CCC Blog

Central Recognized for its Generosity

The regional minister for the Christian Church in Illinois and Wisconsin, Teresa Dulyea-Parker, was with us in worship at 10:30 on April 7.  While here, she presented Central with an award as one of the top 100 givers to our denomination.  Well done Central! Thank you for your tremendously generous spirit.


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And the Door Was Shut?

And the door was shut!  That’s how the parable of the bridesmaids ends (Matthew 25:1-13).  The five wise bridesmaids, with oil in their lamps, are welcomed into the wedding banquet.  The five foolish ones, without oil to burn, are not.  While they were off procuring the necessary oil, the door to the party is shut and the festivities begin without them.  Having oil appears to be the “ticket” required for entry into the party.  When the five foolish return, presumably with oil in hand, the door is not opened to them.  Even when they pound on the door, begging to be allowed in, the door remains shut.

 This detail in the story raises in important issue.  Since the parable is full of symbolism, such that the bridegroom and host of the party is Christ, we are the bridesmaids, and the wedding banquet is the kingdom of heaven, does this story suggest that only some of us will enter the Kingdom while others will be refused access?  That some of us are wise and some are foolish?  It certainly appears so.  After all, the door was shut.  On the other hand, the parables of Jesus are symbolic for a reason and tend to underscore a primary point that supersedes the more minute details.  In this case, the focus of the story is on readiness and preparedness.  What makes the wise bridesmaids wise is not only that they have oil in their lamps, but that they ready and prepared to meet Christ when he came.  Conversely, the foolish are foolish because they are not.  In scripture, wisdom and folly have nothing to do with intellect, but rather are spiritual categories measuring how well we grasp the nature and purpose of faith.  Being ready to receive Christ whenever he comes, is what matters most.  The fact that the door was shut serves to underscore how important this readiness is. 

With that in mind, we don’t know if the foolish bridesmaids are lost forever.  Were the story to continue, there is no indication that if the bridesmaids came back the next day, they wouldn’t be granted admittance.  The story only tells us that on this particular day they are not allowed in.  Perhaps the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of the banquet host would triumph tomorrow where today they are less visible.  Such was the case with the bible’s second sin (after the original sin of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit)… Cain’s murder of Abel.  In that story, the Lord requests an offering from both brothers.  On the particular day in question God favored Abel’s over Cain’s.  This caused Cain to respond with envy that took the form of a rage so great he ultimately killed his brother.  But there was no indication in the words of God that on another day Cain’s offering wouldn’t also be received.  Just that on that day, it wasn’t. 

 The bible presents us with stories that are complex in their ramifications.  At least, the way we unpack them with our human minds and in our human context.  I do not believe the primary thread woven through scripture is God’s desire to separate us into the “haves” (saved) and the “have nots” (the unsaved).  That would be antithetical to God’s desire that the world be saved through Jesus (John 3:17).  The decision of who will be “in” and who will be “out” at the end is ultimately up to God.  Our concern is to accept the intention of Matthew 25:1-13, which is not to make a sweeping statement on the second coming or the number (or even ratio) of people who will be admitted into the kingdom when Christ returns.  Rather, its concern is to underscore the importance of tending to our faith all the time – in an ongoing way, on a regular basis – and not becoming spiritually lazy and running to God with bargains and pleas in times of crisis.  Such caring for our faith makes us wise and allows us to be a position to be invited into the kingdom whenever it arrives

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A Little More Compassion

The backbone of the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is compassion.  Three people see a half-dead man lying by the side of the road.  Two of them pass by, doing nothing more than laying eyes on him.  Only the third stops and does something to improve the victim’s situation.  The Samaritan.  He not only saw, but he had compassion (v. 33).   Compassion is what inspired all of the actions that followed.  And without compassion, none of that would have been possible.  The word compassion means to “suffer with.”  The literal Greek word in the New Testament used here contains the word for “guts” in it – as in, to feel “in the gut” the suffering of another.   


The way we experience compassion, therefore, begins by looking within.  Before we can comprehend the world “out there,” we must be willing to take a look at the person within our very selves.  Compassion is about connecting with the suffering in our own life; thinking of times in our lives when we’ve been on the mat; when we’ve lost (a job, a relationship, a loved one); when it felt like the walls were caving in around us.  How did we feel when at those times?  Not what did we do, but how did we feel.

Compassion starts here, because there is a something called a “similarity-in-difference” in these lives we lead alongside one another.  Though each of our lives is uniquely different, there is a similarity in how we experience them.  You never knew my father, who died of a heart-attack 20 years ago.  And your lost loved ones didn’t pass away in the exact same way he did.  But if I talk about my love for him, and my sadness of losing him, it can connect with you – and the feelings of love you have for your paretns or children, and it can connect with your feelings of grief for the people you’ve lost.  We can connect with the hurt and pain of others, even if we don’t know anything about them, when we are aware of our own hurt and pain.  That’s compassion. 


I was having a conversation on facebook about these thoughts last week and one wise commenter noted that it is easier to find “similarity-in-difference” the less “different” someone is.  How true!  Generating compassion for those we know comes much more naturally than it does for those we don’t.  That’s why one of the most important details of the story of the Good Samaritan is what is not said about the man who fell into the hands of robbers.  We don’t know his enthnicity or what he looks like.  He’s half-dead, which means he’s likely unconscious and unable to speak.  Which further means that we can’t tell if he’s speaking a different language, or our own with an accent.  We cannot determine if he’s “from here” or not.  He’s described as being “stripped.”  Therefore, he does not have any identifying clothing with which we could assign him to a particular societal sub-group.  Jesus doesn’t allow us to deny him compasison because of something external; because she “speaks a different language and therefore must be here for disingenuous reasons;”  or because “he’s dressed like a gangster and is probably dealing drugs.”  It is though Jesus wants us to see past the labels and the external things that characterize us and experience this man exactly as he is.  As a man.  A human being.  Broken, beaten, hurting and in need of compassion. 



Having compassion for one another will certainly always be easier the closer we are to them.  But compassion has a way of bringing us together – bringing us closer to one another and us closer to God.  Because compassion, by definition, emphasizes the “similar” more than the “different” in “similarity-in-difference.”  And in our contemporary societal climate of polarity and divisiveness, couldn’t we all stand to be drawn toward one another?  Could there be anything wrong with experiencing a little more compassion?     


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Second Chances

Do you really believe everyone deserves a second chance?  That question was posed to me by a congregant in the Friendship Center following worship this past Sunday.  I had just preached on the Demoniac in Mark 5 who was given a second chance at life by Jesus when his demons were exorcised from him.  And I even used the phrase, “In the kingdom Jesus is building, everyone deserves a second chance.”  It seemed natural that someone might want to raise this question.  Especially this man, who had spent a career in law enforcement and admitted that he had “seen too many things” to think that everyone – literally everyone – deserves a second chance.


We chatted briefly, our conversation most amiable, and in just a few moments we acknowledged several things:

  • Preaching can be a difficult event for the both preacher (who can’t cover every possible question a listener might be thinking) and listener (who can’t really respond, as preaching is very much a one-way communication experience)
  • When we say “second chance” we should be clear about whether we truly mean a second chance or the repeated giving of chance after chance after chance.
  • There are truly heinous acts that fall under a different category (as outlying cases should do)

But I believe his question deserves a bit of a longer answer than a quick back-and-forth after worship can afford.


“Second chances” – whether we are talking about our earthly relationships with one another or our relationship with God – are about exactly that.  Relationships.  And in relationships there is always a role for accountability in addition to the grace and forgiveness of a “second chance.”  Giving too many chances without any kind of accountabitly in return can lead to enablement of undesired behavior.  Conversely, too much accountability without a chance to live anew is abuse and oppression.  For the relationship to be such that the individuals in it have the opportunity to live up to their potential, there must be a balance between grace (“second chances”) and accountability (a change in behavior).  Jesus said this very thing in John 13:34  I will give my love to you (grace), he said, and the expectation in return is that you love another (accountability).  In this respect, I would have to say, I don’t believe in giving a “second chance” without some kind of change in behavior in return.


Yet, this thought alone misses a larger point.  “Second chances” – whether extended by God or among people – are about faith.  The reason we grant grace to one another is because we believe the recipient of that grace is capable of producing something good for others; something that will improve relationships and community.  When we fail to grant grace – or when we are hesitant to give a “second chance” to someone – it is because we doubt their ability to do this.  So perhaps the better question is not “Do you believe everyone deserves a second chance?” but rather “Does God believe everyone is capable of producing something good for others?”  To this I would respond “Yes.  I believe God does.”  This is why God grants grace to us – not just a “second” time – but again and again and again.  Such is God’s faith in us to produce good for others. 

Navigating the waters of “second chances” and accountability – in our families, in the workplace, and in every conceivable way in a wider society – will always be difficult.  Only when we seek to find the balance between the two will we truly thrive.  And only when we are motivated by God’s faith in us – and by God’s grace to us – can we hope to find it.        

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