Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hidden Flowers

I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden. ~Ruth Stout

Around the perimeter of Cornerstone there is a hedge that fences-in the campus along the two streets that corner it, big and busy 223rd street and the smaller Meyler Street. The hedge is thick and green and about 4 feet high. However, between the hedge and the church building itself, there is a long row of African Iris plants. They were planted there several years ago -- before there was a hedge -- by my late Uncle Everett. With the expansive growth of the hedge, the smaller plants are now mostly unseen and unnoticed – almost as if they were in a private or secret garden.

Right now, those “hidden” African Irises are in full bloom with large white flowers reaching toward the sky. My wife Karlene lamented that it is a shame that no one is really getting to enjoy the beautiful blooms, because of the location of the plants. She even took my administrative assistant, Cielito, out to the west side of the church campus, so that she would get to view the special, yet secret, floral show.

Those flowers are not blooming for my personal enjoyment, though they are beautiful to behold. They are blooming for the benefit of their Creator. They are reaching up toward Him, fulfilling their purpose, no matter who is or isn’t noticing.

Nature preaches and teaches much better than I could ever hope to. And as I looked at the blossoming floral array that was tucked-away along the side of our church, I got the message. Was it a Springtime message? Not really. It was more of a mankind message – or a message just to me.

The lesson of the “hidden” flowers... They bloom regardless of their location. They bloom no matter who is watching – no matter who can see them. They bloom because they are alive. They bloom because that is what they were created to do. They bloom and bring beauty to their surroundings and give glory to their Creator.

Many people are like those “hidden” flowers. Serving God and His kingdom in seeming anonymity. Far removed from the eyes of the general public. Away from any recognition that a high-profile position would bring their way. Yet they go about their business with the best that they have to offer. Providing a beauty and a fragrance that is many times overlooked or unnoticed.

However, they are not looking for the limelight or seeking publicity. They are simply doing what God created them -- and called them -- to do. They are God’s handiwork -- serving the Lord with gladness. Fulfilling their purpose without much, if any, fanfare here on earth, but know this, they are being acknowledged in heaven.

In Ephesians 2:10, Paul states “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…” So keep blooming. Keep on blossoming. Keep on doing what God created you to do. Come rain or shine, accolades or indifference, keep bringing glory to Jesus Christ with your life.

Remember, you’re performing for an audience of One.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Getting Slamm'd

It was a big event for Cornerstone.

The Gospel Komedy Slamm rolled back into Cornerstone Christian Center on Saturday night, after a several-year hiatus, loaded with top-notch talent and lots of laughter. Even with some last-minute replacements, it had a great line-up and was an excellent show for the many guests in attendance. Even CNN showed up to film some footage and do interviews with some of the performers for a docu-piece on Christian Comedy.

The stand-up comedians included Dat Phan, (who won NBC’s Last Comic Standing Season 1), Gilbert Esquivel, and Jay Lamont. The event also featured several great singers, (including one of my personal favorites; Joan Simpson), a young girl danced and brought the house to a "Standing O" and then the night concluded with an incredible performance by a teenage sax phenom named J. Boykin (remember the name). The Slamm was emceed by my good friend; the always hilarious Lamont Bonman (aka: The Rev. Monty B. Sharpton).
But beyond the laughter, beyond the lights, beyond the music, beyond the singing, beyond the performers and performances – there was something that really stood out to me. It was none other than the team of dedicated servers from Cornerstone who were making the big night run smoothly.

The iServe Team was impressive. They were parking attendants, ticket-sellers, ticket-takers, ushers, greeters, assistants, engineers, stage-hands and cameramen. They came early and left late. They set-up before and cleaned-up after. They came, they saw, they served.

As I watched them serving gladly, and greatly, I felt the Spirit of the Lord move upon my heart. I felt God say; “this is what it’s all about.” That is the reason that we are here. That is the reason that Cornerstone is here. That is the reason that we are saved and sanctified. That is the reason that we are in the community. We are here to SERVE.

I was blown-away the other night when I heard Mickey Drexler, the CEO of the clothing retailer J. Crew (and former CEO of The Gap); tell Charlie Rose in an interview that he wouldn’t give 5 cents for a company where the public could not get a hold of the CEO and upper management. He basically stated that the reason that they are there is to serve the people. What a concept.

Jesus said of Himself, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). That was His personal mission statement. To become true followers of Christ, His focus must become our focus – His mission must become our mission. That stated; our mission in this life should be “serving and giving.” In the world, greatness is determined by how many serve you; but, in God’s kingdom, greatness is determined by how many people you serve.

Saturday night at Cornerstone, I witnessed greatness in action.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pop Tarts & Froot Loops

Kellogg’s – Yes, the Battle Creek, Michigan-based Cereal Company – has a new campaign that caught my eye recently. It’s called “Healthy Beginnings.” Their slogan for the campaign is “Step Up! To a healthier you.” In one of the print ads promoting it, they even have a picture of a woman with her hands raised in the air. Interesting language and visuals -- especially since this is the same company that provides such nutritional breakfast foods as Pop Tarts, Froot Loops, and Cocoa Krispies. I must note that I did not see any of the aforementioned products in the “Healthy Beginnings” ad for some reason.

However, seeing that ad got me thinking. Not so much about cereal, but about Christianity. Specifically, about the health – spiritual health, that is – of the believer. I really like Kellogg’s slogan. Step Up! To a healthier you! To be healthy and growing Christian’s we need to “step-up.”

God’s call to us is always an upward call. Paul said in Philippians 3:14, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” God is constantly challenging people to “get-up, step-up, and move-up.” The society and world in which we live is in a downward spiral. The way “up” is in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus came to lift our level of living. In John 10:10, Jesus shared that he had come to bring life “more abundantly” – that’s a healthier you!

Even the good folks at Kellogg’s realize that in order to “Step up to a healthier you,” it is not going to happen by eating “Froot Loops and Pop Tarts.” As tasty as those items may be, they are not going to make a “healthier” you. Pounding down Pop-Tarts isn’t going to give you Matthew McConaughey abs. Feasting on Froot Loops isn’t going to give you the body of a Supermodel. In order to become healthier, you have to eat healthier. To eat healthier, you have to change your diet.

To become a healthier Christian, you have to have a healthier spiritual diet. Faithfully attending church (“Does that mean like every week?” Uh, yeah.). Faithfully reading the Bible. Faithfully spending time with the Lord (it’s called prayer). Faithfully getting together with other believers. These are some of the necessary dietary changes that – when stepped up into -- will lead to a “healthier you.” A better you, a more disciplined you. Isn’t that what a disciple truly is?

So take a Step Up.
Neither the world nor the church needs more “Pop-Tart” Christians.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Boy's Story

I would like to tell you a story. It is a story of a little boy just old enough to remember things.

This little boy was taken away from his parents when he was 4 years old and taken to live in an orphanage. He was the youngest child in a group of 60-70 children, all living in this orphanage.

He cried for his parents because he missed them. He didn’t understand why he was in that place and that made him cry more. It was impersonal and was not a place where a child could receive the love and emotional nourishment that is needed to grow to adulthood. There were good times for the boy, but the loneliness and emotional pain far outweighed the good. Holidays were never good times, as most of the other children went to sp4end the time with family, but the boy was seldom allowed to be with his family.

When it came time for the boy to start school, the orphanage made the children walk to school in columns, with the children each holding hands with the child next to them. Other children at the school laughed at and made fun of the child, saying many hurtful things. The boy tried to excel in his schooling, but that only brought more ridicule from the children around him.

Friendships were unheard of because the boy didn’t know if a so-called friend would turn out to be another child who just wanted to hurt the boy. For the boy, trust was a dirty word that always resulted in heartache.

The boy, and others from the orphanage, stood out from the rest of the children in school, because of the clothes they wore. Nothing was ever new, and if there weren’t patches or sewn rips in the clothes, it was highly unusual. Underwear, when it had been used so much that the elastic waistband wouldn’t stretch anymore, was knotted so that it wouldn’t fall down. Clothes were most often hand downs from other children who had outgrown them. If pant legs had to be rolled up so the child didn’t trip over the excess, or belted tight so that they didn’t fall down, it was normal.

Rules at the orphanage were very strict and punishment for violations of those rules was severe. Punishments could range from denial of breakfast, lunch or dinner, to beatings. Beatings that sometimes resulted in the child having to go to the hospital for treatment.

Once, the boy actually made friends with another child at school. It was towards the latter part of the boy’s stay at the orphanage. The parents of the friend asked the orphanage if the boy could spend the upcoming Christmas holiday at their house. When the request was approved, the boy considered it to be the best thing that had ever happened to him. He was actually exposed to a loving, caring family.

Shortly after that, the boy was removed from the orphanage and placed with a family. It was not a pleasant family, who only wanted the boy to help work their farm. Here he was beaten, falsely accused of things by the other children, and had a lot of his personal possessions stolen from him. During this time, his real parents died, 6 months apart. Once, the boy ran away, walking over 20 miles in the middle of winter, to try to find his older sister. He wanted to ask her why their parents died and left them all alone. When he reached his sister’s home, he was forced to go back to his foster home. He never received an answer to his question.

Later that year, he was placed with another family. This time, the boy finally experienced what parental love really was. To be actually loved was something the boy had never known and it was thrilling to him. He tried his hardest to be worthy of that love, but it engendered hatred from the real children of his foster parents. The children thought the boy was trying to steal their inheritance.

Again, the boy suffered beatings, but this time delivered by the other children. He was stabbed with pitchforks, thrown into pig manure and forced to do all the nasty jobs on the farm. There came a time when he was forced by the foster parents’ children to tell his foster parents that he didn’t want to live there anymore.

The boy was once more moved to another home. This time, the home housed 6 boys who were in the same situation. The situation where they hadn’t fit in other homes. By this time, the boy was 15 years old and finally received help in learning to become a normal person. He stayed with this home until he graduated from high school.

Most stories are just that; stories. You may think that if something like this did happen, it could only happen in some Third World country. But this one is real. It happened here in the United States. I know, as I was that boy and I remember all of it like it was yesterday. When Pastor Tim came back from India and showed the videos about the orphanage there, it brought all of these memories back to the surface.

It made me think that maybe I could be the force of change for some of those orphans. Not that I could go there and help, or that I could adopt a child and provide that child with a loving family. But that I could help in other ways. I could provide funds that could be used to provide food, clothes and shelter for these children. I could provide funds that would provide appliances, cookware, utensils, etc., so that these children could have proper meals. I could provide funds that would provide these children with items necessary for schooling: pens and pencils, paper, and all other items needed for school.

No, I have that wrong. GOD made me think of these things. I feel that I have finally found my calling. Not to be a missionary in India, but to help that one orphanage in India. You have to have lived the experience to understand these children’s plight. I have and can understand so deeply that it hurts.

I will tell you what hurt me the most as I was growing up. It wasn’t the loss of my parents or the beatings I received. It wasn’t the stabs of pitchforks or the ridicule that was directed at me. It was something far simpler: the fact that when I moved from family to family, all of my possessions were packed in paper bags or boxes, as if I wasn’t worth more than throwaway products.

I don’t want these children to grow up with that feeling, but I can’t do it alone. I am asking the church to help these children. As Pastor Tim intimated from the pulpit, give up one meal out a week. Instead, use that money to help these children.

I will be working with Pastor Tim to determine what is needed and how best to help rectify that need. I will be in contact later with further information as to how we can help.

Yours in Christ!
Rick Fowler

FYI: Rick is a member of Cornerstone Christian Center, the church I pastor. He gave me permission to publish this true story/testimony here on my blog. He and his wife Donna are active in the work and life of the church. His wife, Donna, is battling cancer at this writing and they covet your prayers. -Tim

Opening Night

It's late. My son, Zac, and I just returned from the Home Opener for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels got blasted by the score of 11-6 at the hands of the Texas Rangers. They didn’t even score a run until the 9th inning. However, we stayed until the bitter end. We actually stayed to see the great fireworks show after the game, which unfortunately turned out to be the only fireworks at the game (unless you are a Rangers fan).

I like the Angels. They are my second favorite baseball team. I grew up in the sixties and seventies listening to perhaps the greatest sports announcer who ever lived – Vin Scully. He is probably the main reason that I am partial to the original LA baseball team – the Dodgers. For me, there is just something about the Dodgers.

There is also something about Opening Days, Opening Nights, new Seasons, new opportunities – and it’s something that I like. I like the fact that everybody starts fresh and new with a clean slate. Hope springs eternal for all involved. I especially like the opening of the baseball season. It’s always in springtime. The sights and smells of the ballpark are wonderful (for the most part). The aroma of freshly-mowed grass, grilled hot dogs, fresh air, popcorn and peanuts. I admit I’m a sucker for it.

Actually this is only the second opening-day of Major League baseball that I’ve ever attended. My sister called me on Friday afternoon and offered me the ticket package (4 tickets and preferred Parking Pass) for the already sold-out game, with the first pitch just a few hours later. There was no planning, there was no circling of the date on the calendar -- it was just an immediate opportunity that fell into my lap. That alone could be a blog subject for another time. The seats were great – 5 rows from the field, behind the camera-well on the first-base line (As you can see from the picture above -- poorly taken by my cell phone).

From Kenny G’s incredible rendition of the National Anthem at the beginning, all the way to the Grand Finale’ of the Fireworks show – it was a great time. It was father-son time. Cousin to cousin time. Male-bonding time. Eating junk-food – er – baseball-food time. Cheering-hardly time. Laughing-loudly time. Family-fun time. Enjoying-the-moment time. It was simply a great time.

So the Angels lost the game. That's what it will say in the paper, but that wasn’t the real story. The real story was that the group who sat in Field Section 127, Row E, seats 5 through 8, won. And it’s great to start any season as a winner.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Waterless Clouds, Fruitless Trees, & Wandering Stars

Thoughts on the book of Jude and the Modern Church

Jude 1:12 “They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit…”

Jude’s letter to the church is the shortest, but perhaps the most potent in the entire New Testament. In it, he contends for the faith once delivered to the saints and admonishes the church in regards to certain individuals that have crept into the church unnoticed. Incredibly, his warning is just as relevant today as it was over 1900 years ago.

Several years ago, I took my then small children to a Pixar movie called “A Bug’s Life.” It was a cute animated film about life in a community of ants. Solomon said that we should learn from the way of the ants and get wisdom (Proverbs 6:6). So, I thought, maybe I would learn something from this kid’s movie – and boy, did I ever.

The ants were busy working, harvesting and storing food in their colony when they were interrupted by a horde of grasshoppers that had come to steal the food from them. The grasshoppers had no intention of working, helping or being a part of the colony. They simply came to get what they could before they moved on to the next stop. The movie tagline was unforgettable to me; “They come, they eat, they leave.”

Jude was writing to the “colony” of believers – the church. He was warning them about a new danger in, and to, the church: the “grasshopper” Christian (note: I use the term “Christian” in the most liberal sense). Among many other metaphors, he called them “a spot on your love feast.” They come, they eat, they leave. Except it’s not that simple. They don’t help the colony. They damage the colony. They tear-up the colony. They injure the good ants that reside there. Unfortunately, when they leave the colony – and leave they will – they leave carcasses strewn in their wake.

One of the marks of the “grasshopper” Christian is that they “reject God’s authority” (verse 8). They listen, but they do not hear. Rather than believe and receive, they pretend and offend. As soon as they hear something they do not like, they reject the message and messenger. Either in ignorance or insolence, they are not afraid to speak against Pastors, church leaders, or other Christians.

Then as quickly as they came, they leave the colony -- with their full-bellies and empty-spirits -- loudly proclaiming to any and all who will listen, “I’m not being fed!”

Jude called the grasshopper-types “waterless clouds, fruit-less trees, and wandering stars.” They have the appearance of a Christian, but it is only an appearance. It is the back-lot at Universal Studios. It is a facade. These are persons who “cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” Jude warns the church to beware of them. They are destroyers, not builders. Beware, indeed – for their end is “the blackness of darkness forever” (verse 13).

In spite of the sneak attack and eventual exit of the grasshoppers, the colony continues on. It repairs the breaches to the body. It soothes and bandages the wounds. It picks up the pieces and rebuilds. It knows its mission and continues once again in fulfilling its God-given purpose.

The grasshoppers come and the grasshoppers go, but the colony – just like the one who established it – lives on.

God never intended us to be like the nomadic grasshoppers. Rather, we are called by God to be like the ants in the colony. Living, working and thriving for the good of the church, the glory of God, and the benefit of others. We are a part of God's divine design -- created for good works in Christ. We have been placed here to help God, help the church, help others and, in doing so, help ourselves.

The wisest man who ever lived said it; "Consider the ant."