| Clergy Corner

CLERGY CORNER: Getting dirty

Posted on 01 December 2016 by LeslieM

I want to tell you a story about a little boy and a summersault.

When Sholom was 10 years old he was given a new suit that he was very proud of, especially its beautiful gold buttons. It wasn’t very easy to come by a new suit in 1930s Moscow, and certainly not one as nice as this one. Sholom wore his suit for the Jewish High Holidays that year and was extra careful to keep it nice and clean.

The climax of the High Holidays is on Simchat Torah when our joy knows no bounds. What was Simchas Torah like in Moscow during the height of Stalinist terror? If you would imagine that it was quiet and solemn, that would be an intelligent guess, but you’d be forgetting about Yonah.

That Simchas Torah Yonah had drank plenty in honor of the holidays and he was out in the streets dancing. He even grabbed a strangers to dance and drink with him. I’m not sure that we can even fathom the audacity and chutzpah!

To see Yonah make merry in the streets, you would never know that it was a Jewish community living under the state-run terror campaign and that arrest and even execution were a regular part of life. It was the Jewish Holidays and Yonah was in another world, a world in which Stalin and his secret police simply didn’t exist!

Then, Yonah took his joy to new levels and starting doing somersaults in the streets! A crowd gathered around him and Yonah got all the community Jews to do the same – somersaults in the streets.

Yonah noticed a 10-year-old boy standing cautiously off to the side. The boy was dressed in an obviously brand new suit with shiny gold buttons. There were no dry cleaners in 1930 Moscow. One tumble in the muddy street and that beautiful suit would never be the same. Yonah, the master educator and mentor knew exactly what the boy was thinking and also knew exactly what had to be done. You also know, yes?

This was what we call now days “a teachable moment.” You cannot plan for a “teachable moment;” you cannot engineer it. It is just an opportunity that arises where a teacher suddenly has a perfect, fleeting chance to endow the student with a lesson he or she will never forget. The teachable moment must be seized by the teacher or lost forever. Yonah knew what the suit meant to the boy, but Yonah also knew what the boy would need to learn in order to survive and thrive as a person living in dark times. Wanting to keep your suit nice and clean is the normal thing for a boy that age to want, but there are times when a person just has to do the abnormal thing – a somersault in the muddy streets even if it ruins your suit would be a great way to break free from the chains of communism.

MACH A KULAH” (do a summersault) Yonah shouted at the boy. All eyes were now on him “ DO A SOMERSAULT” they all shouted with joy. There was no way out of this. The suit was about to get ruined. Ten-year-old Sholom took a plunge. It was a silly, crazy, defiant act, and it was very necessary – the defining moment of a young man’s education. Everyone cheered as Sholom tumbled head over heels in the muddy street!

Sholom survived the war, started a family and became a Rabbi and business man always teaching and inspiring along the way.

Sholom is my grandfather. He would eventually marry Yonah’s niece — my grandmother, Pesia. Incidentally, Yonah and his wife never had children. He eventually was caught by the KGB and passed away while in prison.

My grandfather, Rabbi Sholom, passed away this week at 89 years old in New York. He was surrounded by children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who are all proud Jews, and we are living the life he got dirty for. That “teachable moment” will forever be passed on through his family, most of whom are Rabbis and teachers across the globe.

You see getting dirty never felt so good! When you know getting dirty will help defy the challenges we face in this world so that we can be a free charitable and loving people, then getting dirty is just a pleasure.

MAY HIS MEMORY BE A BLESSING!

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches, located in the Venetain 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: Count your blessings!

Posted on 23 November 2016 by LeslieM

This is the season to be grateful for the things, the people, and the experiences that make life enjoyable. A comfortable home, friends and family, and a well-earned accomplishment are examples of what cause many of us to be thankful. But what of the challenges and stresses that wear away at our patience and resolve? Gratitude is not the first thing that comes to our mind or our will when facing them. Discouragement, distress, helplessness, frustration and anger are probably among the first inclinations we will have in times of difficulty.

Author George Mikes relates the following story in one of his books: In Budapest, a man goes to the rabbi and complains, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?”

The rabbi answers, “Take your goat into the room with you.”

The man in incredulous, but the rabbi insists, saying, “Do as I say and come back in a week.”

A week later the man comes back looking more distraught than before.

We cannot stand it,” he tells the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.”

The rabbi then tells him, “Go home and let the goat out and come back in a week.”

A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, “Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat — only the nine of us.”

The church in Thessalonica was facing persecution but the believers were standing firm in their faith. They were commended by the apostle Paul, in his first letter to them, along with praise for being examples to believers in Macedonia and Achaia. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul writes this: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” He did not mean to suggest that every bad experience was God’s will for the believer, but that believers can find a reason to be grateful in both success and adversity, as well as anything in between.

Life could always be worse, as the illustration of the goat in the room reveals. Let me ask you, hasn’t God been good even in your bad times? Can you not find a reason to be full of appreciation even in the difficult seasons of your life? Is there no one on the planet whose state of existence is worse than yours? You may have a lot to complain about, and may long for something better, but does that mean you can’t be grateful for something right now? Allow me to strongly suggest that you have many reasons to be thankful. An old hymn of the church encourages us to take stock of God’s goodness when times are bad: When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done. The last verse instructs, So, amid the conflict whether great or small, do not be discouraged, God is over all; count your many blessings, angels will attend, help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

This Thanksgiving, enjoy your time with family and friends. Spend time with God and thank Him for the many blessings in your life. Participate in some of the numerous opportunities to be a blessing to others during this time of year. Serve a hot meal, donate a turkey, wrap a gift, volunteer your time. Count your blessings and be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Posted on 17 November 2016 by LeslieM

Thanksgiving is a great time to recall the many blessings that surround us. If I were to write about every blessing that I have received, I am sure that there would not be enough ink and paper in the world. So I chose one in particular.

One of the blessings of my life, as well as the life of my family, is the blessing of being part of Southeastern Guide Dogs, which has its headquarters in Palmetto, FL. When our children were very small and I wanted to spend time with them and be visible in the community, my wife and I decided that this would be a great opportunity to accomplish both. As a pastor, I needed to find a new hobby or a new passion that was completely different than what I was doing in my career. So we started being “puppy raisers.”

Puppy raisers raise puppies and train them until they are old enough to return to Palmetto and complete their training to become Guide Dogs for the sight impaired. While many do not qualify for that very special job, most dogs take on another job such as arson dogs, classroom dogs to assist in reading, dogs that help people who suffer from seizures, etc. And, of course, some of them wind up as pets.

Some people told me that they thought it was cruel to subject children to the trauma of raising a puppy only to let them go. Then we, as a family, went to a graduation when the sight-impaired and their companion were venturing off into the world. My kids, at a very young age, realized that the rewards that came with this sacrifice far outweighed the heart-ache of saying goodbye.

Now, we have the privilege of being “breeder hosts.” We host a dog, Gizmo, who has given birth to three litters and will probably give birth to a total of four. We also hosted Bentley, who sired 82 puppies before he “retired.” Now he is our pet.

I share this because, through the experience my family and I have had with Southeastern Guide Dogs, we have seen God at work in a very profound way. We have a greater appreciation of our Creator because of the lives we have seen blessed by God’s creation.

This experience opened my eyes to the reality that God honors animals and created them to bless God’s people. I became keenly aware of the multiple times animals are mentioned in the Bible and the important roles that they have played throughout both the Hebrew and Greek Testaments.

From the beginning of humanity, God gave dominion to humans over the “fish of the sea, the birds of the air and every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28 NRSV) And, when humanity disappointed God, God went out of his way to protect his creation by assigning Noah the task of building an ark for two of every creature (Genesis 6:19-20) and seven pairs of every clean animal (Genesis 7:2).

Animals even get honored and mentioned in the 10th Commandment when God warned us not to covet our neighbor’s oxen or donkey.

I was struck by some of the details in Jonah 3 when even the animals wore sackcloth as a sign of repentance in the city of Nineveh. (Imagine your pet in sackcloth) And, ever the stickler on details, God even knows when a sparrow falls. (Matthew 10:29)

And even if we move from animals to people, what profession was most honored in the Bible? I think we know it is the shepherd.

I am grateful to be a part of Southeastern Guide Dogs. I am grateful for the unique bond we had as a family that learned a skill together, a skill that has blessed numerous people. I am grateful for having four different puppies go through our loving hands and into the loving hands of people who cannot see, children who struggle with reading, people who suffer from seizures, or veterans in therapy.

Happy Thanksgiving and embrace this holiday as a time to count your blessings. Happy counting.

Pastor Gross is a pastor of 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: Alexander and the Wonderful, Magnificent, Not Bad, Very Good Year

Posted on 10 November 2016 by LeslieM

Annually, Universal Studios Orlando hosts Florida’s largest Christian music event: Rock the Universe. For two nights, youth groups, families, and everyone in-between, experience electrifying worship music led by many of the top Christian artists — rides all day, spirit-stimulating concerts by night.

My first experience baffled me. Moments into the start of the concerts, all but one of the students in the youth group (that I had recently inherited) sat down, in the middle of thousands of people, uninterested. Quickly, they pleaded with the other youth leader to take them back to the hotel, which he obliged.

One 12-year-old, Alexander, stayed. And it was a good thing he did. Midway through the Switchfoot concert, lead singer Jon Foreman climbed atop the fencing that was set between the stage and the audience. When Jon put his hand out for support, Alex was in the right spot at the right time ready to extend his own hand up to help.

It was an unforgettable night that launched the mentorship between Alex and me.

Throughout the year, we’d find time to talk about God, life and everything else that piques the curiosity of a pre-teen. While I’m more inclined to share his moments of growth, he’d prefer I tell you that he shot me with a paintball gun in the head, twice.

But it was the last night of summer camp that captured my heart the most. It was minutes after midnight when Alex finally declared he was ready to surrender to Christ — for real. (Truthfully, there are days I miss being an airline captain, but even just one night like this one reminds me it’s all worth it. God’s plan for our life is worth it.)

By that summer’s end, on one of the greatest days of my life, Alex and I hit the ocean surf for his baptism. Friends and family gathered just south of the Deerfield Beach pier, and with the whole world watching, Alex publicly declared his faith by going under the water and rising up a new man in Christ!

Following the baptism, we were both surprised with tickets to the upcoming Switchfoot concert, where much of this began. And so, this past weekend, Alex and I ventured into downtown Ft. Lauderdale for Relient K, which is the band that started it all for me during my teen years, and Switchfoot at Revolution Live.

Unbelievably, Jon Foreman reprised his audience jaunt. He climbed in front of us on the second level, and, just like that, we were thrust to center stage — for my favorite song I might add. Switchfoot had done it again, creating a night to remember, coming full circle for Alex and me.

During our Monday mentoring hangout this week, I asked Alex if God had recently prompted him to any sort of action. He specifically mentioned feeling led to sing during the concert, to not worry what others might think. What a valuable lesson: To learn that God is going to ask us to do things outside our comfort zone as we cling to the wisdom found in 1 Thessalonians 2:4 in that we are to “please God, not people.”

Alexander learned this lesson and it will be of much value as he lives a life for God. But it didn’t happen by accident.

In short, if you’re looking to grow in your walk — to live a spirit-let, God-given purposeful and courageous life for Christ, look to Alex’s example: 1) He stayed when everyone else left. 2) Not only did he stay, but engaged. 3) He accepted guidance and correction from a mentor (after being open and transparent about his faults). And (4) he is available. He made time to grow and pursue God — working toward the call on his life. For Alex, this is just the beginning of his story; and maybe this is the beginning of yours too.

From this day forward, shake off any complacency and excuses that keep you from being fully alive as a son or daughter of the Most High — open to rocking not just the universe, but the Kingdom of God.

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: Challah bread

Posted on 03 November 2016 by LeslieM

Just a few decades ago, there lived a great symphony conductor, an Italian maestro named Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957), who led concerts all over the world. He was one of the most acclaimed musicians of the late 19th and 20th Century, renowned for his intensity, his perfectionism, his ear for orchestral detail and sonority, and his photographic memory. Toscanini had a biographer who would interview him periodically over the years as a part of a major book he was writing on his life.

The following is a story I heard about Toscanini: One evening, the biographer called Toscanini and told him that he would be in town the next night and asked if could come to the house to interview him. Toscanini answered that he could not because he would be doing something special that would require absolute concentration; he could not be interrupted.

Maestro,” the biographer said, “if I may ask, what are you doing that is so special?”

Toscanini replied, “There is a concert being played overseas. I used to be the conductor of that symphony orchestra but I could not be there this year. So I’m going to listen to it on a shortwave radio and hear how the other conductor leads the orchestra. I don’t want any interruptions whatsoever.”

Maestro, it would be my greatest pleasure to watch how you listen to a concert played by an orchestra that you used to lead and I promise I won’t say anything. I will sit on the other side of the room, quietly,” said the biographer

You promise to be perfectly quiet?” Toscanini asked, to which the biographer replied that he would.

Toscanini answered, “Then you can come.”

The next night, the biographer came and sat quietly while Toscanini listened to the concert, which lasted almost an hour.

Finally, when it ended, the biographer remarked, “Wow, wasn’t that magnificent?”

Toscanini said, “Not really.”

His biographer asked, “Why not?”

Toscanini explained, “There were supposed to be 120 musicians, including 15 violinists but only 14 of them played.”

The biographer thought he was joking. How could he know from 6000 miles away, over shortwave radio, that one of the violinists was missing? The biographer had his doubts but didn’t want to say anything and went home.

The next morning, though, he had to find out for himself, so he called the concert hall overseas, asked for the music director and inquired as to how many musicians were supposed to have been playing the night before versus how many had actually shown up. The concert hall director told him that there were supposed to have been 120 musicians, including 15 violinists, but only 14 had shown up!

The biographer was amazed. He returned to Toscanini and said, “Sir, I owe you an apology. I thought you were just making it up the other night. But please, tell me, how could you know that one violinist was missing?”

There is a great difference between you and me,” Toscanini answered.” You’re a part of the audience and to the audience everything sounds wonderful. But I’m the conductor, and the conductor knows every note of music that has to be played. When I realized that certain notes were not being played, I knew without a doubt that one of the violists was missing. The music is perfect because of all the pieces coming together in unison.”

Are you that violinist which constantly doesn’t show up?

There are always unity events, community events, school events, city events and the list goes on … but how many of us think “if we don’t go, what does it matter?”

Think for a moment as Toscanini – if you were trying to unite your children, if you were trying to make peace amongst your children than would it matter if one did not show up? Of course it would; it would ruin the whole song!

It reminds me of the tradition of baking challah bread, which is to be eaten on Sabbath. Part of the commandment of “taking challah” (a portion of consecrated dough) it is derived from the following passages: “And it will be when you eat of the bread of the land, you should bring an offering to G-d. The first of your kneading bowl you shall donate to G-d as an offering…” (Numbers 15:19, 20)

In the details pertaining to taking off a portion of dough, the law stipulates that the flour and water have to be properly kneaded so that it is a single dough. The portion cannot be separated while the batter is still loose, leaving the necessary flour still attached to the edges of the bowl.

The flour most commonly used for bread is derived from wheat, a grain that symbolizes independence. Each granule has its own compartment separated from the rest. Independence and self-reliance are not necessarily negative traits unless they become a source of arrogance, an unhealthy ego. But we do not eat the wheat as is. It is refined and processed until it becomes flour. The external, superficial trappings of ego are crushed allowing the beneficial parts to remain.

The other main ingredient in dough is water. Water is a unifier, it binds things together, and its purpose is to bring life and nourishment to everything. Our daily bread is symbolic of the need to reach out and help people discover their own individual shining souls, the need to connect with others in order to bring them within our community.

Just as the dough is not ready for the portion of “challah dough” to be given as an offering until the flour and water are kneaded together well, a person cannot rest comfortably in their own environment and imagine that things are fine while there are others that are left outside and not included in the community.

Join our Mega Challah Bake on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at The Chabad Jewish Center, 2025 E. Sample Rd. in the Venetian Isle Shopping Center. For more info and to R.S.V.P., please visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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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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