| Clergy Corner

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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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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CLERGY CORNER: My Top Ten of 2016

Posted on 12 January 2017 by LeslieM

On the evening of Oct. 21, 2009, the flight crew of Northwest Flight 188 accidentally lost radio contact with air traffic control and flew approximately 150 miles past their destination of Minneapolis, Minnesota (MSP). Unfortunately for the pilots, besides losing their flight credentials, David Letterman, in response as to how this could happen, released the Top Ten Northwest Airlines pilot excuses. Having piloted under the Northwest colors myself, it pains me to admit that number seven —“Tired of that show-off Sullenberger getting all the attention”— gave me a chuckle.

It just so happens that Sullenberger, aka Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, also graced my list of the Top Ten resources in 2016 That Made Me a Better Person.

10. (Movie) God’s Not Dead 2. As a staff member with First Priority of South Florida, a non –profit organization operating under the Equal Access Act which “gives students the right to initiate and lead a Christian club on campus,” this movie reminded me that with nearly half a million students in the public middle and high schools of Southeast Florida — with statistics indicating that over 90 percent of these teens do not know Christ—one of the greatest mission fields is right in my own backyard.

9. (Podcast) Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell. This series challenged me to think differently about the past, and while I may not always agree with everything Gladwell has to say, I’m reminded that empathy begins when I leave the island of self.

8. (Podcast) The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. One particular episode stirred me to consider that if EQUIP, our student ministry, disappeared, would it matter? Would anyone miss it? I was forced to reevaluate the culture I was creating and enact a strategy to ensure it was a culture of continual improvement through a clear mission and vision. This podcast required me to defend why EQUIP exists.

7. (Movie) Sully. I’m moved to tears when the bustle of New York City drops everything to rescue the 155 passengers and crew of US Air flight 1549 when the plane lands in the Hudson River. This movie reminds me that there is much good in this world, and, as the old cliché states, “Not all heroes wear capes.” Sometimes they just ride ferry boats to work.

6. (Book) From the Pen to the Palace: A Youth Ministry Evangelism and Discipleship Dtrategy for a Post-Christian Culture by Benjamin Kerns. Benjamin introduced me to a world where the prodigal son never returns. It’s a context I have to understand if I’m ever to reach a generation that’s always lived in the “pen” and has never experienced the “palace.”

5. (Book) Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull. The title says it all and it’s my favorite book about how teams should operate.

4. (Movie) I’m Not Ashamed. This true story crafted from the journals of Rachel Scott, who was killed for her faith during the 1999 Columbine shooting, reminds me why it’s important to live boldly for Christ.

3. (Podcast) The Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. Pastor Craig helped me to understand the importance of being a leader that communicates effectively. He also taught me how to embrace change and to accept nothing less than my God-given leadership capacity.

2. (Book) Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg. There is a reason Pastor Doug Sauder recommended this book to his entire staff, and why it’s my No. 2. This book helped me understand exactly what my soul is and how I can administer the proper “soul-care.”

1. (App) The YouVersion Bible App. Truthfully I could just say The Holy Bible — it is all we need. But what I love about the YouVersion Bible App are the reading plans that span every topic and situation imaginable. With this app you’ll never have to say, “I don’t know where to start.” It also includes multiple languages, translations and even audible versions. A truly transformative 2017 begins here in God’s Word.

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 perpetual relationship

Posted on 05 January 2017 by LeslieM

The ham sandwich

A Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest were good friends. At a picnic one day, the priest was eating a ham sandwich.

You know,” he said to his friend, “this ham sandwich is delicious. I know you’re not supposed to eat ham, but I don’t understand why such a good thing would be forbidden. When will you break down and try it? When will you stop being so stubborn about your ancient laws and just start enjoying life. Will you ever become integrated and taste ham?”

To which the rabbi replied, “Sure, at your wedding.”

And this is the theme I wish to discuss with you today.

The Dalai Lama

Rabbi Ben Zion Krasnyanski, the Chabad rabbi on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was once present at a large spiritual seminar in Manhattan, with many a Jewish Buddhists in the crowd. One man asked him, “Rabbi, I know that you believe that for a Jew to find spiritual fulfillment, he ought to search for it in Judaism. And I resent that. Why would you not tell a Jew that there are many paths to attain meaning and enlightenment, Judaism being only one of them? Take Buddhism for example. It is, I maintain, a legitimate spiritual path for the Jew. Look at the Dalai Lama, the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism. He is an awesome fellow, beloved, peaceful, enlightened, gracious, tranquil and happy. Why would you not encourage Jews to use his path for spiritual meaning? Would it be so bad if we Jews were as fine and wonderful as the Dalai Lama?”

To which the Chabad rabbi responded “You have just defined the Dalai Lama in powerful adjectives: fine, wonderful, awesome, beloved, peaceful, enlightened, gracious, tranquil and happy. I would love to accept all these titles about him. But we Jews have a sacred tradition which dates back 4000 years. We do not believe any compliments about any man in the world, no matter who he is, until we first consult the man’s wife. We believe that only the wife of a man really knows him and if she consents to all the compliments about her husband, then we can accept them. Only the wife is a “valid witness” in Judaism. So as much as I would love to accept all your words of praise about the Dalai Lama, as a rabbi I must adhere to the Jewish rule and I must first speak to Mrs. Dalai Lama and hear what she has to say about her husband. Here is the deal — If she agrees to all of these titles, then, yes, I confess you are right. Buddhism is the way to go. But if Mrs. Dalai Lama disagrees, then, I stick with Judaism and you must also stick with Judaism.

To which the man responded, “Primitiveness, rabbi, has just emerged in full splendor. How old- fashioned and isolated can you be? I knew that ultra orthodox Chassidic rabbis are out of touch with reality, but so out of touch? Do you not know that the Dalai Lama may never get married? He is to remain a celibate for his entire life! By definition of his being, the Dalai Lama he could never have a “Mrs.!”

Ah,” responded the rabbi with a smile. “That is exactly the point! He is not allowed to have a Mrs.”

You see,” the rabbi said, “The path of Buddhism, and many similar paths, fascinating and meaningful as they may be, demand that the head monk remain unmarried.”

In 2008, a reporter interviewed the Dalai Lama, and asked him, does he not desire intimacy, marriage, family? The Dalai Lama said: “People marry, soon after, they divorce. Again, they marry, and may divorce again. Those who marry always have trouble…. If you live together, happy, and get old, there is the issue of who goes first, who dies first. Human attachment to your children and partner becomes an obstacle to peace of mind. The attachments are a trap… Monks are detached. One of the practices in all major religions is detachment. Don’t have too much attachment, and you’ll be content. You have it in Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, all major religions.”

But the Dalai Lama knew not to mention Judaism because Judaism’s approach is different. In Judaism, the deepest spiritual fulfillment is attained only through deep and powerful concrete relationships here on earth. The Kabbalah explains why. Before creation G-d was alone. There was nothing but G-d, nothing but divine truth, light and purity. So why did G-d decide to create you and me? G-d was the ultimate Monk, fully detached and fully one and integrated. It is Niravana all of the time, one in all and all in one. So why did G-d disturb the silent peace and create a chaotic universe?

Because He wanted a relationship. So He made Himself vulnerable and He suspended His infinity to create space for the universe. So in Judaism, we touch the purpose of creation when we, too, come out of our cocoon and we connect with people deeply; when we turn the “I” into a “we,” when we create space for each other and we learn to love deeply and passionately.

So, on the holiest day of our calendar, the high priest who enters into the most sacred space on earth, may not be a spiritual bachelor. He must be a married man. You know why? Because it is in marriage where you must learn to be in a perpetual relationship, not only on your terms, but also on another person’s terms. For a marriage to work, you must be concerned with your partner 24/7. You must become one. And it is in our oneness with other people, that we emulate G-d who created the world in order to enter into a relationship with us.

Ham we may not eat, but marriage — oh yes! So if you’re looking to make a New Year’s resolution – emulate G-d by working on your relationships.

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: A Shepherd’s Story

Posted on 29 December 2016 by LeslieM

The first human beings to know about the birth of our Lord were a bunch of shepherds. This is a story about one of those shepherds, but you won’t find anything about him anywhere, because shepherds weren’t well thought of in those days. This shepherd was a young boy on the night our Lord was born. He was excited that his father let him stay up late and be with the other shepherd boys. After a while, his father called him so they could make one final check of their flock to make certain all the sheep were accounted for and none were distracted by the lights in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a hub of activity in those days, because all who were descended from King David were there to register for the census.

After they checked their flock and settled down by their fire, a gloriously angelic being appeared to them. The boy and his father were terrified, but the angel’s words calmed them, “Fear not, I bring you tidings of great joy.” He spoke of a baby who was born that night and told them to go and see him because he was the promised Messiah. The boy turned to his father and they stood looking at each other with tears of joy streaming down their cheeks. They had heard their rabbi speak of a Messiah, but never expected to be the first to see him.

They gazed up into the night sky and one star appeared brighter than all the others. They followed that star to a stable, and saw a man with the clothes and rough hands of a carpenter. He was standing protectively at the side of a young woman who was holding a new-born baby.

Can this be what the Messiah looks like,” thought the shepherd boy. “He’s just a baby.”

After a while, the boy and his father went back to their flock, but they knew their lives would never be the same. He later found out the man’s name was Joseph and the woman’s name was Mary.

They stayed for a while in Bethlehem, but then went to Egypt to escape King Herod’s order that all young boys were to be killed by his soldiers. He feared that one of them might grow up and challenge him as “King of the Jews.”

Years later, the shepherd boy grew up and had his own flock. He heard of a prophet from Nazareth whose name was Jesus. He remembered that Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth, so he decided to go and see the prophet for himself. He found him by the Sea of Galilee and he thought to himself, “My heart is filled with the same joy and hope I felt that night in Bethlehem so many years ago. I like how he calls himself our shepherd, and how he promises to keep us from being lost and to protect us from predators.”

A couple of years later, the shepherd was in Jerusalem for the Passover with his wife and children. Jesus was there also, but he was taken prisoner by Pontius Pilate, and he was tried and scourged. The shepherd followed him through the streets of Jerusalem as he carried his cross to a hill outside of town, to a place where the Roman soldiers crucified Him. The shepherd sought out his disciples and stood with them three days later at the Resurrection. It was then that all the promises Jesus made came true.

The shepherd thought, “He wasn’t the King we expected, but he was the one we needed. And looking back on that night in Bethlehem, I realize that many people may never understand what happened. I was an eyewitness and I hardly understand myself, but this much I do understand, on that night, a bunch of lowly shepherds became sheep, and the Lamb of God became our shepherd.”

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

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CLERGY CORNER: The real meaning of Christmas

Posted on 24 December 2016 by LeslieM

It is easy in our modern times to forget the significance of the Christmas event. With all the emphasis upon twinkling lights, holiday shopping and family gatherings, there is a need for a purposeful reminder that without Christ there would be no Christmas. The Biblical and historical account of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is of great importance to the whole of humanity. Believers would argue that it offers the single greatest influence upon this world. The gospel of Matthew recounts the events that preceded and surrounded the birth of Jesus. Mary and Joseph are betrothed for marriage when she is suddenly discovered to be pregnant. An angel speaks to Joseph in a dream to allay his fears and to convey the supernatural and eternal significance of what has taken place.

Matthew 1:21 records, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus means “he shall save.” His mission and purpose were, therefore, indicated in His name. Because of Adam’s transgression, mankind was plunged into a quagmire of iniquity that manifested in rebellion against God. The stranglehold of sin had to be broken so that men could experience true fellowship with God as originally intended. Jesus was God’s agent of salvation who would take the sins of the world upon Himself, die in our place, and secure God’s forgiveness and mercy. Christmas remembers and celebrates His coming to fulfill this task for our benefit.

Sadly, many choose to ignore this aspect of Christ’s coming. There are those who offer peace, love and goodwill as the essence of the Christmas message. God’s gift of His Son, they claim, ought to inspire us to give of ourselves to others during this time of year. While that may be a commendable way of viewing the Christmas event, it is not its essential message. John 3:16 clearly states that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And the angel in Matthew 1:21 said that He would save His people from their sins.

Many would agree that the world needs salvation – from hunger, war, brutality, poverty and hate. These seem to be the real issues facing people today; and, if we could resolve these problems, the world would be a better place. The folly of such reasoning lies in the denial that man is unavoidably and inevitably a sinner who cannot help himself. Even if those issues were resolved, new ones would be created to take their place. Men are hungry, fight wars, hate and produce poverty because of sin. Deal with the sin problem and we will see clearly to end hunger, cease from wars, eliminate hate and eradicate poverty. Ignore it and we are doomed to an endless cycle of misery, frustration and depravity. The prophet Jeremiah (17:9) said it best, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jesus is God’s solution to man’s sin problem.

The greatest Christmas gift was God’s own Son, sent to be the Savior of the world. The malls and shopping centers are full of anxious consumers searching for the right gift. God’s gift is waiting for you to receive Him. You won’t find Him in a display window, on a department store shelf or through an online special. You will find Him wherever the heart is tender toward the purposes of God. You will find Him wherever there is trust in the Father’s eternal will. You will find this gift wherever there is brokenness and sorrow over one’s sinful condition.

Accept God’s gift! Embrace God’s gift! Make this the best Christmas ever by responding to the love of God and putting your trust in Him. That’s the real meaning of Christmas.

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: Blessed distractions

Posted on 15 December 2016 by LeslieM

It was a crowded day at the mall and a woman just had to go to the mall and pick up one more Christmas present. The problem was that she was due at any minute and her husband, doctor, parents and friends told her that she shouldn’t go to the mall. But she insisted. Her best friend tried to talk her out of it, but then found herself driving her very pregnant friend to the busiest place at the busiest time.

The mall was loud and chaotic. People were in a hurry, hustling and bustling with a nervous, yet exciting, energy. And when she found herself in the right shop, it happened.

There was no way to get out of the mall in time. Her best friend told the owner of the shop that a baby was going to be born and, as good fortune would have it, there was a nurse in the shop. The store owner wasn’t sure that she could afford to take two or three clerks off the floor to assist the woman in need, but she did, knowing that this was going to put a dent in her sales. And then, in the back room, a beautiful baby girl was born with a nurse, three clerks and a best friend surrounding the mother and child. The child was wrapped in tissue paper and lying in an open cardboard container.

Her husband got word, via text message, and he drove as fast as he could and bobbed and weaved his way through the crowded mall to see his newborn daughter. When the father saw his beautiful daughter, it was love at first sight, and everybody in the room experienced the joy, including the owner of the shop.

When all was said and done, the owner was grateful for the “blessed distraction” that allowed her to put life in perspective, witness the miracle of birth and feel the bond with her customers, who shared the miracle with her. She may have lost some time and money; but she experienced something far more valuable. Thank God for “blessed distractions!”

I love the song “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as much as any Christmas-loving Christian. It is certainly not my intention to ruin the song, but I must point out that the “Little Town of Bethlehem” was called “The City of David” in the Christmas narrative of Luke. Now, the word “city” is relative, and it may not have been a booming metropolis; but it was booming. A mandatory census was put in place and people travelled to their ancestral homes. In Mary and Joseph’s case, that was Bethlehem and together they traveled back home from the place of their residence, Nazareth. No doubt, they travelled in a caravan with other relatives and, when they arrived at Bethlehem, there was no room for them in the inn. With “No Vacancy” signs on every hotel in the City of David, it was anything but “silent.”

And then, in the midst of the hurry and scurry, hustle and bustle in a city with a nervous, and yet, exciting energy, a “blessed distraction” occurred. Jesus was born.

When word got to the shepherds, not by text but singing angels filling the sky, they bobbed and weaved their way through the crowded streets of Bethlehem, maybe even with their sheep at toe. Can you imagine?

This reimagining of Christmas may change your perception, and I apologize if I ruined it for you. But I find this image to be more meaningful, especially in the context of our Advent season where we find ourselves so distracted in our preparation for Christmas that we forget to prepare ourselves for Christ. You may even say that sometimes Christmas stands in the way of Christmas. We need “blessed distractions” to reorient ourselves to that which is most important in life. We need to stop, pause and reflect upon the miracle of birth, the blessing of family and friends, and the bond that strangers feel when they witness a miracle together, and are strangers no more.

But this isn’t just another “blessed distraction.” This event transformed life as we know it. God enters into our chaos of shopping malls and city streets with a gift to all humanity. And, though it may be inconvenient to some, it certainly reminds us that we are loved by God.

May the “blessed distraction” of Christmas transform your life this year.

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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