Happy New Year!!!
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.