Follow the way of the Cross! Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Happy New Year!!!

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I woke up this morning in Mexico with my granddaughter Isabella hanging on to my arm, best feeling ever!

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.

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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.

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Randy and Rachel Fao, she does an amazing job leading and directing our worship team, training up our next generation of worshippers, and rallying the women together for bimonthly meetings.

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.

Church hurt? “…forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:13

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, thanks for keeping up with me, us, and our church planting journey. Before I get too much into this blog post, my brotha’ Chris Marquez has been working on some new stuff for us, including this new logo…can you see what’s new about it? Probably only Lynwood folks will get it. Let me know when you see it!

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Back to the blog… not more than a week ago, as I was reviewing my sermon, a thought come to me, in my sermon I hoped to challenge or afflict the comfortable in our church as well as comfort the afflicted. I’d been reflecting and going over in my mind all of the lessons we’d learned in our church planting journey thus far! And with a major announcement coming in the new year, the reel in my mind kept replaying all the things we’d experienced. So many good things, many “not so good” things, moments we celebrated victoriously, as well as moments in which we mourned losses together. And as I was going over everything in my mind, I posted the following on Saturday December 22nd, 2018 at approximately 11am.

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Many people responded to this post, some in agreement, some discontent, and still others questioning it and requesting biblical support.

“Where does it say we need to be in church Rudy?” Uhmmm… Hebrews 10:25!

Why do we need to be a part of a church?

For fellowship (Acts 2:42), accountability (Gal. 6:1-5), for encouragement (1 Thess. 5:11), for discipleship (Matt. 28:18-20), to serve (1 Cor. 12:28), to give (2 Cor. 9:7), and even to be disciplined (Matt. 18:15-20) when need be…yes, discipline! I think it’s something that is not used much anymore. I’m not talking scarlet letter type discipline, but sometimes people need to be sat down, help them deal with sin, and be restored in love. What I’m saying is this, in order for these things to be happening, you have to be a part of a church. You can’t be church hopping, going to church every now and then, serving if you have spare time, and giving from what you have left. It just doesn’t work that way… If you’re at an established church, historic church, mega church, etc… you probably have no clue why this would even be so important to a church planter… but please, keep reading.

There were a few people that showed up to church on Sunday and said the post reminded them of their need to be there, and after the sermon on Sunday many people approached me saying that they needed to get more involved with the church to serve, and some even asked about becoming members of RCLA. This did NOT happen because of some fancy or eloquent speech I gave, but simply because God works through the preaching of His Word… not story telling, not endless testimonies, not hip schemes, great coffee or a cool lighting system and fog machine! Now, please don’t misunderstand me either, I’m not saying that churches with these things aren’t godly, or that God doesn’t work through them… I know that God will honor a needle of truth in a haystack of error, so why not work in churches that have cool names, fog machines, and tell stories instead of preaching. Those types of things might fill seats, but they don’t make disciples! Only solid preaching, true discipleship, fellowship, and accountability on a long term and consistent basis help grow mature believers.

One of my good friends and seminary professors, Dr. Chuck DeGroat, reached out to me via this post and said:

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I totally agree with Chuck, not just because I’m gonna tag him on this, or because he’s my professor, but because he’s a really smart guy and Professor of Pastoral Care at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. My response to him was that I agreed and would flush this out in my next blog, and VOILA!!! Here we are.

My original post, was not soft, nor do I think it was too harsh either…but it definitely shook some things and people up! There are people in my church (as well as outside) that needed to read that, as there were people that needed to hear the sermon on Sunday. It shook up some folks that were comfortable, as well as comforted some folks knowing they are giving and serving generously, sacrifically, and joyfully… Although I agree with my friend, and as he said perhaps my post needed some nuance of pastoral care, I think that there is alot of pastoral care already going on, alot… and sometimes pastors are not as stern as they need to be, could be, or should be! I’m saying this because as I mentioned in my last blog, I see too many churches drifting away from orthodox Christianity and playing into culture, luring people in with everything and anything other than the Gospel. This places us at RCLA, at odds with just about everybody! Seriosuly! To liberals we are conservatives and to conservatives we are liberals… it’s like we can’t keep everyone happy, and that’s okay…that’s not what I (we) are trying to do. We have an audience of One, we want to honor Christ, we want to raise people up to serve Him faithfully, to truly trust His Word, His commands, and not compromise biblical truths for cultural relevance. And sometimes, we need to go hard in the paint…in love! I think of how many toes Jesus stepped on, I also think of how many people His words were a salve to their hurting and pain.

Dr. DeGroat referenced church hurt, and he’s so right! So right in fact that we ourselves, the homie Celah and I, recorded an episode of “Grace And Two Fingers” on the subject of church hurt. The homies at “Brothers of Ash” also recorded a 2 part series on church hurt, it’s a real thing. So the issue definitely is being addressed! But…IMG_6400IMG_6401

There are also hard truths and people like Jackie Hill Perry have commented on it, and I can’t help but agree with her wholeheartedly too. Look at her post earlier this year:

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If it sounds like I’m agreeing with everyone and landing no where, it’s because I feel there needs to be a time to be pastoral, as my homie Dr. DeGroat mentioned, as well as a time to speak strong and in love, it must be done in love. We don’t need to be hurtful, although what we say can hurt, right? Who likes to be told they’re wrong? Who likes to be rebuked? Who likes to be told they’re doing wrong? But that’s what the Word of God does… doesn’t it? It’s profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). I’ve been approached on more than one occasion about things I’ve said, how I’ve acted towards someone, or handled a situation. Sometimes it was to say thanks for having done something right, and other times it wasn’t. I have to be honest and say I don’t like being told I’m wrong, but if I’m a true believer and slave to Christ, I MUST take it on the chin, and readjust as needed, and it’s usually my attitude that is being realigned. I believe it was Spurgeon who said that, “Many are troubled because the Gospel interferes with their sin”. Amen to that! Who likes to be told we’re in sin?

I’m grateful for people like Chuck, people like Celah @ Grace And Two Fingers, the homie Jack Barry at Brothers of Ash, as well as the many other people that speak to this, and acknowledge the need for the church to step up their game, and us who know this is a problem stepping in to help do something about it. The church is full of hypocrites, full of sinners, and full of people who hurt others because they (we) are also hurting. Hurt people, hurt people!

I’ve got many stories of how I too was hurt, I mean many times… by people that I thought cared about me, people that were supposed to love me and protect me… people that should’ve been concerned with my emotional, mental, and spiritual health, but instead chose to be selfish with certain decisions and guise it as concern and love. I could’ve walked away from the church too, with GREAT reason… but as sista’ Jackie Hill Perry said, the same thing that hurt me, God used to heal me. Not the same church, though… but universally speaking, we are all one church, right?

I’d be willing to speak to anyone who is currently struggling with having been church hurt, I promise to be a safe place to hear you, pray for you, and encourage you. And to keep it even more real, if I’ve been someone who has hurt you, please contact me privately, and tell me so that I may make ammends. So what does this all have to do with church planting? Everything… because real people, with real feelings, with real problems, with real pain, and real needs are in every one of our churches, or staying away from our churches because of situations that caused them pain. At least that’s what we’ve experienced at Reformed Church of Los Angeles. And at RCLA we’ve gone through ALOT in our short time of existence, and because we don’t know it all, we’re constantly trying to learn to do better and give Christ our best, because He deserves nothing less. We want to shepherd His people, train them up, and challenge them to step up and step out for Him… to do ministry, not just occupy a pew seat on Sundays. Church planting is hard, hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’ll say it again, I can’t see myself doing anything else… I love teaching people about Jesus, sharing a Gospel presentation EVERY SINGLE Sunday, I love inviting people to do life with us and seeing their very lives change before our eyes as they draw nearer and nearer to Christ. And sometimes, we need to be reminded of who we are in Christ and that we are expected to behave certain ways, and do certain things…not to get saved but because we are saved. Work out your salvation brethren, with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13).

But as I come to and end for this blog post, I’ll end it with my original post from last week…and say this with love, now nuanced with some pastoral care because it can be a tight spot between a rock and a hard place to say these things… but nonetheless, I say again:

Dear Christian,
If you’re not a part of a church, you’re in sin!
If you’re comfortable in church, stop it!
If you’re not serving, you better get busy!
If you’re serving w/ an ungrateful heart, stop it!
If you’re not giving faithfully, sacrificially, and generously, check your heart not your bank account.
Are you listening and paying attention to your pastor’s sermons, allowing God to speak to you through His preached Word?

Get right w/ yourself by getting right w/ God…His mercies are new EVERY morning, great is His faithfulness…

That is all, carry on…

I think I might just be recording an episode on the HOOD GRACE PODCAST about “Church Hurt” to be able to talk about and help folks who are working through this and help them if they’ve stayed away from church because of it, while at the same time encouraging us all to not let that get in the way of fellowshipping with the saints, being members of a solid biblically based church, serving, giving, and supporting kingdom work.

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 If this blog spoke to you and think someone else can benefit from it, please feel free to share it!

Also, please check out Dr. Chuck DeGroat’s books that he’s written, I’ve read them all, and I must say, they are GOOD! He’s got a great way of getting through to Pastors to care for others, as well as ourselves… but that’s another blog in the making.

“Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness”

“Toughest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead, and Love the Difficult People in Your Life — Including Yourself”

“Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self”

 

 

 

 

What I’ve learned in church planting this year! Proverbs 19:20 “Listen to advice and accept instruction…”

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It’s a Saturday night in December and I’ve been reflecting on many things as we bring our first official year as a church plant to a close. Here are some things I’ve noticed and learned in no certain order or priority…ready? I’m gonna keep it 100…Here goes!

Not everyone who says is for you, is really for you!

Not everyone who says they’re going to support you does!

Not everyone who says they will partner financially with you does!

Not everyone who says they will have your back does!

Out of sight out of mind is a real thing!

Church planting can be a lonely experience!

Church planting is a very scary experience!

Church planting makes you depend on God for everything…really!!!

The term “core team” should be replaced with the term “launch team” because they don’t look the same a year later.

There are also certain trends I’ve noticed…I’m noticing many churches that say they’re reformed, but really aren’t, or at least it’s not really evident

Some historic churches have pulled away from the “reformed” name and adopted more seeker friendly approaches to doing ministry and abandoned the richness and beauty of the reformed tradition. Others that are new to the “reformed” faith are extremely zealous and passionate about their discovery and can push people away, becoming legalistic, and impose crazy pietistic expectations of all those that claim to be followers of Christ.

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Some churches are coming up w/ some really hip names for their church, they focus on what kind of coffee they’re going to serve, coming up w/ cool schemes or hooks to get people to come to church, and preach watered down sermons w/ little to no clear Gospel message at all. Jesus is love and that’s about it!

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On the flip side other churches are so focused on expository preaching that it would seem that the whole goal of preaching is to exposit…they’ll even parse Greek and Hebrew words, give profound explanations, exegete the Scripture, yet never bring their message to the Cross… while others will just reiterate that Jesus is love and that He’s got a purpose for your life, and that we shouldn’t worry because the best is still yet to come.

Artists, pastors, and even seminary professors are more and more avoiding talking about difficult subjects, evading controversial questions, throwing it back on the person who asked a difficult question and afraid to speak the truth in love. Why?

Pastors, especially church planters, are not being supported sufficiently, they’re forced to focus more on fundraising at times and being bi-vocational, and less on discipleship, and leadership development. Some churches talk a lot about training up leaders, and will even pour time and resources into them, yet never let them lead. Decisions are made from fear, ministry has become competitive w/ other churches, and people and resources could be better used to plant more churches.

Some churches believe, or operate under the assumption that if people are being kept busy they are being discipled…wrong! Busyness doesn’t equal discipleship! Some churches have great vision, and mission, but no team to get it going. Others have a ton of people, but people that aren’t committed… some pastors are burning out because they have to do everything themselves… others don’t do much and are in it for the paycheck…it’s become a job and there’s no more passion driving them.

I’ve noticed some folks have been discipled for years now, and they’re still not being challenged to take things up a notch…I think that’s a horrible sin. Same people in the same groups doing the same thing but haven’t multiplied, haven’t grown, and have no desire to break out of the church social group model but because they go to the same church and are gathered in the name of “the church” they still consider it a small group, but it’s really more of a social group. Not much depth, no real accountability, nor are they being challenged to step up and step out to lead, to multiply, but instead remain stagnant…

Why am I saying this? Because we’re figuring a lot of this stuff out as we go. We’ve got our ideas, our mission statement, vision frame, and BIG God dreams… zero comfort! Zero chill! Zero compromise! Zero cage stage! Zero desire to fail God! We don’t have it all down, we don’t have it all together, but because of all the stuff I’ve written here, it makes us wanna do good! It makes us wanna step out of comfort zones, go the way of the Cross as we do ministry…

We think we’ve got great theology, but we’d rather do outreach, evangelism, and discipleship, than spend hours on social media arguing with someone we don’t know and will probably never meet! We think our doctrine is solid and our high view of Christ, confessions, creeds, and the Lord’s Supper demonstrates that…as the Lord’s Supper every Sunday is a pretty big deal…not just in remembrance of Him… but moreso that it’s actually spiritual nourishment. You see our baptism and identity is in being a part of God’s covenant family… and now that’s a big deal. #HoodGrace

 

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No shade…just observations…

No arrogance…just tryna figure it all out and share our experiences…

No attitude…just submission to Christ and wanting to help others succeed in their quest to serve the LORD and do it wisely… Grace & Peace!!!

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“Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God Who gives the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:7

So much has happened in the last month and change since my last blog. We partnered with the city of Lynwood again in October to host Trunk or Treat at Lynwood Park, this year it seems there were so many more people than last year. We must’ve given candy and church invitations to 1,000 people that night. img_5933.jpg

We also held baptisms again bringing our total for this year to 29; almost 30 people being brought into covenant with God through our young church plant.

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And we also had to make some changes and readjustments that were hard. We’d started a Spanish Bible study in the summer and it just didn’t give the results we’d expected or hoped for. With being such a young church plant, the last thing we want to do is stop ministries, but even more so is we don’t want to waste time and resources that aren’t being effective. Our group started strong and then dropped to only 7 or 8 people, half it’s original size so we made a decision to stop and recalibrate.

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At about the same time my wife and another sister from church (Denise) had been talking about starting up a Spanish Women’s Group and then it clicked. The Spanish Women’s Group might be what God uses to help us gather a team and grow it to later use as a launch team for a Spanish service.

And one of the biggest surprises for us this season has been that our church marched in Lynwood’s Christmas Parade, well… not the whole church, it was actually our Kidz Ministry that did and they represented us very well. Here are my daughter Natalia and Jojo Fao (both on the worship team, by the way) holding up RCLA’s banner.

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But that’s not the biggest news! A couple of months ago, a friend of ours whom we got mad love and respect for reached out to us, wanting to share that he felt he was being called to plant a church in his hometown of Hesperia, CA. an area known as the High Desert. We figured we’d connect him to our friend Eddy Aleman, General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, and after a dope lunch meeting we walked away planning how RCLA would be his sending church. Wait….what?!?!

Our brother Chris Centola was as fired up as we were… we weren’t really sure what it’d look like to plant a church while we were still officially less than a year old. But that day and a few conversations later, we were thinking about what it would look like to plant RCHD (Reformed Church High Desert) and then our conversations drifted much, much further than the High Desert… what if… nah… but what if… but then a few weeks later, as we were preparing to gear up to begin training and coaching for a late 2019 church plant, our brother Centola got a call extended to him from a church in Boise, Idaho. We talked about that, what it would look like to stay in Hesperia and plant vs. going to Idaho and taking over a church. I shared with him my story of prepping to plant in early 2017 and similarily getting a call extended to me from a church in Florida. It wasn’t easy deciding, but after much prayer, conversation, and thought with my family, I declined the offer and followed the way of the Cross, the one that was less convenient, the one that required much more faith, the one that if it worked, it was because God’s hand was all over it. IMG_5937.jpg

It looks like the homie Centola will be going to Idaho, please pray for him and that God would use him in a mighty way there, that the church he will lead would grow in depth, in numbers, and eventually multiply; I’m sure it will because his heart is in church planting. Pray for his wife and kids as they prepare for a big transition.

So going back a bit to what I said earlier about Centola’s potential RCLA church plant got us thinking, got us wondering, and got us praying… what if… nah… but what if…. even though Centola would not be planting, the conversations and prayers Chris Marquez and I have had still linger, they’re are not allowing us to be calm and have actually got us riled up for… nah, that’s just plain crazy… but what if… Ya’ll stay tuned, we’re gonna have a HUGE announcement in the New Year. We’ll be sharing something with ya’ll the first week of January.

What if…

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“O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.” Psalm 30:2

Lately I’ve been doing a ton of self reflection, my week long trip to South Florida for a church planters conference got me thinking…introspecting…evaluating…and examining myself…my walk w/ Jesus…my shepherding of His children…my love and care for my 1stministry, my family…and how am I caring for myself? Last week I wrote and posted how I needed to establish healthy boundaries in my life and ministry for my own well being as that as the well being of my family. I’d noticed I gained even more weight, my back was messed up, I wasn’t sleeping right, I felt drained physically and emotionally, and I noticed I was easily irritable and to be honest, I think there was a HUGE margin for me to get some “act right” and be a better ambassador for Christ.

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So when I come home, I’m immediately overwhelmed with all the stuff I wasn’t able to do while I was gone (insert face palm emoji here), church, family, school… you name it. BUT… I maintained, I started taking some time to gradually ease into everything, I made sure I started eating better. I met with good friends for different reasons, and one of them was w/ my homie Chris Unruh, he’s a secret agent that works for…nah, just kidding. But he is a really health conscious person who loves Jesus and heard me out and graciously recommended I try “intermittent fasting” and I’m glad to say I’m down about 7 lbs. and I know that might not seem like much, but for me… man, ya’ll don’t even know. Why am I saying all this? Because as I realized I’d missed assignments for school, I promise you when I checked they weren’t there, must be spiritual warfare (insert eye wink emoji here). But seriously, for one of my classes I had to study, memorize, and tear apart the Psalms. Here is one of my greatest accomplishments in doing so. I got to Psalm 119 and in case you didn’t know, Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible with a total of 176 verses but check out this fact:

  • With the exception of 2 verses (84 and 121) every singe verse (total of 174) in some way, shape, or form address God’s law and the psalmist emphasizes his dire need of them, and the fate of the wicked (vs. 119), faithless (vs. 158), and insolent that don’t care (vs. 85).
  • Here are some examples of what is referenced in almost 99% of Psalm 119 referencing God’s expressed commands for us: God’s law, His testimonies, His ways, Your precepts, statutes, commandments, rules, word, promise, faithfulness, appointment, judgments, and pledge.

It kinda’ makes me wonder why in the world, would the author of this Psalm, say over and over and over again, just how much God’s expressed commands meant so much to him…the only think I can think of is because he in fact DID love God’s law, he in fact DID know how important they were to his being, and DID want the hearers of this prayer to be understood with ZERO misinterpretation. What does this mean to me? That I too must love the Lord’s Word, that I too must accept what my life and ministry will be without them. At a time when I’d just learned that Eugene Patterson has entered hospice care and that his time on this side of heaven is quickly approaching an end, I was blessed to be assigned his book “Answering God, The Psalms As Tools For Prayer” and was greatly encouraged as well as given a clearer insight into the Psalms.

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Eugene Patterson talked about the Psalms being tools to help us better communicate with God through prayer. He hi-lighted how the text or words in the Psalms have a special characteristic and feel to them and that “they were prayed by people who understood that God, and not their feelings were at the center. God, not their souls, was the issue. God, not the meaning of life, was critical” (pg. 14). This is so encouraging for me, because in our context of ministry, we are faced with a people group that have been conditioned to which we always have to “feel” something and here the author tells us that our feelings are NOT at the center, but God is. And how is one to know who God is unless they meet Him in His Word? Just last night at our Spanish Bible study, we were given the opportunity to teach an introduction to Reformed Confessions/ Creeds (although that was not on the agenda) and the person asked, “Why is it that our church or type of church (Pentecostal) do not teach these things?” OMG, we were amazed at the opportunity that God had given us to share such golden information!

Patterson’s book goes on to elaborate more on the gathered group of people that are assembled, “attentive before God, participating in a common posture…offering themselves and each other to their Lord” (pg. 18). How beautiful is that? Patterson also makes a reference that prayer is primal speech, meaning that we don’t get taught how to pray, we just do it and then get better at it and mature. I’m reminded of how many different feelings and emotions are found in the Psalms, how such intense, raw, and genuine feelings are brought forth with such clarity that anyone who’s experienced hurt, anger, abandonment, fear, anxiety, and any other thing a human can feel, is found there. Today I was at the Gospel Coalition West Coast Conference and bumped into lots of friends, pastors, and co-laborers in the kingdom of different sorts, and one of them was a brother whom we’d taken some church planting classes together and I asked a general question about their church plant and got some news that shook me. He’d lost close to a hundred people, for different reasons, some of them were leadership, elders, and people he thought he could trust…people he never thought would’ve abandoned him. I instantly thought of our own story, and how we’d also gone through similar things. Things we’d been warned about but swore up and down that would never happen to “OUR” team…yeah right! Psalm 55 instantly came to my head and as I heard my friend share his story of pain, his words had a pang of hurt in them, pain that I’d too experienced, pain I kept to myself, but these words rang so true to me too:

12 Now it is not an enemy who insults me—
otherwise I could bear it;
it is not a foe who rises up against me—
otherwise I could hide from him.
13 But it is you, a man who is my peer,
my companion and good friend!
14 We used to have close fellowship;
we walked with the crowd into the house of God.

Why do I bring this up? Because as David, a man after God’s own heart was betrayed, felt pain, felt despair, so too we as pastors experience the same. Yet there is hope, we read in Psalm 27 the following words in the opening:

“The Lord is my light and the one who saves me.
So why should I fear anyone?
The Lord protects my life.
So why should I be afraid?

And it ends this way:

13 I truly believe
I will live to see the Lord’s goodness.
14 Wait for the Lord’s help.
Be strong and brave,
and wait for the Lord’s help.

Patterson says in this book that “The Psalms train us in conversion language, from talking about God to talking to God” (pg. 42) and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve come to learn how we all have a story, none of them are the same, yet God uses them all for His glory, even ugly stories like David’s. Patterson also says this, which I loved, he writes, “There are no storyless prayers. Story is to prayer, what the body is to the soul…and prayer is to story what the soul is to the body, the life without which it would be a corpse.” What kind of prayer is your story at this precise moment? Think about that for a second. What prayer would your story inspire today? This week? This stage or phase of life, or ministry? The Psalms are so dope, encouraging, and a fresh reminder that when things are bad…really bad, others have also experienced those same emotions, and they trusted God…and He came through! Why wouldn’t He do that for us too? I pray that this longer than usual post encourages you to never forget the Psalms, be reminded that your life and life story are prayers in the making, don’t keep them to yourselves. Share them… the good, the bad, and the ugly! God will redeem it all for Himself anyways.

“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord show you his kindness and have mercy on you. May the Lord watch over you and give you peace.”’ Numbers 6:24-26

I’ll close with some pictures of just a few people we connected with at The Gospel Coalition’s West Coast Conference in Fullerton this week. And in case you’re wondering, NO! None of the pictures here includes the pastor I was talking to about the problems he experienced at his church. But you can do me a favor and pray for him and his church, God knows who he is.

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This man needs no introduction, my brotha’ Adam and I had the pleasure of meeting and chopping it up w/ Ligon Duncan…so grateful for his ministry and passion to teach and preach! Follow his daily posts and F.B. Meyer quotes on IG @ligonduncan
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Me and the homie been following each other for quite some time, dope to meet in person. Follow him on IG @szietlow 
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We had a chance to meet Yvette and hang out with her in person. She’s been following RCLA on social media for some time. Her story is so encouraging and to hear how God is growing her is AMAZING. Follow her on IG @dearyvette
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Some times you end up being good friends w/ people you get into Facebook arguments with…HAHAH Dan is awesome, loves Jesus, and has a Spanish ministry specifically to Cuba. Pray for his radio station “Faro de Redención”. Make sure to follow him @faroderedencion 

Come to Me…and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Can I be honest for a minute??? Man… I’m tired  ya’ll… seriously tired! It seems like this past month has been one long whirlwind of a time where much of what i’m doing seems to blend into everything else (which isn’t a bad thing). But I’m tired yo!!! Last time I checked in I talked about a bunch of recent stuff I’d been doing and things we were planning for…well, like I said, it’s been a whirlwind 3 weeks or so and I’m drained… physically drained. I know I’ve been doing “Dos Mucho” or “2 much” for all of ya’ll non-Spanish speaking scholars, so I’m getting ready to set up some healthy boundaries, but first let’s take a selfie… (sorry, bad humor) but first, let me come to Jesus, and there I will find my rest.

I’m sitting in the Fort Lauderdale/ Hollywood Airport in Florida right now as I wait for my flight, and realized just how tired I am. I was out here for almost 6 days for a church planter retreat and some training, but I’ll get into that in a bit. But first, let me update ya’ll on what’s been happening in these last 3 weeks or so. The Lynwood Commitment took place on Saturday September 22nd at Lindbergh Elementary, and approximately 200 people from the community, schools, parks, and churches came out to support our beautification project. Here are some pics including a mural more than 60 yards long and close to 12 feet high:

The following weekend we went hard in our Unity Service that we partnered w/ our friends at Greater Emmanuel Temple in Lynwood Park. It was AMAZING!!! White, black, brown, Samoan, Filippinos, and everything in between exalting the name of Christ, taking church out to the streets, combining our cultures and traditions to honor God and then being true to our multiple cultures, we broke bread ya’ll… and it was beautiful. There was BBQ, tacos, fruit, Portos, pan dulce, and even 2 separate forms of communion options. Our friends from G.E.T. had prepackaged elements distributed, and we at RCLA went with a more traditional home cooked bread and wine. It was a beautiful thing to hear our combined worship teams sing some dope Gospel music, solid theological music w/ In Christ Alone, but the cherry on top was hearing our multiethnic worship team sing “Tu Estás Aqui” in Spanish. Check us out:

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Our combined worship teams and leaders of the Unity Service. 

This video shows our combined worship teams closing out our service with the doxology. Almost 300 persons in Lynwood Park on Sunday September 30th, 2018 coming together from two very distinct and different backgrounds, bringing church to the city, and honoring God. Local government officials such as Mayor of Lynwood Jose Luis Solache was present as well as members of the school board.

And that brings us to now… as I mentioned, I’ve been in Florida for almost a week. There is a large and generous church, Spanish River, in Boca Raton, Florida that invests time and resources into church plants literally ALL over the world. They are awesome!!! My wife and I had the great privilege of hanging out with church planters from Russia, South Africa, Scotland, Manchester, Brazil, Australia, Cuba, Eurasia, United Arab Emirates, Columbia, Canada, and ALL over the United States. We had a chance to be poured into, encouraged, hear stories from the church planting field, and it ended with a date night provided to us and our wives… so dope! Monday morning I was able to get Edna off to the airport and today, Tuesday afternoon I too am on my way back to L.A.

When Edna and I were lounging at the hotel, we were finally able to just connect for a bit and talk about all we’d experienced and she asked, “what’s the biggest take away for you?” and there were so many I didn’t know which to answer… but something a dear brother, Chan Kilgore said, he’s the new Director of Church Planting at Spanish River Church, they’d asked all the church planters and families to stand up and he said something like, “Take a look around. Do you see these people? You have no idea what they struggle with! You have no idea all that they suffer and struggle with!” and for a second I got a HUGE knot in my throat and started to tear up… because it’s true, unless you are a church planter, you can’t even begin to imagine. The late night phone calls and texts, the stress of having IT problems when you’re not there and away in Florida (SMH), the pressure of issues in the congregation that shouldn’t be happening yet they are… the problems with finances/ fundraising, denominational issues, lack of emotional/ spiritual support, not being able to really open up to just anybody for fear of being looked at like you’re crazy, marital problems because at times it seems the church is the wife and the wife the lover… there were so many things going through my mind at that moment when I heard Chan say those things, and I couldn’t help but cry. I thought to myself, “Dang, someone gets it!!!” Of course, Chan is also a church planter! And please don’t misinterpret, this is not a complaint, just a reality… but Chan didn’t finish there, he continued and said something like “They put up with the struggles and hard times because they love Jesus, they believe Jesus, and they care for their church and communities and are convinced that if they know Jesus, they too will work hard to let others know about Him”.

And I’m tired ya’ll… so tired! I’ve let my health go, I’ve not exercised, my back is messed up, my diet sucks, and it seems I’m always stressed and worried about something. But that ends today… I have to figure things out and set up some healthy boundaries, because I love my church, my community, and my family… I need to make sure that I’m around alot longer to preach the Gospel, to tell folks about Jesus… to tell them of the Bad News of what happens when our lives are apart from Christ, to give them the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and then to invite them into believe in Him, that they too might find themselve in His family. But first… before I do anything else, I need to come to Him…because He said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” so here I come Lord Jesus, let me find my rest in You; let me find that right combination for hard work and rest; let me lead well and give a great example; let me love you in a way that nothing will ever take Your place; and let not the church become an idol and I neglect You, nor my family.

I heard some great stories from the field, met some dope brothers, recorded some super fun podcasts while I was there too. Check out the “Hood Grace Podcast” this weekend and hear them, or… you can jump on my Facebook Wall and see our live video recordings of them too. Here are some pics of my time in Florida:

Before I close this blogpost out, I gotta give a HUGE shout out to our new friends and family in Christ. Spanish River Church is a large and generous church, but the generosity doesn’t always equate to dollar signs. Many of their members open up their homes to host church planters and their families for this annual retreat. We were blessed to be hosted by Chris and Merryl Reynolds, some of the most amazing and down to earth people we’ve ever met. They opened up the doors to their beautiful home and made us feel so welcomed, that I think that is one of the single best takeaways from this time in Florida. Here’s a picture of Merryl, Edna, and I right after church on Sunday as she took us out to eat lunch on the beach. Chris loves golf almost as much as Jesus (JK) so he was out on the course, but thank you so much Chris and Merryl for the love and trust you showed us.

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As I pray to God about how to get myself on a strict time management, diet, and exercise regimen, I ask that you pray for me, my family, and our church. That I’d be a good steward of my health and time, not neglect my family, my personal studies, or my schoolwork and that I would honor God above all else. Why am I being transparent with all this? My homie Aldo, Pastor of Reconcile Church in Miami said in our podcast recording this week, that often Latinos can want a pastor who practically wears a red cape and doesn’t really need Jesus as much as they do. He said, our culture tends to gravitate to the holier than holy pastor that has it all together, and Aldo is right. That’s not me! I need Jesus just as much, if not more, than every single person who walks into RCLA. Lord help me, Lord help us, Lord have mercy!

For this I toil… that He powerfully works within me. – Colossians 1:29

As I finish sermon prepping for this Sunday (don’t judge me… it’s done already) and going over it, I will be preaching a recap of our RECAST series that we dove into this summer as we recast vision for our church. We felt it necessary with the changes we’ve had in leadership and our church growth. But as I was doing the exegesis on the text I’ll be using, at the very end… I read Paul’s words to the church in Colossae, and it’s almost as if I hadn’t seen them all week.

There’s been so much that has happened in these last few weeks, stuff that has caused much grief, much joy, much stress, and much relief… in other words, just your average church planting journey. Our Men’s Group has experienced significant growth with just a handful of guys up to almost 15 now.

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I’ve been back out on that handball court with a group of homies early Saturday mornings and we get a chance to talk smack, laugh and joke around, but then we pray for safety, a good witness to those around us, and then we get to playin’ a game we love so much. I guess you could say it’s turned into a small ministry. The best part though is when we’re done playing, we’ll sit down on a nearby bench and check in with eachother, share how our week has gone, open up with struggles, encourage and pray for one another…THAT PART RIGHT THERE THO…praying for eachother. Man, it’s been amazing chopping it up w/ these dudes and just being real. I’m grateful for these brothers…
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The fellas early morning prayer before we got to playin’ handball at South Gate Park.

I’ve also been doing quite a bit of traveling too! Our denomination is going through some changes, and I was invited to participate in a small group with some pretty amazing men and women of God who are prayerfully seeking to offer some possible scenarios for us moving forward. After almost 400 years, I think it’s overdue and I’m grateful to have my voice, that of my church, and many others like us, heard, considered, and included. It’s a great feeling when someone wants you present at the table, and with a voice, not just to make the group look different. As much as I appreciate being there, it does take a toll on my church responsibilities, family time, and schoolwork (Graduating from Western Theological Seminary in May PTL). Here’s a picture of our last meeting in Chicago:

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The Reformed Church in America’s 2020 Vision Group

Yesterday my morning started off at Patria Coffee in Compton, which is owned by a fellow brother from City Church Compton, another RCA church plant. At Patria you’ll often find Steve Shin welcoming you with a smile, an introduction, and a handshake when you walk in. Steve is a Youth Pastor at Hope Central Watts, our churches have gone on multiple Youth Retreats up in the mountains… and Steve usually leads the way, he’s awesome. One of my best friend, Jose Hernandez, is the Lead Pastor there… they’re doing great work in Watts. On the counter at Patria are some amazing vegan coffee cake, conchas, and raspberry poppy seed loaves… yes, I said vegan, but you’d never know unless I told you. These super dope and healthy pastries are supplied by Whiskful Pastries, owned by Wendy Ortega, an awesome young lady who is a part of our church, RCLA in Lynwood. I remember taking this pic, thanking God for how 3 churches in the hood are coming together by way of a coffee shop. I was there again today for multiple meetings and at one time I counted 4 pastors in there at the same time. So dope!

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Pastor Steven Shin at Patria Coffee in Compton w/ Whiskful Pastries from Lynwood on display.

After this I ran back (actually I drove… but I could use the running) to Lynwood for another meeting with my co-pastor Chris Maquez, and the homie Pastor Nisan Stewart of Greater Emmanuel Temple. You see, we’ve got something in the cooker for Sunday September 30th. We’re gonna close our church buildings down that day and worship together in Lynwood Park. We’re taking church to the city, with a UNITY SERVICE.  Our worship teams will be bringing some heat together in both English and Spanish and we’re inviting the city in to join us. Our Mayor and other leaders have assured us they’ll be in attendance.

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Pastors Rudy Rubio and Chris Marquez of RCLA w/ Pastor Nisan Stewart of Greater Emmanuel Temple preparing for our UNITY SERVICE in Lynwood Park.

And then we’ve got our kick off of the LYNWOOD COMMITMENT this weekend! RCLA has come alongside the city of Lynwood, Lynwood Unified School District, Public Works, and Parks & Recreation to host a series of beautification projects. The first one will be at Lindbergh Elementary, almost where Lynwood borders Compton and Watts. The principal, Dr. Navar, is amazing in helping us gather more troops of students and parents. We’ll be cleaning, painting, picking up trash, but the gem is a huge mural that will be painted by local Lynwood Artist Saul Casas Jr, BKA @AmoeArte. I’ve had the pleasure of working w/ his wife Audrey on other community efforts, they are a family on mission and we’re honored to work on this project under his leadership. Here’s a pic of them at the Watts Towers, oh and by the way… by the way, Audrey is running for Board of Trustees at Compton College, you know we’ve got her back.

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Audrey and Saul Casas Jr. (@AmoeArte) at the Watts Towers

We’ve already started planning next year’s summer camp, an immigration conference for Lynwood, Compton, and Watts residents, as well our first Spoken Word/ Hip-Hop Fundraiser at RCLA… so you can see now why this post is titled with this verse from Colossians… for this I toil, but just before that the Apostle Paul also mentioned that it’s all so that “we may present everyone mature in Christ” and that my friends is the goal. All we do, we do for Him… for His name, for His glory, for His honor, and that many would come to know Him too. Of our original 30+ people that were a part of our launch, almost 15 have left, for different reasons. We would have NEVER thought that would happen, but people change and move on, and we bless them. We don’t mourn, we celebrate their having given of themselves to help us launch a church. We also celebrate all the new people that God has brought in, many folks hungry for God, thirsty to learn, and eager to serve… how can we not celebrate that. We set out to grow the church and prayed for 100 people at the end of our 1st year. Well, our official launch was just 6 months ago… and we broke the 100 mark, not because of any gimmicks… we give people Jesus! We just preach His Word, the Holy Spirit does the rest… we work our tails off to honor Him, and spread His message to all. Celebrate with us and if you’ve got a couple of minutes, check out our video updating all thats happened in the last year since we started gathering. Thanks for following, reading, praying, and supporting us… we’re grateful!

You can also check us out at:

“Hood Grace Podcast” 

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