You See What Happened Was…

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

Jesus Loves The Hood!

When we set out to plant “Reformed Church of Los Angeles” 3 years ago, we’d always planned to be a church planting church, we didn’t really know how, where, when, or who would plant, just that we’d be planting again. One thing we knew for sure was that we’d plant in Wilmington, CA. it made sense since my brother Pastor Chris Márquez has lived there his whole life. It was something we’d talked about often, but had more questions than answers. I’ve written previously about how our team has shifted drastically since launching, but God in His mercies has drawn some amazing folks to join our church and commit to our mission of planting more healthy, confessionally Reformed churches in the hood by making disciples. 

Backyard boogie with our church planters and my homie Rev. Danny Hyde

The Lord has graciously brought to our church multiple groups of men who are passionate about the work that has been done in Lynwood and anxious to see the same type of ministry in their neighborhoods. Because we’re adamant about church membership being a biblical imperative (1 Cor. 12:21-26; Acts 20:28; Matthew 18:16-17; 1 Cor. 5:12-13; and Heb. 13:17), we’ve been adamant about training up leaders to help our church planting efforts. We’ve gone from ministering in Lynwood, Compton, and Watts to soft launching in Wilmington in just a couple of weeks, while simultaneously preparing men to plant Reformed Churches in San Bernardino, Santa Ana, and Arizona. How in the world has this happened? Well, I wish I could tell you it’s because we did a, b, and c; but the truth is that God has done it, we’ve just been along for the ride. 

Today we baptized one person and received 12 more as new members. Our turn out for Lord’s Day corporate worship service was a little over a 100 people, so how do we plan on planting 4 more churches with just 100 people? Great question! A better one, is how are we planning on planting 4 more churches without any money? An even better question, and the answer is that we just don’t know. What we do know is that God has sovereignly been drawing the right people, with the right giftings, and the right passions to plant. We will do all that we can to prepare and train them up to plant alongside their families. We plan on taking them through a multi-faceted training, help strengthen their marriages, deepen relationships with their children, and start actively fundraising for these plants. I think that’s one of the hardest parts or struggles… the finances! You see, our whole get down is to go into the hoods, the under-resourced communities that most people are trying to get out of, we’re trying to take solid theology to the hoods, because Jesus loves the hood too!

New Members received on Lord’s Day: Bañales Family, Herrera Family, Yvette, Camacho Family

For many folks, they’re more concerned with getting out of the hood than what kind of churches are starting there. And all too often Christian folk are more concerned with visiting the hood, doing day mission trips there, taking some dope selfies, and then going back home. There aren’t too many folks moving into the hood for the purpose of supporting theologically sound churches that would in turn plant more theologically sound churches. There aren’t too many folks that are trying to truly and genuinely engage with their communities, and instead are ok with commuting into a building, having church and then going home. I ain’t hating, but I wonder just how effective that model is. 

Just yesterday afternoon I went on a bike ride ALL through the hood. My brotha’ Adrian Bañales and myself took off from my house in Lynwood, crossed over into South Gate, went into the heart of Watts, cruised all through Compton, and then back to Lynwood. While we were getting ready to cross Alameda into Watts off of 92nd Street, I heard someone honk and yell. I looked back at Adrian and then I saw an SUV with a big old dude, mean looking cholo bending over to say something. I got a closer look and realized it was my homeboy Big Pete Cuevas, first thing I yelled was, “When are you gonna join us at church?!” I got a wide eyed grin back from him and I asked him to please send my love and “saludos” to his brother Snake. 

Literally went through many hoods on this 13 mile bike ride through Lynwood, Watts, and Compton

At that moment I remembered once again why I need to stay in the community that God has called me to minister in and minister to! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t live outside, but the odds of being more successful, more impacting, and deeper engagement is by living in the community we minister in and to. Whether it’s going to the corner to buy milk and eggs, walking your dog, pumping gas, or riding your bike. The neighborhood sees you all the time, all days, not just an hour or two on Sundays.

Hangin’ out w/ our Century Station Sheriff Deputies during one of our many pandemic food giveaways.

By God’s grace, the men we are training up to plant are or will be living in their neighborhoods. Jesus loves the hood, not just upper middle class or affluent neighborhoods. Jesus walked with the hoods of His day. He walked with the marginalized, Jesus walked amongst the people, Jesus knew their needs, and Jesus helped meet those needs. May we do the same as we plant more confessionally Reformed churches in the hoods across Southern California and Arizona, our Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. There are some exciting changes coming up for us this year, can’t speak on it now, but will definitely be doing so hopefully by the end of the Spring. If you’re so inclined to help support our church planting efforts, let me know and I’d be glad to let you know how you can pray for us, or help us. If you’d like to support these efforts financially, we’d be super grateful, or if you’d like to join these efforts here in person with your gifts and talents, hit me up too. 

For now, please pray for the following church planting and ministry efforts:

Merari Herrera, Rev. Rudy, Pastor Chris, Justin Corona, Martin Velazquez,
Victor Velazquez, Sam Montes, and David Cabrera
Alex Diaz from Chicago will be parachuting into Arizona to plant a church with us in the North Phoenix area.

Our small network of Reformed Churches is pulling together and we’re calling it “Guerilla Church Planting” because planting confessionally Reformed churches in the hood is a straight mission, it’s spiritual guerilla warfare. This year has already started out with complications but we know that Christ is on the throne and that gives us hope… as a matter of fact, its our only hope. Psalm 39:7, “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.” We’ll continue to push, we’ll continue to preach Christ crucified, repentance of sin, and trusting in Christ alone. 

Reformed Church of Los Angeles:
Christ, Community, and Culture

Guerrilla Church Planting Network

Watts Up w/ COVID?

The Famous Watts Towers

It was Monday morning, as I walked into the ICU at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Watts where I serve as Coordinator for Spiritual Care. ICU rounds hadn’t yet started so I went to the North side of the unit to check on some of my patients and see how they were doing, I hated Monday mornings because it’s when I would find out that some of my patients had died over the weekend. As I tried to sneak over really quick, I heard my name being called, so I turned around and saw the doctor, one of the intensivists, telling me about a patient not going to make it, and asked if I’d be around in the next hour or so because the family was on their way to say their good-byes. One more family that I’d pray with as their loved one was getting ready to transition from this life to the next. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Watts, CA.

I can’t tell you how many end-of- life conversations, Gospel presentations, hands held, foreheads stroked, and prayers given for patients and their families… all because of some stupid bug that I hate, COVID-19. I know we aren’t to hate things, but this virus, I do hate. I know that God is sovereign, I know that “leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty all come to us not by chance… but by God’s fatherly hand” (Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 10, Question 27). But because I know and trust in God’s sovereign hand doesn’t mean that I can’t hate evil or lament… it’s actually Biblical to lament, right? 

If church planting and pastoring wasn’t hard enough, if having to help start a business to create a consistent stream of revenue to help fund ministry wasn’t difficult, if studying for a doctorate degree and helping to grow one church plant and help plant 3 other churches during a pandemic wasn’t difficult enough… how about dealing with death almost on a daily basis, and not being calloused to death in the midst of it all. I wish I could say that it hasn’t yet happened to me, but it has… don’t get me wrong, I still feel… I still cry… I still sigh and yet still believe in Christ the Risen Savior… but it’s hard ya’ll… really, really hard. This isn’t a complaint, at all… I love my life, love my ministry, and love the various opportunities that God has given me to help further His kingdom, to help teach others about the King of King, to help folks know the Jesus of the Bible for there are far too many bootleg versions of Him going around. 

But this is just one part of my life as a church planter… I wish we’d had as much support as other church planters, where we could solely focus on ministry, and not have to be bi-vocational or even tri-vocational… but that’s not the case. When you plant a church in a hard place, these are the types of things you can expect, but I love every moment of being used by God for His glory. Some folks don’t really understand how I have to have 2 jobs in order to do my main one, my 24/7 church planter/ pastor calling. What would you do if you had to work a separate job just to do the one you really love? Would you? Probably not, it’s not even the norm in ministry, but it is a very real thing. 

Reformed Church LA drive in service COVID style at Lynwood Middle School.

I haven’t blogged in quite some time, I hadn’t recorded a podcast/ vlog in quite some time until recently, I was thinking about what to write, and this morning as I was walking into the ICU for work and heard my name called and the doctor gave me the rundown on one our patients, it all just kind of came to mind and I knew I had to write about this. I see first-hand how all of our front-line workers give so much of themselves, caring for people who are critical, at end of life situations, working over-time because they’re short on staff, and over worked because people will just not stop getting admitted, there is no more ICU space, and more room was added to another floor just to help accommodate the ICU patients that had nowhere to be placed or housed. And I see how we all risk our own health by going into COVID rooms every day, to care for our patients… and yet I’ve got friends who think this is all fake, I’ve got people I love dearly that say this is some kind of hoax, some kind of government tactic for control so they refuse to wear a mask, “Governor can’t make me do $#!+” I get it… but at the same time I don’t. Real people with real families, are dying and leaving behind kids… young kids. One of my patients might not be there tomorrow morning when I get to work… and she has a 4 year old son! 

I can be honest and say that after the initial COVID surge had flattened out, I got a lil lax on my care, I wasn’t as careful as I could’ve been. ICU space was opened up at the hospital, very few COVID cases and then BAM!!! My daughter got sick, and all kinds of people we know started getting it, getting really sick, and then dying. In less than 7 days I heard about a good friend who Pastored a church in the SFV died… then a few days later I found out a childhood friend had also died… Pastors and their families were also contracting it, many had to cancel church service, go back to online, and have guest preachers fill in. Yet for some reason, there are still folks who will refuse to wear a mask, refuse to believe that this is really happening. I really don’t understand. 

My hope is that by way of my recent posts and this blog, folks who know me, know that I’m not a Trump supporter, nor am I a Democrat… I see evil on both sides, so I’ve got no bone in this fight. I’m no politician, no political favorites or connections… just a very deep and profound love of the Lord Jesus and His people… so I embrace the opportunity to minister to folks, especially those at end of life situations, I have one last shot at sharing the Gospel with them, and pray that they’d repent and believe. If you’re reading this, you could make my job and that of my coworkers so much easier by just wearing a mask… by avoiding close contact with folks outside of your home… by washing or sanitizing your hands often… some people have tested + for COVID and barely even knew they were sick, while others that had no other medical issues have died… folks younger than me, thinner than me… dying… that die? I’ll be ok, because I know Jesus… but my family won’t. Eventually they’ll be ok, but it’s gonna hurt like hell. 

Sorry if this sounds morbid, although not as morbid as my friend Johanna who even has her funeral playlist ready, but this is real life. This is a very real thing for me, something I do on a daily basis, in dealing with death, hoping and praying for the opportunity to share about the one death that an actually bring life… by simply believing… by trusting in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, that His shed blood would pay for our crimes committed against a Holy God. Do you believe? Do you possess faith in Christ as Lord? Or do you just profess it with no faith? Are you a part of a local church? Do you give to it? Do you serve in it? Are you involved in discipleship? Are you submitted to the elders of that local church? If you answered no to any of those questions, you might wanna consider your standing with Christ… because those are things that Christians must do… not in order to get saved, but as proof that they are saved. 

So if you’re not a part of a church, you might consider supporting a church plant by becoming a member, giving financially, serving, growing, and helping it by advancing their Gospel proclamation and mission to engage it’s community. You can’t say you’re a Christian and not belong to a church… real spit! When someone asks you what church you go to, respond by saying, “I’m a part of __________ church!” Help your pastors not have to be bi or tri-vocational. I’m blessed in that my church supports my working at MLK Community Hospital and helping build a bridge into our community. This opportunity was clearly laid out by God and so grateful to be on a team of amazing folks who love what they do, have a passion to serve our community of South L.A. and give so much of themselves to do so. Please keep my team and I in prayer. Please keep my church and I in prayer. Please keep our leaders and future church planters in prayer… we’re so thankful for your friendship and partnership in the Gospel. 

Our future church planters. Left – Right
Rev. Rudy Rubio of Reformed Church LA – Lynwood
Pastor Chris Márquez of Reformed Church LA – Wilmington
The Corona and Velazquez families of Reformed Church of Orange County – Santa Ana
The Cabrera and Montes families of Reformed Church of the Inland Empire – San Bernardino

Square Peg Into A Round Hole

Ever feel like you’re a square peg trying to fit into a round hole?

That seems to be my life story, as far back as I can remember… I was always getting yelled at by my dad for not doing things the way he wanted me to. I was willing to change and eventually found myself talking like him and his friends, using certain grown folk mannerisms hoping to get a chuckle or acknowledgement from him and his drinking buddies. I remember in school I was a nerd, bigger than most, and fatter than almost all… I wasn’t a jock by any means or into sports but I was willing to change and give them a try by playing a bit of everything because all of my friends played, but I never really got a joy out of playing sports. My parents never went to any of my games so that kinda’ sucked. It wasn’t until I started getting awards for academic achievements that my mom started going to my ceremonies.

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With my childhood friend Steven Vallejo and his dad Joe after one of our games in Cudahy, CA.

Fast forward to Junior High School and it was even more awkward, I’m still a nerd and just didn’t seem to fit in, but I was willing to change. I managed to fit in the New Wave crowd for a bit, I didn’t like smoking weed so I kept away from the stoners. But after a fight where I got whooped by some dude smaller than me, I realized that I craved something else, a different kind of attention, and I was willing to change to get it. I began to actively seek acceptance from the local street gang in Huntington Park where I’d been living. But they wouldn’t accept me as I was, I had to again be willing to change, so I did.

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Here with David Rodriguez who was my best friend in Jr. High, his brother Anthony and friends.

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Not long after having joined the neighborhood gang. Left my cousin Alex aka “Chino” who was tragically killed a couple years later in Lynwood, and my homeboy Kali to my right.

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One of the few portraits/ pictures of me and all my siblings. This was taken at our home in Huntington Park shortly after having been paroled from the California Youth Authority. Left to right; Danny, Erika, Annette, Becky, and Me.

I changed so much, that I’d forgotten who I actually was. I entered what seemed to be a revolving door that led me in and out of jails and institutions over and over again from the age of 13 through 24. I’d also become very close with the cartels and began working with them, but they wouldn’t accept me as a cholo, so I needed to dress the part, and talk the part… I had to fully live into my Sinaloan heritage, once again I had to be willing to change in order to be accepted by these guys and do business with them. That whole situation ended really bad with me having to flee to Sinaloa as a fugitive on the run, on LA’s most wanted, and because federal agents were now actively looking for me I had to once again, make serious changes… even my name.

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At my niece Amanda’s baptism.

Living in Sinaloa and then Ensenada, Baja California was not easy… it was extremely hard, so much in fact that at times I felt like returning to the U.S. and telling the agents at the border who I was and that I was a wanted fugitive… but I didn’t, so I had to change and adapt to a new way of life. When I decided to come back to the U.S. again many years later, I had to forget all the changes I’d made while on the run in Mexico and get back to the old me… but I was having a hard time figuring out who I was. I had to be willing to change yet again.

My past finally caught up to me and I ended up in jail again, but this time they weren’t playing, the system was done with me and they were trying to give me life… again. At the peak of my downfall, recidivism kicks in and I get stuck in another revolving door in and out a few more times, until I come to “thee” moment… that defining moment that God used to draw me in and not let me go. At that point, when I came to saving faith in a prison cell, I encountered one of the biggest battles ever… an identity crisis, because you see, being a Christian in prison isn’t looked upon as being cool… but I was tired, I was done and desperately wanted to submit my life to Christ. I gave up the gang, changed up and pissed a lot of people off in the process… I had to be willing to change again, but I didn’t know how… I started using my real name, started reading God’s Word and it started coming alive to me and in me. Things were changing rapidly… but I was struggling with my identity. I’d been used to changing so much of myself in order to please others I’d forgotten who I was along the way. But in Christ, I started to discover who I really was. I was a son of the living God, grafted into Him by way of faith, forgiven, restored, and being formed into His image slowly but surely, day by day seeking to serve Him and only Him. 2 Corinthians 5:17 showed me that because I was in Christ, I was a new creation, “The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”

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Preaching at Emmanuel Reformed Church in Paramount, CA. 2017

As a Christian, things didn’t change much. I found myself… a ghetto raised Latino in an 80+ year old church that belonged to 392-year-old Dutch Reformed Denomination. Although the church I was a part of was extremely diverse in many aspects, it in no way reflected the denomination as a whole which remained predominantly white. As I grew in my faith, my theology grew too, I was passionate about studying and getting as much theological and biblical doctrine as possible, I was like a sponge trying to absorb as much as I could and discern things on my own and for myself, and as I did, I found myself not really fitting in. I found myself not really agreeing with many things my beloved denomination allowed, tolerated, or was known for. I was nurtured there, cared for, encouraged, spurred on and challenged… so I remained true, faithful, and dedicated to help give my 2 cents as well as a voice to those like me. But something changed though, and that was that I was no longer willing to change anymore, especially any changes pertaining to my understanding of what the Bible taught about delicate issues such as gender and roles, marriage, and immigration. I needed to be like Jesus!

1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

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Left: California Youth Authority in Santa Cruz, CA. ’90 Right: Newly Ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament at Reformed Church LA in Lynwood, CA. ’19

2 years ago I was invited to serve on a team of 12 that was tasked with trying to find the best way forward for the Reformed Church in America. There’s talk of a split… and it makes us wonder what the potential outcome will be. What will happen at General Synod, will we stay, will we leave, will we be forced to go elsewhere… one thing for sure is this, I will never again change for anyone or anything, especially as it pertains to my understanding of what is expected of me by my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God didn’t save me from multiple life sentences, gunshot wounds, and stabbings to forget where I came from or not use that as an advantage to reach and teach folks that come from similar backgrounds as mine. I am no longer willing to change! I must preach and teach the Gospel, my walk MUST match my talk. It’s been a difficult 2 years thus far as we navigate and truly wonder what the outcome will be. I know there are folks who’ve already made up their minds to leave the RCA as well as those determined to stay and fight… fight that their understanding of holy scripture would be accepted and lived out by all, I don’t want to fight. I want to make disciples, I want to plant more churches, I want folks to know who Jesus is, what our mandate is and how we serve Him as both our Lord and Savior. I want to try to live a holy life, called to die daily to my sin, serve others selflessly, be hospitable, and to keep peace, unity, as we preserve God’s Truth.

1 Peter 2:21, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

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I’m all about unity and peace, but I’m more about purity and truth… and my love of God will NOT allow me to ever change my my ways to please anyone, never again! I do hope and expect  to continue to grow as a Christian, and to change only as He sees fit, as He molds me… as God forms me and shapes me to be conformed to the image of His son.

My life is much different now than when I was growing up, I’ve matured, I’ve found out who I really am, and most importantly Who’s I am. I am a son of the Most High God, adopted into His family, chosen by Him out of sheer mercy and grace, forgiven of my sins, and spiritually regenerated and made new… do you know who you are? Are you a square peg trying to fit into a round hole? You don’t have to keep feeling that way, submit your life to an audience of One and all will be well.

1 John 2:6, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

 

 

 

“El Roi” The God Who Sees Me!

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I remember being in seminary, and one of my professors had a ring on his finger with some Hebrew writing, and it just so happened I was also taking Hebrew that semester and asked him about it. Although I knew what it said, “El Roi” or “the God who sees me”. I wasn’t quite sure why he was wearing it. He shared a touching story with us and that stayed with me, not so much his story, but the fact that God does in fact see me… and He sees you too. This name of “El Roi” comes from Genesis 16 in a story in which Hagar, a young slave, was being obedient to her mistress and mistreated so much that she ran away. While she was in the wilderness an angel of the Lord came to her to tell her that the Lord had heard her affliction and that she was to go back. It might sound like a strange story if you’re not familiar with the whole narrative, but this blog post isn’t meant to be a thorough Bible study on Genesis 16, but instead a reminder to you that as God saw the young servant girl Hagar in the wilderness when she was at wits end, she was so overwhelmed with life, she was stuck in a situation where she was being obedient and faithful yet made to suffer… for many of us, it too can seem like we’re doing all that we’re supposed to and just can’t catch a break, right? This whole COVID-19 pandemic has many people feeling this way for a variety of reasons… friend, be reminded that God sees you, just as He saw the poor slave girl running away in the wilderness.

For some folks, the loss of a job after having worked so hard to get financially stable completely killed their hard earned progress. For others that were barely getting by week to week, the loss of a job or reduction of hours has also been a major setback. These things might not seem like a big deal to some people because they’ve got savings, or tons of resources to fall back on, but for many in my community and in my church that’s just not the case. This is a blog on urban church planting, which means starting a church from scratch in the hood… an area that’s already under resourced, an area where folks (like myself) have to have more than one job in order to get by… and this domino effect unfortunately hits the church hard too. And when you have no paid staff for tech stuff, audio/ video needs, etc… this is what it looks like sometimes on a Sunday during live stream of service… I’m manning the cameras while Elder Steve Price is preaching.IMG_1331But here’s the thing… God sees the needs of His church and He provides… so when we learn of almost $35K lost being lost already, we are concerned about it but we don’t worry because we continue to do what we’ve been called by God to do. As many are out trying to find new ways to obtain funding for their ministry, as present, we at Reformed Church LA are more concerned right now about making sure our community’s needs are being met. This isn’t a show off, or to brag… not at all, the only thing we boast about is our Savior, His great love, and His great power. But because this is a blog about planting churches in the hood, the hood needs to know you care about it before it cares about what you got to say. We’ve come together with some amazing people, truly God ordained partnerships. We’ve undertaken a pretty big responsibility by joining forces with the Lynwood Unified School District to ensure their food pantry did not stop serving the community when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The district offices were shut down and most employees were extremely busy trying to figure out how to move all their studies to an online format and serve a community that isn’t online by getting them online with distribution of Chromebooks to thousands of students.

Together in partnership with the Lynwood Unified School District, our friends at Greater Emmanuel Temple Church, Lynwood City Council, Parks & Recreation, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and us… Reformed Church L.A have committed to serving and supporting the School District’s Food Pantry every week during the present stay at home order. Because of this collaborative effort, lots of attention has come to what we’re doing, and lots of people are offering to donate money, food, clothes, and themselves to volunteer. During one of these distributions, my good friend Pastor Nisan Stewart of G.E.T said we should talk about how to do more for our community and although it’s a great idea, we both knew that our plates were already super full but just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to do something more to bless our community. We can’t just say we’re worried about their eternity but not their now, right? I immediately thought of our good friend Audrey Casas, who’s an amazing advocate for our community, and we’ve partnered on so many other community efforts in the past. She’d recently started raising funds to help serve those folks in our community who don’t qualify for Federal Stimulus checks, or Unemployment benefits, those families who are the most vulnerable and have lost work, reduction of hours, and money. As we were preparing to meet the following day to talk about getting behind Audrey and her team, I got a call from a homie and fellow church planter in Torrance, Russ Hightower. He said his church (Pacific Crossroads South Bay, a PCA church) wanted to help us and our efforts. Well, ain’t that a coincidence?!? NOT!!! Our God knows what He’s doing and He’s ALWAYS on time. So the very next day after our food distribution efforts we met at G.E.T. and formed a new partnership to further support our community. Below you’ll see Pastor Joe Brown of PCCSB, Audrey Casas of Mastering Hope, Pastor Nisan Stewart of G.E.T. and yours truly, Rev. Rudy Rubio of RCLA. Our homies at PCCSB came through with way more than we could’ve expected and hope to bless hundreds more families with their contribution!  IMG_1937So what does any of this have to do with the title of this blog post, El Roi? Well, that God sees us, and even though we’re all experiencing hard times right now, we don’t let that stop us from doing what we’ve been called by God to do. The platform may have changed, but the mission and the message remains the same. We are confident that if we do as the early church did, like we read from Acts 2:42-47 in which they “devoted themselves” to the Apostle’s teaching, to the breaking of bread, costly fellowship, prayers, and looking out for the needs of others… all the while praising God… we’re gonna be ok and God will add to the numbers of those being saved every day. We gotta keep pushing, we can’t stop, won’t stop, we will not be stopped if we only keep our eyes on the Cross, can I get an amen?! We’ll do what we gotta do, and know that God will do what He’s gotta do. God is faithful… God will provide… God will draw in His people… and God will use His church… we are His people, His called, and He will use as agents of change in this dying world. IMG_1792

So friends, church planters, pastors, church members, or maybe you don’t even believe in God but are actively seeking because you know that there’s some kind of higher power… please know that God is real and He doesn’t lie, He keeps all of His promises and none greater than, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9.

So, we’re not a big church that has to cut back on staff, we already don’t have a budget for covering our needs, so we won’t let even less money stop us from serving. God isn’t just Creator, He’s Sustainer, and He’s providential… He’s using our team and our church members as volunteers to step up our game and serve in ways we never thought we’d have to. Our team has stepped it up in so many ways to care not only for our community, but especially for our church, that our family in Christ would know they’re loved, not alone, and have a team of people who got their backs, and what a comfort knowing we can count on these people, right. In other words, they’re truly living out Galatians 6:10 that says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

To give you a better understanding as to what I’m talking about, check out this clip of what our Kid’s Ministry did on Easter Sunday.

All that said, if you’ve been a supporter of Reformed Church L.A. and our ministry efforts, please know that we’re so grateful for you, that we appreciate you, and that we’re truly thankful for trusting us with your finances as we seek to share the Gospel of Christ. If you’d like to join in with what we’re doing, please know that we could REALLY use your financial support, as I mentioned at the beginning, we’ve lost almost $35K so far and could use a little help. All for Christ’s glory!!!

Leading Up To Lock Down!

So it’s been approximately 2 1/2 months since I’ve last blogged, not by choice nor lack of want, but because life has been so crazy, seriously! Let me bring you up to speed and fill you in, my last post had to do with complete transparency and how I’d been struggling by taking things too personally and that was end of January. Here are some pictures of our memories since then.

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RCLA partnered w/ the city of Lynwood for the Mayor’s Clergy Prayer Breakfast.

I was honored to have opened in prayer at the Kobe Bryant Memorial hosted by the City of Lynwood in front of hundreds of people.

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RCLA joined a weekly Bible study for the Long Shoremen in Wilmington, CA where our next church plant will be.

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Reformed Church L.A. Women’s Lenten Dinner

My beautiful wife Edna and daughter Natalia were invited to Lynwood’s Breakfast in honor of Women.

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This is THE CREW… Tacos & Theology, a deep study of Reformed Theology. This group of fellas have committed to studying Geerhardus Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics.

And then… Corona Virus hit… and it hit hard. That’s a whole other blog just to be able to tell you how we’ve adapted, what we’ve done, where God has come through for His glory, as well as some of our struggles. It’s all good though because our God is in the heavens and He’s sovereign over ALL.

Victory In No Other

Have you ever felt like you’re just overwhelmed? Like everything around you is falling apart? Or is it just me? It’s not a good feeling right? I was having a couple days like that, where it just seemed that everything that could possibly go wrong, was going wrong. Things at home, at church, with friends, work, marriage… like everything just seems to be piling up!

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying, my family is great, my marriage is strong, friends are awesome, and ministry continues to amaze me… but sometimes, sometimes we can often drown in a glass of water, right? At least that’s what I was experiencing just a few days ago. It seems like no matter how hard you try sometimes to focus on the important things in life, bad news and gossip always seem to come to you, always seem to try to bring you down and get your focus off the Cross and onto insignificant worldly things.

  • When things go right at church, I celebrate immensely, not because of my efforts but because of God’s goodness.
  • When things go right in the home, I celebrate that too, not because of amazing parenting skills, but because of God’s compassion.
  • When things go great in my marriage, I so celebrate the gift of my wife, not because I’m an amazing husband, but because of God’s generosity.

But when things don’t go right, then what?

Then things change… things are different, they’re no longer the same, then I beat myself up. I no longer look to God but instead question myself, horrible right? So that’s a struggle of mine, one amongst many others, but I’m so grateful and full of joy that instead of trying to shift blame when things don’t go right, instead of trying to find fault in myself, I analyze and try to think what God is doing and teaching me in the midst of it. I can be very hard on myself and that inward focus can make me miss what God is actually doing through any given situation.

As I was reading and praying this morning, I don’t know how the heck this song came up in my mind but before I knew it, I was humming it, and then I was singing it, and then I had to look it up on YouTube and play. Here’s the link #DontJudgeMe:

I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary,
To save a wretch like me…

O Victory in Jesus, my Savior forever…

Any victory I have is in Christ… from salvation to ordinary and daily living. God is sovereign, yet I’m not a puppet or robot. God uses me, He uses my gifts, and He even uses my flaws and mistakes to bring Him glory. He reconciles all things to Himself, He redeems, and He restores… such a refreshing reminder.

1 Corinthians 15:57,
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you’re struggling today, be reminded of how God is blessing you. I don’t mean material things… but think of the small and usually overlooked things, like coming home each day to your family. With our beloved Kobe Bryant having been tragically killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and 7 other people, the world is very aware and sensitive to how short life can be and literally gone in the blink of an eye. It was a startling reminder to me that I can’t allow even ministry to come between spending quality time with my family. I’ve already made the mistake of focusing too much on others and not enough time on my family. That’s a wrap, won’t happen again!

So when I find myself drowning in a glass of water, I’m reminded of God’s goodness, allow me to share some of those celebrations with you, that you might give God glory too for the victories that Christ is giving us:

Our Men’s Group just continues to grow

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Our Youth Group has been restructured and is looking amazing. They’ve got some fundraisers prepped for this year, they’re being refreshed with the Gospel continuously and growing spiritually. Yvette, Kristina, Paul, Jerett, and Ricky are doing a great job with our teens. It’s not just fun and games, they’re gaining the trust of our Youth, and teaching them deep theological truths.

Our Women’s Group is growing, look at these beautiful sisters whom are striving to encourage each other, love each other, and build each other up. Ruby and her crew (Edna, Maribel, Kristina, and Rachel) are putting it down!

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Our Children’s Ministry has also recently undergone a restructuring and we’re amazed at how smooth it is running, our sister Liz Price has outdone herself with an easy system she’s implemented, the amount of support she has is awesome. Edna, Gabby, Tabitha, Ica, Melissa, Christine, Maribel, Oralia, and so many other ladies got her back. As a pastor I’m thankful for her giftings being used to comfort parents knowing their kids are not just being watched, but taught, catechized, and instructed in the ways of the Lord.

And as for our worship team, it started off with many problems but under Rachel’s leadership she’s taken us beyond any expectations we could’ve had, not just in how she leads, invites others to step up, but in how she’s pouring into the next generation of worshippers, and discipling them outside of church and worship ministry.

Thanks for following my/ our story! Thanks for praying for us, encouraging us, supporting us, holding us accountable, but most importantly for just being there for us and not turning away or forgetting about us. We love you!

www.reformedchurch.la

 

 

“2019” 100% Transparent

As 2019 comes to an end and we enter 2020 I reflect upon some of the high lights of this past year, some brought joy and others pain, but despite how I felt… God was working in me and through me for my good and the good of His church and kingdom (Romans 8:28). So many things happened this year that are worthy of mentioning and I’ll be completely honest and try to keep it balanced with both the good and the bad:

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January

  • Mission trip to Brazil, met amazing people sold out for Christ and committed to sharing the Gospel and planting churches along the Amazon.

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February

  • Connected/ Served with our friends at Imago Dei for their “Become Conference”
  • We found a potential home for RCLA Wilmington
  • Received new people into membership and had more baptisms
  • A season and super rough time of feeling overwhelmed with church plant began to increase

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March

  • Got away to Lake Arrowhead w/ church fam for deeper connection
  • Hosted our 2nd Lynwood Commitment at Abbott Elementary School
  • Celebrated my good friend Antonio and his restaurant The Nest’s 5th Year Anniversary in Bellflower
  • Church plant responsibilities began to weigh heavier and heavier on me
  • RCLA’s Official 1 year Anniversary

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April

  • Went into the California Youth Authority to preach and minster to incarcerated youth (I too served time in CYA)
  • In the wake of Nipsey Hussle’s death, coordinated a prayer walk on Crenshaw/ Slauson with approximately 30 pastors/ church leaders from across LA
  • After 7 murders in the neighboring city of Watts, coordinated another prayer walk in the Nickerson Gardens projects with approximately 50 pastors and church leaders from across LA.
  • Received more persons into church membership
  • Was beginning to feel close to burning out

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May

  • Purchased a church van
  • Graduated from Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan w/ an MDIV (Master of Divinity)
  • Took my youngest daughter to see Les Miserables, she almost died of excitement.
  • My daughter graduated from Junior High School.
  • My granddaughter Isabella and son in law Pablo were baptized; more persons received into church membership
  • A beloved church family left, for extremely superficial reasons
  • Suffered our absolute hardest and roughest trial in church leadership as a team

June

  • RCA General Synod at Hope College in Holland, Michigan; started serious questioning the future of RCA
  • Invited to speak/ pray by Congresswoman Nanette Diaz-Barragán at her annual “Prayer Breakfast”
  • Started Sabbatical June 15th

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July

  • I saw my dad for the first time in almost 12 years since he was deported to Mexico
  • Family vacation in Ensenda, Baja, Mexico; best time in years!!! Seriously needed that!!!
  • Back from Sabbatical July 15th
  • Homeboys/ Homegirls from past start to visit church and get involved
  • Compton Leaders Internship Program
  • Granddaughter Isabella’s 1st birthday party

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August

  • RCLA Summer Camp
  • Attended friends’ Weddings (Rari/ Megan) and (Delia/ Jehadi), so awesome!
  • Ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in Reformed Church in America
  • Significant growth in Men’s Group
  • Minor problems begin to bubble in church leadership again w/ one individual

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RCLA’s Worship team partnered with Greater Emmanuel Temple for the Lynwood Unity Service

September

  • I received a recognition from Lynwood’s City Council, truly honored!
  • 3rd Lynwood Commitment at Washington Elementary School
  • Connected with some of my Reformed Latino homies in Chicago
  • Honored to marry two of my good friends (Ricky/ Kristina)
  • RCLA Wilmington Bible study commenced
  • 2nd Annual Lynwood Unity Service (approx. 300 persons)
  • Commenced “Tacos & Theology” (study of Geerhardus Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics)
  • Church loses multiple families for different reasons, none for fault of church
  • I was diagnosed w/ a serious degenerative spinal condition which resulted in a form of depression that last a few months
  • Leadership problems are not able to be resolved and continue w/ one individual, things couldn’t continue much longer this way

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October

  • Spanish River Church Planters Conference in Boca Raton, Florida! Awesome time!
  • Connected w/ more Reformed Latino brothers in South Florida
  • Mens’ Group continues to grow
  • 3rd Annual Trunk or Treat with City of Lynwood (quadrupled in size)
  • I married another great young couple (Braulio/ Desiree) who are a part of our church
  • Lost a beloved aunt in Mexico who was a mom to me in one of my greatest times of despair
  • Acquired additional office space at church
  • Relaunch of Women’s Ministry
  • My brother in law Carlos is released from prison after almost 20 years
  • We lost another key family at church
  • Key leaders step down, and one leaves church
  • We excommunicated a church member
  • Leadership issues appear to be resolved

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November

  • Ordained/ Installed Catrina Moreno as Deacon
  • Acts 29 US West Regional Conference in Reno, NV.
  • Received more new members into church.
  • Reorganize/ restructure Children/ Youth Ministries
  • Problems w/ previous members/ leaders continue; affects present leadership
  • Present leadership team is strengthened, expanded, and much more cohesive

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December

  • Concluded Cohort Training through Manna Grant at Southlands Church, great time!
  • RCLA Youth March in Lynwood Christmas Parade 2nd year in a row.
  • Worship Team Christmas Party
  • Ventura Youth Correctional Facility Christmas Dinner/ Ministry
  • Natalia’s Christmas/ Jazz Concerts at LACHSA
  • Shepherd LA gathering with other brothers/ pastors
  • My son Diego gets his first college acceptance letter (Humboldt State)
  • Christmas Dinner w/ RCLA Consistory
  • For the first time in what seemed an eternity our leadership team is tight, on the same page, and in harmony!

Life is not perfect, but God is with us every step of the way! I’m grateful for the hand dealt me, that I get to serve the risen Savior, Christ Jesus for His glory here in Lynwood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We will reap, if we do not give up…”

Over the last 2 years, our young church plant has undergone so many changes, changes that we’d been warned about, and actually told would happen, but we resisted believing because after all, it was “our” team… and we were different. We soon found out though, that in reality, we weren’t much different at all, status quo, like all the rest of them, in a sense that our team almost turned over completely. What does that mean? Well, during some basic church planting training, we were told that our launch team would be much different a year into it, and we were like, “Nah…not our team!”. But the truth is that more than ½ of our team has since left, for various reasons, some good, some bad, and some had none, they just… disappeared. But we’ve come to learn that church planting isn’t for everybody… you’ve gotta be a special kinda crazy.

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This blog post is not to address those that have left, Lord bless them, but instead to honor and acknowledge those who’ve stepped up and stepped in. You see, the turnover started just 3 weeks into it, when the first family informed us that they’ll be leaving and going back to the church we’d just left. We also had primary leaders such as Worship Directors, Elder & multiple Deacon candidates stepped down or left the church altogether leaving huge vacancies and gaps to fill. The hard part in church planting is that we don’t want any open slots, no vacant jobs, everything must be filled. The thought is that because we’re small, or because we’re new that nothing can be left vacant, but that’s a huge mistake. We put people in spots they shouldn’t have been placed. But when you can’t afford to pay anyone, is it really feasible to think that folks will be in it for the long haul? Is it logical to think that folks would go through with commitments?

I’ll let you answer those questions some other time, but for now, I just wanted to give you some background so you can understand the context of us wanting to plant a highly theologically inclined church in the hood where there are no such churches. Theology can often seem a curse word in the church where it’s more charismatic and emotion driven and that’s what we have here in our area. Lots and lots and lots of churches… but, they’re the classic and stereotypical black and Hispanic churches. They love Jesus, but they just don’t know who He truly is… folks are more passionate about expressing their love of Him but not so much about getting to know Who He is through deep theological study.

So let me begin to tell you our story and start off with our Elder candidates:

Steve Price, I can remember there was a time when he was a bit sad that he was not considered as a Deacon in our previous church. I remember having a conversation with him to cheer him up and saying something to the effect of how he didn’t know whether God had a different calling on his life in the future, (this isn’t said to in any way downplay the role of a Deacon in the Lord’s Church). We had no clue at the time that we’d be planting a couple years later, much less that those very words would be lived out with Steve stepping into the role of an Elder candidate, to be ordained on Palm Sunday of 2020 when he preaches his first sermon. Steve’s natural abilities to lead and his love of God’s Word have allowed him in a much smaller church to be developed and has grown leaps and bounds.

We originally had 2 Elder candidates, but with one stepping down unexpectedly, it left Steve to cover the role of both and take on the respective responsibilities on his own, until Randy Fao was called in.

Randy Fao, is a huge Samoan teddy bear, who loves Jesus passionately, can hold a tune better than most R&B singers and gratefully accepted a call to prayerfully consider stepping into the role of an Elder candidate. Randy originally served on our worship team along with his wife Rachel (please see our story on Worship Director below) and definitely meets all the biblical qualifications for an Elder. To have witnessed the continued growth in Randy has been amazing. To watch his love and hunger for solid biblical doctrine (Reformed) and lead his family is so encouraging.

Rachel Fao has been with us since day one but served with and alongside two previous Worship Directors, both who also left unexpectedly, and she rose to the occasion, has led us, and actually raised the bar in how we worship. She has a deep love of God’s Word so she takes extremely seriously the task of only including biblically sound lyrics in what we sing in corporate worship, knowing that folks will most likely forget our sermons, but the songs will stay with them long past Sunday. This is such a big deal for us knowing that many Worship Directors don’t do this, they play most popular Christian songs without taking the time to examine the theology in them. To see her lead/ direct our worship team, develop a youth choir, and serve on multiple levels in the church makes me one proud pastor/ brother. She is humble and has also taken on the task of developing the next generation of worship leaders which include my daughter Natalia, as well as her daughter JoJo, there’s a small clip above.

As for our Deacons, we’re blessed with Eddie Moreno, now ordained and installed, his wife Catrina “Cat” Moreno, also ordained and installed, as well as Maribel Abarca, who is presently a candidate, all three are serving and leading our church with administration, and mercy ministry efforts.

Eddie is a brother who does whatever is needed, nothing is ever beneath him, and his energy to just get things done is awesome. He brings much wisdom to the team, and of our original Deacon candidates, he is the only one left. We’ve had 4 others step down at different stages of our planting journey. Watching Eddie lead his family and grandkids, take younger men under his wing and train them up from everything to set up, taking up offerings, just demonstrates a servant’s heart all around. We’re so thankful for his leadership!

Cat Moreno, Eddie’s wife, stepped up and into the role of a Deacon/ Administrator when our previous Admin also left unexpectedly. She has a history in finance and taxes, but a love for serving Christ surpasses the others. She is humble, adamant about being good stewards, and has helped serve on and support multiple other ministries too, it is always encouraging to see her interact with out church family. I’ve seen her growth from having watched her invite homeless folks into our services when we were in the park to her advising on financial issues now and bringing guidance shows just how the Lord always provides for our needs (Ph. 4:19).

Maribel Abarca, actually heard about RCLA being planted in Lynwood, and since she’s a Lynwood resident, she stopped by shortly after we started. We had just moved from the park into the Lutheran building (present location) and her family was quickly brought into fellowship, discipleship, and her entire family was baptized (Dad, Mom, and 3 kids). Maribel’s husband Tony serves on our A/ V team, and Maribel was invited to contemplate Consistory as a Deacon candidate, which she’s been preparing for and serving as for the last year, or so. She stepped in when there was a need and serves with joy. She also has experience in finance/ banking and brings wisdom and guidance to our Consistory and church. She’s always demonstrated a character of humility and love of Jesus and His people.

Liz Price, Steve’s wife, is a life-long teacher in the LBC, has supported our church planting efforts since day 1. She’s helped serve in other areas and actually established a Women’s Ministry soon after we planted, she’s the most amazing servant, and when it comes to organizing, leading, and decorating for special events, watch out… she’s on it. Our Children’s Ministry leader also left unexpectedly (horrible pattern, right?) and Liz didn’t take long to agree to step in, lead, re-organize, and gather up a team twice the previous size, to help her succeed in re-launching our kids’ ministry. The fact that she’s an experienced teacher is a huge plus for us.

We’ll be having one more Deacon step into candidacy next year, brother Bill Hilton, who’s been a Lynwood resident for 30+ years, we are confident he too will bring his giftings to our Consistory and help strengthen our existing team.

Then there are people like Kristina Camacho, Yvette Alvarez, and Diego & Sara Vallejo who are stepping up as a team to lead our Youth Ministry (yep, you guessed it, because our previous Youth Leader left unexpectedly too). They’ve recently recruited the likes of Paul Solórzano and Jerett Soto to joining their team. I’m excited about where they’ll be taking out Youth ministries too.

There are women like Ruby Morales, Kristina Camacho (again), and Edna Rubio (yes, my wife) to help lead the Women’s Ministries. We’ve got our set-up teams with Rudy Ruiz, Edwin Martinez, and a handful of teens. Speaking of teens, Diego Mercado, my 17 yr. old son, stepped in at the age of 15 to lead our A/ V team when (yep… right again) our previous sound guy unexpectedly left the church. Diego single handedly took on that role for over a year and now has Tony Abarca on the team, doing a great job.

As you’ve seen, many folks have stepped in to serve in roles that needed to be filled, but we’ve learned that we made many mistakes in planting this church. Because we needed roles to be filled, we handed out titles too quickly, we didn’t take our time to see how people would work under pressure, how they’d resolve conflict, work as a team, be cohesive, etc. So, after certain roles were vacant, we weren’t in hurry to fill them, but God has sovereignly brought these humble servants to step in, be developed, and lead alongside our team. Friends, God provides! Not just money, but the people, the right people to help do what we’ve been called to do… plant a Reformed, Confessional, liturgical, multicultural church in the hood that will plant other churches in the hood.

Please pray for our team, God has sovereignly brought this group of folks to lead His church here in Lynwood. We had to go through many things, situations, and circumstances to get to this point, which is exactly where we need to be. I’m so grateful for these folks and what they bring of themselves to our team.

As we read in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” be reminded that in ministry, it’s ok to never get tired of doing “more” for God; feel free to stay in the fight, feel free to not throw in the towel, feel free to stick it out and see how God will use you… why? Because Jesus’ conditions weren’t perfect either, and He stuck it out for us, He voluntarily went to the Cross for us, He didn’t give up. Support your pastors, support your leaders, give all you can for Christ… for He is worthy. There is no such thing as the Spiritual gift of “comfort” and “selfishness” is not a biblical qualification for anything. In a world where everyone wants something new, I lift up and honor those who are willing to step up to the plate, and go the long haul to get it done… this isn’t for us, it’s for King Jesus!

 

It’s that time of year again…

Money can be such a problem, right? Holiday shopping, end of year budget crunching and end of year “asks” for donations, etc. As believers we are not to let money become an idol, but at the same time it is needed for life and ministry. We cannot serve “God and money” and we do not preach a prosperity gospel promising folks health and wealth if only they’d invest in us… that’s not only a false teaching but plain heresy, treating Jesus as a 401K plan with a promised “high return for your investment”. So what do we do? Why is it such a big deal? Follow me here, ok?

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Imagine you were starting a business and you don’t have the start-up money. In this new business you won’t be selling any goods or merchandise and you won’t be offering any specific services in exchange for money, yet you have to continue to make money in order to stay in business. Does that sound crazy? But you’ve got a group of investors or partners who have agreed and pledged to help you start this business, but not all of them are committed at the same level.

Here are some of the business partner-types I’m talking about:

  • Sugar Rush – Super excited about starting the business, really pumped up, but excitement doesn’t last long; too much work, too much self-sacrifice, and not enough return on time or monies invested.
  • The Innovaters – love being on the cusp of new ideas, doing things different, they get a rush for being on the edge but when the idea is no longer new, it’s time to go.
  • Wax-On/ Wax-Off – people who are awesome, loving, and 100% on board… sometimes; what I mean is, they want to help you with this new business, but are super afraid of cutting ties to previous, long established, deep-rooted business and express doubt every other day.
  • My way or Highway – partners who are sold out for the start-up one day and willing to give everything up for the sake of its success, but leave when they don’t get their way.
  • The Left Behind Ones – partners who commit because of friendship and don’t want to be left behind but never follow through with investment of time, money, or support.
  • Ulterior Motives – partners who join the team for all the wrong reasons in hopes of fulfilling some personal agenda and when that doesn’t happen, they too abandon team.
  • Everything But My Money – these are the partners who are committed and business savvy entrepreneurs, who are studied, and claim to have much knowledge about this type of business, but they never truly invest in it.
  • The Post Men – these are the partners who are in it for the long haul, the folks that whether it’s raining, sleeting, or snowing they are committed to following through with their responsibilities to the team and start up. #GOLD

So why the heck would I start out a church planting blogpost talking about new businesses?

Because that is exactly what it’s like to plant a church! In order to plant, we needed to raise money, keep money coming in yet we don’t sell a product, don’t offer services in exchange for money, we want to reach out to our community and share our message, explaining to them that this is the greatest news ever, however, most of our community has long lost interest in the message we bring. The previous messengers have tainted the message itself or shared it in ways that instead of drawing people in, have actually pushed them away. Or the most common is that the message challenges present lifestyles, would cause too much change, and they’re not ready for that because the concept of God seems to distant, too far off, and in reality, just not real anymore.

What did I mean when I started off saying “It’s that time of year again…”?

It’s that time of year again in that we look at our budgets and see how much money was spent? Did we come under our budget or go over? What is it going to look like for next year? How much more money are we going to need? Where in the world are we going  get it? We’re not selling nothing nor offering services and many of our original partners have left, we’ve got new ones who say they are on board but they haven’t quite started investing yet? There are others who think what we’re doing is great, and come often but haven’t quite made a commitment to invest. What do we do?

We trust God and work our behinds off to raise the necessary funds we need to pay the bills so the church can keep its doors open, preach the Gospel, love on the neighborhood in the name of Jesus, and disciple/ teach/ and train those committed partners (church members) that they too would take others under their wing and do the same (discipleship). I’ve heard folks say all we need to do is preach the Gospel! That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. I mean, yes, let’s preach the Gospel HARD! Explicity, with clarity, and boldness… but who are we going to preach to if no one is in the pews. I’ve also read that church planters need shepherds and not entrepreneurs, that too is silly. Yes, the church needs shepherds to love the members, walk with them, encourage them, and have them follow us as we follow Christ.

But like I said, church planting is like starting a business, so we need to do more than just “preach”, more than “shepherd”, and although preaching is imperative and our main goal, it is not the only goal. We have to be resourceful, we have to network, we have to open our hands and ask for help… why? Because we need it! And if we truly believe in our message and our calling then we must not be ashamed or embarrassed of asking for help.

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The Apostle Paul asked for money to support the ministry, but he also made tents, he was bi-vocational. We can’t say we trust Jesus to “supply all our needs” (Ph. 4:19) and just sit around waiting for things to happen. Yes, we must have faith but we must also work hard at our calling. We can’t say we really, really need a job and say we trust Christ will get us that job yet never fill out applications, submit resumes, or follow up with potential employers and just wait for the job to fall from the sky, it doesn’t work that way.

I never knew how good I was at raising money until I had to depend on it in order to provide for my family. Seriously! As Christians, especially church planters, we can’t just sit around and wait for a check to fall out of the sky because someone heard our sermon online. We must reach into our communities, build relationships, get to know people, build trust, know their stories, pray for their needs, follow up with them, and share Jesus with them. We need to tell them God’s law, show them how they’ve broken it, explain to them the consequences, and then inform them of the glorious Good News of Jesus Christ, that their sins would be forgiven, that if they believe in the Jesus of the Bible, they’d be saved. And unfortunately, it takes money to be able to do these things, at least at the level of planting a church.

So why plant a church? Why go through all the hardship? Why subject yourself and family to all the struggles and heartaches? Because Christ is worth it! Because everyone needs to hear about Him, because… well, the Apostle Paul summarizes it pretty well, listen to his words:

Philippians 3:8-10

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

With that being said, today is #GivingTuesday and I’ll end this blog as I started by saying, “It’s that time of year again…” Would you please consider giving to Reformed Church LA? Would you consider us as one of the charities to give to, knowing that lives will be changed, not just for now, but forever as we proclaim the Gospel of Christ boldly, confidently, and accurately? Please know we’re grateful and our team of “Post Men” are grateful you’d trust in us and what God is doing through our lil church.

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If you feel led to give, please do so by clicking on this link here we’re registered with PayPal’s Giving Fund:

Give Here To Reformed Church LA

If you’re a visual person like me, here are some pictures of who we are, where we minister, and some of the beautiful people God has brought us together with.

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