| Clergy Corner

CLERGY CORNER: Thoughts on the New Year

Posted on 04 January 2018 by LeslieM


In our lives we are running for re-election every year as we close one year and open another. In our election, it is our spouses, our children, our parents, our friends, co-workers, employees, employers and G-d that get to vote. We need to reclaim the admiration of all of them in order to win re-election.

If your children had a chance to “vote” for their dad … or not, what type of vote would you receive? How would your children judge you today as a father? Do we just manage them and throw toys at them so they don’t distract us, or do we create a space in our soul every night to nurture them? Do you let them know in very real ways that they matter?

Small Steps

We try to enhance our lives through small steps, not through huge sweeping changes, for those never last. We add one more mitzvah or resolution into our lives. We resolve that this year we will make one small but real change in our lives.

Let me tell you a story: There once was a poor woman who had no money to feed her children. One day she managed to acquire an egg.

Dear children,” she exclaimed, “let’s not eat this egg! If we wait a while, the egg will hatch and we will have a chick. The chick will grow into a chicken that lays eggs every day. They will also hatch, and soon we’ll have a flock of chickens. We’ll sell the chickens and buy a little calf. The calf will grow into a cow and will give birth to many calves that will grow into cows. Before long, we’ll have a big ranch with a large herd of cattle. Listen, dear children, this little egg will make us rich!”

In her excitement, the mother held up the egg for her children to see. It slipped out of her hand – and cracked wide open on the kitchen floor.

We often make the same error. During this time, we often make lofty albeit worthwhile resolutions. But, as soon as the New Year passes by, we go back to our old ways and the good intentions evaporate. The challenge is to ensure that our resolutions are rooted in the present, and at a level at which we can actually make day-to-day progress.

Be Real

Abe is talking to his friend.

If there’s one piece of simple advice I can give you, Marvin, it’s this. I read it in the Times yesterday and it worked immediately for me.

I’ve finally found inner peace. I’m sure it will work for you too.”

So give me this advice, already,” says Marvin.

OK, here it is,” replies Abe. “The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you’ve started.”

Really?” says Marvin.

Yes,” replies Abe. “I looked around to see all the things I had started but hadn’t finished. So, I finished one bottle of white wine, a bottle of red wine, a keg of beer, the bottle of whiskey, and a large box of gourmet chocolates. You have no idea how good I felt.”

On the New Year, we are called to take a TRUE look at ourselves.

A liar,” said the Maggid of Kelm, “is worse than a thief or robber. A thief steals at night, but is afraid to steal by day. A robber robs night and day, but only robs a lone individual or a few people; he is afraid to rob too many at once. The liar, however, lies both at night and day, both to the individual and to the world.”

Are we real people? How many lies do we say a day? Do we say white lies? Are we honest in our conversations and dealings? Are we true to ourselves as we should be?

Most of us walk through most of our life distracted from the most important and truest question of life: Why are we here? Today, I encourage you to look out, be sensitive for those precious moments — when you may discover a deeper, truer part of yourself — and take it with you.

Have a Happy New Year!

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: Press for the prize

Posted on 28 December 2017 by LeslieM

The approach of a new year often brings hope and anticipation for a better tomorrow. It’s a time of reflecting on the things that didn’t get done, and planning how to see the desired outcome in the future. Write the book, lose the weight, finish the degree and start the business. These are the ideas and projects that beckon or taunt us as we look toward a new year and a potentially fresh start. But without a definite plan in place and a commitment to persevere, we may find ourselves in the same position a year from now. How many times have we made resolutions in January, that were abandoned by March?

In his letter to the believers at Philippi, Paul reveals his mindset and hints at a plan of action for accomplishment. “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize” (Philippians 3:13,14 NIV). While the apostle is dealing primarily with matters of spiritual development and Christian service, his insight points to undeniable principles necessary for achieving the goals we set for ourselves.

The first step has to do with “forgetting what is behind”. Put the past in the past and stop reliving the failures or successes of years gone by. No one can safely navigate a car forward by looking in the rearview mirror. There is a danger in constantly looking back at what once was or what used to be. Life is comprised of right-now moments that demand our attention and focus. Learn what you need to know from the past and keep moving forward.

The second step involves “straining toward what is ahead.” In other words, put your prospects in perspective. What are the opportunities in front of you? Where are your strengths more needed? Where are the areas that fit your unique abilities? Invest your time and effort in those things that are within your reach, even if you must stretch a little. This step will require focus and the ability to dismiss distractions so that you can stay on course.

The third step is to press for the prize. With the goal in front of you, and determination to get it you can push forward. It may not be easy. To press means to face resistance, and there will be challenges, obstacles, and frustration that must be overcome. But the goal is in front of you and you can reach it if you try. At this stage, you can consider how far you’ve come and find the motivation to finish strong. Why get so close, only to give up after you’ve invested so much effort? Shake off discouragement, refuse to quit and press forward.

There were many memorable moments of achievement in the 2016 Olympics. One of the more daring and outrageous accomplishments came in the Women’s 400m finals. Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas was the frontrunner for much of the race but the American champion, Allyson Felix was closing in fast on the last stretch. In a desperate move to cross the finish line first, Shaunae Miller dove headlong into the tape beating Allyson Felix in a photo finish. It was an unorthodox and unconventional move that caused a lot of stir on social media, but it was allowable in the rules of track and field. Shaunae won the race because she pressed for the prize.

As we prepare to enter another year of events and experiences, position yourself for the accomplishment of your goals. Put the past in the past, put your prospects in perspective, and press for the prize. Have a happy and blessed New Year!

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: A performance worthy of a king

Posted on 21 December 2017 by LeslieM

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:40 NRSV

I am not one to brag, but I was a part of a choir that performed for a king, King Olav V. I also had the privilege of performing for the crown prince and princess who are now the King and Queen of Norway.

My mother’s family is Norwegian and I attended a college in Minnesota, Concordia College, which was founded by my Norwegian immigrants. Because the Church of Norway is Lutheran, so is my alma mater. And there are still strong links between my college and the Kingdom of Norway. That is why, periodically, my college performs in Norway for the Norwegian royal family. And you can imagine that one may be humbled by an experience like this.

The performance for the king was simply a song we sang at the Ascension Day worship service in the Oslo Cathedral. He was a gracious old man who waved to us on his way out during the procession.

Crown Prince Harald and Princess Sonja attended a concert we performed for in a church near their residence outside of Oslo. Since then he has been crowned King Harald V. This event was far more memorable. And we were all starstruck by the fact that we were performing for a man who would be king.

The crown prince and princess sat in throne-like chairs in the center aisle right behind our conductor. They had the best seats in the house, naturally, and the others in attendance paid dearly for admission. We could see his facial expressions throughout the whole concert; and, as starstruck American kids, we paid close attention to those expressions almost as if they were the only thing that mattered.

The crown prince looked bored. It looked like he was doing us a giant favor by showing up at our concert. At times, he even looked inconvenienced. His wife smiled and was delightful, but we didn’t seem to be affecting the prince.

At intermission, we all commented on the prince’s demeanor. One of the choir members said: “Wait a minute, we are Americans. We don’t have kings. The crowd loves us. Let us sing to the crowd.”

One of our more faithful members said: “Better yet, let us give glory to God.”

Our focus shifted from the prince, who seemed bored and inconvenienced, to the actual people who came to hear the choir, the people who paid dearly to sit in the uncomfortable pews. Our focus shifted from the crown prince, who sat in front of us, to God, the true master of the house.

When I look back, I think our second half was better. I think the choir sounded better. The crowd was even more enthusiastic. And then something else happened, the prince began to smile.

It would be easy to dismiss the prince as a spoiled brat. After all, there are privileges that come with royalty. However, I give him the benefit of the doubt. I sincerely believe that a good prince understands that he is beholden to both his God and his subjects. I believe a good prince isn’t focused upon himself but upon those things that are bigger than him. And my relatives who live in Norway assure me that King Harald is a good king who truly does care for his people.

What does this have to do with Christmas? A King was born on Christmas. He wasn’t born in a palace but a stable. He wasn’t laid in a golden crib, but a manger. His birth wasn’t announced with trumpets outside of a palace, but by singing angels in the midst of shepherds. God went out of his way to shift our focus away from all of the things we associate with royalty to the very things that truly matter, God and the people God serves.

Had the Christmas story happened any differently, we could have been like a bunch of starstruck college kids caught up in tabloid hype. Rather, from the beginning, God shifted our focus to a place where it always should have been.

One of my favorite Christmas songs was written in Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941. It was called “The Carol of the Drum” and was first performed by the Trapp Family singers in 1951. (Yes, the Sound of Music family). Its title has been changed to “The Little Drummer Boy.” And when the drummer boy plays his best, baby Jesus smiles.

How do we make the King of King’s smile? Matthew 25 tells us to shift our focus. Clearly, focusing on God’s people has always been a part of the story of Jesus. If we really want to make our King smile on Christmas, let us give our best to the least. Let us focus on the poor, the needy, those who are forgotten on Christmas. If we really want to make Jesus smile, honor God and all of God’s people.

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: Give your kids and teens what they really want this Christmas

Posted on 14 December 2017 by LeslieM

In 2015, IKEA, the Swedish ready-to-assemble furniture and home furnishings retailer, asked “Why do we insist on not giving our children the gifts they really want for Christmas?”

To answer this question, IKEA created an experiment in which children from 10 different families were asked to write two separate letters: one to Santa Claus and the other to their parents.

As expected, to Santa Claus, kids requested everything from the latest tech to a unicorn. The other letter; however, the one to their parents, kids wrote, “I want you to spend more time with me”… “that we do more experiments at home”… “I’d like it [if] you paid a little bit more attention to us”… “have dinner with us more often.” Other children asked to be tickled more, have a story read to them, or simply spend the whole day together.

By the conclusion of the experiment, the parents discovered the best they could give their children is the giving of themselves, and this lesson is every bit applicable to those parents with teens — minus the tickling.

In light of the IKEA experiment results, consider the following gift ideas that honor God while creating a memorable Christmas for your children and teens:

Gift an experience. Whether it’s a family ski trip or simply watching Elf together for the billionth time, beginning a family tradition elevates presence over presents. Stuff eventually wears out, but a positive experience gets better with each time the story is told.

Gift items that speak your child’s or teen’s love language. If this is the first you have heard of “love languages,” schedule time to read Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively. Chapman writes, “Modern technology is exposing our teens to the best and worst of all human cultures.” As such, he believes there has never been a greater need for parents to “assume their role as loving leaders in the home.” Giving gifts that speak your child’s or teen’s love language is the most effective manner in which to refill a teen’s emotional “love tank.”

Gift a better story. Dr. Tim Elmore, in his book Habitudes for Communicators: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, shares of a father “grieving” his daughter’s choices that did not align with “any of the family’s values.” The solution came when the father realized “everyone wants to be a part of a story that is interesting and compelling” — a life that is a part of the solution to a problem. The daughter eventually, on her own accord, chose to abandon her old lifestyle when “she found a better story at home.”

Gift without strings attached. Attaching emotional strings to giving is a hidden manifestation of control; it can morph into manipulation that increases the risk of damaging the relationship between the giver and receiver by establishing an unfair burden of reciprocity upon the receiver. Mindy Crary writes in Forbes, “Some people think they’ll disappoint their children if they don’t lavish them with gifts. But I’ve found that with kids [and teens], gift satisfaction is usually very short term. And even early on, [they] intuitively know whether the gift you are giving is for them, or for you.”

Gift worshipping together. Given the business of the holidays, from visiting friends and family to the excitement of unwrapping gifts, the temptation exists to “neglect meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25). In Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, Francis Chan writes, “It’s easy to fill ourselves up with other things and then give God whatever is left,” citing Hosea 13:6, “When I fed them, they were satisfied when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot Me.” Chan asserts that “God wants our best, deserves our best, and demands our best.” Avoid setting the dangerous precedent of offering God merely “leftovers.” Gift the example of putting God first.

While your child or teen may plead that they are not able to live without the new iPhone X (or a unicorn), give them what they really want: the present of your presence.

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

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CLERGY CORNER: Two perspectives

Posted on 07 December 2017 by LeslieM

Two cowboys come upon an Indian lying on his stomach with his ear to the ground. One of the cowboys stops and says to the other, “You see that Indian?”

Yeah,” says the other cowboy.

Look,” says the first one, “he’s listening to the ground. He can hear things for miles in any direction.”

Just then, the Indian looks up and says, “Covered wagon … about two miles away. Have two horses, one brown, one white. Man, woman, child and household articles in wagon.”

Incredible!” says the cowboy to his friend. “This Indian knows how far away they are, how many horses, what color they are, who is in the wagon and what is in the wagon. Amazing!”

The Indian looks up and says, “Ran over me about a half-hour ago.”

3315 years ago, G-d asked us if we would marry him. We had an extraordinary wedding ceremony, with great special effects. We were wowed. After the wedding, He said, “I have a few things I’d like you to take care of for me so, please … I’ll be right back.”

He hasn’t been heard from since — for more than 3315 years. He has sent messengers, messages, postcards — you know, writing on the walls … but we haven’t heard a word from Him in all this time.

Imagine, a couple gets married, and the man says to his new wife, “Would you make me something to eat, please? I’ll be right back.” She begins preparing. The guy comes back 3315 years later, walks into the house, up to the table, straight to his favorite chair, sits down and tastes the soup that is on the table. The soup is cold.

What will his reaction be? If he’s a wise man, he won’t complain. Rather, he’ll think it’s a miracle that the house is still there, that his table and favorite chair are still there. He’ll be delighted to see a bowl of soup at his place. The soup is cold? Well, yes, over 3000 years, soup can get cold.

Now, we are expecting Moshiach (Messiah). If Moshiach comes now, and wants to judge, what’s he going to find? Cold soup? He will find an incredibly healthy people. After 3000 years, we are concerned about being human, which means we are concerned about our relationship with G-d.

Yes, if Moshiach comes today, he’ll find that our soup is cold. We suffer from separation anxiety. We suffer from a loss of connection to our ancestors. We suffer a loss of connection even to our immediate family. The soup is cold. The soup is very cold. But whose fault is that? And who gets the credit for the fact that there is soup altogether?

We are a miracle. All we need to do is tap into it. We are the cure, not only for ourselves, but also for the whole world. So let Moshiach come now and catch us here with our cold soup, because we have nothing to be ashamed of. We are truly incredible. When G-d decided to marry us, He knew He was getting a really good deal.

This, then, is what Chassidism taught: A person is a child of G-d. A person is a prince. A person is the holiest of the holy. A person is truly one with G-d. And even when you look at yourself in the mirror and you feel disloyal, the truth is that your ultimate loyalty remains to G-d, to truth, to holiness, to purity.

Moshiach is ready to come!

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: Thanksgiving in Vermont

Posted on 30 November 2017 by LeslieM

As we all made our plans for Thanksgiving Day this year, surely the remembrance of past Thanksgivings, some good and some perhaps not so good, seeped into our memories. I was raised on a farm in Vermont and Thanksgiving Day was a big deal. The growing season was at an end by November, and it was time to celebrate and thank our Lord for whatever bounty He had provided.

We had a small family farm on a country road that led to the top of George Hill where my grandfather had his dairy farm. He raised fodder grain and tended his cows, while my grandmother raised turkeys and chickens and tended her vegetable garden. The country road was dotted with family farms that made up a closely knit community. There were years of plenty and years of scarcity; years when our root cellars and storerooms were full, and years when we wondered how we would make it through the winter until spring. No matter what each year brought, our community would gather together on Thanksgiving Day, at my grandfather’s farm, and give thanks to our Lord and share whatever we had.

Thanksgiving Day always unfolded based on a two-part plan that never strayed far from our community’s deep love and dependence on our Lord to provide what we needed.

My grandmother came from a long line of country cooks. She knew what to do in the kitchen so her part in the plan was to organize the food preparation. She provided the roast turkey; my mother brought the stuffing which used homemade caraway-rye bread [the caraway seeds were picked from the school yard across the road from our farm] and sausage made from hogs raised by Barbara’s husband; mashed potatoes and parsnips from Gwendolen’s root cellar; creamed onions from Ethel’s storeroom and, the pièce de résistance, crab apple pie, using apples picked from the trees behind Helene’s farm house. When I wandered into the kitchen, I could always hear my grandmother reminding the cooks that our meal, in any given year, was based on the bounty provided by our Lord, which we raised and harvested with our own hands.

Part two of the plan involved my grandfather. In addition to being a dairy farmer, he was a country preacher. He built his own church next to his farmhouse, drove his buggy along that country road on Sunday mornings, picked up his parishioners, took them to his church, preached to them and took them back to their homes.

On Thanksgiving Day, he would gather all the kids into his parlor and quiz us on what we knew about our Lord and what we wanted to thank Him for. One Thanksgiving, he asked us to give voice to our most fervent prayer. My prayer was that Daniel, my favorite uncle, would come home safe and sound. You see, Uncle Dan was in the army and fighting a war in Europe. My grandfather’s answer was, “Our Lord hears and answers our prayers, but in His own time, and as is best suited for each of us.”

There was an empty chair at the dining room table that year. I asked my grandfather who it was for. He dropped his eyes and said, “Do you know Rabbi Eleazar from town? Well, he says the empty chair at his table is for the prophet Elijah. The rabbi says Elijah will bring news we need to hear from our Father in heaven.” Before the meal ended, there was a knock at the door. My grandfather asked me to see who was there. Spoiler alert – it was my Uncle Dan, handsomely dressed in his army uniform. I jumped into his arms and he carried me back to the dining room table amid the cheers from everyone and the broad grins on the faces of my grandparents.

They never fessed up to it, but I always suspected that my grandparents knew Daniel was coming home and choreographed it all to teach us a lesson about living in the hands of a benevolent God who hears and answers prayers, and provides for the well-being of his children. I pray this for each of you during this Thanksgiving season and always.

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

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CLERGY CORNER: How to live a grateful life

Posted on 22 November 2017 by LeslieM

A Peanuts cartoon shows Snoopy looking over his Thanksgiving dinner in a bowl. In the first frame he remarks, “How about that?” In the second he is eating and thinking to himself, “Everyone is eating turkey today, but just because I’m a dog, I get dog food.” In the third frame he concludes, “Of course, it might have been worse…” And in the final frame he remarks, “I could have been born a turkey.” It’s an interesting commentary on our propensity to be dissatisfied with circumstances in life only to perhaps discover a reason to be grateful after all.

In this season of Thanksgiving, we should be reflecting on the many reasons why we ought to be grateful. If we are not careful, we may fall into the trap of focusing more upon our dissatisfactions than upon our blessings. Issues that result in frustrations, anxiety and worry abound in our lives, but we don’t have to be victimized by adversity. It is possible to develop a lifestyle of gratitude and thankfulness regardless of what we may face.

In Philippians 4:6, Paul advises believers to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” He essentially offers a formula for living a grateful life in three practical steps. “Be anxious for nothing” translates into “do not worry”. Eliminate, or at least diminish, anxiety, fretting and worry from your life. Anxiety has to do with mental anguish and excessive concern, which can cloud our ability to think clearly or act rationally.

Someone calculated the average person’s anxiety in the following manner: 40 percent of our anxiety is focused upon things that will never happen; 30 percent is focused on things from our past which cannot be changed; 12 percent is focused upon criticism from others, most of which is untrue; 10 percent concerns our health, which only worsens with stress; and only 8 percent of our anxiety is focused on real problems with which we must contend. A whopping 92 percent of our anxiety is entirely unnecessary! We simply need to learn how to manage the remaining 8 percent. Paul’s strategy? Just don’t worry!

Next, we are encouraged to pray about everything. Prayer is conversing with God, sharing our hopes and dreams, as well as our fears and concerns. Many therapists will attest to the benefit of talking through your problems and challenges. We all need to have people in our lives with whom we can consult when facing overwhelming circumstances. Who better to converse with than the all-knowing and all-powerful God in prayer. Psalm 55:22 offers a promise: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you.” An old hymn of the church adds, ‘take your burden to the Lord, and leave it there.’ And someone once remarked, “why worry when you can pray?”

Finally, Paul’s strategy for living a grateful life urges the practice of being thankful. Even when faced with dissatisfaction or disappointment in life, we can still find a reason to be grateful. Like Snoopy discovered, things may not always go our way but that doesn’t mean we have to be resentful. Rather, we can choose to be thankful.

In fact, there are three reasons why we can be grateful in adversity. It could have been worse than it is, there may be a life-lesson in the experience and it will work for your good. The Scriptures provide ample confirmation of this perspective. Believers live with the knowledge that God is ordering their steps and guiding them to perfection and maturity.

Enjoy this season as you spend time with family and friends. Consider the many reasons to be thankful and aim for a lifestyle of gratitude. Don’t worry about anything, pray about everything, and be thankful in all things. 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: Defiant gratitude

Posted on 16 November 2017 by LeslieM

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Before I begin, I want to encourage all people of faith to set aside their differences and unite in solidarity behind the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Let us pray for the 27 who were killed, the 20 who were injured, the community and our nation as we mourn together at the wake of yet one more national tragedy, this time in a place of worship. It is a difficult request; please pray for the gunman and his family as well. He, too, was a victim of evil.

Forgive me, reader, as I allow myself to write as I think. This is my fourth attempt at writing this column and I have started and stopped three times leading up to this final attempt. Why, you may ask. The answer is simple. I am writing about Thanksgiving in the wake of another national tragedy, this time in a place of worship.

As a pastor, I feel a little vulnerable. I think that this is a natural reaction considering the fact that 27 were killed in a place of worship. As a living and breathing human being who is tired of this phenomenon, I am angry. And I feel that my anger is more than justified.

I think I stopped and started three times leading up to this final attempt because, quite honestly, I wasn’t feeling thankful. And I certainly didn’t want my emotions to get the best of me and, honestly, they were getting the best of me. And then I read this passage from Philippians 4:4-7.

I think anytime I read an epistle of St. Paul I consider two things, the writer and his audience. The reality for Paul, as well as the Philippian Church, was a reality of Christian persecution. While I, as well as most of you, was surprised by the atrocity in Sutherland Springs, Texas, neither Paul nor his audience, the Church of Philippi, would have been surprised at all. That was the reality of the early church.

That being said, Paul writes these words: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Is Paul unaware of his own circumstances or the challenges that face the Church of Philippi? Paul doesn’t seem to have a problem being thankful in a time when most people, me included, would.

And then I looked at the words again: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” He did not write “Rejoice in the Lord sometimes, and when you feel happy, Rejoice.” There is a something about Paul’s words that stubbornly cling to hope when society is on the brink of throwing in the towel. I read words of a faith that is, if you will, defiant, as if to say, I am not going to let the circumstances surrounding me drag me down. I will give thanks always, when I feel like it, when I don’t feel like it, when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am angry because I will not give the victory to those who would take this away. I call this defiant gratitude. It isn’t glib. It doesn’t ignore the painful reality and the challenges we face. It simply says, “You won’t win, Devil. The victory belongs to God.”

These words played a pivotal role in changing my attitude into an “attitude of gratitude.” But not only that, I have an “attitude of defiant gratitude.”

Thanksgiving is a national holiday as well as a religious one. It is a chance to unite all people of faith, whatever faith that may be. The reality of evil is something that we all face and even our places of worship are vulnerable.

Let us unite in Thanksgiving with defiant gratitude. Let us praise God no matter what the risk may be. Let our families carry on with their celebrations and let us never lose sight of the fact that that which unites us is much stronger than that which divides us. Our greatest common denominator is God. And to God alone, let us give our glory.

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: Why sending thoughts and prayers amidst tragedy matters

Posted on 09 November 2017 by LeslieM

This is an open letter to those understandably frustrated at the “thoughts and prayers” sentiment made by people of faith during times of tragedy.

I confess that I am an idealist,. not always in the truest philosophical sense; think Clark Griswold (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation): high expectations followed by the disappointment of reality.

For example, I guess it was my years of watching Ponch and John ride tandem down California’s 405 that led me to believe all workplace duos share the same level of camaraderie. Imagine my surprise when one of the first captains I was paired to fly with wouldn’t shake my hand. I wish I could say he was a rarity in the profession, but sadly I flew with many jerks, albeit well-qualified jerks.

So I dreamed of the day when I would be the captain and could decorate my home with thousands of tiny, non-blinking, white lights. Oh, but when I flipped that switch, the lights didn’t come on. I thought once I was captain I could control all aspects of inter-personal relationships, that all would be peachy on the flight deck. Needless to say, I found myself disappointed. I learned quickly that there are far too many factors to control, and, though I may be in charge of the plane, I wasn’t in charge of much overall — a lesson in humility.

Have you ever tried to control a situation to no avail, or made it worse? Has a situation or tragedy made you feel powerless, defeated or overwhelmed? When I experience these feelings, I send my thoughts and prayers.

Why thoughts? For me, because I’m selfish and need to stop and redirect what I’m thinking about and fulfill my humanity by thinking of others, to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Offering my thoughts says I am with you in that I agree you have been wronged. It’s that President Bush moment whilst standing upon the rubble of 9/11 saying, “I hear you; the rest of the world hears you.” My offering of thoughts says to the victims: I hear you and you will not suffer alone.

Why prayers? Because praying reminds me I’m not God. Praying reminds me that we have a God that, as we earnestly seek Him, will not abandon us (Hebrews 13:5). And just as it was naïve of me to think I could control everything as a captain, it would be even more naïve to think amidst a national or global tragedy that I am the solution or know the solution. However, on my knees, I am seeking God in if, how and when I am to personally respond, yielding to the wisdom of a God who is sovereign — measure twice, cut once.

Additionally, I find hope in knowing, as Jon Courson writes in Praying Thru the Tabernacle, “that the burdens that are so heavy to me are no problem for Him.” Hope, because in that time of prayer, I am reminded of God’s nature and character, that He is active: He sent His son to die on a cross for all our sins. My first action then, in any situation, is to humble myself and return to the feet of the One who acted first.

Sending thoughts and prayers is a healthy and humble way for the faithful to affirm unity and remind those affected where to find hope — their everlasting hope — and take the appropriate action without adding to the harm.

Romans 8:36-39 says, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” … despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below. Indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at The Church at Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. For questions or comments connect with him though social media: @thecjwetzler.

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CLERGY CORNER: Can G-d forgive men’s sins

Posted on 01 November 2017 by LeslieM

Like a shepherd examining his flock, causing his sheep to pass under his staff”

(Ancient Jewish Prayer)

Why is this parable used to describe the experience of G-d judging us?

In Jewish law, we tithe our sheep, allowing each to pass through a narrow door, and every tenth one is dedicated for a sacred cause for an offering to G-d.

What happens if the animal has a blemish and is not worthy to be used as an offering? The animal still becomes sacred, yet exchanges it for money, conferring its holiness on the money with which we will purchase a complete one for an offering.

The only way that the animal can be disqualified is if the animal would have died within 12 months on its own due to an illness. Such an animal is not only not good for G-d on the altar, but cannot be eaten by kosher observant Jews even if slaughtered correctly. If the tenth animal happens to be disqualified, then it never becomes holy.

Why doesn’t the blemished animal get off the hook, but the ill one does?

Because the blemished animal is still kosher to eat if slaughtered correctly; however, it is only forbidden to be brought as a sacrifice on the altar. But an animal that is ill and forbidden even from Jews to eat, that can’t become holy.

This is a profound message. If I have a blemish and I can’t be brought as an offering to the Holy Temple, I am still holy and G-d forgives our blemishes. But if I am ill, if I can’t be taken even by people, if people hate me, then G-d can’t forgive me. I need to apologize to the people.

On this unique concept of clemency, in a show of unrestrained compassion, G-d forgives any sin He can, but He does not forgive those he “cannot.” How can G-d forgive a sin which I have committed against Mr. Goldberg? G-d is not Goldberg; for a sin I committed against G-d, G-d can forgive me. For a sin I commit against Goldberg — Goldberg has to forgive me!

Only those who were wronged can right. Only he who has suffered and only he against whom a crime has been committed is entitled to forgive, if he so desires.

The story is told of the rabbi of Brisk who was once unassumingly traveling home on the train. He shared company with a group of callous Jews playing cards. Bothered by his aloof attitude, one of them demanded that he join the game or leave the car. When the rabbi didn’t comply, the fellow physically removed him from the train car.

When the train arrived at Brisk, also the stop of the offender, he was shocked to see the throngs of people who stood there waiting to greet their rabbi. Mortified, he ran over to ask forgiveness but was denied. The rabbi would not forgive his abuser. Not able to be calmed, he tried again and again. Finally, he made contact with the rabbi’s son and begged him to find a way for him to be absolved.

The boy, surprised at his father’s uncharacteristic behavior, agreed to do whatever possible. He visited his father and began discussing the laws of forgiveness. Their discussion touched upon the law that a person must not turn away someone asking his forgiveness more than three times. Taking his cue, the boy asked his father, “What about So-and-So; he’s asked you to forgive him numerous times; yet, you deny him forgiveness?”

He replied, “Him? I cannot forgive him for he didn’t offend me, the rabbi of Brisk; he offended the simpleton he took me to be. If he would have known who I was, he would have never behaved this way; he assumed I was a simpleton and hence he can violate my dignity. I cannot forgive him, because it was not me who he shamed. Let him ask forgiveness from a simpleton.”

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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