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.