The Power of Tragedy

Scott McCown:

April 27, 2011 Central Church of Christ's building

April 27, 2011 Central Church of Christ’s building

I first posted this on May 03, 2011 less than a week after a generational tornado outbreak destroyed communities, homes, churches, schools, etc. During that time, I was privileged to be able to assist in a small way in relief efforts in Walker and Tuscaloosa Counties including bringing supplies and meals to Central Church of Christ. Little did I know that four years later, I would be serving Central in a different role. Today as Tuscaloosa recalls these storms of the 4th anniversary of the events. My thoughts about tragedy then and now are the same. Can we keep the spirit of community that happens after a storm? Can we hang on to the love? Can we continue to work together no matter our ethnicities? My prayer is that we can and will.

Originally posted on The Morning Drive:

Tragedies come.  They come in the form of accidents.  They come in the form of violence.  Tragedies come.  The come in the form of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes.

Tragedies have power.  Their power of disruption, death, and destruction comes as

no surprise. Tragedies have a surprising power.  The surprising power of tragedies are their ability to re-establish the concept of community in people.

Seven days ago, on Wednesday, April 27 the Southeastern states experienced an epic, generational outbreak of violent straight-line winds, violent thunderstorms, and tornadoes.  Add to that the flooding that is occurring on the Missouri, Ohio, Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries and you have tragedy after tragedy.  In our corner, EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes and strong straight-line winds cause severe damage to communities and entire towns in my county and in surrounding counties.  The damage and death toll is mind-boggling.  If you can survey the damage and not…

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Ten Things to Do this Summer

Summer is rapidly approaching and you are making your family plans.  Here is a list of ten things you can do as a family this 11076261_10204996389362588_295757434754120591_nsummer.

  1. Travel together.  You do not have to go far. You can travel a couple of hours and take in new sights. Within that distance form us there is American Village that recreates colonial America, or a couple of lakes for boating or swimming, some historic towns, historic iron works, waterfalls, and national forests.
  2. Eat together.  Take a picnic to a park. Go to different restaurant. Gather around the family table and tell stories about when you were growing up.
  3. Visit a Summer Carnival or Amusement Park together.  Ride roller-coasters, swings, haunted houses, take in a show, laugh and enjoy these things together.
  4. Laugh together.  Find an old slapstick comedy or clean parody to watch together. See ho many knock-knock jokes ou can remember or make up.  JUST LAUGH!
  5. Go to community events together.  Summertime brings art festivals, music festivals, pet days, town days (Around here there is Kansas Day, Berry Heritage Day, Mule Day, etc. When I lived in Florida there was the Mullet Festival the fish not the hair style.) Take in the family events of these special days and weekends.
  6. Walk together.  Walk in the early morning before it gets to hot. Or walk in the late evening while the sun is just setting. Walk the neighborhood, walk in the community park. Not only are you getting some exercise, you are in each other’s company.
  7. Have devotionals together.  Take time to sing, pray, and study together in the family room.  If you are on vacation have devotionals in your hotel, condo, resort room, camper or tent. There will be some great discussions about Christian living that will take place in those rooms.
  8. Worship together.  Spend Sunday and Wednesdays gathering with Christians as you worship. When you are on vacation, make time to worship with Christians in the area you are visiting. You will encourage them and they will encourage you.
  9. Talk together.  Those walks, meals, and hours of standing in line at amusement parks gives ample opportunity to talk. So do the car rides as you travel.  Talk together.
  10. Spend TIME TOGETHER.  Really that is what the whole idea of this post is – time together.  Make the most of the time.  Build relationships and create memories by simply being together.

Have a great FAMILY SUMMER!

– Scott

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Why Are Members Leaving?

Yesterday I read Thom Rainer’s post on “Eight Reasons People are Leaving Denominational Churches for Non-denominational Churches.”  Here are the eight reasons from his informal Twitter Poll.

  1. Denominational churches have a negative reputation. Some respondents used the phrase “negative brand” to communicate this reason.
  2. Denominations are known more for what they are against than what they are for.
  3. There is too much infighting and politics in denominations.
  4. The denominational churches are too liberal. From what I can tell from these respondents, they are current and former members of mainline churches.
  5. There is a general waning of institutional loyalty in institutions such as denominations.
  6. Denominations have inefficient systems and organizations. They are too bureaucratic.
  7. Some of the respondents could see no perceived benefit to belonging to denominations.
  8. Denominations are not good stewards of their financial resources.

I have let these points stir around in my mind for a day now.  I think can see what these respondents are wanting. For those of

Central Teens and University Students preparing Food Bags for Distribution.

Central Teens and University Students preparing Food Bags for Distribution.

you who are members of the churches of Christ, you may say, great we are not a denomination! True, we do not have a denominational headquarters. Yes, each congregation is independent and self-governed by an eldership made up of men from the congregation. Churches of Christ are autonomous. We are undenominational. Yet, outside of our own circle, most of the religious world and most of our neighbors do not understand our position.  When the community sees our sign that says _____________ Church of Christ – they see “Church of Christ” as a denominational title. (NOTE: I am not for changing the name on our buildings to a non-descript or non-biblical name. This is simply and observation.) We as members of the churches of Christ need to do better in helping others understand the nature of RESTORATION. f we are truly about restoring the Church that Christ established and the Apostles grew in the New Testament, we must let people know. We need to let the community know we are trying as individual congregations to be local cells (assemblies, churches, groups, fellowships, etc.) of people who are trying to follow Christ’s teachings as best we can. (There may be more on this in a future post.)

Back to these eight reasons Thom Rainer lists. Allow me to tackle them one at a time as I see how they apply to the churches of Christ.

  1. Negative Reputation. This negative label can apply to us more than I want to admit. Many see us as depressed people. Many see us focused on what we do right that others do wrong. They see us as taking from people and the community and not giving and serving the community. What can we do? Change! Change our reputation by becoming light in a dark world. Change our reputation by being a positive influence in the community. Learn the power of service!
  2. Known More for What We are Against.  This one hurts. Most people know we are against instrumental music in worship. They know we are against calling the preacher a “Pastor” or “Reverend.” They know we are against alcohol sales, state lotteries, sexual immorality, and liberal politicians. Most know we are against many current religious trends. Some of these stands are important, but do people know what we are for? Do they know we want desperately to see those enslaved to sin set free by the blood of Christ? Do they know the love we have for God and for all of His creation? If we really feel this way, it is time we put our actions where our heart is.
  3. Infighting and Politics. When we argue or worse split over personal preferences and expedients we are guilty as charged. When I get my feelings hurt, I need to ask and seriously consider if I am upset over a truly doctrinal matter of salvation importance or did I just not get my way? If the later, I need to re-evaluate my own spiritual maturity. If the former, I need to go through the proper methodologies laid out in scripture to help the church grow together in fear of the Lord and not politicize the issue by gossip and forming opposition parties.
  4. Too Liberal: I think that this accusation has to do with changes in worship practices more than other issues. We as individual churches can try to be like the denominations (nations) around us and seeing their apparent growth try to bring in their liberal worship practices into our congregation. I think Thom Rainer may have stumbled upon a trend of people who are reading the Bible and wanting to find “a church” that is “biblical.” At Central we have recently had a number of people come to us from different churches and groups who were looking for a Bible based church and Bible based teaching. These have said of their former churches, they are teaching motivational messages and giving political speeches not preaching and teaching from the Bible.  I think churches of Christ who are trying to restore New Testament Christianity have an inroad to people searching for Truth. Be biblically conservative in your teaching, preaching, and practice. But do not confuse conservative with negative.
  5. Waning of Institutional Loyalty: If we promote ourselves as an established brand, we will suffer the loss of those who lack loyalty. If, however, we promote Christ above all and loyalty to Him first while modeling that devotion we will be pointing people to their only hope as we should be doing.
  6. Bureaucracy: Without the formal structure of a denominational headquarters or regional council, we should not have this as an issue. Yet, when one congregation publicly criticizes another we communicate a bureaucratic mentality and a negative mindset that will have the potential to drive people away.
  7. Lack of Benefit to Belong: We live in a “me” oriented society. Americans as a whole are consumers and approach church with an inward focus, “What is in it for me?” We need to communicate what membership in Christ offers without neglecting its cost. The cost is simple – we give our life wholly to the One who died for our sins. The return is immeasurable. We gain a loving eternal family. We gain opportunities to serve beyond ourselves. We gain an eternal existence with Christ. We receive so much more than we give.
  8. Poor Financial Stewards: Congregational leaders need to be open with the group’s finances. There needs to be regular accountability measures in place so that members can know where their contributions are going. In today’s religious environment, Christians want to see the church reaching outward and not inward. Budgets and expense reports show the focus of the congregation and to many an inward focus is poor stewardship (management) of the Lord’s money.

Disclaimer or caveat: These are simply my reflections and observations based on these eight reasons people are leaving denominations and how I can apply them specifically to churches of Christ and more specifically to Central where I serve as minister. I invite and welcome your thoughts.

– Scott

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Teach Us to Pray

Recently, a couple of Christians talked with me about their prayer life. So I thought we could learn more about prayer. Prayer is a part of my life. Praying is one thing Christians do. But why? What is prayer about? Admittedly, I need to know more about prayer.  Like the father said of Jesus’ power to heal his son, I say of prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Image: gospelsunshine.wordpress.com

Image: gospelsunshine.wordpress.com

Jesus’ disciples saw Him pray and knew John’s followers prayed. Prayer was a part of being a good Hebrew so you would think they prayed. But something must be different about Jesus’ prayer life. Luke tells of these events:

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:1-4)

Prayer is the fundamental way mankind communicates with his Creator.  Prayer comes from the humility of knowing that God is God and we are not.  Prayer is FAITH. I heard someone say, “I do not believe in the power of prayer, I believe in the power of God who answers prayer.” That is a great statement!  Our faith is not in the words or the incantation of a prayer. Our faith is in God who hears and answers prayer. Prayer demonstrates a relationship with God. Failure in living for Christ often connects with failure to pray. When our faith is weak, we find it hard to pray and when we fail to pray our faith weakens.

There is a powerful FORCE connected with prayer. That force is God. Prayer calls upon God to act in our lives in a way that is best for us.  We read over and over again in scripture of the church growing despite opposition when they gathered to pray.  I challenge you and the congregation of God’s family that you assemble with to pray. Paul reminds us that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all we as or think, according to the power at work within us,” (Eph 3:20). 

We need to faithfully pray in faith.

– Scott

I plan to cover the topic of prayer in a series of posts that I will publish each Tuesday. This series of blog posts are based on my notes from Charles B. Hodge, Jr., “Prayer: the Voice of Faith,” (Searcy, AR:Resource Publications) 1996.

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Whom Do You Follow?

This little test will help you determine who you should follow in your life. You may or may not be surprised by the answer. Try thisF2KCLDYH1YOI3E5.LARGE without looking at the possible role models listed below.

GET A CALCULATOR (your computer or smart phone has one) or use pencil and paper.
1) Pick your favorite number between 1 and 9
2) Multiply it by 3, then…
3) Add 3, and then multiply again by 3.
4) You should get a 2 or 3 digit number…
5) Add the digits together.

Find who would should emulate below:

Now with that number, see who your ROLE MODEL is from the list below:
1. Einstein
2. Nelson Mandela
3. Abraham Lincoln
4. Helen Keller
5. Bill Gates
6. Gandhi
7. Barack Obama
8. Thomas Edison
9. Jesus of Nazareth – the Christ
10. Oprah Winfrey

Are you surprised. Jesus is the answer to each and every person’s life. He is the one who left us an example we should follow. The Apostle Paul encouraged others to follow him as he followed Christ.

Who are you following?

– Scott

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Thinking of a Friend

diet-rite-pure-zero-108582Something reminded me of him recently.  A couple of things actually.  First, as I was cleaning out a closet I thought of a winter coat he gave me and then I saw someone drinking his favorite soft drink – Diet Rite Pure Zero.  I do not think he would mind if I told you what I know of his story.

His parents raised him in a Christian home, he was active as a teenager leading prayer and occasionally leading a singing.  But somewhere in his young adult life, he left his home, his physical family, his spiritual family, and the Lord.  He became worldly.  He became one with the world and all that is in the world.  For nearly 30 years, his lifestyle was nothing like the life his parents or the Word of God taught.

I first met him years ago while he was still living like the world.  He was cordial, but not friendly toward me.  I was, afterall, the preacher where many of his family members attended and represented the life he left.  Through the years, when our paths crossed, he would speak, but he would not allow a conversation to last long enough for me to mention Christ or the church.  That is until about two years ago when he came to a Wednesday Bible Class and then at every assembly on Sunday.

After a few services, he was excited to talk with me.  He knew his life was not right and he wanted to change. Not many weeks later, he stood before the congregation and confessed his sinful life and desire to be right with God.  Soon, I grew to dearly love and appreciate him.  His wit, his insight, and his experiences brought life to our Bible Classes.  The prayers he prayed came from a heart that knew the forgiveness of a compassionate God and Savior.  When he publicly read scripture, those listening could tell he was spending more and more time with His Lord.  Life was getting better until tragedy hit hard.

A few months ago his health took a turn for the worse.  His heart and lungs gave out and I lost a friend and a brother in Christ on this side of eternity.  I miss him today.  I look forward to a glad reunion in Christ.

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Focus

Focus Chart ScaleGracious Heavenly Father,

When I look to your people I see men and women who struggled with focus.

  • I think of Adam and Eve losing focus and forgetting your care. That did not turn out well for them.
  • I recall Cain with his offering of convenience not of sacrifice. His anger at your displeasure did not turn out well for him.
  • I think of Nimrod and his decedents who wanted to make themselves great as they built a tower. That did not turn out well for them.
  • I recall Abram and Sarai taking God’s promise into their own hands and trying to work it out with human wisdom. That did not turn out well for them or Hagar and Ishmael.
  • I think of Jacob’s sons and all their self-serving actions. Things did not turn out well for them either.
  • I think of David thinking of himself, his pleasure, his reputation. That event did not turn out well for him.
  • I think of Israel and Judah over and over again serving their desires over God’s will. It does not turn out good for them.
  • I recall Peter losing sight of Jesus and sinking. I remember him denying Jesus three times. He learns that such actions did not turn out well for him.
  • I think of Judas as he considers himself alone as he betrays Jesus. It does not turn out well for him.

God, I recognize a pattern. A pattern that should remind me to change my focus from me to You. Father, help me, help us all, look to You and You alone for direction in our life. Specifically, help us know that is not in man to direct his steps.  Help us recall that the way that seems right to humanity, may very well be a way of destruction.

Father, I long to follow Your Way, Your Truth, and Your Life – keep me on track. Please forgive me when I lose focus.

In Jesus’ name.

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