| Clergy Corner

CLERGY CORNER: A time to dance

Posted on 23 March 2017 by LeslieM

During a recent trip to South Africa I was reminded of the beauty and power of dancing in worship. Along with a team of 30 others, we visited a small school in a rural area of Johannesburg to distribute clothing, toys and school supplies. The kindergarten-aged children delighted us with songs in their native language, to which they danced rhythmically and clapped their hands. Our team ministered in various churches on a Sunday, and we later traded stories of the exuberant dancing displayed during worship times. A visit to Mandela’s House in Soweto was memorable for the articles, photos, and history that it has preserved, but also for the groups of dancers who delighted visitors on the sidewalks in front of the home.

Dancing in worship is not new to many of our modern churches. Dance ministries and other artistic groups are part of numerous expressions of worship and praise in churches of all sizes and traditions. What differentiates what we have from what we observed in South Africa is the passion and intensity that was on display. And the fact that dancing was not relegated to an official group or ministry but everyone participated. I saw young children with happy feet, men who demonstrated remarkable agility as they jumped high and stooped low, and women whose heads, hips, knees and arms communicated joy and gratitude to God. No one was excluded and even members of our team joined in during a service at a Christian college where we facilitated two days of ministry training.

In Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, King Solomon surmised “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (v.1). A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (v.4). Dancing is something that we learn early on in childhood. Even before words and sentences have been formally spoken, you can observe babies and toddlers swaying, bouncing, and nodding their heads to music. As we grow older we learn steps and movements that help to express our joy and happiness. Some have relegated dancing to the clubs, ballrooms, parties, and weddings. But many believers have learned to praise God by dancing in worship services at church.

The Bible presents dancing as an acceptable form of worship. It is even encouraged in several Psalms. At the successful crossing of the Red Sea, in Exodus 15, the people showed their gratitude in dance (v.20). “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.” In 2 Samuel 6, the ark of God was transported to Jerusalem with a great procession of praise. “Then David danced before the Lord with all his might” (v.14). He would later write a song of praise in Psalm 30 that included this declaration in verse 11, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing.” Psalm 149:3 proclaims, “Let them praise His name with the dance.” And Psalm 150:4 adds, “Praise Him with the timbrel and dance.”

There are many ways to express the joy we feel and the gratitude we have for life’s blessings. There are different ways to worship and show reverence to God. Some offer respectful contemplation, while others engage joyful celebration. Both are appropriate and necessary forms of worship, and believers should be encouraged to embrace them equally. Thoughtful reflection is not reserved for the philosopher alone, neither is dancing the sole domain of the club DJ. We can all bow our heads in reverent worship at church but then there comes a time, in the service and in life, when we should feel free to just get up and dance.

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: Deuteronomy 8:3

Posted on 16 March 2017 by LeslieM

So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”Deuteronomy 8:3 (NKJV)

As a Lutheran, I do observe Lent and I do choose to abstain from a food or behavior once a year for 40 days. Now, this isn’t a great accomplishment worthy of boasting. But I can say that I look forward to Lent every year and embrace this challenge as a divine opportunity. And regardless of whether you observe Lent, taking some time to challenge yourself in this manner may be a joyful time of spiritual growth. Yes, reader, I used the words “Lent “and “joy” in the same sentence.

Lent simulates Jesus’ journey into the desert for 40 days following his Baptism and preceding his three year ministry. Jesus took 40 days to fast and put himself in harm’s way of temptation. And, of course, the tempter did show up and his first temptation was to turn stone into bread. It was within this context that Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, “One does not live by bread alone.”

These words have a special meaning to me and, for those who have heard my story, I apologize. I write this for the benefit of others. I received a blessing and I want to share it, as blessings are meant to be.

Before I continue with my story, let me share something that will make my story make more sense. All my life I have struggled with food. I have had successes and failures but I am afraid my failures outweigh my successes. But the one thing my wife and I were able to do was instill in our children a healthier understanding of food. As a result, they have been spared of this particular “thorn in the side,” if you will.

I had a chance to spend my birthday with my son at Walt Disney World. We planned to divide our time between EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. I chose EPCOT because of the restaurants. We would choose a time and place to eat and the whole day would revolve around it. Food was the axis upon which the entire day would spin.

I asked my son “Where would you like to eat?”

He said, “Let’s stop by and get a couple of subs. We will eat one half for lunch and the other half between EPCOT and the Animal Kingdom.”

My first thought was: “What about my birthday meal?” My second thought was, “I have taught him well. Now it is time for ME to internalize the message.”

I said, “Sure, Nate, that sounds great.”

I discovered that Nate’s primary question was about rides and fast passes. Food was the last thing on his mind and the first thing on mine. But, today, I would honor his request. I did ask him if we could sit down for a cup of coffee and visit. He was happy with that idea and we did.

I share this story with you because that was probably one of the best times I ever had at Walt Disney World. I learned something from my son’s example. Yes, a parent can learn a lot from a child. And that is this most important lesson. The quality of a meal is not determined by what is on your plate but by the person who is sitting across the table.

Regardless of our faith tradition, we all hunger and thirst for something in our lives that simply cannot be satisfied by food. Some of us are still learning that lesson the hard way. I have found Lent as the perfect opportunity to find out what that “something” is. And when I do find that something, it may not satisfy my stomach but it will satisfy my soul.

It is my prayer that we all take the spiritual journey that leads us to that something that satisfies our soul. And when we find it, we will discover that we are not fasting from food but feasting on that something that satisfies the soul.

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: Stop It

Posted on 09 March 2017 by LeslieM

There’s an old MAD TV sketch in which Mo Collin’s character seeks professional help for her fear of being buried alive in a box—confessing that just thinking about it makes her life horrible because she can’t go through tunnels or be inside an elevator or house — anything “boxy.” Her psychologist, played by Bob Newhart, quickly recognizes her irrational worry, leans forward from behind his desk and abruptly shouts, “Stop it!”

Oh, how apropos these two words are to Christendom, specifically in how we love others.

The first time I wanted to yell, “Stop it,” was to a guy becoming a pastor. I was in my early 20s, hungry for spiritual growth. I was excited about having been invited to join a small group of men who gathered at Chick-fil-A — obviously — for breakfast and Jesus.

This soon-to-be-pastor sat across from me and asked about my faith. I was elated! Even though I had been raised in church, it wasn’t until now that I was eager to share my personal journey with Christ. Straitening my back, and hardly pausing to breathe, I laid my heart on the table, right next to my chicken.

Interrupting, he asked, “Wait, you’ve already accepted Christ?” He explained that his assignment required him to introduce 10 people to Jesus, and since I already knew Jesus, he stood up and moved to a different table. He didn’t want to know my story — or know me. It was clear; he cared only about himself and his grade.

Romans 12:9-11 states, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them … Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.

In his book Love Does, Bob Goff recalls a decision to leave high school and spend his days climbing the cliffs in Yosemite. A youth leader of his, Randy, decided to tag along with Bob for the first part of the journey for no other reason than to just be with Bob. It ended how you probably imagined. With no education or job, Bob was forced to return home within a week, Randy at his side never chastising Bob or saying, “I told you so.” When they arrived back to Randy’s home, Bob realized that Randy was a newlywed. Bob couldn’t believe that Randy cared enough — believed in him enough — to press pause on his own life for Bob.

Bob said, “Randy didn’t see just a high school kid who had disrupted the beginning of his marriage. He saw a kid who was about to jump the tracks. Instead of spending his early days of his marriage with his bride, he spent it with me … Why? It was because Randy loved me. He saw the need and he did something about it. He didn’t just say he was for me or with me. He was actually present with me.”

Bob said, “That’s what love does! It’s sacrificial, which was modeled by our God — at a great cost!”

Jesus says in John 15:13 that “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

What does it take to have this kind of love? Relationship: First a real relationship with God and second with people. Knowing God intimately will allow you to understand real love and be sincere when loving others. Conversely, a counterfeit love boasts all the right elements of a legitimate relationship but fails to make a difference in the person’s life.

In That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life, author Ana Homayoun shares about a frustrated mom concerned for her son’s lack of school engagement. While the mom thought the issue was solely the son’s, Ana discovered that the mom had recently been through a divorce and failed to consider how the new family dynamic might impact her son’s school performance. Upon digging deeper than the symptom, the real issue was revealed. Now the mom and son have a stronger relationship. That’s what love does … anything less, stop it!

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: Who can love?

Posted on 02 March 2017 by LeslieM

There was a rabbi known for his constant preaching about the need to nurture children with warmth and love.

One time he noticed some children who were playing in the freshly laid concrete outside his newly renovated home, their little feet leaving lasting impressions. He became irritated and started chastising the children.

A congregant asked, “How can you, a person who devoted his entire life to teaching warmth to children, speak this way?”

To which the rabbi replied: “You must understand. I love children in the abstract, not the concrete.”

Who can love?

Where is the first time the term “love” is mentioned in the entire Torah? Who is the first lover in the Bible?

No, it is not Adam and Eve. It’s not even Abraham and Sarah. I am sure they loved each other, but the term “love” is not mentioned.

The first time we discover “love” in the Torah is “G-d said to Abraham… take your son, your only son [from Sarah], whom you love, Isaac, and offer him as a burnt offering.”

Note: It is not saying that Abraham loved Isaac; it is saying that G-d testifies that Abraham loves Isaac. That must have been some intense love!

Now, where is the second time love is mentioned in Torah?

It is in the following portion: “Isaac married Rebecca and he loved her.”

The subtle message being conveyed is clear. What many psychologists and spiritual and self-help books now explain is intimated in this profound sequence in the Torah. Abraham loves Isaac. Isaac loves Rebecca. He who is loved is capable of loving. Isaac was loved; hence he was able to impart love.

Fascinating: This pattern continues throughout Genesis. The third time love is mentioned is the love of Rebecca to her son. Rebecca was loved and so she could love. The fourth time is Isaac’s love to his son, and so on.

Why is this so?

When I am loved, I feel confident about myself. I cherish my own innate value. I, thus, don’t always have to take; I can also give. If I feel unloved, I have a void which I always need to fill. I am forever parasitic. I am always craving your validation, your compliments, your respect, your gratitude, your appreciation, your attention and your approval. But when I feel that my essence is good, I am a lovable being. I can suspend myself and become attentive to you. I can create space for you.

Narcissists, who are self-absorbed 24/7, usually have a tremendous void in their self-value. They never felt genuine love. Their tank is on empty. They cannot afford being there for anyone, ever.

A young woman was being interviewed and said, “I am giving up dating.” The interviewer asked what caused her to take such a drastic measure. She replied, “The last man I met talked only of himself for two solid hours. And then he looked at me and said, ‘Enough of me talking about me. Tell me what you think of me.’”

What is more, if I feel unloved, I do not value my emotions. I can’t believe that my love means anything; I delegitimize my love, because I think I am valueless and certainly all my emotions have no value. It is even deeper. If I do not value my being, then, if I love you, I actually believe that it is wrong; because, if I love something, it must be bad since I, myself, am pretty bad and worthless.

Abraham loved Isaac. He loved his essence. Thus, Isaac could love.

Some have even suggested that this may be part of the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. At the fringe of losing his son, Abraham discovered how much he really loved him. This begins the miracle of the Jewish family, the infinite love between parents and children, which spanned millennia and has been the envy of the world.

What then do you do if you weren’t loved? The answer is what David says in Psalms 27; “My mother and father rejected me, but G-d took me in.”

You must find G-d’s unconditional love for you. You ought to discover the essential value of your being in G-d’s eyes. Birth is G-d saying you matter.

Much of our prayers revolve around this theme. G-d loves you, cherishes you, thinks the world of you, and begs of you to coronate Him as your king. He can’t think of you as too worthless if he really believes that all of history depends on you.

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: The Spiritual Legacy of MLK

Posted on 23 February 2017 by LeslieM

As we near the end of another Black History Month, it is worthwhile to consider the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a champion of social justice with his call for racial equality and harmony. His willingness to engage in peaceful public protest against the injustices of his day still inspires. His messages and speeches sounded a clarion call to peace and brotherhood, and remain an undeniable part of the civil rights movement.

The greatest legacy of Dr. King, in my opinion, is the faith that inspired, informed and ignited his pursuit of equality and brotherhood. What else could explain his unwavering message and mission? What else could cause him to be so passionate and determined that only an assassin’s bullet could stop him?

All that Dr. King attempted and accomplished in the struggle for civil rights was framed in the context of his religious faith. He was first and foremost a preacher of the gospel, and his beliefs were the lenses through which he viewed life and humanity.

In a sermon delivered at a Chicago church in 1967, he confessed “before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher.”

It is quite clear that his religious training, his belief system, his faith was the thing that gave rise to his philosophy, his action, and his dream. His undeniable connection with God inspired him to be an instrument of moral conviction and social transformation.

Dr. King’s faith also informed his dream of social justice. He once preached a sermon, Guidelines For A Constructive Church, from Isaiah 61:1. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

As he rightly saw it, God had established the mission of the church and set clear guidelines for real ministry to the world. Such ministry would address the conditions of life here on earth along with the hope of life in heaven. It was his conviction that “any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that cripple the souls – the economic conditions that stagnate the soul and the city governments that may damn the soul – is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion in need of new blood.”

The faith of Dr. King also provided him with courage in the face of great challenges. Early on, his leadership of the boycott against the city of Montgomery, Alabama made him a target of scorn and hatred. He noted years later that during the time he had received many nasty, threatening phone calls, sometimes over 40 in one day. He did his best to withstand the storm of backlash. A midnight phone call ordering him to clear out of town in three days or else, got the better of him one night, and he was unsettled by fear.

Overwhelmed by a sense of uncertainty he almost gave up. In desperation, he confessed his fear and weakness to God in prayer. And he says, “it seemed in that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.” He was encouraged that night to continue the fight despite the threats.

As his faith inspired, informed and encouraged his pursuits, may our faith guide us as well. Let’s leave a strong spiritual legacy for those who follow.

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: Share the Love

Posted on 16 February 2017 by LeslieM

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is LOVE.” — [I Corinthians 13:13]

I like doing weddings. Weddings are a lot of fun. It is always an honor and a joy to celebrate with a couple and their families the unity of two people, two families and, sometimes, two cultures. I consider myself blessed to have met so many fascinating people. And there is a satisfaction that cannot be described when a couple, whose marriage you performed, comes to church pushing a stroller with a newborn. I always feel like I am, in some way, a part of that miracle, and that is a great honor.

Couples who want to get married love I Corinthians 13. The “Love Chapter” is one of the most “romantic” chapters in the Bible. There is just one problem. Paul was not writing about romantic love, but Godly love. Because I Corinthians 13 is used so frequently at weddings, single people who are not in relationships, think that it doesn’t pertain to them. The fact that the author, St. Paul, was a confirmed bachelor, escapes notice. Also, the fact that romance was the last thing on Paul’s mind, seldom gets mentioned. And that is why I bring up to all of you who think I Corinthians 13 is the sole possession of the happily married, it isn’t. This is God’s love letter to you. I Corinthians 13 belongs to everybody and so does Love.

When Valentine’s Day comes, dating and married people celebrate while single people are often left out. A single person may even say, “I haven’t found love yet.” I find that to be the saddest statement of all.

When I looked up Valentine’s Day, I discovered that this was a holiday that celebrated the contributions of a Christian martyr who lost his life by refusing to deny his faith. St. Valentine, like St. Paul, was a confirmed bachelor. And when he befriended the jailor’s daughter, he wrote her a letter of encouragement in her newfound faith. He signed it “Your Valentine.” This was not a romantic letter, but it was a love letter nevertheless. Valentine shared God’s love with a Christian convert.

Now, this legend varies as it is told and retold. How a perfectly platonic letter between a brother in faith written to a sister in faith could be the inspiration for a holiday which seems to be the sole possession of the happily dating or the happily married is beyond me.

I say it is time to give this holiday back to all people. Let us take time to write “love letters” to our friends who stuck with us through thick and thin. Let us write “love letters” to single and widowed people who are especially lonely on Valentine’s Day. Let us write “love letters” to our brother and sisters in faith who worship with us on a regular basis and could use a little reminder that they are loved. And yes, we carry on the celebration of marriage and courtship as well.

Love belongs to all people. Let us share it [even if it is after Valentine’s Day. Love can be shared all year long!]

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: Quintessence of Life

Posted on 09 February 2017 by LeslieM

In 2013, the Chicago Sun-Times cut their photography staff and instructed the reporters to snap any pictures needed with a smartphone.

Three years later, the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series. Those covering the historical moment included the Sun-Times, as well as the Chicago Tribune — who still employed photojournalists. If you were to Google either of these two paper’s front pages the day after the Cubs’ victory you would immediately recognize the capacity of a professional photographer armed with more than a smartphone. Both papers captured the event, but only one captured an iconic moment.

That’s what I love about photography. Even in a world that relentlessly avoids … still, somehow, with just a click of the shutter, that frozen moment of time can tell a story. With this in mind, I grabbed my Nikon, hopped on my longboard and rolled to the Deerfield Beach Fishing Pier over the weekend in search of nanosecond stories. Though I was not expecting to shoot anything near the level of the Tribune at Wrigley Field, I did want to post images on my social media pages that added value to my viewers — pictures they would enjoy. I found plenty, but it was the snapshot I missed that I remember the most.

Atop the parking garage above Bru’s Room, I witnessed the sun sink deeper toward the horizon, engulfing the sky with a warm orange glow. Having already snapped a few pics of the sunset, I packed my gear and called it a day. I was ready for an ice cold Coke.

It was then that the iconic shot presented itself: the sun setting, Mars-esque sky, the Deerfield Beach water tower on the horizon and the Hillsboro Bridge open in the foreground. I knew by the time I unpacked my camera, configured the shutter speed and aperture settings, the moment would have passed. All I could do was follow the advice from the more recent version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), a negative assets manager for Life Magazine, sets out to find a misplaced negative sent by famed photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) — supposedly capturing “the essence of Life.” The unadventurous Mitty is forced to brave a treacherous climb through the Himalayan mountains where he finds O’Connell poised ready to photograph the elusive “ghost-cat,” a white snow leopard. When the animal enters the frame, to Mitty’s bewilderment, O’Connell doesn’t snap the pic. Mitty says, “When are you going to take it?”

Sometimes, I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it,” says O’Connell.

Mind blown! Countless times since first watching Walter Mitty, I’ve been tempted to grab my phone and take a picture, but didn’t. I’m reminded, while there are definitely times for us to capture a special moment — an iconic one even — most of the pictures we take are less about storing a memory and do more to rob us of being present and experiencing the moment.

And so, there I stood. Wanting to take a picture of the setting sun over Deerfield Beach, I clung to O’Connell’s wisdom: I stayed in the moment — no distraction of the camera. It was beautiful, satisfying even … worth clearing the distractions and being fully present.

If you are like me, there are other areas in your life where this is pertinent as well. For me, it’s in my alone time with God. My serving, reading plans, book studies, small group meetings, and even mentoring, while they all serve a higher purpose and help to capture the essence of faith, just like the camera, they can become distractions from being fully present with my Creator.

This week, take a moment to inventory the distractions that cloud your relationship with God. They may be good things, but as James C. Collins says, “Good is the enemy of great.” And we can’t have a great relationship with God — one that is as quintessential as the front page of the Tribune the morning after the 2016 World Series — if we’re bogged down by all the good, never fully present and satisfied with Him alone.

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 Seed

Posted on 02 February 2017 by LeslieM

Once there was a beloved emperor in a small country who was growing old and knew it was coming time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It has come time for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.”

The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today – one seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!”

There was one boy named Ling who was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by — still nothing.

By now others were talking about their plants but Ling didn’t have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by, still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, and to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by all the other youths. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kids laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, “Hey, nice try.”

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back.

My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown,” said the emperor. “Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!”

All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered him to come to the front. Ling was terrified. “The emperor knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!”

When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. “My name is Ling,” he replied.

All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at

Ling, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!” Ling couldn’t believe it. Ling couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants, and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new leader!”

This is a metaphor for life. Each of us was given his or her “seed,” his or her body, psyche and soul. The saddest thing you can do is try to mimic other people because you dislike your own seed; to live your life based on other people’s expectations, so that you gain their approval and feel successful, even if that means repressing your own seed and using the seed of another. Only when you become completely honest with your own condition and reality, confessing that your seed has grown nothing, can you truly make something of yourself and become a genuine source of leadership and inspiration to yourself, and others.

The Baal Shem Tov said “G-d desires your heart” – your raw, naked truth, more than anything else. It is what your children need most, too. No fancy toys or fun trips — those are good but it is not what they really need. They need your sincerity and your truth.

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: A call to excellence

Posted on 26 January 2017 by LeslieM

The start of a new year customarily produces reflection, introspection and resolutions for the days, weeks and months that lay ahead of us. What do we envision for our lives? What steps will take us there? How will our objectives be accomplished? The advice gurus, life coaches and motivational experts are all offering their strategies and opinions.

Allow me to add another by appealing to the ancient, yet relevant, wisdom of king Solomon. In Ecclesiastes 9:10, He offers this advice, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might: for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.

After studying various aspects of life and behavior, the wise man draws several conclusions in Ecclesiastes, and makes a profound recommendation in this verse. First, we are all endowed with certain abilities that enable us to work, serve or lead. This allows us to realize that we have purpose, meaning and a call to our lives, and are not here by accident. “Whatever your hand finds to do” speaks to those abilities that enable us to make a living, as well as a significant contribution to the lives of our fellowman.

Next, Solomon reminds us that we have a limited time within which to live and fulfill our purpose. We don’t like to think about it but we are all headed for the grave. When the soul and the body separate at death, we’ve run out of time to affect anything in this life. “There is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave.” We should so live as to make the best use of the time we have left, and perfect what we are able and skilled to do.

This brings us to the essential focus of the verse, “do it with your might.” Give it your best effort. Put your all into it. Strive to excel. Why be mediocre when you can be exceptional? Why walk if you can run? Why run if you can fly? Someone once remarked that our abilities are God’s gift to us. What we do with them is our gift back to God. Why not give Him your best?

On Oct. 26, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was speaking to students at Barrat Junior High School in Philadelphia. Part of his speech captures the essence of what Solomon sought to communicate — “And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better. If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or you fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”

Aim to make 2017 your best year by giving your best effort at what you are gifted and called to do. May God’s word inspire you and His hand guide you to a life of excellence and service. Amen.

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: Forgiveness is not a safe topic …If you are preaching it correctly”

Posted on 19 January 2017 by LeslieM

It was a regular Sunday, like any other Sunday. The Scripture text assigned for the day included the words below:

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24 NRSV

I thought, “This is a good time to preach on forgiveness.” Now, I have preached many sermons on forgiveness. In fact, I would go so far to say that you really cannot proclaim the Gospel if you don’t bring up the topic of forgiveness.

And, besides, I thought, “Forgiveness is a safe topic.” Yes, I wasn’t in the mood to preach a controversial sermon that would stir up or even divide the congregation.

It was going nice and smooth. I brought up God’s love, our sinful nature, our need to be forgiven and the ultimate price God was willing to pay for us on the cross. It was nice and safe. People were smiling pleasantly and nodding their heads and I thought everything was going well.

And, then, I decided to apply this to our lives. Therefore, if you are estranged with someone you love or another member of the congregation, I want you to go home, call them up, and tell them that you forgive them.

The mood changed quickly. Smiles started to leave faces. I even saw a frown or two. People were squirming in their pews. I knew that I may have gone a step too far.

And then, when people were departing from the service, one person decided to linger behind. It was one of the frowners. She proceeded to tell me that she was wronged by another person whom she loved. Now, I am not talking about victimization, but it was more of the nature that words were said that hurt her feelings. I understand that feelings can get hurt; and, when they do, it isn’t pleasant.

But this person was very upset with me; because, in her words, her anger was “none of my business” and “how dare you” was used to question my message.

For years she has been nursing this grudge and now I challenged her to forgive the person who hurt her feelings. I was now the bad guy. It would have been good if I would have stopped my sermon at the cross of Christ and then proceeded with a pleasant hymn. But I had to throw in that pesky “however” and I discovered that, indeed, forgiveness is not a safe topic for some people.

When I challenged the congregation, I received the counter-challenge. When this occurs, it is easy to pull back and retreat. Lesson learned; don’t include the “however.” Keep it safe. Talk about forgiveness in generalities; but, do not, under any circumstances, make it specific or personal. Forgiveness is a safe topic when you talk about it in generalities, but not specifics. But when you get specific, it gets personal. People squirm, get angry, and even confront you.

But, wait, have I not been called to proclaim the Gospel? Have I not been called to distribute the sacraments which, at their core, are a means of grace? As a Lutheran, I include the confession and forgiveness in my service. None of my business? Forgiveness is my business.

I thought about the fact that I could have ended with the proclamation of God’s forgiveness, but this proclamation is not an ending; it is a new beginning.

And, as far as “keeping it safe,” we were never promised a safe journey. In fact, if anything, we were assured that living we find ourselves in danger every time we live out our faith. Safety was never promised. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is the promise.

Considering all of the obstacles we face within our places of worship that are related to the lack of forgiveness and forgiving, I double down on this message. I proclaim forgiveness and do it; if people squirm — good riddance. It is high time that we embrace the pastoral courage to leave the safety zone and challenge our people to forgive. I look back at that Sunday with no regrets. My only regret is that I didn’t learn this lesson sooner.

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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