Harvard And Science Journal May Be On To Something

     Harvard University and Science Journal are two places people go to learn some deep truths. And this time, I think they are on to one of the deepest of all. Their study was about how much money it takes to make someone happy.

     Here’s the finding: If you live below the poverty line, more money seems to make you a little happier. Life gets easier; some of the daily pressures lessen. But…hear this…If you are above the poverty line, having more money does not make you any happier. Interesting.  Hmm.

      The study showed that even if a family who earns $45,000 per year has their income doubled to $90,000 per year, they are no happier than before. Michael Norton, professor at Harvard Business School said, “Most people think that if you make a lot more money, you are going to be happier, but our studies showed that this is not actually true.”  

      But there is something the study showed about happiness and money. And it doesn’t have anything to do with your earnings, but rather how you use your money. Norton went on to say, “It’s what you spend your money on that makes a difference in your happiness.”   

      Regardless of income levels, those who spent more money on others in need or gave to worthy causes reported greater happiness in their lives. Those who spent money on themselves were not as happy.

      They then conducted a second study. Sixteen corporate employees were given bonuses, anywhere from $5000 to $10,000. And they were asked two months later how they used their bonuses. The results showed that the size of the bonus had nothing to do with their happiness. The only thing that related to happiness was that those who spent a portion of their bonuses on causes they believed in were the happier ones.

      Next forty-six volunteers were given from $5 to $20 to spend that day anyway they wanted. You’re probably catching on by now, but just so you know, the ones who spent their money on others or gave it away were much the happier group. Buying someone else coffee makes you happier than buying it for yourself.

     Now the SHOCKER! Harvard and Science Journal concluded… Are you ready for this?

      “It is better to give than to receive.” I think I heard that somewhere before.

—Phil Kinzer

2020 Vision

I suffer from myopia.  That’s near-sightedness, which means that I can see quite clearly things that are right in front of me, but everything becomes more and more blurry the further they are from me. Glasses correct the problem and can bring my eye-sight back to that wonderfully visionary goal of 20/20.  With corrective lenses, I’m able to see quite clearly that which is near and that which is far.    

That’s a reality that many of us share, but it’s also an interesting metaphor for something that is happening right here at Northside.  As we come to the close of 2018, we draw one year closer to the year 2020 and, therefore, one year closer to a new decade.  As the elders and staff met recently, we remember that we must not be myopic, only seeing what is right in front of us.  We need a vision of our church’s future that enables us to see what is further away.  That’s never easy, but with God’s help, we can have our vision correctly adjusted to see what He is calling us to. 

With that in mind, we’ve begun talking about 2019.  We want to spend time in this next year planning and preparing for the future.  We’re calling this endeavor “2020 Vision”, and we’ll be sharing some exciting  ideas with you on Nov. 18th.  Meanwhile, we ask that you pray that God will give us a clearer vision of the future, and the conviction and wisdom that we’ll need to step boldly toward that vision.  We, the Northside     family, will celebrate our 40th Anniversary next year.  We can look back at the first 40 years and approach the future with passive myopia, or we can observe the past 40 years and then go flying toward the next 40.  I hope you’ll be as excited as we are about the future our King is preparing for us.

Thank you for your part in the first 40 years!!  God bless you and your family for helping us to arrive at this giant milestone.  And thank you, in advance, for your family’s involvement in the next decade.  May He be glorified, and His Kingdom is firmly established on earth as it is in Heaven!!


First and Ten!

Football season is in full swing. The Titans are playing well. My Kansas City Chiefs are 5-0. The Vols and the Dores are . . . Well, as I said, football season is in full swing.

And in this season we are beginning a new slogan for our offerings to God: “First and Ten!” I am so grateful for your response to the lessons on giving. You have been so supportive as we have talked about using our money for God’s glory.

Our FIRST AND TEN campaign is simply this: Our church leaders are asking each family unit to give at least ten percent of a recently received pay to our church offering on the FIRST SUNDAY of each month. And now you can give online too!

Some of you have already started! Thank you! But we hope that everyone will join in on the first Sunday of November. Please do this in November, December, January and February. In four months, you may decide that God is blessing you and your heart is following your treasure and you will just keep on doing that. Some may jump to that ten percent giving level all the time.

At Northside, we are excited about our future together as a church family. There are so many opportunities to serve God and grow spiritually and in bigger numbers. We need every part of the body in on these goals.

Thank you for serving together with me.


“I Love You to the Moon and Back”

I read an article in the New York Times the other day about Neil Armstrong. It was a very interesting article, and it focused a lot on his two boys. The two boys, Mark who was six at the time and Rick who was 12 recalled the evening that Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the moon. Mark had to go to bed at nine, and his mom woke him up just before his dad stepped on the moon. Rick, being older was able to stay up the entire time and watch it. When Neil returned to earth, he and other astronauts were treated like celebrities. There was a period when they first returned that they had to stay in quarantine for several weeks, to make sure they didn’t catch any sicknesses from the moon. It was during this time that Neil’s boys were able to first talk to him. They said that he didn’t talk too much about the moon. “It was more ‘What had we been doing? Are you helping your mom? Are you mowing the grass?’ All that kind of stuff.” Here is this man who has just made history and helped to change the trajectory of what is humanly possible and when he gets the chance to talk to the people who are the closest to him, he is more interested in being their father than he is about being someone famous.

I loved this story, and parts of it reminded me about our Father God. God comes to us from his place on high and when you indeed consider all that he has done, our day to day issues and concerns might seem inconsequential, or silly. God, being the perfect father, has a love and care for us that surpasses all things. With all that God is doing and all that he has done and will continue to do, his primary concern is for his people. His children.

Chris Gannon

Seeking Good Balance

There are many books written about church growth.  I’ve read a bunch of them.  Sixteen years ago, when Linda and I first moved to Nashville to accept the position here as the Involvement Minister, I must have read a dozen or more of those books.  I was convinced that if we built it (or renovated it), people would come!  So we renovated the worship center.  At that time we averaged around 300 people in Sunday attendance.  Now, sixteen years later, we are averaging around 300 people.  Hmmm… we built it, but they didn’t come.

I began to read other church-growth books, some of which said churches were focusing on the wrong things.  Giving out prizes to visitors, cranking up the worship bands, staging incredible light shows and video presentations, and creating mini-magic kingdoms in the children’s and youth ministry areas were said to be extraneous fluff that doesn’t really help families grow in their faith.  And so I knuckled down on the Gospel, creating new ministries that are geared to take the good news into the world around us.  I was convinced that if we took evangelism seriously (and, to be honest, I’m not sure I have yet), the church would become an evangelistic powerhouse, and Northside would grow like never before.  Hmmm… 

Here I am today… somewhere in the middle of two extremes.  I know, and believe with all my heart, that it is the Gospel that has the true power to transform lives.  Read the first chapters of nearly every one of Paul’s letters and you’ll find him stating that in various ways.  Jesus Christ is God’s answer to the problems in this world.  But I’m also convinced that visitors are looking for more than doctrinal accuracy.  They are trying to find a church home for their families.  They are looking for the place that will have a big and positive impact upon their children.  They are looking for a place where they can create new friendships, a place where they can grow in their faith and in service.

That balance is important for the church.  Any church that focuses too much on only one side of that coin is in danger.  Many churches wind up with incredible facilities, and a watered-down gospel that prevents true spiritual development. Those churches are often overflowing with people, but they don’t know how the gospel can be “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Other churches may wind up with great ministries and teaching, but they wind up with facilities that look old and worn out.  Their membership is likely to be very faithful to that church family, but newcomers don’t feel like it’s a place where they can invest their lives.  As the old membership dies, the church dies also.  

Northside is in an interesting place right now.  Our teaching is strong… probably stronger than it’s ever been!  But through the years, besides the renovation of the worship center, we’ve merely maintained the rest of our facilities.  If something breaks, we fix it.  But if you asked some of the young families who have visited recently, they’d tell you our building looks old and dated.  And, sadly, a lot of that old stuff is beginning to break down. We don’t need to tear it down and start all over, but there are some things we can do to bring new life to the facilities.   And, while we’re at it, we can create an new energy and excitement, while offering a high level of involvement as members share in the work of re-creation here at Northside.  

We’ll be talking about this some more as we near the end of the year.  Please, pray that we do whatever God’s Spirit leads us to do, and may we represent well the Kingdom of Heaven right here on earth.

Since You’re Here Already…

Someone may have handed you this bulletin a few minutes ago.  Or if you’ve been busy, maybe it’s Sunday afternoon or evening.  Perhaps it has been on the kitchen counter for a day or two, and you are just now picking it up.  

In any case, if you are reading this, it likely means that you were in worship Sunday morning at the Northside Church.  Let me say thank you for coming and worshiping God together with other believers.  

If you came and stayed for Sunday school, thank you again.  You took another hour or so on the Lord’s Day to study God’s Word and fellowship with a smaller group of people.  

Sunday school is so important to our family at Northside.  Most of you know that already.  But if you come to worship and go home without Sunday school, let me talk to you as a friend.  I want to encourage you to take another small step and stay for Sunday school

Our culture thrives on being convenient.  Sunday School is convenient. 

You are already here.  You will still be out by lunchtime.  You may not beat all the Baptists to the restaurant, but you’ll beat most of them and all the Pentecostals.

You know how you go over to someone’s house to eat, but then it turns into more than just a mealtime?  The meal is great; it’s why you went over there.  That’s worship. Everybody needs to eat.  But after the mealtime, you go into another less formal room and chat and laugh; new subjects come up for the evening.  That’s Sunday School.  

At the big table, everyone sits together.  That’s needed.  That’s worship.  But when you leave the table, the kids go off by themselves.  You can have adult talk in one room and kid talk in another room.  That’s Sunday school.  

And you get it all done in one trip!  So, don’t eat and run.  Stay for another hour and enjoy a relaxing time in Sunday school.  

That’s been my habit forever.  And I am better off for it.  

What’s your rush? Stay a while.

World Famous Northside Annual BBQ

Well, we’re not exactly world famous yet, but we certainly know how to cook a pork shoulder!!  It’s almost that time of year again, with our feast scheduled for Saturday,  October 6th at 6pm.  If you haven’t been to one of our feasts, you better get this on your calendar and start inviting friends.  It’s a good time had by all.  

This is also one of our big fund-raising events.  Every year the money raised goes toward a particular mission or ministry.  This year we plan to purchase some new equipment for our much-used kitchen.  Our kitchen equipment is O-L-D!  And that fish you smell in the refrigerator simply must go away!!  We’ll sell our BBQ and sides by the plate for $8 (kids under 10 are free), and we usually also sell pulled pork by the pound.  We’re planning to talk to some other folks about the possibility of cooking some ribs to sell by the rack too. 

Also tied to the BBQ is our silent auction.  Each year we have received donations of new, or like new, items to sell in this auction.  We’re currently asking for donations now (please, no yard sale quality items).  Not just physical items, but services, trips, concert tickets, game tickets, etc.  If it’s of value, please consider donating it for this cause!  Bring your items to Stan’s office asap, or write him a note if it’s a service type item.

And, in the past, those who are involved in the all-night cooking that is required on Friday night have enjoyed a special meal and fellowship as the pork is smoking. That’s always been a fun evening for the cooks and families. This year we want to extend that invitation to others. In fact, some have said they can’t come to the Saturday BBQ but could join us Friday. So we’re now planning ways to extend our fund-raising and fellowship to include that cook night!  How about a Corn-Hole tournament?  Board games?  A Penny War (see Shannon Hudgins about this one)?  And, of course, more great food, fellowship, and fun!   We’ll have more details soon, but let us know if you have some ideas and would be willing to help.


Northside is a great church, and we’re always looking for ways to expand the family!  So let’s also commit to bringing a friend this year.    Everyone loves a good BBQ… and everyone NEEDS a good, strong family to love.  Northside offers both!!   Let’s start cookin!!!

Not goodbye- Simply lending a friendship

For those who don’t know, I grew up in Cookeville. It use to be a small town about an hour and a half from Nashville. Josh and I were married there, and all of my extended family still lives there, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. After we were married, Josh was presented with a job opportunity in Nashville that we simply could not turn down. I was blindsided. I’m not exactly sure why because I knew that a future in our fields wasn’t likely in Cookeville. Neverthe-less, I cried the entire evening. But, after much prayer and thought, we knew that there really wasn’t another choice. Some were excited, some were worried, and some were sad. We knew that we could use this as an opportunity to grow closer to each other and the Lord, but it was a difficult decision nonetheless. I can honestly say now that it was a life-changing, and for the better, decision. I can now see God’s hand at work through it all. 

We all face times in our lives where difficult decisions arise. Some-times, neither choice is right or wrong, but the decisions are hard. We are called to be His hands and feet and need to stay vigilant for ways that He can use us and our talents. 

Before becoming the children’s minister five months ago, I asked for God to send me a “burning bush” so to speak. I knew that that wasn’t likely, but I wanted to be absolutely positive and to be at peace with my decision. Whatever that may be. The outpouring of love and encour-agement from those at Northside was overwhelming. The staff and eldership were unlike any that I had seen and I had a sense of peace that I can not describe. 

Notably- Leslie made me feel extremely welcome and a part of the team. Les has known my father in law and family for years, but the thought of working with him myself was exciting and helped me to feel even more secure in my decision. Les has helped me, like so many of you, personally, spiritually, and relationally. I would not trade the last five months for anything, nor would I change any decisions that were made. 

I know that Les will be missed. Personally, I have cried many tears and was devastated by the news. I know how precious he and Mrs. June are. The impact that they have had at Northside and on my life is immeasurable. I also personally know the congregation that they are going to, so I know how much potential and greatness that they bring. God is going to use them to work in the hearts of so many, and I truly feel like this was a “burning bush” opportunity for them. They saw the potential and are using their gifts to further His kingdom. 

I want to personally thank Les and June for their support, their love for my family, their teaching, and most of all for their friendship. It is a cherished friendship that I will never lose. It is not goodbye. I like to look at it as I am simply lending them to others so that they may bene-fit from the same friendship and teaching that I have. 

Love you both immensely and praying for your new journey and influence. -- Megan

More From Les - Good-byes

How do you write your final article for the church where you have shared twenty-eight years—almost half of your entire life? How do you say “good bye” when nothing but tears are availa-ble? If I try to begin naming names, the bulletin is simply not big enough. If I try to thank everyone who has shared in and blessed our lives, there are not enough words to express our appreciation. 

As I reflected over the years, my mind went back to the first article I ever wrote for our newsletter. It was dated May 7, 1990 and it was entitled “What A Wonderful Beginning!” June, Robert, Kyle and I had moved (with the help of Charles Bearden and Mike Cox) to Nashville and my first day at Northside was April 15th of that year. 

The article began Words cannot describe the sincere apprecia-tion my family feels for the reception we have received from the Northside family. I was told by several that the Northside congrega-tion was just like family and now I understand why. While moving is always a distressful time, your acts of kindness have made our move very pleasant and, more importantly, encouraging in regards to our hopes, dreams and prayers for what lies ahead.” 

Initial impressions are not always accurate, but they do tell us much about ourselves and our relationships with others. While you have been trying to figure out just who and what this young man from Mississippi is all about (and good luck), I have been ‘sizing up’ the Northside church… 

Perhaps more than anything, I have been impressed by the po-tential for good which is evident in the Northside congregation. There is no doubt that God has great things in store for His family here. I just pray that we can pull together to make His dreams and plans for us a reality.” 

Twenty-eight years later, I still believe every word I wrote on May 7, 1990—except the part about a YOUNG man from Mississippi. I’m not quite that young any more. Black hair has been replaced with grey hair and in some places no hair at all. Small children have been replaced with grand-children (and the incredible joy that brings). Eleven years of marriage have been replaced with 39 years of marriage and the depth of love for June that only time and God can bring. A large building has been replaced by an even larger building and families with deep roots at Northside have been replaced with families with brand new roots. 

I have conducted over 210 funerals of Northside members, visited the hospital to welcome countless new babies to our church family, baptized so many into Christ and pronounced many of you as “husband and wife!” And while all of these moments were filled with incredible emotions from great joy to incredible sadness—I was honored to be a part of each one. 

I finished that first article so long ago with these words, I look forward to closer friendships and greater service together as we work side by side at this place to bring glory, honor and praise to Him for whom we live, work and serve.June and I thank God for the wonderful opportunity to do just that. May God bless each of you richly. 

Lions, Teams, Battles, Oh My! 

My Rowland loves animals! National Geographic, all of those beautiful yet boring Netflix nature shows, all of them can keep his attention for hours. Animals are his thing. The only person who could match him with his animal facts may be Eli Gannon with his dinosaur facts. We watched a lion show the other day on the couch together, and I couldn't help but watch his reactions. The lion was in hiding. The lion was quiet. The prey had no idea the lion was there. The sounds in the bushes that lured the prey didn't phase the prey and it thought nothing of it. No preparation. No knowledge. My Row wasn't scared because he knew what was coming. He also wasn't scared because he knew that the lion couldn't touch him personally. 

Have you ever felt like no matter where you turned, another problem, issue, or confrontation arose? If you don't feel that way now, it is likely you have felt that way or will soon. The last few months in the world around me all of this has been evident. I have watched friends struggle and family members try to start over. There has been world chaos and destruction one event after another. Satan is alive, and he is so real. He always has been. I think sometimes we believe that if we don't see a little guy with a pitchfork or experience a huge travesty, that he isn't active in our lives. The Bible tells us that our enemy is crouching around just like a lion looking for someone to devour. Just like that nature show, we are the prey. He's quiet and stealthy. 

But it isn't all doom and gloom! Just as the ladies have been talking about on Wednesday night, understanding that our battle isn't against each other but against Satan is key. Sometimes we lose sight of that and reconciliation and peace are more difficult. And understand, just as we all are reminded as Easter approaches, God wins! We shouldn't be scared because we have assurance of the end result. We must understand that Satan is active and be prepared and on guard. We must pray for each other and we must lift one another up. 

Our children at church know the real reason for Easter. They are so very smart! When I asked them why Jesus had to die, the answers varied. I got every-thing from "to save us" "to win the battle" "so that we can live with Him forever" "because we had sinned". All of this is true. But rejoice and take courage that the battle has been won. He did rise on the third day and astonished the world. Satan has no hold on Him. We are all on the same team, and what a blessing to know that we have won! 

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wicked-ness in high places.
— Ephesians 6:12


My Lipscomb pride has been on a high this past week as the Bisons finally get their first bid into the NCAA Tournament. I remember being at the first game in Allen Arena when we won at the buzzer after a shot from the opposite free throw line. I remember countless Battle of the Boule- vard’s, one being mine and Bekah’s first date. I also remember years of watching us come up short and not make the tournament. So, this year, even though we will probably draw a tough team today, I’m pumped for the Bisons!

All this got me thinking about my decision to go to Lipscomb about 17 years ago. When I was in high school, I only took the ACT one time and only applied to one school. That wasn’t really because of great confidence - it was more a result of me not wanting to spend another Saturday taking a test, and...ok, I was pretty confident I’d get into Lipscomb. Luckily, they did let me in.

I talk to teens now a lot during their senior year about what their plans will be post high school. They typically fall between two extremes. Some stress about this decision endlessly, constantly weighing all the options and trying to decide where will be the right place to go, fearful that if they don’t pick the right one, they will be miserable and the rest of their lives they will live in regret. Others, you might wish, thought a little more about it than they seem to. Talking to them a few months into summer and their response to what they plan to do next is something like, “ahh, I don’t know. Some- thing probably.”

What I try to remind students this time of the year is that this is an important decision and it’s something you should be prayerfully consider- ing. But the most important thing isn’t where you go or what exactly you do. The most important thing is that wherever you go and whatever you do, to be faithful to God.

I was talking with a friend the other night. We were at Lipscomb together at the same time, and we were just talking about the ways that God works. My first year and a half at Lipscomb I nearly transferred. I didn’t have any friends at school and thought about going to a different school that several my friends from high school were at. In the end, I decided to stay and stick it out. The next semester I met a lot of good friends and then this other girl who was way out of my league named Bekah Kinzer. So, it all worked out, and I’m glad I stayed. My friend (really my only friend my first year or so at Lipscomb) left after two years, and we were talking the other night about how if it weren’t for him leaving he never would have met his wife.

It was a reminder that God can make anything work for our good as long as we are faithful to Him with our lives and our decisions. We both ended up doing different things, but God blessed both of us beyond what we ever thought imaginable. So, the biggest question for those contemplat- ing big decisions is not, “Where should I go? What should I do?” etc. It’s instead, “How will I be faithful to God wherever I go?"


More From Les

Everyone’s experiences were unique. From walking up Mt. Sinai to sailing across the Sea of Galilee to standing on the Mount of Olives where Jesus ascended back to heaven, it is hard to explain the surreal moments and emotions you feel when you actually SEE what you’ve always only READ in the past! As Phil was fond of saying, “What you’ve always seen in black and white, you now see in color!” 

This past week, approximately thirty Northside members returned from a tour of Egypt and Israel (Ray Fuson, my son Robert and I joined the group in Israel). Awesome! Fantastic! Overwhelm-ing! Wonderful! Unfortunately, there are not enough words to describe the time we spent where people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Debra, Ruth, David, Elijah, (I think you get the point) all lived, walked, talked, died and were buried. Of course, the highlight of the week were the places where Jesus lived, walked, talked, died and was buried—oh yeah, he also arose again and ascended back into heaven where he sits at the right hand of God Most High. 

The very first evening in Tel Aviv, I couldn’t help but think of the Apostle Peter as he stayed at the house of Simon the Tanner which Luke says was “by the sea” (Acts 10:32). Our hotel was literally just up the shore from where Simon’s house would have been. 

2018 - Sea of Galilee - Les.jpg

The second morning, I woke up in Tiberius, a city just south of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. Remem-bering that Jesus got up early in the morning to go out to a solitary place to pray, I found a spot on the rocks along the shore of the Sea of Galilee where I could pray. I couldn’t hold back the tears as I thought of praying not far from where Jesus talked with his Heavenly Father. It was emotionally overwhelming. Most of us experienced moments like that. 

We explored the area where Peter made the good confession. We walked in the courts of the Temple where Jesus taught the people. We stood in the garden where Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. 

Perhaps the most moving time was when we gazed upon a hill that looked like a skull—Golgotha/Calvary. We then waited silently to enter the garden tomb where it is believed Jesus was buried and raised again the third day. Gathering nearby in a circle, we were led by Reed Richardson in singing “Up From The Grave He Arose.” That song immediately took on a new mean-ing. 

Special appreciation goes to Phil Kinzer for organizing and leading the tour. Phil did an awesome job of placing each place we visited within its histori-cal setting. I think I speak for all who joined in this spiritual pilgrimage—thank you Phil! 

New Heavens and Earth? 

In the past couple of years, we have heard A LOT about new heavens and new earth. I balked at it initially, but now I understand where that viewpoint comes from. I balked at it simply because I was so enamored by my historical beliefs. Old habits die hard, they say. I’m still not certain anyone should speak with such absolute authority on the subject . . . there is much ambiguity in the Word about the subject. But it appeals to me to think that what God created is exactly what He wanted all along, and He’s busy making it new again. 

I think, however, that we are mostly stuck in the eschatological (end times) point of view in this discussion. We would all agree that whenever Jesus decides to come back, the renewing work will be finished and complete. That which is broken will be broken no more! The more we focus on that end-times discussion, the more we’re inclined to just accept that this world is gonna be terrible (and even more terrible) until that grand finale of the Messiah’s return. And THAT is what I believe to be a big blunder. 

You see, when Jesus came initially, he said: “The Kingdom of Heaven has come among you.” Those words are pointing to a reality that was beginning right then, with Jesus’ presence in the world. He was NOT pointing to the end-times. And, as He made His way around that part of the world, whenever He healed a broken body (blindness, crippled, deaf, mutes, demons, or sickness), we see Him transforming the dead/dying world into the New Heavens and New Earth world. When He spoke up in defense of women or children in the face of misogyny or child abuse, He was transforming this dead/dying world into the New Heavens and New Earth world. 

Of course, when He went to the cross and, more importantly, rose from that tomb, He was doing the really heavy lifting of transforming this dead/dying world into the New Heavens and New Earth world. And when He poured out His Spirit onto the believ-ers (including 21st Century believers), He is giving them the power and authority to continue the transforming work that frees this dead/dying world from corruption and ushers in the New Heavens and New Earth at that very moment. Yes, someday Jesus’ return will fully complete that transformation, but we believers and ambassadors exist in the world for the sole purpose of continuing that transforming work! But how? Does that mean us?!? 

I’m starting a new class next quarter (beginning March 4th) called “In Service to the King – Training to be His Ambassadors for the World”. We will be discussing this subject and be learning how people like you and me can get busy healing this world. It’s not gonna be a class for everybody. But if you believe that God uses broken people to make all things new and that He can even use you, then this class is for you. I hope some of you will join me. But more than that, I hope all of us will begin to believe that New Heavens and New Earth have come among us… it’s time for us to recognize it, proclaim it, and step into that dead/dying world to transform it for Christ, our King. 

Stan (the eldest)

The Greatest Showman

One of the things you can’t miss when you read through the gospels, especially Luke, is the way that Jesus cared for the disadvantaged and the outcasts. Jesus' message of good news was for all people. In scripture we see Jesus reaching out to, hanging out with and loving those who were sick, the Samari-tans, tax collectors, etc. These, among others, were the outcasts of Jesus’ day, and while most people saw only their sickness, or their title, or their race, Jesus was always able to see beyond that to what was most important. 

I always like a good movie, which means it’s been a bad couple years for me as I just haven’t seen anything lately that was worth seeing. Recently, however, I heard a lot of talk about this movie called, “The Greatest Showman” and how I just HAD to see it. So I did, and wow! What a great movie! Some of you won’t like it - it’s a musical. But there are some elements to that movie that I think people can resonate with and appreciate. The reason I think people have latched on to this movie is that there are parts of it that really echo the greatest story ever told. Without giving too much away, I’ll briefly just say that it tells the story of P.T. Barnum, the man who went from nothing to a worldwide sensation by starting the Circus. The circus features a cast of people who are looked at as freaks and outcasts by the majority of society, however within the circus family they not only belong, they are the stars of the show. 

Jesus offered salvation to all people. Sometimes it came in the form of healing, sometimes in the form of the forgiveness of sins, sometimes in the release from the bondage of money. May we always strive to be just like Jesus in the way that we welcome the outcasts, the sick and the disadvantaged. The good news of Jesus offers us all - regardless of how we come to him - the greatest life imaginable. We get to enjoy this new status together with other brothers and sisters who also know what this joyful life in the kingdom looks like! We don’t call it a circus - we call it church, even though admittedly one can seem like the other at times.

Listening = Loving 

It’s a special holiday today that is centered around love. All of the focus centers around red hearts, flowers, candy, dinners, but what does it mean to show true love. What does that look like? 

Recently, Josh and I took a Myers Briggs personality test. While we are similar in many areas, we couldn’t be more different when it comes to the area of being extroverted and introverted. I’ll let you decide who was who, but let’s just say that I love to be around people and I love to talk. While I thought about the upcoming holiday, I stumbled upon a quote. “When the two ears are put side by side, it forms a heart. Interestingly, the word ‘ear’ sits right in the middle of the word ‘heart’ (h-ear-t). The ear is the way to the heart, so if you want someone’s heart, learn to listen to them. If you want God’s heart, learn to listen to Him” 

Many times, we are quick to give our opinion, our excuses, our advice, when instead we should be listening. Listening to what the other person is struggling with. Listening to what the other person likes. Listening to how the other person feels. The bible tells us to be slow to speak and slow to anger. The bible also teaches us to watch our tongue. I’ve often regretted things that I have said because I didn’t listen and think before I spoke. 

Every relationship, not only your spouse, requires listening. We have recently noticed outbursts of frustration and bouts of screaming from our boys when they feel that no one is listening to them. They feel alone. They feel undervalued. They feel unimportant. One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what the other person has to say. There are few greater feelings than to feel loved by those that you respect the most. One of the ways that we feel loved is when we feel listened to and when we feel that our opinion and voice matters. 

There are many times where I know that God has tried to show me something or speak to me and I have simply talked my way around or out of it. I know that I matter to God. How do I show Him that He matters to me? How do I show love to God? We can show it through many ways, but many times I feel we should just listen. Simply be still. 

Josh and I will be celebrating 10 years of marriage this year, and while we still get frustrated, we have come a long way with this listening love. I would challenge you this week to look at your relationships and your relationship with God. Are you showing love? Are you showing respect? Are you truly listening?

Kids Who Grow Up to Follow Jesus Have Parents Who Do These 7 Things

(The following is a summery of an article entitled “Kids Who Grow Up To Follow Jesus Have Parents Who Do These 7 Things.” Kristen Hooper alerted me to it and I think it’s excellent, especially for our young families. I hope you enjoy it).

No one has more influence in a child's life than his or her parents. Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults normally have parents who influenced them to do so. Throughout Scripture, we see examples of children who were influenced by their par- ents to follow God—Abraham and Isaac, Hannah and Samuel, Eunice and Timothy, etc.

The National Study of Youth and Religion backs this up as well. The study shows that parents are far and away the major influence in kids keeping their faith into their adulthood. Just 1% of teens ages 15 to 17 raised by parents who attached little importance to religion were highly religious in their mid-to-late 20s. The study compared this to children who were raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations. 82% of these kids grew up to be religiously active as young adults. “No other conceivable causal influence ... comes remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth. Parents just dominate.” (Christian Smith, Yale University)

What are some of the key things that parents do whose kids grow up to follow Jesus as adults? Let's look at 7 of them.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who prayed with them at home. They prayed with them at meal time. They prayed with them at bed- time. They prayed with them before they left for school. They prayed with them in times of crisis. They prayed with them about important decisions.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who read God's word with them at home. The Bible didn't sit on the dashboard of the car all week collecting dust or it didn't remain an unopened app. It was used during the week. Eunice and Lois, who raised Timothy, infused Scripture into his life. Look what it says about this in the New Testament. “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who take them to church consistently. We live in a day when parents are taking their children to church less frequently. The average family who attends church only shows up once every three to four weeks. Sports, activities, weekend trips and the general busyness of life creeps in and crowds out many families' consistent church attendance. But this is not the case for families whose kids grow up to love Jesus. They make attending church the top priority of their weekend.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who create a place where questions are welcomed and encouraged. One of the strongest factors associated with kids keeping their faith as young adults is having parents who talk about religion and spirituality at home.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who emphasize relationship over rules. This doesn't mean they don't put boundaries and consequences in place. But what it does mean is they focus more on helping their kids fall in love with Jesus and having a personal, growing relationship with Him. As they do this, their kids begin to obey and "keep the rules" not out of fear or duty, but out of a heart of love and surrender to Jesus' will for their life.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who live authentically. Simply put. Their parents are the real deal. They practice what they preach. They live at home just like they live at church. This doesn't mean the parents are perfect. Yes, they make mistakes along the way. But when they do, they humbly admit it and seek forgiveness.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who actively serve and involve their children in serving. Research shows that kids who get involved in serving are much more likely to carry their faith into adulthood. There is some- thing about serving that activates a child's faith and increases their passion for the things of God. When a child understands that God has a purpose for their life and that they can be used of God to impact others for the kingdom, he/she engages wholeheartedly.


The Power of A Single Welcoming Word

My oldest brother, Rick Cunningham, received a letter in the mail the other day. It was from a friend who had once been a member of the church where Rick had served as minister.  This lady was now a member of a church in another Texas town, several hundred miles away.   In the letter she wrote this:

“Yesterday, our minister, John Knox, was telling about his baptism at Sunset in Lubbock, TX when he was 20 years old.  He was a student at Lubbock Christian University after flunking out of Texas Tech.  He had   never darkened the door of a church building until he met his LCU friends.  At some time in there, he had a girlfriend who was also a student at LCU, who lead him to Christ.  Anyway, when he was baptized, he came up out of the water, up the stairs to re-dress, and he was met by an older man with a towel who simply said ‘Welcome.’  John went on to say how much that one word meant to him then, and how it stayed with him through the years.  He said he had kept it in his heart to this very day.  He related instances of seeing this man, many times over the years, whenever he visited someone in a Lubbock Hospital… there this man was visiting people nearly every time.  John said that, because he had so many connections in Lubbock, he always checked the Lubbock obituaries.  There, he said, in last week’s obituary, was the name Joe Cunningham, the man who was first to welcome him into the Kingdom, and whose welcome had touched his heart for all these years.” 

Of course, this kind of witness to my dad’s life does not surprise my brothers or me.  This is the kind of man Pop was.  But I wanted to relay this story here to simply remind us of the power of a single word when it is uttered by someone whose heart is filled with love and welcome.  We  never know how un-welcome people feel around us, so when they are confronted by someone who is genuine in their welcome, it can have a powerful and lasting impact.  Pop likely never knew this story even though he was the central character.  And you may never know how your words of welcome impact someone else…. But that person knows.  And it may have a lasting impact on how they feel about life.  And, after all, isn’t this exactly how we think Jesus welcomes us into His Kingdom?  “Well done, good and faithful servant…. Come on into the joy of your Master.”

(The following is an article by Ray Fuson that challenges us on our spiritual walk with God during 2018. I hope you enjoy it).

It's a new year–did we grow personally in 2017, and how will we pursue 2018? Genesis 1:26 says, "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness..." Romans 8:29 says, "To be conformed to the image of His Son, the first-born of many brethren." First, let's understand that Romans 8 explores in depth the work of God. Moving a Christian from the carnal nature to the spiritual nature is the work of the Holy Spirit in a process the Bible calls "sanctification." It is important that we understand that the work of the Spirit is a life-long process com­pleted only at the Resurrection.

Question–Can the Christian reflect Christ's image perfectly all the time? I don't believe we can in this life. If we could, we would not have to fight this spiritu­al battle each of us fight every day. Instead, I believe that there are moments when Christ is more evident than others–and then there are other moments when self and the flesh get in the way.

Sometimes, we may reflect and see a milestone of growth in our walk with God; but more often it is the little steps–little ditto marks that point the way. For­tunately, the blood of Christ makes up the difference.

The litmus test for us is found in Galatians 5:22-23 which says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-Control ..." Can we truly say that we continually express agape, or storge (family love), or even phileo (friendship love)? Of course not! Is it joy (the glad expectation of God's deliverance), or is it our own happiness we seek? Is it peace (the calm assurance of God in control), or the world's peace (the cessation of conflict)? Is it patience or is it our hurry–our "want it now"–that drives us to reach our destination?

The Bible says in 1 John 4:8, "God is Love". How much of God is love? All of Him and all of Him is joy, peace, patience, etc. I think we need to return to the burning bush on the mountain of God, take off our shoes because we are on holy ground, and hear God say, "I AM is My Name!"

When we bring that into the context of Galatians 5:22–I AM  Love, I AM Joy, I AM Peace, and I AM Patience–we get the whole complete sense of who I AM is and our relationship to Him. Our walk with Him becomes more than just a stroll. He can take our little steps, our ditto marks and keep drawing us to Him; making and conforming us to His image. Not an easy task–rather it is His love and His pa­tience allowing us to take missteps like a parent with a child, guiding us the whole way.

May "I AM" strengthen us to do His will and may we continue to grow in the nurturing love of His Son this coming year!


(If you were blessed by his thoughts like I was, please tell Ray "thank you.")