In my younger days, this phrase was one we used quite often, when challenging someone’s authority, inviting them to step up or get outta the way and things usually did not end on a good note. This was almost always said in order to provoke the other into a fight, not just words, but the words were to instigate a violent encounter… you with me so far? So why would I start out this blog post with a phrase that is used to instigate or provoke something? Simple, I’d like to provoke your thoughts and challenge certain beliefs.
Dear Pastor/ Elder/ Deacon/ Director/ Ministry Leader/ Usher/ Volunteer/ Church Member/ Church Attender:
The church is not yours!!!
Although we should treat it as it is, work hard for it as if it were, give our all to serving and growing it as if it were our own and be generous with our finances too… but the truth of the matter is that it’s not our church, and when things don’t go our way, we can’t take it personal, when things seem like they’re falling apart, we must remember it’s not our church… It’s the Lord’s and He’s sovereign, He’s got it and He knows what He’s doing… maybe we have made mistakes, maybe we could’ve done things better… but in the end, I’ve seen how God honors the efforts of His children who glorify His name, He honors those who set aside their lives to live for Him.
This famous hood quote reminded me that no matter what I’m doing, how much I think I’ve done, or how hard I’m working… the church ain’t mine! I ain’t runnin’ nothin’ but my mouth… He’s in charge, Christ is calling the shots, and He’s the boss… not me! So when it seems like we have one thing happening after another, although things may seem bad, things might seem overwhelming… it’s Christ’s church, and He said the gates of hell would not prevail against it, right? (Matthew 16:18)
I find comfort in Proverbs 19:21that reminds me that, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
We can’t see what lies ahead, but we should trust in Christ’s finished work on the Cross because ultimately that’s all that matters, right? That our faith would be placed in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension… and that His shed bled on Calvary atone for the sins of His people. So when people leave the church, others come… when the church loses donors, Christ provides through other means… when bills pop up that you weren’t expecting, they get covered… when you run out of space, God provides new ones… when you think you’re running the show, be reminded that you’re not, you ain’t runnin’ nothin’ but your mouth.
Today we finished up a series of classes for New Members and Baptism, next week we should be receiving 7 new members and one person being baptized. When things seem to be going wrong with a 391 year-old denomination, it’s not my denomination, it’s the Lord’s… He’s sustained it for almost 400 years, He’ll continue to do His work no matter who remains or who goes. Whether that’s us or not, we don’t know the future, but we know Who does, and so long as we’re reminded and comforted knowing that we are secure in the palm of His hand, nothing else matters! (Enter Metallica here)
Friends, be encouraged… be reminded that… Christ doesn’t change.
Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
A really good friend of mine, also a Pastor/ Church Planter reached out to check in, as is our usual custom, and he asked about our Lord’s Day and I kinda bragged on what God was doing, right? And He tells me that their worship leader had a melt down and left seconds before service was to start… I was like, “YO?!?!?!!? Are you serious?!?!?” And it reminded me of something that we’d experienced too. But his next comment was so beautiful, he said their team came together and what came forward was glorious! In other words, God was honored, no matter what happened, even if they got caught slippin’ seconds before church worship service started… their team came together… “and it was glorious”. I can’t even imagine what that must’ve felt like… but it reminds me that when things catch us off guard, when we feel like someone dumped something in our lap at the last minute, there’s a team of godly people that can come together and push forward under pressure… and glorify God as they do so. I love it when God shows up and shows out like that.
Today we ordained and installed to the office of Deacon, our sister Catrina “Cat” Moreno, and it was a joy to see our church, her close friends, and family be there to offer support. So as folks have come and gone, each having helped us build up the church in their own way, others have stayed, still others have come and are being baptized/ becoming members, and others still have taken huge commitments as our sister and now Deacon Cat Moreno, to serve the Lord’s church here in Lynwood. Thanks be to God!
Any of ya’ll remember that movie “Friday” with Ice Cube and Chris Tucker? You know you do! Remember that scene where Craig’s girlfriend accused him of being with another girl? She said, “You ain’t got to lie Craig!!!” and honestly, that phrase has been coming up more and more as I see some of the stuff people are posting, stories people are telling, and exaggerated brag-a-monies about their previous lives.
Why am I even talking about this? I know it may sound petty and even childish, but would you be able to sit by and listen to someone lie, or lead you to believe something that really isn’t true, in order to make it seem like they were something they really weren’t, and in a fake way give glory to God? If you can play possum, you’re a stronger willed person than me… now, I won’t make a scene, but they know who they are… they know we know some of the same people… they know that I know that all they say ain’t true… normally, I wouldn’t give 2 cents of a dang… but when they wanna include my Jesus… that’s another story, one they’ll have to take up with Him one day, Matthew 12:36 tells us that one day we’ll give an account for every careless word we say.
I know some pretty crazy individuals that have come to faith in Christ, dudes that have done hard time, life sentences, SHU terms, I know because I was right there with them in prison, and people that have walked in our shoes, well, we just don’t go throwin’ that stuff out there like that. I mean, sure we talk about the past at the right time and in the right context, but truth be told, we actually try to tone it down, and not let that be the thing we’re known for, but instead let it be known for who we are now in Christ, and that it was only by His saving grace, and transformative power of Christ through the Holy Spirit that we are alive and serving Him and His people.
So why is this important to me? Because God does NOT need us to lie about our testimony in order to make him look bigger or stronger. It’s important because people aren’t stupid, we’ve all got a built in BS reader, and when folks know you’re not legit, they then begin to question you, your God, and is He really as great as you make Him out to be… feel me? We need to be real, keep it 100, God doesn’t need our help in making Him out to be more than what He is, and to keep it even more real, His Word tells us to not lie, to be honest, and stop doing the stuff we used to do like lying, Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
I’m gonna share something here I’ve not mentioned to many people, because there’s not been a need for it, but in order that Christ might be exalted to show that He is still in the business of healing, raising the dead, and doing miracles… peep game and continue to read so you’ll know just what I’m talking about. I, and many of you too, was sick… I was spiritually dead… and Christ healed me within, He gave me a heart transplant, He took my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), Jesus literally raised me from being spiritually dead and raised me to life in Himself… those are miracles, maybe not like what you were imagining, but I know what my life was like before Christ entered it and I know where I am now.
I was released from the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi on October 20, 2010 and on June 6th, 2012 a confiscated letter was published in the Los Angeles Times from a Mexican Mafia member in Federal Prison that was giving instructions to another Mexican Mafia member to contact me so that I could help them out with some issues they were having, the letter listed my gang name, my real name, address and phone number blacked out, and when I heard about this I was like, “What the….???” I’m a Christian now, I’m not involved with that stuff anymore, the only one I serve now is Christ, to Him alone is my allegiance, to Him alone am I committed… He is the only One that calls the shots in my life… oh, and my wife too! (But please don’t tell her I said that). But I was still being recruited into their affairs and didn’t even know it until one of my homies called me to tell me about the article they read in the L.A. Times.
I was petrified, I immediately thought I’d be going back to prison, and having to prove that I had nothing to do with this letter, what it was ordering, the killing of a lawyer, collecting street taxes, and a host of other things. My life was changed, I was serving Christ faithfully, but you see, the world still didn’t believe it, folks still thought it wasn’t real, that it was a phase, that I’d eventually get past it all. But no, I’m still here, in the palm of Christ’s hand (John 10:29). Just a few weeks ago, I was honored to lead my good friend’s mom’s memorial service, God had blessed me with the privilege of sharing the Gospel with her the very day before she passed on.
At this funeral, I was extremely nervous, because I knew that many of my homeboys from my old neighborhood would be there, they all knew that I was a Christian, a Pastor, but how would I be received? Deep down, I questioned whether or not it still mattered to me what they thought. I know many of them were upset with me, they felt let down by me for having walked away from the gang. Some of these guys are people I’d known since I was 13, fought with, fought over, got shot with, shot at others, drank with, got high with, cried with, committed crimes with, celebrated victories with, mourned deaths and losses with… and even done time with. Yet here we were, again together, and I was standing before them, sharing the Gospel of Christ, encouraging them to believe in this Jesus! After some awkward looks, and handshakes, it seemed as if we’d been teleported back in time, like nothing had changed, based on some of our conversations, it was 10-15 years ago once again, but our gray hairs, wrinkled faces, and different lives reminded us how time in fact had passed by. They are all very aware of my previous EME connections, affiliated with them as a soldier, but now… now I was a soldier for Christ, boldly heralding His Gospel of salvation to any and all.
This is a lot to say, I know it, but in the same way I had enemies back when I was involved with the gang, so now I have enemies, one in particular who is waiting outside my door every day (Gen. 4:7) in hopes of tripping me up, disqualifying me, and causing folks to not trust or believe what I say. Back then, I knew exactly who my enemies were, I knew what they looked like, where they were from, what cars they drove, etc… but now, it’s hard to discern, hard to identify who Satan tries to use against us. Some times it’s the obvious, other times not so much, it comes from within our church, amongst our leaders, other pastors and church planters… yes, other Christians. Hard to believe? It shouldn’t, we’re all sinners, we’re all broken, to some level or degree more than others. But when these situations come about, they are still hard and hurtful! I can honestly say to you that gang banging has nothing on church planting. I’ve probably experienced more let downs, hurt, betrayals, and abandonment in 2 years than I did in 25 years on the streets. What does that tell you? The enemy is mad, so we must be doing something right! The Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:10 said, “This is why I endure all things for the elect: so that they also may obtain salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” and I’ll try and do the same.
“I’ve probably experienced more let downs, hurt, betrayals, and abandonment in 2 years than I did in 25 years on the streets.”
As a church planter, I need to do much more than a pastor of an established church, you see, we’re not established, still trying to get there, so we have to work 10 times as much, twice as hard, for much less money, and with only a fraction of the resources… and people still complain about that. People are still offended when they are encouraged to get up and get to church on Sunday morning via social media video posts, people will bring accusations of showboating, being prideful, money hungry, or anything… you name it, everything under the sun. So let me back track to where I started… “You ain’t got to lie Craig!!!” Let us always keep it real, with God and ourselves… if we can do that then we’ll be real with others, and if folks know we’re being real with them, they just might believe what we say, and our story should be the Gospel of Christ and His truth, not ours.
Ministry is rough and church planting is not for the faint hearted!
Church planter, CORE Team/ launch team, financial supporters of church plants, church planting families, prayer partners of planters, please never stop grinding for the Lord, He deserves nothing less than our absolute best. He deserves we take the extra step, that we go the extra mile… we shouldn’t try to cut corners on Him because He didn’t cut corners for us, He endured it all… to the very end, right? Be real with who you are, don’t feel the need to impress folks, but instead be more concerned with impressing Christ, after all, what He thinks about us is all that really matters. Thanks for reading this blog, and thanks for the shout outs, I keep hearing about the Bumble Bee family video from my last post. Be reminded that your pastors need you, please never stop praying for them, and when everything is alright, reach out to bless them, don’t wait for life to be falling apart.
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to belong! I always felt like I needed to be accepted into something, with someone(s), and not be left on the outside. When I was just a kid growing up in Cudahy, I remember me and some of my friends would take a short cut to Park Ave. Elementary that was along the LA River, and on this short cut we encountered what we thought was an abandoned house, and some of the older neighborhood cholos pressured us into “keeping point” (serve as a look out) while they broke in and hit the jackpot with tons of stolen goods, I knew it was wrong but I got a brand new pair of white Chuck Taylors out of it, so it was cool with me! But unfortunately, we went back again and they got arrested inside the house, and so did that fat kid on look out duty, I was only 8 years old when I got arrested for the first time!
I remember I’d only been going to Nimitz Junior High in Huntington Park for less than 2 months and was never able to connect with anyone, I actually got punked and I hated it. I didn’t wanna participate in PE because that meant I had to undress and then shower in front of a bunch of skinny kids, and I was terribly embarrassed. I was never able to fit into any group, like any group… not even the nerds! I was soon notified that I’d been accepted into Belvedere Jr. High School’s Magnet program in East LA and I just couldn’t shake Nimitz soon enough. I remember telling myself that I would never be left out again, I had to be a part of something… I couldn’t be left on the outside ever again. And soon, I was starting all over… in East LA I would reinvent myself, a better version of who I’d been, a much cooler version and tougher version.
This would turn into a pattern throughout my life, a pattern of seeking to be invited in, to be accepted, and to belong to someone or something bigger than myself. My parents were always working and didn’t pay me much mind, not even when I excelled in school, that didn’t get their attention much, but then in Jr. High School I started to get into trouble, and eventually got into the neighborhood gang. Now THAT got their attention! I soon picked up my criminal career where I’d left it 5 years before, and at 13 years old ended up going to Camp Miller, a County Probation Camp, for a year, then the California Youth Authority for almost 3 years, then the LA County Jail, then multiple prison sentences in the California Dept. of Corrections, and eventually a wanted fugitive on the run in Mexico for almost 6 years. All of this happened because I was trying to fill a deep void within me, an emptiness I was never able to put my finger on, I just knew that something was missing and I desperately wanted to find it, own it, and never let it go. It would be many years before I realized only Christ could fill that void.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because I’ve since found what it was that I was missing, my last time in prison I finally realized what it was. When I came to faith on my knees in a prison cell, I realized that I didn’t need to be accepted by other people, and when I’d found that my true identity was in Christ, my whole life changed forever. That void I’d been trying to fill with violence, alcohol, drugs, women, power, money, jewelry, guns, none of it ever came close to satisfying me, as a matter of fact they actually made me feel emptier inside. But when Christ drew me unto Himself, everything changed. I started to see how He’d been working on me for so many years, allowing me make so many bonehead decisions, knowing those mistakes would not go to waste, He’d eventually redeem them all unto Himself as those things have helped shape me to be a much better and effective pastor.
All of us, every single human being longs for someone or something. We all long to be loved, to be accepted, to belong and be a part of something greater than ourselves.
Psalm 4:4 says,“How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?” I believe, that at the very root of all our wrong, all of our decision-making is motivated by this desire of vain words, we seek flattery, we’re selfish and want it to be about us, our wants, our needs, our satisfaction and we desire to be complete by things outside of God. When I found Christ, I found myself. I knew my place was in Christ, I’d found what I’d desperately longed for all those years, the desire to be loved, to be accepted and wanted, to be included into something and not left out… through my faith I was grafted into the family of God, adopted by Him based on Christ’s merits and not my own.
Church planting has helped me accomplish multiple related goals, it’s given me a sense of belonging not just to God, but to His family too, belonging to other broken individuals that also seek to be loved and belong to Christ’s people. No longer a criminal street gang member, but now a member of a family, a family bound by the blood of Jesus, one that is committed to growing together in faith, drawing closer to each other, encouraging each other, spurring each other on towards love and good deeds, and evening holding each other accountable… at least to those that have stuck around and not ghosted us when things got tough. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, ministry is often hard, ugly, and in a time when more and more pastors are committing suicide, it can be downright scary too, if we’re gonna remain honest and transparent. I remember many years ago, in the early 90’s while in the LA County Jail looking at a life sentence, there was a band that was always on MTV, it wasn’t my style of music, but this particular song caught my attention because of the video, the message it sent, and then the music made sense too.
The group was Blind Melon and the song was, “No Rain” and in it there was a little white, chubby, freckle faced girl with red hair who was dressed as some type of bumble bee and kept roaming the city looking to fit in but people ignored and laughed at her. Then finally as she was walking by a field, she came up to the gate and looked in and saw a bunch of other people dressed as bumble bees, folks of different shapes, sizes, and colors all dressed the same as her, and they welcomed her in to their circle. As unmanly as it may sound, I was that little girl, that’s how I felt my whole life, never really fitting in as myself, but instead having to fake it ‘til I made it to be accepted, even becoming a hardened gang member, that was never the real me… but I couldn’t let anyone know that.
In church, I not only found the Lord, but His people too, a bunch of imperfect, sinning, broken wretches, that acknowledge their brokenness and dire need of Christ… not just as Savior, but as Lord too. That is where I belong, with the people of God… they are my fellow bumble bees, and I’ll be around for the long haul to do life with them. Church planting has been rough, but it’s been great too, I’ve found what my purpose is in life, to be with not just “a group” of people but “thee group” of people, God’s people, that we would journey together to help others know that there is purpose in their lives too, one of exponential worth compared to anything in this world.
John Calvin said that, “All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbors.” This makes me take a daily inventory: What are my blessings? How are they being counted as Divine deposits? How will I use them for the benefit of my neighbors? For my church family? For my friends and community? This is one of my greatest driving forces, one that pushes me to give God my all, not because I am trying to earn any favor with Him, but because I am so appreciative of His saving grace, I feel like I just can’t do enough to repay Him, to thank Him enough, or express my love for what He’s done for me. I now know who I am, who I belong to, and what Christ did for me. He lived a life I never could, He died a death meant for me, and He resurrected on the 3rdday proving He is the Son of God, and then He ascended to heaven in the presence of many witnesses giving us instruction on what to do. And that’s what I’m trying to do in helping plant a church, that would plant other churches that plant churches. I want anyone and everyone know that they are loved, that they can belong and can be accepted just as they are, and trust God knowing that as they study His Word, His Law, and appreciate His grace and mercy, that their lives would change, that they would be more like Christ, that they would seek righteousness and holiness, that their lives would reflect their appreciation of Christ’s finished work on the Cross.
There’s no need to join a gang, in order to feel like you belong, there’s no need to seek acceptance anywhere outside of Christ, His family has an easy initiation, you just trust Him, you just believe in Him, you acknowledge your sin and need of a Savior, and affirm that because He is our Savior He must also be our Lord. Our church family is not perfect, not by a long shot, but we try really hard to honor Jesus, we know we’re different, we know we’ve got issues, we know we don’t know it all, and we know that without Christ at the center nothing lasts. Our team has had a high turnover rate, but Christ is still at the center, He’s still our head and we are still His bride… we know we are His, and that we belong to Him.
If you’re in a church and are discouraged, be reminded that Christ reigns.
If you’re in a church and feel like you’re not connecting, try harder.
If you’re in a church and feel like you’re not serving, get involved and help.
If you’re in a church and feel like you’re not needed, believe me you are.
If you’re in a church and not officially a part of it, ask when the next membership class is.
If you’re in a church and not helping it with it’s mission, you need to get on it.
If you’re in a church and not giving, stop holding on to what God gave you to steward.
Pray for your pastors, pray for your elders, deacons, and ministry leaders. Pray for those that just visited your church for the first time.
Pray for those that will be coming to your church, that they’d feel at home.
Pray for those that have stopped going to church, are hiding, and avoiding you.
Pray for your community, neighbors, and the unsaved…
You belong! You are loved! You are needed! You are cared for!
Even though I went through some training prior to church planting, nothing prepared us for some of the difficulties we’d encounter. My good friend and LCMS Pastor Kyle Blake gave me some great practical prophetic insights as to what I should expect, and what he said would happen, did. He said that those people we thought would surely be the first to have our backs, wouldn’t. And that the people we least expected, would be the ones to actually hold us down. And that’s just the way it went down. No need to mention names, but that’s exactly what happened and some of it was really hurtful, I thought I’d gotten over it, but as I’m writing now, I realize that I have in fact forgiven, but haven’t really gotten over it. For some of the folks that left us, it really, really hurt us and for others that left, it didn’t bother us one bit. Folks always throw the phrase “Don’t take it personal” around very casually, but it’s not that easy to live out, it is so much easier said than done.
I haven’t unfriended folks, but I have hit the “Unfollow” button quite often, only because it’s just healthier to not see some stuff or people, you know what I’m talking about, right? You don’t want to “unfriend” because there is still some form of connection, but it’s best (emotionally wise) if you have less contact. As strong as I am, or as thugged out as I used to be on the streets, there is no more tough guy here, let me tell you! I’ve realized just how soft I am, just how tender God has made my heart and it brings to memory the Prophet Ezekiel’s words when he says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ez. 36:26). Not too long ago I read the following social media post and it stirred up lots of feelings:
“Reflecting on pastoring for 20 yrs: With a therapist, I catalogued all the folks that have ghosted me (almost 100 over the years). Spend time in their homes, baptize their kids, cry with them in pain, counsel them through crisis. Then vamoosh they’re gone. It’s a weird job.” Dan White Jr. – @danwhitejr
One of my church planting homies shared it and it made me think of just how many people have “ghosted” us, not just me and the church, but my family too. In the event that you’re not familiar with the term “ghosted” it refers to people vanishing on us and disappearing as ghosts. Now, this post is not meant to speak ill of those that have “ghosted” us and the fact this stuff happens is very real, but instead let this serve as an encouragement to those that have been hurt by someone else’s departure and tell you, “Don’t take it personal”.
There is a common term or phrase that is used in our world and that is, “church hurt”. It is often used to describe how a church has hurt someone and affected them so bad that they’ve left the church altogether and have no desire to return. These bad experiences they’ve had have been directly by church leaders, ministry directors, or sometimes even the pastor is listed as the offending culprit.
Upon reflecting more and more on the “ghosted” article, it made me rethink the whole “church hurt” thing and see it from a different perspective. The phrase usually applies to those who’ve left the church because they’d been hurt by it, but how about those in the church being hurt by those that have left? If you think about it, you might have experienced this situation yourself, it is so much more common than we’d like to say, especially because we don’t really talk about it, or at least not in a healthy way. But very often, especially in a consumer driven world, people leave churches because things don’t go their way, the church lacks a specific ministry program, folks don’t wanna be pushed out of comfort zones, they want titles, they don’t want titles, they want to lead, they don’t want to lead, there are just far too many reasons that folks leave.
I don’t think their intent was to hurt you… I don’t think that they really meant to hurt your kids… they might have not realized that by taking their kids away after you’ve loved on them for so long, took care of them, let them spend the night at your home with your own kids that other families would suffer. I don’t think they meant to hurt you by breaking a sacred trust that you’d placed in them, they might have not realized they were your “go to” couple, people you’d trust for marital issues, that they were needed for your own accountability, or just a “safe” place to be open and transparent… so don’t take it personal! I wish it would really be that easy… I wish we could really not take it personal, but it’s impossible, it’s difficult, and it hurts. But if our Savior Himself was “ghosted” by His disciples the very night He was betrayed by Judas and arrested why would we expect anything less. Our very Savior was hurt by His church when they denied Him, even Peter as the rooster crowed, was he reminded of his own “ghosting” of Jesus.
Psalm 55:12-14 brings to light an all too common feeling of being ghosted or hurt by someone close to us.
12 Now it is not an enemy who insults me—otherwise I could bear it; it is not a foe who rises up against me—otherwise I could hide from him. 13 But it is you, a man who is my peer, my companion and good friend! 14 We used to have close fellowship; we walked with the crowd into the house of God.
And Psalm 41:9 also addresses the same issue when it said:
Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
This is the same story that has happened over and over again in the whole biblical narrative, why? Because people, sinners that we are, will always end up hurting those we love, to some degree or another… but there is One that will never hurt us, there is One that will never forsake us, there is One that will never abandon us… there is One that will never “ghost” us. As the song says, Christ will hold us fast;
When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold through life’s fearful path;
For my love is often cold; He must hold me fast.
“He will hold me fast” Keith & Kristyn Getty
Although there is no blame pointed in any direction, it does not dispel that there are folks in almost every church that are hurt when good friends leave their church, there are good folks in almost every church who have kids that are hurt when their friends no longer go to the same church because their parents decided to go elsewhere. If you’ve been one that has been hurt, please forgive your brothers and sisters who’ve ghosted you… don’t take it personal. And if you feel like placing blame on someone or something that caused them to leave, be reminded of Romans 5:8 clear description of just how God shows His love for us, in that while we were STILL sinners, Christ died for us.
We’ve ghosted others too… we ghosted the One Who least deserved it, our Savior Himself… and He didn’t take it personal, He still went to the Cross willingly for us, He suffered a horrific death we deserved knowing we’d ghost Him, He resurrected and ascended as He said He would, He granted us a path back to fellowship with God because of His love for us, and He paid our debt knowing we’d ghost Him… that is the Good News, and THAT you have to definitely take personal.
I’ve noticed many folks that come to church, are a part of a church, or serve at a church when it’s convenient, when they’re lonely, when they’re sick, when a loved one is in need, or void needs to be filled… and those are great reasons, I truly believe God uses those means to draw His people in, but what about when those needs are met? When we finally get a job, find a significant other that takes away the loneliness, when there is a medical healing, or when we just feel we no longer need God… our mouths may not actually say those words, but our actions shout loudly, that we’re no longer desperate for Christ as when we were in church.
I know there are folks who might read this and think it’s about them… it’s not, this wasn’t written for one person, group of persons, but the things that I’ve experienced in my 10 years of ministry, but especially what I’ve lived first hand these last two years in church planting. I end with this… If you’ve been hurt by the church, by either the church directly hurting you, or you’ve been hurt by someone leaving, I give you this quote from Jackie Hill Perry:
“Do you know who God used to heal me of my church hurt? The church”
Don’t take it personal, and don’t let a bad experience rob you of the beauty we live and experience not by “going to church” but by being the church, and that includes belonging to a local church, giving, discipling, and serving joyfully, generously, and sacrificially. I’m sure someone will get their undies in a bunch over this final statement, but I don’t believe one can be a true Christian and not belong to a local church. Only at the local church can we belong, give generously, serve joyfully, disciple and be discipled sacrificially, encouraged, and be held accountable… so even if things aren’t working perfectly at your church, stay there… it needs you.
Even though you don’t get your way all the time… it’s not Burger King… stay there…it needs you.
Even if you think you can do a better job than the pastor… you’re not the Pastor, so stay there… he needs your support.
Even if you had a sharp disagreement with someone… stay there… it shows we follow Christ’s command to forgive.
Even if you think the worship music is lame… if you could do better, you’d be up there leading… stay there… they need your support.
By leaving a church whenever things don’t go your way, when things aren’t done the way you’d probably do them… you confuse your kids, you confuse your church family, and you confuse the community your church is desperately trying to connect with and show them you care. Do you really care if you bounce for small or dumb stuff? Leave because there is moral failure in leadership and there is no discipline. Leave because the pastors are preaching heresy. Leave because leaders are stealing money and no one has gotten locked up yet. Be wise… be mature… and above all be Christ-like.
Before planting RCLA, I went through a lot of training, lots of practical and hypothetical teaching, some things I thought were just so basic, how could someone not know this…but I’m realizing now, that there could’ve actually been even more emphasis put on the importance of surrounding yourself with solid friends, friends who were church planters, friends who’ve been there, friends who can speak into your life because they get it. One of the biggest blessings in my journey as we’ve planted RCLA in Lynwood and now getting ready to plant next year in Wilmington, has been the support, encouragement, and readily available friends, that are not jealous, not in competition with you, but instead truly…I mean truly want to see the best in you, for you, and the success of your church, ain’t too many dudes like that I can count on.
Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, look at this situation. It’s 9:30am on Sunday December 30th, I’m in Mexico on vacation with my family, and as I’m drinking my coffee, reading my Bible, wondering how we’ll spend the last few days in Ensenada, I get a call from my brother Chris Marquez. Chris was scheduled to preach that day, he hurt his back and was not able to even get out of bed. There was absolutely no way I could make it back to L.A. by Noon to preach. I’ve got a short list of people that I trust with our pulpit, one of them is the homie DJ, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Downey. They’re a 3 year old church plant who has loved on us in so many ways, ways that words can’t even describe. They’ve helped us get connected to grants we qualified for and even contributed generously themselves directly to us…did you catch that? A 3 year old church plant, gets it, they’re pouring into another church plant just a few minutes away. No jealousy, no competition, no rivalry, just solid commitment to support each other for the kingdom of Christ. We’ve been able to serve them in smaller ways and DJ’s wife Crista just spoke at our Women’s 1st Annual Lenten Dinner, and she killed it.
There’s a lot of people we know, people we call friends, people we’re connected to denominationally, networks, etc…but not as many good ol’ friends who’ve got each other’s backs for no reason other than because that’s what we’re supposed to do. I’ve noticed how the role that DJ has played for us has been something that we’ve been able to do for others. I’ve been blessed to walk with others as a church and individuals in walking with them, encouraging them, and supporting their ministry efforts. I’m having conversations all the time with brothers that are planting, thinking about planting, wanting to throw in the towel on planting, and struggling in church planting.
My brother Jose Hernandez, Pastor of Hope Central Watts, has always been there for us, helping us out with our youth ministry and inviting our Lynwood Kids to join his Watts Kids for Youth Camps and Retreats up in the mountains and sharing his resources with us. Pastor Nisan Stewart of Greater Emmanuel Temple in Lynwood is literally a few blocks away, and does not see us as a threat, but instead has offered help EVERY single step of the way for us in our planting journey and even offers the use of their facilities, if needed. And my white ninja, Pastor Kyle Blake, of The Gathering Lutheran Church in the LBC, his friendship and ability to speak clearly into my life and tell me things as he sees them is priceless. We need more people not scared of calling out BS when needed, or squeezing your head down when it wants to puff up.
There are many other folks who are there for us, but I wanted to point out just a few of those real friendships that I can honestly thank God for really being there for us, not just saying they care…but really living it out. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” I’m grateful for these brothers and the love they give, the ability to help us and not be in competition or rivalry, but a genuine love of God’s kingdom and willingness to help any way they can.
Friends, find yourselves “real ones” that can be there for you, there will be people who “have to” be there for you, there will be people that get paid to “be there” for you…I’m not talking about them, but find yourself some dudes who are genuine about kingdom building, dudes who aren’t scared of interlocking arms and marching forward, despite the proximity of your respective churches, differences in theology or doctrine…brothers who truly want to help you succeed. I pray God will gift you with people like this in your life of ministry, and that of your church.
I’ve got dudes all over that I call, text, message for the same things…my boy Jordan Hall of Trinity Church in San Francisco, my homie Kris Brossett that is up in Grand Rapids right now, Tommy Forrester of Epiphany LA, and Jack Veljkovic up in Tacoma, WA, my other white ninja Chris Godfredsen of Rock Valley, Iowa, the homie Jamie DeVries in West Michigan, my brotha TQ Senkungu in Texas, and a host of others, too many to name them all. The moral of the story is this, don’t try to do ministry on your own, don’t allow yourself to believe your church is an island all by itself, I know it can feel that way at times, but you just haven’t met the right folks yet. Keep trying and praying…it’s a 2 way street, I pray you find those you and your church can be in deep relationship with for the hard and sometimes lonely work of church planting and ministry work.
“The LORD bless you and keep you, the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26
Like anything else, we can get really excited about things in life right? A new car, a new house, a new job, for some of us hood folks a pair of new Jordans. But what happens when the excitement wears off in a church plant, what happens when the excitement you had, the reason you were so pumped up about something starts to fade and the reality of it becoming more and more real…then what? What happens when the pressure comes, when people don’t agree with you, when people start bickering and arguing over things that aren’t even really that important… then what?
That’s a really great question and the answer is this, that’s when the hard work of ministry really kicks in. That’s when all the spiritual attacks get real, that’s when we continue to remind ourselves that church planting is a calling, it’s not a “thing we do” for a couple of months. Don’t get me wrong, there are people who support in such a way temporarily. There were many people who were a part of our original launch team that left after the church was planted. We are glad for their help, grateful for their support, and thankful for their role in launching RCLA, but now comes the reality and extremely hard work of growing, nurturing, and loving the congregation and community as we strive to teach them about Jesus, live out the Gospel, and pray they follow suit.
I think it’s safe to say that of our original launch team (no longer use the word CORE), at least half of them have parted ways with us for different reasons, and in the midst of potentially debilitating fears that can seem to hold the flesh hostage (extremely true), God is/ was working behind the scenes. As some left on to their next mission, God brought in others, He was doing an amazing work that, at least for me, had me feeling so ashamed for not having trusted His sovereignty. Seriously, how the heck can I be reformed, acknowledge God is sovereign yet not trust Him? That makes me either one very weak and wannabe “reformed” Christian or, just a very real human, a very real sinner, one that needs to be checked and put in his place by God often, to remind him just Who is in charge.
So now what? Although the initial zeal may be gone (not for everyone) the knowledge of God remains, the call of God remains, and a team that God divinely assembled to stay and fight remains… some have moved on but God has brought others in. I think of what would have or would NOT have happened if we’d all thrown the towel in when things get rough…when ministry can appear to be mundane…when we’re tired from a long days work and just wanna go home and relax… when the kids have a bunch of stuff to do that takes us away from personal time… when people start to act weird and funny… what then? When we feel like giving up (God knows that happens often), then we should start to look back and reflect and see just what God has done through all the hard times, through the struggles, through the lack of zeal and overwhelming fatigue at times… what has God done?
We’ve been blessed to get lots of support from local government officials at various capacities. We’ve been blessed to help launch the Lynwood Commitment, Mayor’s Clergy Breakfast, FREE youth summer camp, and even Trunk or Treat.
So what happens when the excitement wears off? Ministry happens… that’s what! Folks get discipled…people get baptized…couples prepare for marriage…jobs get lost and new ones found…people lose loved ones and the church is there to comfort them in the Lord…marriages struggle and are loved, encouraged, and held accountable in love…kids mess up, parents get encouraged, and children are raised in the ways of the Lord…victories are shared together, and losses are mourned together…we fight, we argue, and we make up…the Word of God is preached, the Word of God is prayed, the Word of God is sung, and the Word of God is taken at the Lord’s Supper every Sunday…
This is what happens when the excitement wears off, we do ministry…and we prepare to plant another church…this time in Wilmington! God has given us favor and it looks like we’ve already got the building in which we’ll be meeting, God is so good to us…when the excitement wears off, we do life together…we encourage each other and spur each other on towards love and good deeds and not miss corporate worship with the saints (Hebrews 10:24-25)… when the excitement wears off, we weather the storm… we acknowledge that the enemy is super pissed at what we’re doing, and we put on the armor of God like this dude here:
I can remember the day my spiritual father, Rev. Eddy Aleman, General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America commissioned Chris and I as pastors of RCLA, he said, “You’ve got to be a special kind of crazy to be a church planter” and I think that can also be said of our team…I love them and am so grateful for them, to them, and in awe of how immensely God has blessed me with them in mine and my family’s life. Our team is not perfect, but man… they’re some pretty awesome people! Our elders, deacons, ushers, youth leaders, worship team, and set up crew all love Jesus, all acknowledge their need of Jesus, and are a true blessing to me, our church, and the city of Lynwood.
So what happens when the excitement wears off…we roll up our sleeves and do ministry, the hard work expected of any professing follower of Christ!
As I write this short piece, I’m sitting in my suegra’s (mother-in-law) dining room on a soft sofa seat in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico and it’s FREEZING!!! It like 48 degrees, so cold that gangsters are walking around with their pants pulled up!!! We came to get away for a few days but as usual I find myself working even when I should be chillin’… well, everyone is still asleep, the house is quiet, and as I got my new Bible reading plan ready to dive into, I checked my social media (don’t judge me!) and see some of the continued madness about this being the year of breakthroughs, our year of increase, it’s time to come up, time to start making money, time to find the right companion, no more losses, etc… and I was reminded again about how quick we are to want to avoid hardship, struggles, and trying times! What if you went to school and prepared for a better job, what if God don’t want you in a relationship right now, and instead wants to prepare you for that person He has in store, what if you actually hustled at work to get a promotion, feel me? Entering into 2019 has got nothin’ in itself to do with that.
What if this is an actual time in which God is working on you, in you, to prepare to work through you. I’m not saying that we should actively pray about God putting us in hard times, but come on family!!! We’re Christians, and to be a believer in Christ is synonymous with suffering, right? Our Lord Himself says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” John 16:33 and then 1 Peter 5:10 tells us, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, Who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you”. So if this is all true, why do Christians generally think of these things as being bad? Why do so many of us self-identify with our failures? Or… on the opposite end, self-identify with our achievements? Failure nor achievements identify who we are, they are simply markers… this happened there or that happened here… those things don’t dictate nor determine who we are. The only thing that determines our identity is what Christ did on the Cross.
I remember having a conversation about this mindset with my family almost 2 years ago, you see, we were in church planting mode and mindset when all of a sudden, I get an invitation from a church in Florida to come out and continue a conversation we’d had some months before about me coming on staff there. They flew my family and I out to spend a few days there, we had a chance to meet the congregation, and I preached there again. It was a really great time with some awesome people… we came back with an offer to move out there and help the church grow in a rapidly increasing Latino population in Tampa Bay. What possible reasons could we dream of for saying, “No”? Money would not be an issue, Florida and it’s weather are gorgeous…but…we came back to California and had some really good conversations as a family. Should we go? Should we stay? My daughter Gabby had just gotten engaged to her boyfriend…my suegra in Mexico would no longer see us that often, kids would have to make friends all over again, but those weren’t major issues… one thing we’d be in Florida would be this… comfortable! Yes, we’d be comfortable… but the thing is, we were already comfortable! I lived in Paramount, a really quiet neighborhood directly across the street from the church we were a part of, lived in literally “The Most Beautiful Home in Paramount”, seriously! Brand new home, 2 stories, 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 car garage, and a pool. Relax, it wasn’t mine…HAHAHA, the church I worked at owned it, and that was a part of my compensation. But… I was comfortable, the church there was already established, almost 100 years old, they’d done some amazing stuff in the city, where other churches had fled, they stayed, where other churches where dwindling, they were thriving… I wasn’t the Senior Pastor, and probably never would be, so I would always be limited to do things the way God had wired me to do ministry…and now I had an opportunity to join a church in one of the most beautiful spots in the world, do ministry my way, money wouldn’t be an issue, and we could live pretty comfortable… easy choice, right?
Not really, you see when we came back to L.A. we went out to dinner, literally the next night. I can remember us meeting at a California Fish Grill and bringing out a notebook and all 5 of us going over our time in Florida and what it would look like to move out there. We made list of Pro’s and Con’s for moving to Florida or moving into Lynwood to help plant RCLA. Financially and materialistically speaking, we should’ve went straight home to start packing for a cross country move to Florida… but we didn’t. To us, it was more important to follow the way of the Cross… the same one that Jesus spoke of in Mark 8:34 when He said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To us, as a family, to have gone to Florida was too easy…not that we hope for poverty, or pray we get into super difficult situations, but we thought to stay here and move into Lynwood, and help start a church from scratch, not knowing where we’d get money from to pay bills from, not knowing how long we’d be able to secure funding to keep putting food on the table, with so many uncertainties, that was our way… the way of the Cross. We chose to trust Christ for all our needs, according to His glory (Philippians 4:19).
We’re a family on mission for Christ! We’re not perfect by a long shot, but we truly aim to please Him, follow Him, and as we serve Him… carry the famous Cross Jesus talked about, the Cross so many are quick to mention and even quote… but not live out. My wife opens up our home (we live on the border of Lynwood/ Compton) for discipleship and has helped start a women’s Spanish group, my two daughters serve on our worship team, and my 16 year old son is our sound engineer, my family has given up many comforts in order to serve Christ…the way of the Cross. I think of my homie and co-pastor Chris Marquez, who helped plant this church too… what’d he do, how about not taking one red cent all year long, as a contribution to help the church get started. I think of the families that have stuck it out with us, that have hung around and are giving their absolute best, giving their all for Christ. I can’t help but mention the Fao’s. Randy and Rachel…she leads and directs our worship, is discipling her young daughter Jojo of 14 years old and my daughter Natalia of only 13. She’s taken our worship to another level and sometimes it can be a huge struggle to serve, as she’s the mother of 5, with one of them being a newborn of 5 months old. The Fao’s are following the way of the Cross.
I also think of the Price family, Steve and Liz, who go above and beyond the call of duty, having been at an established church for over a decade and believed in their call to help plant this church. They too are involved in everything the church does, and continue to surpass any expectations. Steve is an elder candidate and Liz has taken on the task of leading our women in missional community, and organizing so many church functions as well as opening their home and being hospitable to many. I think of the Morenos, Cat and Eddie, they’re both deacon candidates at our church, she’s also administrator and works effortlessly to keep our finances in order. I think of the Centenos, Henry and Mayra, he’s a deacon candidate and she’s our treasurer, also sacrificed being at an establish church forever, to take on the call of helping establish this church plant. I think of Robinlyn, our beloved Echo, who followed the way of the Cross by no longer being comfortable sitting in a pew, but instead is a deacon candidate, leads our children’s and youth ministries, disciples our younger girls, hangs out with them, goes on girl dates with them, shopping sprees (at thrift stores HAHA), and shares Jesus with them. I think of all the other families like the Morales’ and Torres-Orozco’s, and too many others to give specific details about. Many people who have also jumped on board with what God is doing, following the way of the Cross, abandoning comfort to serve the Lord and His people and His church, people like the Gonzalez family, the Abarca’s, the Hilton’s, the Rebollo’s, the Moya’s, Vallejo/ Barron’s, the Aranda’s, the Galapon’s, the Caceres family, our beloved Hendrix’s, the Camacho/ Sandoval family, the soon to be Murillo-Martinez family, and recently the Galindro’s, as well as many others who join us weekly for the corporate worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. Men like David Canales and John DeVries who have a deep love of the reformed faith and tradition and have recently decided to make RCLA their home.
May we all be a people who gladly abandon comfort, who seek to follow the way of the Cross, to help serve and expand the kingdom. Again, please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying in order to be a “real” Christian you must abandon all of life’s comforts, that’s not what I’m saying, but what I AM saying is this, we should not serve God based on our level of comfort. We should not give based on whether or not it will make us pinch pennies and affect our comfort, we should not be involved in ministry only if we’ve got nothing else scheduled… Jesus Himself said, “PICK UP YOUR CROSS” meaning you will have to suffer, STOP tryna’ live comfortably and and thinking you’re sufferin’ for the sake of the Cross at the same time… stop making comfort a number 1 priority. If we already know that the Christian walk will cause us to sacrifice a certain amount of pleasure and comfort, then accept it, learn from it, and serve our Savior through it. Stop using excuses as to why we can’t go to church, why we can’t serve the church, or why we can’t give to the church… or how it’s ok to love Christ but not His bride.
This morning as I was reading my devotions, I came upon Mark 2:1-12 and the story about the 4 people that were trying to get their paralytic homie to Jesus, that he might be healed. But peep game, there were so many people already there that they couldn’t get close enough, so instead, these dudes got up on the roof, cut a hole, and dropped homie in… now THAT is gangsta’… seriously!!! How many in the church today would gladly use the excuse that there was too many people, there’s no parking, got something with the kids, maybe next time, tired from work, etc, etc, etc… there will ALWAYS be a plethora of excuses on which we can stand upon to avoid Christ or service to Him… Christ is God, He could’ve easily excused Himself from going to the Cross… but He didn’t, out of love for us, He willingly went to it, He didn’t just go to the Cross, He literally carried it… tired, hungry, got whooped on and was beat up, and still He carried it… He fell, and even had to get helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry the Cross… but He did. Friends, Jesus didn’t just come to give us theory, He didn’t simply come to hypothesize, He came to physically and literally demonstrate the things we should do and the lifestyle to lead.
I remember speaking with the homie Chris Centola of Hesperia a couple months ago about a big choice he had to make, does he stay here and plant a church through RCLA, or does he go to Idaho to take over as lead pastor of an existing church? Both would be kingdom minded decisions, right? But only one would be the way of the Cross! I remember talking to the homie and hearing the internal struggle in his voice, of “What do I do?”, and I remember telling him my story about the church in Florida, and how our family worked through that.
As we enter 2019, what is the comfort God calling you to abandon for the sake of ministry? What is He telling you that you need to start doing? Most everyone is too focused on what they should stop doing like eating, drinking, etc… but few are asking what they CAN start doing for Christ, how they can better serve, how they can give more with a joyful heart, and how they can be more of a blessing… think about that, meditate on that, and pray on that. What is God calling you into in this new year? I know I’ve got a long list of the things I need to start working on, and the first is His temple… yo’ boy is way too outta shape, and disgustingly so… who wants to work out with me in the early morning. That is my comfort… food, food in ministry, and ministry around food. Help keep me accountable, what is/ are yours? Self-care is something I always sacrifice for the sake of ministry, that stops too… I WILL care for myself… I’ve often sacrificed time with family for the sake of ministry, to the point where the church became my wife and my wife became my lover… that too stops! I will focus on a more balanced life, I will not pressure myself to do more… what about you? Are you serving, giving, and living for God… or is it more about you and your comforts? Whatever your story may be, keep in mind that His mercies are new every morning, great is His faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23). Happy New Year familia! If you’re looking to get behind something new this year, please consider RCLA. You can pray for us, join us, or give to our ministry. Check us out at www.reformedchurch.la or watch this clip of our ministry.