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mark abukoff
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"Put a Purpose to Your Pain" Sept 13th 2015

There's an unhappy anniversary coming up in my life. One that I've come to terms with for the most part. I sure most of you know what it is. I'm not going to discuss the specifics because I don't think it's necessary. If you know, you know. If you don't, it doesn't matter. This will make sense anyway. We all know that physical pain serves a purpose. It's a signal that we're doing something we shouldn't. Something that is physically harmful. The pain of a burn tells you not to get to close to fire or hot surfaces. But I've discovered that emotional pain can serve a purpose as well. When I was recovering from my own personal loss, a friend came into my life as an answer to prayer to hold my hand and stay with me when I thought my life was over. It was not only the initial loss, but a few months later when I thought one of my cats was dying and I was dealing with that also. This lady responded to my need and was a friend through some dark and hopeless times. Then once I had found my footing and was able to walk again in a sense, she suffered not only one loss but more. Deeply painful personal losses, and to make it worse, she had no support from anyone near her. So of course I tried to be as good a friend to her as she was to me. Here's my point. The suffering that I went through, though of course the specifics were different, was similar enough that I could help her. I had a glimpse of the dark hell to walk through, so I was able to help her navigate through it. I found a way (and honestly, it seemed too perfect and fitting in a way to not be providential) to put a purpose to my pain. I don't pretend to have done anything special, but there are those things one does as a friend and a human being that are just the right things to do. If you see someone hurt you do what you can to help. However little it might be, you do it.

We all have experiences that can be used to help others. Whether it's learning the hard way how to manage a budget, or beating an addiction, or knowing what it's like to be homeless. Everyone has suffered through something that can be used to help someone else. In the end, you'll end up feeling better about yourself, and maybe set up someone else to be in a position to pay it forward to make the world a slightly better place. And it feels pretty good too. 

"Embraceable" Aug 30th 2015

Mark 2:17 ESV

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Luke 15:7 ESV

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

1 Corinthians 9:22 ESV

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

Never think that anyone is beneath you or your company. I'm not saying to condone what you consider to be bad behavior, or to take part in that. But the fact is, simply by being a candle in a dark room, you can bring light to others. You don't always need to preach the gospel to help someone. The fact is, that will often turn people away. But you can inspire them, even in baby steps to live a better life. When I get on here, I try not to preach, although I do frequently quote scripture. To me, that's not meant as a list of things you must do and things you can't do. It's a guidebook. It's almost a biography of me before I was born. I mean, we're all basically the same, made of the same stained and divine. We are all imperfect people living with a struggle between the weakness of the flesh and the noble spirit trying to overcome. So if there's one lesson to take from out, for me anyway, it's that no matter how hard we try- no matter how well we know the scripture or how often we go to church or know chapter and verse what we aren't supposed to do, we are all the same. We are family. We are brother and sister. And while we will not always get along, that doesn't elevate us above others. So when I quote scripture, what I'm really doing is showing you something from this book I love that has made a huge difference in my life. And maybe it's not the book for you, but let me show you what it's done for me. I'm not saying you have to copy me, but I'd like to think that you'll take something away from the change it's made in me.

All this rambling really was meant to point out that while some more enthusiastic Christians (and other religions for that matter) may say that it's wrong to associate with sinners, they might be forgetting that they are sinners too. I agree with Jesus when he said that those who are well have no need of a physician. And the best way to honor Him is to try to live like Him. Don't shun people who can do with some healing. Embrace them.

"How to Feed Five Thousand" Aug 23 2015

Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” But Jesus said, “You feed them.” “With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!” “How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.” They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.” Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.

‭‭Mark‬ ‭6:35-44 NLT‬

This is another message that I bring back and repeat from time to time, because I think that it's one that can never be over emphasized. I'm talking about how we today can feed those 5,000 and their families on the equivalent of five loaves of bread and two fish. We really can. Both in terms of actual food (like finding the right charitable organization, like "Three Square" that can provide three meals for a dollar) and in the little things that we can do that take so little away from us but can mean so much to someone else. Even showing kindness to an animal. I look at my cats and the tiny little apartment that we live in, and I feel bad sometimes because they don't have a huge house to run in, or they can't get out more for supervised play. But I know that they have a home and food and love and each other. And what might have become of them if they hadn't been brought into my home? We all have the ability to do that. To lend a hand or a heart to someone. That's no secret. We all know it, and while it doesn't make headlines like hate in pretty much any form does, it's so very important and goes to the core of what we are, if we want to think of ourselves as a species worthy crawling out of the cultural dirt from whence we came. At the same time, we should be aware of the dangers of the opposite. You might make some trite comment about someone with whom you disagree, or perhaps someone you just don't like the look of. And you're free to do that. But that little bit of hurt that you've given to someone can multiply a thousandfold. One off the cuff comment can hurt people. It can undermine self confidence. It can add to a bad day, or it can ruin a good day. You might think that someone is a troll a crybaby or a freak. You might think they're sinners and therefore someone you can kick around. All that is your business if you want to think that. But when you chose to lash out or hurt or condemn- when you choose to take the darkness in your mind and give it to someone else, that's different. In a literal sense or a spiritual sense, you can either help to feed those 5,000 or you can take away from them. It's your choice and your legacy.

"Payment" August 16th 2015

Hebrews 10:4-31New King James Version (NKJV)

4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.

Christ’s Death Fulfills God’s Will

5 Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:

“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God.’”
8 Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

15 But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” 17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” 18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

As I've been reading through the Old Testament, I've read through Exodus, and I'm reading Leviticus now. And yeah, it's pretty gruesome in parts. I never really quite understood the reason for sacrificing animals and making such a ceremony of the blood involved. So I did a bit of research on the subject. And while it may not necessarily be the sort of message you're used to from me, I hope that maybe you can take it as the lesson that I have. That is, after all, the point of most of my Sunday messages. Something that I've learned over the course of the last week.

As I said, I've always wondered, how did sacrificing an animal in such a precise and bloody fashion cleanse people of their sins? And why don't we have to do that today? It turns out, the two answers are tied very closely together. Sacrificing animals never cleansed anyone of sin. They didn't erase an evil done. The heart of God did that. The sacrifice was a way of trying to teach man the cost of sin. The wages of sin. It's death. And the blood, which God sees as Life was the most precious thing to be spilled and it had to be treated accordingly. God was trying to teach man just how serious and costly sin was. And for that matter, as vital a role as livestock played in those times, it was not only costly in a spiritual sense, it was also expensive. So what has changed? Under the new Covenant, that great cost has already been paid by the Son of Man. Not only are the sins forgiven, but they are forgotten. They never happened. That doesn't mean that you can just do whatever you want and it doesn't matter. It means that every cost of every sin has been paid in full by the Son of God. It means that He sacrificed His flesh and blood for you. We honor that in our prayers for forgiveness and repentance but also in our struggle to honor that sacrifice. I know that I can never live up to what was done for me. But I can honor it by trying. 

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"Whisper" August 9th 2015

1 Peter Chapter 3

8 Finally, [be ye] all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, [be] pitiful, [be] courteous:

9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.

10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:

11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.

This is something I find myself talking about quite a bit, but that's really because I see this more and more as the days and weeks go by. There are going to be things and people with whom we simply cannot in good conscience coexist. I'm not defending or attacking that. What is acceptable to me may be intolerable to someone else. And that's okay. Really, it's a matter of free will and the right to form opinions. And because there's no stopping people from disagreeing, you might as well just learn to live with it. I'm not saying that you shouldn't try to change things and maybe help to educate people and improve the world. What I'm saying is that sometimes people simply aren't going to see things the way you do. It doesn't necessarily mean that they're evil or they don't care or they're 'sheep' (and incidentally, calling me a 'sheep' or any spelling variation is awarded with an instant block and meme about yourself that you'll never see). It means that they have a different opinion. Learn to live with it without attacking. Really, you'll be much happier and it won't hurt your cause, whatever it is (unless you think that people, or 'sheeple' can be convinced to follow you because you found just the right insult).

So what vital issue prompted this latest message? It wasn't abortion or Cecil or Donald Trump. It was this guy who simply couldn't stand to live in a universe where JJ Abrams was allowed to 'kill' movie franchises. Yeah, there's always someone willing and able to make Star Trek fans look goofy. Thanks for that. Some group that I belong to had shared a video about this charity competition in connection with the new Trek film due out next year. You donate a certain amount of money that goes to children's charities and you are in the running for some cool prizes, including touring the set, and a grand prize of a walk-on role. According to him, not only should the JJ movies not be made, they should never be seen. They should be stripped from the Star Trek franchise and every video on Facebook that advertises them should be removed. And not only that, but every (disloyal!) Star Trek fan who liked the JJ movies, or even didn't condemn them strongly enough had to be debated so that they could see the error of their ways. Otherwise they would be (and yeah, I laughed at this part) kicked out of the fleet. Whatever fleet he meant. I never really did get an answer on that one.

So now that I've embarrassed a few Star Trek fans and given everyone else a good laugh I'm sure, let me get back to my original point. Especially on matters of such trivia, you really need to understand that not everyone will see things the same as you. It doesn't mean they're stupid. It doesn't mean they're disloyal. It means that they have their own mind and their own taste and while you might be able to show them things a different way by actually talking to them, going off the rails over a fictional franchise will not make anything better.

And as for more serious issues, it's even more important that we try to stop shouting at each other when we disagree. Even when it's what you see as a grave injustice, you aren't going to change any minds by shouting. If you want a vote in Congress to go a certain way, go after your representative. There's at least the possibility that they'll listen and maybe even be convinced. If you want them out of office, campaign for someone else, or run yourself. Yes it's natural to go to the open mic that is social media. But if you want to affect the way people see issues, TALK instead of shouting. We all know that while people will try ignore shouting, they will sometimes strain to hear a whisper. 

"Triage" July 26th 2015

Matthew 25: 34-40

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

I was looking at a photo of a sign that a business had put up, addressed to the person who had been eating out of their dumpster. It was an invitation to them to come into the restaurant and have a real, healthy meal, courtesy of the management. Most of the people who read this were impressed, as was I. One person simply said (without praising the restaurant) that it would have been better to give them a job. The fact is, sometimes businesses can't give someone a job but they can, even for a moment, give someone a bit more dignity than eating out of a dumpster. I know that because I've been that guy eating out of a dumpster. A long time ago and I'm well past it. Since then I've paid back to the people who lifted me out, with interest. And I've also fed homeless people who weren't even asking. Not everything has to be an object lesson. Not everything has to be a political point. Sometimes it's just a matter of extending a little kindness to someone who has fallen.

If you see someone bleeding, do you first ask them how they cut themselves, and then make sure that they never cut themselves again? Of course not. First you render first aid, then you seek to understand what happened and how to prevent it in the future. If someone is drowning, you don't try to give them swimming lessons at the time. You save them first. Then you make sure they're prepared for the next time. I understand very well that not everyone who panhandles is truly in need. Not all of them are of sterling character. And yes, maybe they are spending what money they have on booze or drugs and then look for their meals in the dumpster. But the immediate need is not to change their life. The immediate need is to feed them. Believe me, they weren't digging through the dumpster as a choice. Anyone eating out of a dumpster is there because they have no choice at that moment. Could they have applied themselves better to finding a job? Maybe. Did they spend their money somewhere else? Possibly. But the only definite is that they are hungry. Feed them and then deal with the rest.

I'm not saying that you have to give money to every panhandler. For myself, if I did that, even if I knew that everyone who says that they are needy is truly needy, I would never make it to work on time if I stopped to give something to every outstretched hand. What I am saying is that if you are in a position to help, then do it. If you want to make a political point about it later, that's of course up to you. But first, stop the bleeding.

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