About last night? “You see what happened was” is how I almost started this off, it was a close call. You see… last night I almost… almost fell… but the wisdom of Proverbs came through. Last night was very difficult and emotional. You see, one of my good friends, my oldest homeboys passed away about 2 months ago. Big Rich Lucero was someone I used to look up to, when I was just a young teenager he would go out of his way to try to guide me right, to give me wisdom… and I heard him out, I looked up to him… but I didn’t always listen. He always told me that there was something different about me, and that drew me to him even more, because I sought affirmation, that which I lacked from the men in my own family.
Well, because of life, bad choices, prison, and addictions… we became somewhat distant, as I did with most of the homeboys from my neighborhood. You see, they didn’t like the fact that I had “left the hood” or walked away. Many of them hold anger towards me, they resent me, and probably hurt by my actions and take it as a betrayal… I get it… totally get it. Many of my homeboys have expressed their love for me, many have expressed how proud of me they are for getting my life together… but many others don’t feel the same. You see, I wasn’t just an average gangmember, I helped lead the gang… I was the one representing at a political level with the Mexican Mafia. I was the one always looking out to make sure we were covered when it came to those affairs. We’d had multiple “green lights” and I swore to myself I’d never let that happen again. They ain’t nothing nice when you’re on the inside.
So last night, I’d offered Big Rich’s family, to host and officiate his memorial services at my church. Remember, we’re a church plant, that means almost everyone is a volunteer, I’ve also got a full-time job working at MLK Community Hospital in Watts as chaplain, which means I would need help to pull it off. Especially as we were hosting our Wilmington Campus Midweek service at the same time with volunteers already serving there. My wife left work early to help set up, my daughter and good friend/ sister from church practiced early to lead worship, and my son literally drove straight from his office to the church, to help run sound… not to mention two other brothers from church who helped set up, tear down, and clean up afterwards. Hold up… I’m getting to the part about me almost falling… but the words of the Bible in Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” saved me from making a huge mistake.
So what happened then? Well, I remember stepping into the pulpit to begin the service when one of my homeboys walked into the church, he looked angry, he was walking fast but with a limp and a cane. As he walked from the back to the front, he was “mad dogging” me hard… when I saw him, I got heated… like really upset that he would dare look at me like that, because I know that were I not a Christian, he’d dare not even think about it. Here is where pride begins to well in my heart. Here is where I start to contemplate in my heart and mind approaching him afterwards and asking him if he had something he needed to get off of his chest, and kind of hope he said or did something… you see, I haven’t gotten into a fight nor beat anyone up since I’ve been saved… we’re talking July of 2008.
I didn’t let it get to me though, I shook it off, and continued to lead the service. We opened up with prayer, we sang “Psalm 23” and “It Is Well”, I preached from Psalm 34, and clearly shared the Gospel with everyone that was present. I called us all to repentance, I called us all to forgive as God has forgiven us, I called us to be mindful that we didn’t need to continue with strained relationships. We all came together to support Dora, Big Rich’s wife, and their kids. There were many tears, many hugs, many smiles, and great memories… but there was also a strong undercurrent of much tension, and in these circles, tension does not go away on it’s own, there’s usually an escape, usually a violent escape. So I was starting to get nervous, because I had to keep reminding myself that I’m no longer an active gangmember… but an active Minister of the Gospel, an active pastor shepherding a church, an active man of God serving his community… an active man leading his family well and making much progress.
We began to close by taking group pictures in front of Big Rich’s urn and picture. Folks started to drift outside and scatter, I ended up grabbing a vacuum and hit the carpet to clean up so we could make our way out for dinner and then home. We turned off the lights, locked up the church, and there’s people all around the church outside, parking lot conversation, on the street some were smoking weed, laughing, telling old war stories, and enjoying the moment. As I made my rounds saying goodbye and goodnight to everyone, inviting them to join us for church on Sunday I came up to one of the fellas out there and extended my hand to shake his, but instead of shaking it, he just looked down his nose with disgust and asked, “Why you wanna shake my hand? After everything that’s happened?” I began to feel the anger burn up within me, multiple scenarios about how this would end were flashing in my mind and none of them were good. My hand remained extended to him and my eyes were locked on his, he asked me again what I wanted, and I said, “I wanna shake your hand!” after what seemed an eternity, he kinda’ looked around to those who were there and said, “Nah, I’m good!” and I said, “All good man, God bless you! ” and walked away and saw another dude that tried to look away but our eyes locked and he quickly looked away in fear, it was at that moment that I realized what my face must look like, what emotions my facial expression must’ve portrayed and I knew it probably wasn’t good.
I had many things going through my mind, things that were not of God, but what was of God popped in my head… the word “pride” was swimming in my head as were the many biblical references to it, like, Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” And Proverbs 29:23, “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” I had to honor Christ, I had to suppress my feelings of pride, my anger, and force myself to remember and reflect upon the word humility, that it might push out the word pride. I had to be more concerned at that moment with what God thought of me, than what others thought of me and I literally swallowed my pride, got into my car and left. And I thanked God that I didn’t hear the words, “Better walk away then!” (insert any ‘You heard what I said’ meme here) because that probably would’ve been a different story ending (LOL).
So friends, it seems that lately, I’ve been getting attacked over and over again, from different sides, and most of them are rooted in my pride. I’ve had problems surface as a result of people, whom I thought had my back, talk about me behind my back, I’ve had people question my leadership abilities, and I’ve even questioned myself at times as a result of it all. But God is good, He’s helped me identify the enemy in it all, and I definitely saw him working overtime at Big Rich’s memorial service trying to get me to bite and get suckered into a fight… but God is good, and He saved me from falling last night. I can’t even begin to imagine how I’d bounce back from that. My Savior is too important, my ministry is too special, and my church deserves better… I’m grateful nothing happened. But lowkey, I’m still afraid, because the pride hasn’t gone away… it’ll forever be there, I’m sure. What brings me comfort is that even Paul asked multiple times for God to remove the thorn from his flesh, but the answer he got was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
So dear Christian… what is your weakness? What is the thorn in your flesh and how are you dealing with it so that you might not fall? Because let me tell you, last night I almost did. Last night there was a small victory, now I gotta worry about today’s, then tomorrow’s battles… and then the day after that, I need to be sober-minded and watchful because my adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Would you please pray for me? If you’d like for me to pray for you please contact me and let me know how. Friends, please pray for your pastors, you’ve no idea all the things they’re struggling with, you’ve no idea all the side conversations they’re having, the plans they’ve been making, the moves they’ve made, relationships strengthened, all that they might continue to do what they’ve been called to do… preach the Gospel and make disciples. If you’ve not walked in pastoral church planting shoes, don’t try to tell us how to tie our laces.
That is all, carry on! (insert wink emoji here)
Thanks for taking the time to look into my life, my heart, and my mind. May all we do be for God’s glory! #HoodGrace