CCC Blog

An Unlikely Pairing

What do Moses and Jimmy Stewart have in common?  More than we might think.  This past weekend we focused on Deuteronomy 26 in which God, through Moses, reminds the people of God to bring the “first fruits” of their harvests as an offering to the Lord.  This was to ensure they would not forget that it was God who provided them the land in which to live; that it was God who was the source of their bounty.  But it wasn’t enough simply to bring the first fruits as an offering for Moses.  As the people presented these offerings to the priest, they were to recite a litany.  These words essentially traced their history from their journey into Egypt; their rise in number over time; their subsequent enslavement by the Egyptians; the harsh treatment they suffered; how God heard their cries and delivered them, and ultimately led them to a promised land.  The litany was an acknowledgement of what God had done for them and it was because of their recognition of this, that they were inspired to give first fruits back to God.  



It was almost as though, for Moses, the reciting of the litany was just as important – if not more – than the actual gift given.  In fact, there are just three verses dedicated to the giving of the gift.  Yet there are twice as many (six total) verses devoted to the explanation of the litany of God’s provision.  Giving the first fruits of the harvest is what they are to do.  But the how and the why they do it is clearly revealed by the words of remembrance of God’s saving activity in their lives.



Which brings us to Jimmy Stewart.  He plays George Bailey in the uber famous Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life.  In depression era upstate New York, George perpetually sacrifices his own dreams and hoped-for adventures for the sake of others.  As the director of the family-run savings and loan, he uses his bank to help countless people in town through their tough times.  Toward the end of the movie, it is discovered the money is missing and if it is not found, the savings and loan will go under and George himself will be sent to jail.  Yet in the climactic scene the townspeople rush to George’s aid, bringing their spare cash to more than make up for the missing money.  One of the townspeople, as he marches to table full of piled high with money and surrounded by a throng of his neighbors singing “Auld Lang Syne” slaps down his monetary contribution and says, loud enough for everyone to hear, “I wouldn’t have a roof over my head, George, if it weren’t for you!”  And it is though his saying those words is just as important as the gift he’s given.  It is his own litany and recitation of what was done for him.  And that recognition of what was done for him is the motivation for the generosity he expresses in the moment. 


How many times, when we give anything – a favor to a friend; a gift to someone in need; an offering to the church – do we recite a litany of our own?  And what would our own litany sound like?  How often do we bring to our consciousness the acts of grace that have delivered us to where we are today?  We can be forced to undertake any action.  We can become accustomed, through habit, to do anything.  But to grow into spiritually mature people of faith, we must be intentional about confessing our dependence on the grace of God in our past for wherever it is that we stand today.  I believe that is why Moses went to the trouble of describing the litany of remembrance the people were to recite as they gave their offerings to God.  And I believe it’s what that townsperson from Bedford Falls understood as he gave his gift to George Bailey.  May we likewise learn from both as we seek to cultivate our own hearts of generosity.      

Posted by Michael Karunas with

The First and the Worst

My family eats a lot of fresh fruit.  Year round, month by month.  Not necessarily locally grown fresh fruit (obviously) but bowls on our kitchen counter and shelves in the refrigerator are regularly filled with 9-10 varieties of fresh fruit.  Having purchased said fruit and having approached said bowls and shelves on a daily basis, I can attest to this truism: It is easy to identify, in a collection of anything, the “best” from the “worst.”  Take a box of blueberries.  It doesn’t require too much browsing time to determine which are plumpest and juiciest, and which are more shriveled, dry and wrinkled.  The temptation, of course, is to eat the plump and juicy ones first.  Who, after all, chooses to eat the mealiest of the bunch when there are better alternatives at hand?  So it is in our family.  The best of everything disappears first, while the “worst” are ignored, bypassed, forgotten.  Yet even they serve a purpose.  Their blemishes can be hidden when mixed into pancakes or smoothies.  They are the perfect sources for my blueberry compote which serves as the basis of my homemade blueberry and toasted almond ice cream, or for Amy’s blueberry buckle – a family favorite.  While the “first” are easily relished most, the “worst” also serve a tremendous purpose for our family’s welfare and fulfillment. 


This month at Central Christian we are looking at scripture passages that deal with the theme of “harvest” and examining them for what we can learn from them about growing as believers toward spiritual maturity. 


This week in worship we will focus on Deuteronomy 26 which encourages us to identify the “first fruits” from our harvest and bring them before the Lord.  It is true that when we survey the field of our lives and all that has grown within it – all that we have encountered and experienced – it is easy to identify those things that bring us the most joy.  Yet DT 26 reminds us how important it is to take time intentionally in order to give thanks to God for them.  And not only for them, but for all that made those joys possible.  For everything we receive and experience is a gift from God.  And being intentional about practicing gratitude and thankfulness helps to cultivate truly grateful and thankful hearts.


And we will also take a look at Matthew 13, in which Jesus tells a story about weeds growing in a field alongside wheat.  When servants want to eliminate the weeds, their master forbids it.  As though there is some long-term benefit for the wheat to exist alongside the weeds.  Or… that the presence of weeds serves some purpose to the health and welfare of the wheat.  I believe the same can be said for the lives we lead.  While it is easy to identify that “worst” experiences we have encountered, even they can be sources of our long-term health and growth as people of God.  When we are able to look back on our lives and identify things that, at the time, we wanted desperately to avoid or eliminate, but which turned out to be things from which we learned and grew as God’s chosen, then we have seen first-hand the truth that the first and the worst are both presented for our benefit. 

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Put It In the Basket

Put It In the Basket

One of my favorite stories of generosity comes from the church secretary with whom I worked at First Christian Church in Centralia, IL.  She didn’t attend our congregation for Sunday worship, but she was a regular at her own church.  She also had a few grandchildren, all around the ages of 3-6.  Being a faithful grandmother, she would make sure as many grandchildren as possible came with her each week to Sunday service.  Evidently, her custom was to give each child a dollar bill to “put in the basket” as the offering was collected.  She would also pack in her purse an assortment of snacks just in case the grandchildren were rambunctious and she wanted them to settle down. 



One Sunday morning, she sat in her usual pew between a collection of her young ones.  She had already given each child their dollar bill and on this day had given each one a cookie to help keep them quiet.  As the offering basket was making its way down the row, the granddaughter sitting next to her held a dollar bill in one hand and a half-eaten cookie in the other.  As the usher held the basket in front of the child, still holding both items, one in each hand, her grandmother whispered, “Put it in the basket!”  Her granddaughter, looked first toward one hand and then the other, hesitated, and… promptly put the cookie in the basket! 



That story reminds me how hard it is to part with what is really valuable to us.  This week at our church we are celebrating Consecration Sunday when we accept not only regular offerings but Estimates of Giving for what we think we can offer in support of the church in the coming year.  I hope that those who give to Central Christian Church know how much we value the commitments given; how much we know it isn’t easy to part with valuable resources; how grateful we are for the generosity of those who believe in us. 


And, as one who has spent his life in the not-for-profit world, I hope that those who may be reading this and have nothing to do with our particular congregation know that all the non-profit organizations you may support and believe in also give thanks for your commitments of generosity… and for everything you “put in the basket.”  

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Off the Rails

So… sometimes you just have to admit that you blew it.  Or, at least, that your “best laid plans” went off the rails before you even fully realized it was happening.  Such was the case this past Sunday.  I was scheduled to give the children’s message for our 10:30 service.  As per usual, I was hoping to design a children’s message that built on the sermon theme for the day (the sermon that I, as the preacher, knew well) which focused on how Jesus healed a man who then wanted to leave his home and go with Jesus as he traveled back across the sea.  Jesus, however, said “no” and rather instructed him to stay where he was and spread the good news there. 



So… my plan for the children’s message was to play on the idea of wanting to have some kind of different life than we do now, but realizing that God gave us this life that we have for a reason; and that there is much “good” that we can do on God’s behalf in the midst of this very life we have been given.


That is what I WANTED the children’s message to convey.


I began by asking the children to imagine what they would include if they could construct their “perfect” home.  Now, this was not my first rodeo.  I know that you don’t ask questions of an audience to which you do not know the answers that will come.  Moreover, in the very rare case where this might happen, I was counting on my ability to steer the responses toward things like “I would like a swimming pool in my house,” or “I would like a movie theater.”  Doing so would allow me to still “bend” the overall message in the direction I intended.   


But wouldn’t you know it?  As I asked my question: “If you were to construct your dream house, what would you put in it?” the first child said, “Um… 4 walls and a roof.”  The second said, “I would put my family in it.”  And the third one said simply, “God.” 


After the 1st and 2nd responses, I realized I was way over my skies on this one; that I was counting on one type of response and not only got a different one, I got a much better one!  The third response was nothing more than an unintentional mic drop right in my lap!  I managed to stumble through the rest of the message.  But even as I was doing so, it dawned on me that though the children were thinking of what really matters when we think of “home” differently than I was – the basics of a building to provide shelter; the proximity of family; and the presence of God – theirs, which WAS the message, was much better than what I was hoping to simply a lead-up to a deeper message which didn’t feel so “deep” as I sat down in my chair in the chancel afterward.  As my idea was going off the rails, theirs was proving to be as sturdily on them as ever.  


At this point in my career, I have no problem admitting that I miscalculated something but this moment with the children this past Sunday was apropos for another reason.  We are also currently in the midst of a Financial Peace University class at the church, as well as in the midst of an annual financial campaign.  And at the end of the day what matters most, as the children from last Sunday, is having the basics - four walls and a roof, the proximity of family and friends, and the presence of God in our lives.  In some way, isn’t everything else that we worry about, pretty trivial?   

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