Sunday, June 13, 2010

My New Sunday Reality

Now that I'm two weeks removed from one of the most emotional Sundays of my life, I finally feel ready to write about it. For those of you that don't know, Sunday, May 30th, 2010 was my the last message by my pastor of nearly 12 years, Francis Chan, at Cornerstone Community Church. Instead of the usual 9 and 11 a.m., and 6 p.m. services, this final Sunday of Francis' was going have the three services at 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m. with a barbecue in the parking lot following the final service. My plan was to get there around 9:30 and have plenty of time to get a good seat for the 10 a.m. service. I was then going to help out a little with the setup for the barbecue. Given all that Francis, Lisa and Cornerstone had given me over the course of the last 12 years, I felt it was the least I could do.

As fate had it, I got off to a late start and didn't arrive until 9:45 a.m. This was probably a good thing actually, as there were many baptisms in that first service - an estimated 40! So it ran over to the point when I walked in at 9:50 a.m, Francis was STILL doing baptisms from the first service. I managed to get a seat in the left center of the 3rd row (about where I usually sit) on a straight line to my friend Jay who is in the band. Of course, Francis' wife Lisa was also there singing during worship. With those two there, I felt in my usual "comfort zone" during worship, yet at the same time, I also knew that would be the last time I was ever going to be in that "comfort zone."

The service itself went by very fast. Francis spoke out of Revelation 21:1-8 and talked of a time when there would be "no more sadness or goodbyes." And that "there will be (an infinite amount of) time to 'hang out'" with each other. A very appropriate verse, since Francis, Lisa and their family were leaving... once we all reach our final destination in heaven, indeed there will be no more "goodbyes" and we will have an infinite amount of time to just "hang out" with each other.

As fate would have it, there were more than enough people to help with setup for the barbecue. The 11:30 service predictably was PACKED. So, I quickly switched hats and helped set up chairs in the overflow area (the lobby). Never before had I seen so many people there at a service. I would estimate we had nearly 2,000 people for that final service and 5,000 total for the three. I ran into a good friend of mine (Christina) from way back in grade school. I spent a lot of time with her and her family during the service. Francis was just fine at the 10 a.m. service, but he got much more emotional that last service as he nearly lost it twice. He did manage to regain his composure though and was strong as ever at the end. By the end of that service, a total of 80 or so people had committed to giving their lives to the Lord that day. What a PRAISE!

Other than the emotions and the crazy number of baptisms, what I will remember the most about Francis' final day was the amazing time I had with friends afterward. I hung out with Jay and then had a great conversation about family with his wife Kara immediately following the service. I had an even longer conversation about work and life in general with my friend Reggie after that. I met and socialized with several of Jay and Kara's friends after that while devouring a burger, fritos and an ice cream sandwich. I then spent some more time with Christina and her family and later spent some time with the Rich and Marlene Bebo - two of the first friends I made at Cornerstone. I spent a little time with my longtime friends Hal and Wendy after that. The three of us converged on Lisa and I got a really nice picture with her courtesy of Hal. I thanked Lisa for her gift of music and song and just being such a great example to me these past 18 or so years - she often led worship at my old church, Calvary back in the early-mid 90's. After the photo op, Hal, Wendy and I walked inside to give Francis one final goodbye. The only two words I could tell him were "thank you" just as my friend and former Cornerstone college group ("Axis") pastor Chuck Bomar did during his video message saying goodbye to Francis. I told him I was very excited to see where the Lord was going to take him and his family. The journey ended that day with me running into Francis and Lisa's beautiful daughter Rachel on the way out. I talked to her briefly, walked away and then walked back and took a nice picture of her and her good friend Sam.

At 3:45 pm, six hours after I had arrived, I started on that 24 mile, 30 minute journey back home to Thousand Oaks from that place in Simi Valley on Winifred that I've called home on most Sundays the past 12 years. Appropriately, the name of the first street that we pass on Winifred on the way to Cornerstone is called "Angela St."... As most of you know, "Angela" is a derivative form of "angel." I truly believe God has sent many of his angels and worked through them at the church to affect my life and countless others in a positive way for His kingdom. Cornerstone's been the place where God has worked through Francis, Lisa, the staff and the church body to reach me. I think that's what has kept me going all of these years. There are many other churches a lot closer to me, but none of them have moved me or motivated me to change myself and my focus like this church has. And for that, I'm eternally grateful! As long as that still is happening at Cornerstone, it won't matter who is giving the message. In other words, I won't be leaving anytime soon as long as God continues to work through Cornerstone to positively impact my life and keep me focused on Him.

As for the Chans, I know that we will still be in touch, especially since I'm good friends with Lisa's parents. Still though, I know things will never be the same. As I drove home that day, and have to admit I broke down and cried a little. I knew that starting the following Sunday, things would never be the same there. Indeed, it was going to be a "new reality" for all of us as our leader was no longer going to be there. Then again, I know our true leader has always been Jesus Christ and Francis always said he was just the vessel to deliver the message. It comforted me as he said that one more time on his final Sunday at Cornerstone.

A week ago, Todd Nighswonger preached for the first time as the Teaching Pastor and did a GREAT job! He shared a lot about himself which I think really made him seem more real to all of us. Francis was never afraid to share about himself, and I think that was a lot of his appeal. He also always spoke from the heart and was genuine and authentic. I even briefly talked to Todd in the lobby afterwards and told him how great a job I thought he did. I told him just to "keep it real" and make the message "about Him," and that the rest would take care of itself if he did that. As long as he preaches and gives "meaty" and convicting messages, I think Todd is going to do just fine at Cornerstone. Francis' best messages to me were ALWAYS the ones which were most convicting and which made me think about my own life and what I could do better to serve Him. I just hope and pray the messages continue to be "meaty" and convicting there as the we all adjust to our new reality at Cornerstone.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Thank You, Coach Wooden

As a very young kid, I was fond of most of the sports teams in the City of Angels. My parents were both into sports, following the Dodgers even before they moved to L.A. from Brooklyn. In football, we all followed the perennial "win the division, lose to the Cowboys or Vikings in the playoffs" Los Angeles Rams. While I loved watching the Dodgers and Rams growing up, the end result - not winning the whole thing - was very frustrating!

My solace as a youngster was that the basketball teams which ruled our city (the Lakers and UCLA Bruins) were winners. My first sports memory as a kid was watching the Lakers team led by the late Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West win the NBA title in 1972. A couple of months earlier (but beyond my recollection), the UCLA Bruins men's basketball team won it's 6th consecutive championship. The next year, the great Bill Walton behind a ridiculous 21-for-22 shooting performance led UCLA to it's 7th straight title as they mauled Memphis State by an 87-66 score. To this day, I still remember being awed by Walton's performance and coach John Wooden's amazing achievement. I also remember what happened the next year, as the Bruins played Notre Dame, seemingly on their way to their 89th consecutive regular season win. Up 70-59 with 3 1/2 minutes to play, the Bruins would not score again, as the Fighting Irish ran off a 12-0 run to stun them, 71-70. It was the first time as a child I actually cried over something other than physical pain. Yes, at the ripe old age of 6 1/2, I was a Bruin fan... UCLA's streak of seven consecutive titles would also be snapped that year. The next year, 1975, the Bruins came back though to win their 10th title in 12 years, defeating the Kentucky Wildcats 92-85. It would be the last of coach Wooden's 620 wins as a coach.

What a way to go out, I thought. As I grew up, I read about and studied coach Wooden. Each year that went by, I grew to admire the person he was more and more. He was a man of discipline, principle and faith. He also had a love for his late wife Nell which was truly an AMAZING love! When I graduated from high school, I applied to exactly ONE college: UCLA. Yes, this was the only place I wanted to go school as I'd been a Bruin at heart thanks to coach Wooden since I could remember. When I got accepted, I was ecstatic!

When I graduated from UCLA in 1990, I was very proud because I had graduated from the same school that coach Wooden had truly put on the sports map. Who was my favorite basketball player growing up? It was Walton's teammate, Jamaal "Keith" Wilkes. "Silk," as Wilkes would later be nicknamed as a pro, along with his UCLA teammate, the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Lew Alcindor), would team up ( with Earvin "Magic" Johnson) to lead the Lakers to three titles. Kareem won a total of five titles with the Lakers and also one as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.

The great thing about coach Wooden was that he was more than just a coach. He was simply an AMAZING human being! His two heroes growing up were Abe Lincoln and his father Joshua. Upon graduation from grammar school, his father gave him a seven point creed. This creed helped him model his life:

* Be true to yourself
* Make each day your masterpiece
* Help others
* Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible
* Make friendship a fine art
* Build a shelter against a rainy day
* Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day

Although I always believed in God growing up, I didn't attend church for the first time until two years after I graduated from UCLA. Coach Wooden's words of inspiration and his lifestyle were things I tried to emulate growing up. I'm thinking that maybe that's why I felt so "at home" the first time I actually attended church and accepted Christ into my heart in 1992. He was the one who planted the seed in my youth - it just took some time to harvest! Kind of like how it took him a while to actually become a GREAT coach! The morals, the integrity, the convictions and the positive outlook on life he preached remain ingrained in me to this day! Indeed, they've seen me through most of my life.

No, I never personally met the man, but the impact he had on me is unmatched by anyone other than my own family. What did I do last night and today? I talked to friends about how coach Wooden impacted me and served as a source of inspiration growing up. He was THE REASON I ended up at UCLA! Thanks coach Wooden for mentoring me, and teaching me how to live life the right way. In a world so devoid of role models, you TRULY were one! We should all thank the Lord that He allowed coach Wooden to spend over 99 years here on the earth. When he left our world about 6:45 pm last night, I do know two words he certainly heard from our maker before being reunited with his beloved Nell: "WELL DONE!"


Friday, June 4, 2010

What, Me Worry? NEVER!

I recently interviewed for a job at a financial services company in Calabasas. They preached that they were a "forward thinking" thinking company and while it seemed that most what they said supported this idea, the salary they were offering most definitely did not! $8.65 per hour plus commission - yes, that's a paltry $18,000 a year! When they made mention of this two hours into the three hour interview process, I knew this wasn't the right job for me. As I told a good friend and sister in Christ a few days later, "I'm not worried, I won't be out of work for long. I know in HIS timing, HE WILL provide me with the job HE wants me to be in." A wide and affirmative smile from her followed because she knew I was speaking from my heart and that I TRULY believed in what I was saying. God ALWAYS takes care of His children!

What I didn't know at that time was that God was going to answer this prayer so quickly. Those of you who are close to me already know what happened, but still it's a good story, so I will tell it here - I mean I haven't blogged in over two weeks, so this also will help fill the gap. Around 9:30 am the morning of May 20th, I got a phone call from a temp agency asking if I was interested in a job at Bank of America. Of all mornings to sleep in until 9 am, I picked this one! The night before, I have to admit I was a little on the down side. I had applied for approximately 20 jobs since my last day at the previous one on March 1st and after lots of early success in getting calls and feedback, I suddenly wasn't hearing from anyone. Getting back to things though, the recruiter needed an answer for me within an hour. I quickly got some caffeine in me and called him back 30 minutes later. And within three hours of his first call, I had a job! The pay was good, the hours (7:30-4:15 Monday through Friday) fit my school, gym and pilates schedule well, and the location was perfect - barely a mile from my home! As I've told several friends the past two weeks, it all just happened SO FAST! After spending almost three months detoxing from that last job, God knew that I was now ready to re-enter the workforce. His timing, as ALWAYS was perfect!

The next Sunday I went to my church, Cornerstone in Simi for the 9am service, then made my usual Trader Joe's run after that. And then at the urging of another friend, I went to Calvary Community for the 11:00 am service. Although the message given by the Pastor at Calvary about "Giving Up Control" out of James 4:11-17 was good (and a great improvement over what I'd previously heard there), the whole experience overall just didn't connect with me. When the Pastor used Erma Bombeck and Ray Charles to illustrate a point late in the service, my thought was "ok, these people were famous, but anyone under the age of 35-40 is probably going to have a very hard time relating to them or remembering who they were." Given that the membership of the church overall still seemed pretty young, using more contemporary and LIVING celebrities probably would have made for a better connection. Also, the worship honestly didn't click with me either.

What saved the day at Calvary though was what happened AFTER the service. I ran into a friend there from the Hub group who I gleefully informed of my newfound employment... and when she asked me where I worked and I told her "Bank of America right up the street," she said "you're going to love it there, my sister is a supervisor in that office. I'll put in a good word for you!" Needless to say, it was comforting to know I had a connection awaiting me at my new job.

So the next day, Monday, May 24, 2010, I officially returned to the workforce. As me and the 75 or so other new hires entered, the managers were all there to greet us, clapping, giving us high fives and cheering us on. It was an AMAZING welcome, not like anything I've seen before! Not soon thereafter, I noticed my friend's sister - the facial resemblance was a dead giveaway. On our morning break, I introduced myself to her. Little did I know that three days later, she'd become my supervisor! Over the course of that first week, God just kept on comforting me. The first day, one of my ex-coworkers from my previous job was there in the lobby along with me and the other new hires. The next day, I discovered my neighbor three doors down from me was also in the class. The day after that, on my afternoon break, I ran into a friend of mine who used to work for Countrywide insurance - she had recently been relocated to that building. This week, they relocated some of the Simi Valley employees into our office, including another ex-coworker friend of mine. What a blessing to have so many people who I know surrounding me!

So, I'm now two weeks into my new employment and LOVING it. The 1.1 mile commute through three signals typically takes me about 3 1/2 minutes. If all of the signals happen to be green, I can actually get to work in UNDER 2 minutes! In the worst-case scenario (beginning of the red cycle at all 3 signals), it's taken as long as 6 1/2 minutes to get there. My old 22 mile commute was usually 25-30 minutes going and 35-40 minutes coming back home, sometimes MUCH longer if there was an accident. Effectively, I'm spending 5 hours LESS a week on the road! Can you say free time???!!! The novelty of having a job so close to home has not worn off yet, and frankly, I don't EVER expect it to! I come home for lunch every day (I've even snuck home a couple of times on breaks), I check my email, I make phone calls to family and friends, and yes, I even sometimes make my famous Italian style Boboli pizzas!!!

The only downside to this whole thing is that I haven't been able to take any more private sessions at the pilates studio with Romina. I learned soooo much from her in the first eight sessions. After practically "living at the studio" the final weeks of my unemployment, she's probably wondering where I disappeared off to. Thankfully, my 8-5 training schedule is ending next Thursday, which means that I'll be working my "normal" 7:30-4:15 schedule and also be free to trade shifts if need be and hopefully get some privates in!

So yes, life is still very good. School is going well two weeks into the the new term at Cal Lutheran. My Lakers are in the finals again, and are three games away from making me happily eat some crow! Last Sunday was a very emotional day as we said farewell to our pastor, Francis Chan, at Cornerstone. I'll write a full blog about this over the weekend. The only word I can use to describe that last Sunday is EPIC! Because that's what it was... I love that man, his wife and their family. They're truly GREAT people, and more importantly, friends! I'm very excited to see where God leads this GREAT man and brother in Christ.

In closing, I also want to give thanks to the late, great coach John Wooden. He passed away at 99 tonight. He was even better human being in coach, and a fellow brother in Christ. His wish when he passed on to meet his maker was the same one most of us believers aspire to hear from our maker "Well Done!" Around 6:45 Pacific time tonight, I know he heard those words. He was the single biggest reason why I chose to get my undergraduate degree at UCLA as from the time I was a young kid, I was a fan of UCLA basketball. Rest in Peace, Coach Wooden, and thanks for EVERYTHING you gave down here!