover Seder at www.JewishLHP.com.

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

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CLERGY CORNER: “April is the cruelest month”?

Posted on 31 March 2016 by LeslieM

T. S. Eliot famously wrote that “April is the cruelest month.” I beg to differ. For me, April is a month overflowing with hope and with promises fulfilled. In the northern hemisphere, it’s the beginning of springtime, and if you’ve ever lived on the cold side of 40 degrees north latitude, then, with the coming of April, you’ve paid your winter dues and are ready to enjoy the first blooming of the cherry blossoms.

I’ve long held a completely unsubstantiated belief, that when our Lord rested on the seventh day of Creation, it just happened to be on a beautiful day in April, and, when He saw what He had made, He declared: “it was very good.”

Yes, our Lord’s Creation is spectacular in April, but we may miss the whole divine show if our thoughts turn to other Aprils – those past, present and future – and the memories of losses and fears that may come to mind. Any Biblical-optimism generated by the wonders of Creation can be a challenge to defend, in the face of our own doubts, and to the skeptics of our world. Remember Saul on the road to Damascus, who could only see a god of anger and was blind to the God of Love.

Our God knows this about our thought process and that’s why He never leaves our side even if we think we’re meant to go it alone and all talk of hope and promises aren’t in the cards for us.

When such thoughts make their appearance, we need to be reminded that, if God permits “a time to weep and a time to mourn,” he also provides “a time to laugh and a time to dance.” Holy Scripture is teeming with stories of the self-inflicted tribulations of flawed humankind, and how our God redeems us with His love when we turn to Him. The story of our redemption is a golden thread that runs through the Bible from beginning to end.

We find an early stitch in this golden thread in the Book of Genesis; there, we learn what happened to Adam and Eve, our first parents, when they made their ill-fated choice to disobey God. They were driven from an earthly paradise in the Garden of Eden, but not before God gently clothed them against the elements of a cruel world. Yes, there are also cruel times in each of our lives, often engendered by the poor choices we make; but our pathway through these cruel times may be successfully navigated when we follow the directions our Lord lovingly lays out for us.

We find another stitch in this golden thread in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. He wrote of the Hebrew’s disobedience leading to the Babylonian Exile and to their losing all hope of ever returning to their homeland. Their longing to return is offered as a prayer in Verdi’s stunningly beautiful “Va, pensiero” which is sung by Hebrew slaves on the banks of the River Euphrates in the opera Nabucco. God did lead the Hebrews home to their beloved Jerusalem and enabled them to rebuild their city.

There may be times in each of our lives when we feel an estrangement from friends, family and home and can’t see any way for a re-connection. During these times, we need to remember the power of prayers and that they are like the ever-returning spring. They never leave our lips without the promise of our God’s providential reply.

And, finally, with each spring, God’s golden thread leads to the remembrance of the singular event in the story of our redemption that overflows with hope and with promises fulfilled – the glorious Resurrection of our Lord on Easter morning after he was savagely crucified on Good Friday. Yes, although we also experience times of suffering in this life, the promise of Easter is that we will also rise again to life eternal with our Lord. Is April the “cruelest month”? I don’t think so, especially when we kneel at the foot of the Cross and look up at our risen Lord and all the hopes and fulfilled promises that entails.

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: Morning Prayer at 10 a.m., Sunday: Holy Communion at 10 a.m.

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CLERGY CORNER: Jesus, the Hero

Posted on 24 March 2016 by LeslieM

Bonnie Tyler had a top 40 hit in the 1980s with the song “Holding Out for a Hero.” The lyrics ask:

Where have all the good men gone, and where are all the gods?

Where’s the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?

Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?

Late at night, I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need.

The chorus adds:

I need a hero … I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night.

He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight.

I need a hero … I’m holding out ‘til the morning light.

He’s gotta be sure, and it’s gotta be soon, and he’s gotta be larger than life…

Heroes are those who are characterized by strength, daring and courageous exploits. Marvel and D.C. comics have created superheroes that may seem weak momentarily in the contest against evildoers, but they always gain the upper hand and come out on top. Real life heroes are those people who can do for us what we often cannot do for ourselves. They may even make the ultimate sacrifice, and give their lives to defend or aid their fellow man.

As we prepare to remember and celebrate the passion of our Savior, we consider Him to be our hero. But Jesus is a hero of a different sort because His victory did not occur through His physical dominance over His enemies. In fact, even though the Biblical Hebrews of His day were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their promised Messiah, they ultimately rejected Jesus because He did not fit the pattern of an expected hero. They were looking for a military general, similar to King David, who would defeat their foes and restore them to prominence as a people.

Instead, Jesus seemingly ignored the cruelty of Rome, but focused on the spirit and behavior of His people. He won the crowds with His preaching and miracles, but angered the Pharisees and priests with His disregard for their traditions. In the end, He was brutalized, mocked and humiliated through crucifixion. He was made to suffer unjustly, and then put to death. Yet, He was victorious, despite His suffering and through His suffering. His death resulted in salvation. He is the ultimate hero, one who willingly gave His life for the good of mankind.

His suffering and death were predicted centuries before His arrival. Genesis 3:15 is believed to be a Messianic pronouncement pointing to the crucifixion of Jesus. The serpent is cursed for deceiving Adam and Eve, and God informs him “I will put enmity between you and the woman. And between your seed and her Seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Psalm 22:16-18 foreshadows scenes at the cross. “For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”

Isaiah 53:3 graphically describes the anticipated Messiah as a suffering servant. “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”

Heroes are usually celebrated for their actions. Though the majority of His day rejected Him, countless believers today faithfully acknowledge and serve Jesus for His sacrifice. He is our Savior and Hero.

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: Purim vs. Yom Kippur

Posted on 17 March 2016 by LeslieM

It would seem that one could hardly find two more dissimilar days in the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the year. It is a day of soul-searching and repentance; the day on which we connect with the inviolable core of purity within us — with the self that remains forever unsullied by our failings and transgressions — to draw from it atonement for the past and resolve for the future. So it is only natural that Yom Kippur should be a day of unfettered spirituality, a day on which we transcend our very physicality in order to commune with our spiritual essence.

The Torah commands us to “afflict ourselves” on Yom Kippur — to deprive the body of food and drink and all physical pleasures. Yom Kippur is the day on which terrestrial man most resembles the celestial angel.

Purim, on the other hand, is the most physical day of the year. It is a day of feasting and drinking — the Talmud goes so far as to state that “a person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai.’”

As our sages explain, Purim celebrates the salvation of the Jewish body. There are festivals (such as Chanukah) that remember a time when the Jewish soul was threatened, when our enemies strove to uproot our faith and profane the sanctity of our lives; these are accordingly marked with “spiritual” observances (e.g. lighting the menorah, reciting the Hallel).

On Purim, however, it was the Jewish body that was saved. Haman did not plot to assimilate or paganize the Jews, but to physically destroy every Jewish man, woman and child on the face of the Earth. Purim is thus celebrated by reading the megillah, lavishing money on the poor, sending gifts of food to friends, eating a sumptuous meal and drinking oneself to “oblivion”.

On Yom Kippur, we fast and pray, on Purim we party. Yet the Zohar sees the two days as intrinsically similar, going so far as to interpret the name Yom haKippurim (as the Torah calls Yom Kippur) to mean that it is “a day like Purim” (yom k’purim)!

Yom Kippur is indeed “a day like Purim”: both are points in physical time that transcend the very laws of physical existence. Points at which we rise above the rational structure of reality and affirm our supra-rational bond with G-d — a bond not touched by the vicissitudes of mortal life, a bond as free of cause and motive as the free-falling lot.

But there is also a significant difference between these two days. On Yom Kippur, our transcendence is expressed by our disavowal of all trappings of physical life. But the very fact that these would “interfere” with the supra-existential nature of the day indicates that we are not utterly free of them. Thus, Yom Kippur is only “a day like Purim” (k’purim), for it achieves only a semblance of the essence of Purim.

The ultimate transcendence of materiality is achieved not by depriving the body and suppressing the physical self, but by transforming the physical into an instrument of the divine will.

So “Purim” is the day on which we are our most physical, and, at the same time, exhibit a self-abnegation to G-d that transcends all dictates and parameters of the physical-rational state — transcending even the axioms “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.”

Yom Kippur is the day that empowers the Jew to rise above the constraints of physicality and rationality. Purim is the day that empowers the Jew to live a physical life that is the vehicle for a supra-physical, supra-rational commitment to G-d.

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

[Purim is coming up March 23-24!]

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CLERGY CORNER: Suspension of disbelief

Posted on 10 March 2016 by LeslieM

The flight deck door flung open. A crazed man towered in the entryway wielding a knife at the throat of a helpless flight attendant. Training took over as I swung around while unholstering my service weapon, took aim and stopped the threat.

Good shots,” declared my firearms instructor. “Care to know where you hit?”

I lowered my weapon. It had the same look and feel as a real firearm only, instead of using live rounds, the pistol was equipped with a muzzle-mounted laser which, upon trigger pull, sends an invisible pulse of light from the barrel to the target. A large computer simulation screen, located behind the mock flight deck, detected each of my shots with realistic ballistic accuracy. Everything about the scenario felt real; but, it was only training; it was pretend.

Honestly, I had no recollection of how many shots I fired before pausing to reassess the threat. I was stupefied that, while only a simulation experience, my brain had jettisoned the memory of the number of trigger pulls. I was at the mercy of my training — rote. Much to my satisfaction, having been coached by some of the best federal firearms instructors in the nation, I learned the only casualty was the simulated perp. I had reacted as desired, going through the motions that I’d been taught.

To this day, the power of pretend continues to amaze me. It’s probably why I love movies. The motion picture industry has long leveraged the concept of “suspension of disbelief” allowing the viewer to become immersed in stories absent of reality. They know it’s pretend; but, in the moment, like my simulation experience, it’s real.

Yet, a paradox exists. While pretend is necessary, it has crept into our faith. God, speaking to the people of Judah in Isaiah 29:13, said, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” In short: Going through the motions — pretending.

While we cerebrally understand that true worship permeates from our full dependency on God, we give “lip service” when we pretend to have it all together, that we are healthy apart from Christ. In Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, author John Piper says, “The difference between Uncle Sam and Jesus Christ is that Uncle Sam won’t enlist you in his service unless you are healthy and Jesus won’t enlist you unless you are sick.” Mark 2:17 affirms this when Jesus said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

My plea: Follow the instruction of Psalm 123:2 in that we “keep looking to the Lord our God for His mercy.” Christ compared the church to a hospital for good reason. If you break your leg, you don’t pretend you are fine. Conversely, while in a hospital with, let’s say, a nail through your hand, you don’t complete the paperwork as if all is well.

Let us stop pretending, no matter how real it feels, and return to the true heart of worship, with arms raised accepting His power and grace, our need of Him. In Mathew 11:28-30, Christ says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” We can remove the burden of pretending — as if we’d ever be able to measure up — with our soul finding rest in the assurance of salvation, believing that our righteousness is freely given because of the real sacrifice of our savior: Jesus.

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 03 March 2016 by LeslieM

[On Purim, which begins March 23, we retell the story of Haman’s failed attempt to eliminate the Jewish people].

One millennium before Haman was born, at the foot of a lone mountain, the Jewish people received a gift which transformed their destiny and changed the landscape of human civilization. It was an experience which imbued Jewish life with the nobility of transcendence, the majesty of Divine ethics and the grandeur of holiness. The gift of the Torah inculcated Jewish life with great moral and spiritual responsibility, but it simultaneously bestowed upon the Jewish heart, the Jewish home, the Jewish family and the Jewish community a piece of heaven, a glow of eternity.

But what is heaven for one person may spell hell for another; piano lessons for a 4-year-old Mozart is a paradise, while for another child the lessons may be a living purgatory. Heaven for the Jews was hell for the Hamans of the world. If G-d exists, then the moral law prevails, and there must be limits to power and self-aggrandizement. If G-d exists, the barbarian must vanquish himself. Haman felt that two diametrically opposing and mutually exclusive powers were competing for the heart of humanity.

About 2300 years later, this notion was captured by a contemporary Haman, Adolf Hitler. He remarked that “The Jews have inflicted two wounds on the world: Circumcision for the body and conscience for the soul. I come to free mankind from their shackles.”

But Haman, the avid student of history, knew that this was no simple task. He knew what had happened to Pharaoh, Sisera, Goliath, Sancheirav and Nevuchadnezzar, how they each attempted to eradicate the Jew once and for all and how they each ended up eradicated and forgotten themselves.

It is here where Haman invented an ingenious strategy. Haman believed that he had the “final solution” which had eluded all of his predecessors; he knew how to solve the “Jewish problem”, this time for real.

The Talmud relates the following story:

The Evil [Roman] Empire had prohibited Torah study. Pappus the son of Yehuda came and found Rabbi Akiva making large public gatherings and teaching Torah.

Pappus said to him, “Akiva! Aren’t you afraid of the authorities?”

Rabbi Akiva replied, “I will give you a parable.”

A fox is walking along a river. He sees the fish frantically scurrying from one place to another.

He says to them, “From whom are you running? From the nets and traps of the fishermen? Why don’t you come up to the dry land and we will live happily together, just as our forefathers did!”

The fish replied, “Is it really you whom they call the cleverest of animals? You are not clever, rather a fool! If we are afraid in the place of our vitality, how much more so in the place of our death!”

Rabbi Akiva concluded: If the life is tough as we are sitting and studying Torah, about which it is written “It is our life and the length of our days”, how much worse it will be if we cease to study Torah.

The Torah – Rabbi Akiva is saying, is to the Jew what the sea is to the fish. It is his necessary habitat, the source of his vitality; it is where he can live, breathe, thrive and be most creative. Like a fish washed up ashore, the Jewish soul deprived of Torah will struggle to find real endurable meaning on “dry land”, in an environment unsuitable for his spiritual DNA to flourish and express itself fully. He, like the fish, will flip and flop, experiment with different ideologies and lifestyles, desperately attempting to find solace for his aching soul.

Haman, therefore, understood that what he had to do was dry up the sea, sever the relationship between the Jewish people and their Torah. His goal must be to antiquate the Torah, to teach the Jews how to become “land animals”. He must invite them, in the words of the fox, to “live together with us in peace as our forefathers did”. Once the fish was out of the water, it would be vulnerable to destruction.

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

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CLERGY CORNER: The faith of the Negro

Posted on 25 February 2016 by LeslieM

I recently attended a concert in Delray Beach that featured the harmonious excellence of the Legato Vocal Ensemble. The gifted group of mostly African American singers and musicians delivered a powerful performance to a full house at Church of the Palms. The first half of the concert included traditional arrangements of some classic hymns, such as “Come Thou Fount” and “A Wonderful Savior”. A stirring rendition of the spiritual “Elijah Rock” drew vigorous applause from the racially-diverse audience. It also caused me to reflect upon the power of song and faith in the history of Negroes in America.

It is well-documented that slaves found comfort and hope in the Christian faith, often expressing both in the moving spirituals that were part of their worship gatherings. Though many songs were passed down orally, making it difficult to identify the original composers, they possess an enduring appeal that stirs the soul of any generation. Songs like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham”, and “Steal Away to Jesus” provided solace and strength to a people who identified with the plight of Abraham’s descendants in Egyptian bondage. It is even known that some spirituals also served as protest songs that inspired and informed about the path to freedom in the north.

Later songs like “Oh, Freedom” and “We Shall Overcome” carried on the tradition of hope during the Civil Rights Movement. Many of the leaders of the movement, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Andrew Young, Rev. Joseph Lowery and Rev. Jesse Jackson were men who came from the church motivated by convictions that were shaped by their faith.

To this day, numerous churches can be found in any community with a preponderance of black residents. This attests to the powerful role that faith plays in the life of African Americans, who sing and worship with passion in the average black church on any given Sunday.

Negro faith predates slavery in America, despite the negative stereotypes of a superstitious and pagan people as portrayed in films about Africans. Church history has documented that the Christian faith was firmly established in North Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia as it expanded from Jerusalem in the first century. In fact, the churches in North Africa and Ethiopia were the leading churches in the second century. It has been argued that many of the church fathers, such as Clement, Origen, Athanasius and Augustine, were men of African descent.

These facts are to be appreciated and celebrated as we observe Black History Month. Undergirding the achievement of many individuals of color was a faith that inspired them to stand firm while striving upward and longing for a better day. It was a faith that trusted God’s promises of deliverance and blessing. It was a faith that inspired them to believe that they were worth far more than what their circumstances indicated. It was a faith that helped them to hold on believing that they would see the glory of God.

It is a faith that must be passed on to our children and grandchildren, a faith that will sustain them both now and in the future, a faith expressive of the same sentiment and conviction as that of Moses in Psalm 90:1. “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

During this observance of Black History Month, let us recognize the undeniable and indomitable faith of the Negro.

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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