Bulletin - S. Cunningham

A RADICAL AND WORLD-SHAKING IDEA

Pieter van der Horst, professor emeritus in the faculty of theology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and author of Studies in Ancient   Judaism and Early Christianity, suggests that the predominant world view toward poor people has always been negative. This has been a societal norm for as long as history records show. During the Greco-Roman world domination, leadership promoted the idea of philanthropy and benevolence, but those concepts were much different than today’s interpretation. Ancient philanthropy was always directed toward those who could reciprocate with a greater gift. Think about that for just a moment. Let me say it again…  ancient philanthropy was always directed toward those who could reciprocate with an even greater gift. What does that mean? It means that people of means were eager to give gifts to other people of means, and the recipient of any gift was socially obligated to respond to that giver by upping the ante.  I might give you a very generous gift, but you would have to give me something even more generous. Society frowned on those who broke the code. And, since poor people were unable to reciprocate appropriately, they were never considered as suitable objects for benevolent giving.  

God wished to change that. When He spoke the Law into existence for the people of Israel, He said things that were directly opposite of world view. While the world ignored the poor, and heaped societal obligations upon the rich, the Hebrew people were told things like, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 23:22).  This was a very RADICAL and WORLD-SHAKING command.  To give to someone who cannot give something nicer in return simply made no sense to people of the ancient world. 

But Jesus took it one step further. The poet Hesiod, around 700 BCE, had coined the phrase “Give to him who gives, but do not give to him who does not give.” This phrase well defined the attitude of giving. If the giver cannot be repaid with something even greater, then he should keep it to himself. Now hear the words of Jesus in Luke 14:12-14, “Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Did you hear how Jesus attacked the very core of societal norms concerning the poor? He strove to create a society that urged people to give to those who are totally incapable of giving in return. And by urging people to live with that kind of generosity in their hearts, He was urging His people to create a society where everyone is to be considered an equal, with equal possessions and equal opportunities. This was a RADICAL and WORLD-SHAKING idea. And it’s one that you and I, as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, are being urged to embrace. As 2019 fades into the next decade, this should become a primary focus of our church.  Let’s work hard this year with 2020Vision to prepare for a GREAT, RADICAL, AND WORLD-SHAKING future for our church family, and for the community around us.  


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!!

Stan


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.


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!!!

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 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.”