What is Reformed worship?


That’s a question I’ve been asking for quite some time now. I’ve been to churches that at one time bore the label reformed but have since moved away from it. I’ve been to churches that claim to be reformed but are only soteriologically Calvinistic, and I’ve been to churches that play Bethel, Hillsong, and a host of other worship style music made known by groups of people labeled as heretics. I’ve been to historic reformed churches that never mention Jesus in their music, and I’ve been to reformed churches that play hymns and psalms only, some with a piano, others with an organ, and others with no instruments at all whatsoever. All these have some form of “reformedness” in their name, history, or doctrine.

Reformed Church Los Angeles worship team (Rachel Fao, Steven Tizcareño on drums, Natalia Rubio, Jojo Fao, and Oralia Rebollo)

So what is reformed worship? That’s a great question and you’ll probably get different answers depending on who you talk to. There’ll be those that claim the RPW, or regulative principal of worship, and then even within that RPW circle, there are levels of how that’s played out. What separates Regulative Principal from Normative Principal. What do we go by? What the Bible explicitly commands or whatever the Bible does not explicitly forbid? Well, I’ve seen the way both sides do it and to be honest… I’m not sure I can identify with either extreme position. We find ourselves in that tension between the two. We can definitely see both sides, they both have merit, and can also both be dangerous. Dangerous to what? Well, I’d say as we endeavor to worship God in spirit and truth as instructed in John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Now before you try to jump me or call me out… we know that worship of God is much more than song, however, I am specifically addressing how we worship God with and through song. I’m sure for some of you reading this, like myself, have often asked, what exactly does it mean to worship God “in spirit and truth”? Being Latino, the biggest conclusion was to worship God with all that I am and how He made me. Because I’m Latino, I’m used to worshipping a certain way, in a way that truly exemplifies my culture. We lift holy hands, we sing at the top of our lungs, the music is loud, the singing passionate, tears frequently roll down cheeks, and smiles adorn our faces as we lift our voices to honor our Savior. We worship Him according to His truth, to His Word, and to exalt Him, not our selves.

But the truth is this, this type of worship is just not commonly found in most Reformed circles. For many people of color, it’s only natural for us to raise our voices and honor Him who saved us, it’s not enough to just sing theologically accurate songs, we need to sing them with all of our hearts, and we need to mean those words with all of our strength, that’s what we call worshipping God in spirit and truth. I think that for us to do so in any other way is to deny how He’s wired us and that would just be wrong.

There are many, if not most, Reformed churches that don’t have this style of worship, it’s most often very quiet, not much emotion or expressive passion, but doctrinally sound singing. (Disclaimer: I’ve heard this referred to as “white worship”, I don’t use nor approve of this term). This is a very real thing and important subject for people of color in Reformed circles, and they (we) don’t really care for that style of worship. Why is this even a thing for me? Well, as we endeavor to plant confessionally Reformed churches in hard places like Wilmington, San Bernardino, Santa Ana, and Phoenix, these places are all under resourced communities of color, referred to as “the hood” and to sing Psalms only, as some say is the only way to worship God, would be pretty awkward… not wrong, just awkward. Some churches welcome a piano, others much prefer the beloved organ, while others still prefer to sing without any instruments at all, but only “a capella,” these too would be awkward in the hood.

Some churches are okay with psalms and hymns, others prefer EP (exclusive psalmody) or psalms only, while others still stay away from both and focus mainly on contemporary style worship. And here’s the reason for this post altogether, our church isn’t your typical Reformed church, we’re an anomaly trying to figure out how to be true to what we believe in the Bible, true to how God has wired us as a multiethnic church of not just blacks or whites, but mainly Latinos, Samoans, and Asians! We want to bring the deep truths of God’s Word to a community in a language and style they can relate to and understand. You see, if they can understand, then the easier they can know the Lord, repent and turn to Him, fall in love with Him deeply, and serve Him passionately.

How can we honor God in spirit and truth? How can we do what we’ve clearly been called to as we, in all our “Reformedness,” seek to reach a community with the Gospel of Christ… that they’d know Christ came to save sinners like us? We sing psalms, hymns, contemporary music, as well as classic Spanish worship songs. To some Reformed folk, they probably think we’re not Reformed enough, to others they might think we’re smart and thinking outside the box, and to others still, they might even say we’re not Reformed at all because we don’t do things like them. What is my response to that? Well, let’s see how reformed we’re not. We’re Calvinists, Confessional, Creedal, Covenantal, and we baptize babies. We’re Heidelberg Catechism teaching, Belgic Confession affirming, Canons of Dort explaining, Westminster Confession of Faith pushing Reformers… but our worship doesn’t look like a lot of Reformed churches.

Our beloved Fao family leading our church in song. (Rachel Fao, Jojo Fao, and Randy Fao)

My family and I have visited many Reformed/ Presbyterian churches and though the theology and doctrine is on point, most times the sermons have been long and dry, worship sad with no one smiling or truly demonstrating joy as they sing to worship their Savior… it’s like the lyrics we’ve heard sung aren’t reflected on the faces singing them. The people have not always been friendly or very hospitable, the attitudes have not always been warm… at one church we needed to pole vault over the fence around the Lord’s Table… they’ve not always been great experiences. We don’t want to be a Reformed church that people walk away from questioning whether or not we really believe what we’re preaching and teaching.

Then there are Reformed churches that have taken steps to move away from their reformed roots, some even removing the label “Reformed” altogether from the church’s name and church signs. There are churches that have no real semblance to that of a Reformed church in their preaching, worship flow, and especially their song choices. Many song selections are frequently heard blasting their sanctuaries that can easily mislead the church in the doctrine they sing because it’s just feel good lyrics that exalt self and not the risen Christ, songs that are meant to secure one’s mind in knowing that God has a good plan for them, one to prosper them in career, health, and finances… but really make no reference to the Cross, repentance, or addressing sin. We don’t wanna be like that!

So what is Reformed worship? How can we gather a group of whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, and Samoans that adhere 100% to Reformed Theology and worship the Triune God we profess in Spirit and in truth? How can our ethnicity, culture, and passion be expressed as we lift up our voices to worship in song the Living God whom we have placed all of our faith in? How can we do this and still be Reformed in our worship? I don’t think we have to do anything different than what we’re already doing… the music we sing to our Jesus exalts Him, it places Him at the center of our worship, and not ourselves.

Lynwood Unity Service September 26th, 2021

Our worship Director, Rachel Fao, makes sure that the music we sing points us to the Cross, it calls us to repentance, it addresses our sin, it guides us towards the atoning work of Christ… our worship addresses God’s compassion, His mercy, His grace, as well as His wrath, and His anger when we sin against Him. I think that is “Reformed” worship… being truthful to who we are… repentant sinners… seeking to honor our King, music that aligns with Scripture… and not faking the funk, not being afraid to raise holy hands, sing at the top of our lungs and not being afraid or embarrassed when tears stream down our cheeks as we sing.

Lynwood Unity Service 2019

But the good thing is that we also have historical documents addressing what I’ve said here… and I think they would affirm what I’m saying. Some would argue that the Belgic Confession (1559) in Article 32 addresses a dogmatic view of the Regulative Principal of Worship as it points to the Order and Discipline of the Church… I think we’d agree completely and say that we are worshipping God in spirit and truth, to do so any other way would go against that Scriptural command. Take a look at a portion of Article 32 in the Belgic Confession:

“Therefore, we reject all human innovations and all laws imposed on us, in our worship of God, which bind and force our consciences in any way. So, we accept only what is proper to maintain harmony and unity and to keep all in obedience to God.”

How can any follower of Christ Jesus deny this? I think the problem is in how folks interpret this. There is no law nor human innovation being imposed on us (RCLA) for the worship of God, could instruments perhaps be included in that category of human innovation? If so, what is ok then? Piano? Organ? Neither… just a capella?

What does the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) say regarding this?

Lord’s Day 35

Q. 96 What is God’s will for us in the second commandment?

A. That we in no way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than has been commanded in God’s Word.

John 4:23-24, “…the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

And there it is again… God wants us to worship Him in Spirit and in truth! If God made me Mexican, passionate, with an abundant joy to sing to Him at the top of my lungs, to feel to the depths of my soul the words and lyrics I sing to Him, is that wrong? To be so entirely grateful to God for having saved me, and raise my hands during our gathered worship of God on the Lord’s Day, is that wrong? Or do any of the historical documents have a decibel meter for the volume of our worship? Does the Bible specify that we must contain ourselves during our singing? What if by doing so we we feel fake, like we’re holding back and not really worshipping Him in spirit and truth? What is the invisible line one cannot cross? Lifting hands? Singing loudly? Praise dance? You won’t see a praise dance at our church, but you will most definitely see that at predominantly black churches. Look at what the Second Helvetic Confession says:

Second Helvetic Confession (1536)

Chapter XXVII: Of Rites, Ceremonies and Things Indifferent 

“If different rites are found in churches, no one should think for this reason the churches disagree.”

Are you picking up what I’m putting down? I end with the same question with which I started… what is “Reformed worship”? I wish I had a clearer answer, but I don’t… but I do hope and pray that this short blog post made you think about it and encourage you to sing songs that are aligned with Scripture, and that all we do be done in an organized fashion, and not hold back as we lift our voices to the Triune God who saved us. Amen?

Our team singing “How Great Thou Art” in Samoan

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Bi-Vocational Pastors Are Usually People of Color

“Man bro… that hits home!” is what a friend messaged me after seeing a post I shared on Instagram that mentioned how most bi-vocational pastors are of color. Peep the story!

I remember as we were getting ready to leave our previous church and under a time crunch to find a home to move into (I wrote about this in my last blog) that there was a child who was murdered on the block we were trying to rent a home as we moved into the Lynwood/ Compton area to plant Reformed Church of Los Angeles. As we were sitting at Café Canela in Lynwood trying to figure out what our next move was, I got a call from my homie Adam Cunningham telling us that a home had just popped up on the market, it was a townhome on the border of Compton and Lynwood that was available and ready to rent. We met there like 30 minutes later and my wife instantly knew that this house was “it.”

I wasn’t quite convinced for three reasons:

1. It was way more than what we wanted to pay, it was $2950 a month.

2. It was in a gated community.

3. It was way more than what we were able to pay, it was $2950 a month.

As we sat there and tried to crunch numbers, I was convinced more and more that we would not in fact be able to afford it. We were already making two car payments and we’d be on a super tight budget that I wasn’t comfortable with… if one of the cars messed up, or some big unexpected expenses came up, we’d be in a world of trouble. Edna said, “This is it! It’s got a security gate and cameras.” But I couldn’t share the same conclusion, I kept thinking to myself, “$3,000 a month is not sustainable on our income” but it’s as if she was reading my mind and replied, “God will provide Gordo!” (For the record, I don’t know why she refers to me as Gordo).

This is what our home in Lynwood looked like, always open for discipleship and fellowship!

I looked at the homie Adam and said, “Make it happen brotha!” (Or something to that effect) and a couple weeks later we were moving in. We didn’t have enough money to last us more than a few months for the difference in rent we’d been paying. At my previous church I lived in a parsonage and paid almost a ¼ of what we’d be paying at our new place. So now you might ask, what does any of this have to do with how this blog was started about pastors of color being bi-vocational? It was just two months later that I was offered a job as a hospice chaplain for a company in Artesia. This is how God provided us with what we needed so that we could afford our new place. 

This might not sound like a crazy thing, however, I’m not just bi-vocational, I’m co-vocational and also have to raise ½ of the church salary I receive, so it’s like, if I want to be a church planter, I have to designate myself a low enough salary that I’m able to raise ½ of it and at the same time work a separate job in order to help offset our living expenses all the while accruing student loans to be able to be a church planter in the Reformed tradition and become an Ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament… sound backwards? Heck yeah it is! But here’s the thing you see… Jesus is worth it!

Ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament! The right Rev’s. Chris Márquez and Rudy Rubio

Since then, I’ve resigned from the hospice chaplaincy (which was per Diem by the way) for a Full-Time position at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Watts where I serve as chaplain. During the entire pandemic I was working both chaplaincy jobs but pulled away from hospice as things started opening up again. Helping lead a church, sermon prepping, discipleship, fundraising, networking, serving our city, coordinating community events, preparing future pastors/ church planters, all while having a full time job at a hospital, a per diem hospice chaplaincy, being a doctorate student, a husband, father, grandpa, and chaplain to the L.A. Dodgers has kept me quite busy, all the while our church was in the process of opening up a small coffee/ teahouse in order to help raise funds for our church plant(s).

Praying for staff at MLK Community Hospital in the Watts/ Willowbrook part of South Los Angeles

I’ve got black, Latino, and Filipino friends who are all bi-vocational… these are men that have to work secular jobs in order to remain faithful to the pastorate that God has called them to. Why? Because we can’t seem to get the type of support that non-ethnic minority folks are more apt to receive. We don’t seem to have those types of connections for the type of support that others receive like full salary, benefits, housing, etc… it’s much harder for many of us, but that doesn’t stop us.

• No money? No problem, we’ll raise it.

• No building? No problem, we’ll find a place to meet corporately.

• No benefits? No problem, we’ll pray our families stay healthy.

• No people? No problem, we’ll hit the streets in our community and get to know them, their problems, pray for them, share Christ with them, and love on them as we grow the church.

During the pandemic we were forced to get creative to continue meeting since we don’t have our own building

Are you starting to pick up what I’m putting down? It’s not easy… but our hood motto is, “Can’t stop! Won’t stop! Will not be stopped!” because ultimately it’s not for us, but for God’s glory. But I bring it back to the original comment that inspired this post, “Man bro… that hits home!” I pray that by shedding light to these struggles that it would do more than just hit home emotionally, but that it would spur someone on towards love and good deeds by helping out church planters.

You know there’s a popular voice over on TikTok and Instagram with videos of people promoting themselves, their services, and products, etc. It says, “My friends be like how come you not famous yet? I be like you didn’t share my stuff! How come you ain’t shared it yet? That’s what I don’t understand. That’s why I’m not famous!” I think the same concept or theory can be applied to ministry, especially church planting. Now before you think otherwise, I am not in any way, shape, or form, saying I want to be famous, quite the contrary. I wanna do like Nikolaus Zinzendorf said, “Preach the Gospel, die and be forgotten.” But although I don’t wish to be famous, there could be many more people who say are for us, actually do something to help our cause… which really isn’t our cause, but Christ’s.

Our Wilmington Campus during midweek service

Why is it that folks won’t do more or even anything at all to support people like us? I’ve got a few observations that might rub some folks the wrong way, but I say if the shoe fits, then put that bad boy on, que no? Again, these are my observations:

1. Folks Are Uninformed. People may think they understand the difficulties of ministry, and perhaps they do, however church planting struggles are exponentially worse. And amongst church planters, it’s even harder for us in the hood who don’t have the same amount of support as others do, which means we require more.

2. Folks Can Be Lazy. Some people don’t want to give up the comfort of belonging to a large church that has a full staff, lots of financial resources, all sorts of programs, ministries, and tons of bells and whistles. They enjoy being at a church that caters to all of their needs, they require a full service church to meet their spiritual needs.

3. Folks Won’t Sit Under Ethnic Minority Leadership. This is an extremely hard pill to swallow, but nonetheless, a very real one. There are lots of people that say they’re rooting for you, however, they can’t bring themselves to sit under a Black or Latino pastor. This is especially hard when they are ethnic minorities that take this stance. Now to be clear, I’ve never heard anyone say this, but the fact that people will live equal distance away from large churches that offer everything, than smaller churches that need lots of help, 9 times out of 10, the larger church continues to grow in quantity, while the smaller church grows in quality.

“Man bro… that hits home!” I pray that this does more than just hit home emotionally, but that folks would really pray about joining a church plant, serving a church plant, supporting a church plant, and promoting the heck out of a church plant. I promise you in a church of thousands of people, 10-15 committed followers of Jesus won’t even be missed at one church, but they’d be able to help make a huge impact in the community of the smaller church, where their presence would be greatly appreciated.

2 young men from the cohort we served this past summer, CLIP – Compton Leaders Internship Program

If you really want to see Black and Latino pastors make it, go become a part of their church and support their Gospel efforts to help make Jesus’s Gospel message known in their communities. I know that Reformed/ Presbyterian folks have been known for being arrogant or “know-it-alls, but the truth is, they have, hands down, the best theology… and the hoods have been deprived of this for far too long, it’s time to go into the hoods and plant confessionally reformed churches that will in turn do the same. Would you consider helping by one of the following ways?

• Join a church plant.

• Support the church plant financially.

• Promote the church plant and their ministry.

During white flight, way too many solid churches left what now is the hood, and took good theology with them. They were missing something though. The theology was good knowledge… but it wasn’t practically lived out, otherwise they would’ve stayed, amen? The hood needs Jesus too! Not the one preached at the many prosperity pushin’ pimp churches that promise health and wealth. Not the one that offers a works based salvation but promotes idol worship in the Roman Catholic Church… the hood needs the real Jesus! The one we read about that promises us that we’re saved by grace alone, through Christ alone, for the glory of God alone, that we read about through the Scriptures alone.

The baptism of baby Jonas Mateo Corona

Would you please seriously consider supporting a church plant in the hood to help them reach their community with the unadulterated Gospel of Christ, to teach them about how God gave His best for our worst, how Christ’s voluntary death on the Cross is the only thing that atones God’s wrath against us, how having faith in Him alone is what saves. The hood needs to hear this over and over. Would you consider giving up some comforts for the sake of the Gospel? Would you consider rerouting some of your dollars to a hood church plant? While mega churches have million dollar building funds, and take up offerings for new sound/ light/ fog machines, others just need to meet their basic operating budget. 

Here are some church plants that are presently ministering or preparing to launch, would you consider getting behind or becoming a part of one:

• Reformed Church LA – Lynwood

• Reformed Church LA – Wilmington

• Reformed Church IE – San Bernardino

• Reformed Church OC – Santa Ana

• Reformed Church AZ – Maryvale (Phoenix)

Lord’s Day worship at RCLA Lynwood

“Man bro… that hits home!” should be a comment that is immediately followed up by, “How can we help?” If church planters in the hood could focus exclusively on ministering and not fundraising, working separate jobs to support family, having medical insurance for them and their families instead of just praying for continued health, imagine the bigger impact they could make? Thanks for reading, thanks for your consideration, and thanks for your time. You noticed I never once asked for prayer, that’s because it’s a given, we should always be praying for the pastors, churches, church plants, and their teams. #HoodGrace

Local Church vs. Commuter Church

Compton Initiative

I remember when we were preparing for transition to plant Reformed Church LA, I was encouraged to move into the city of Lynwood ASAP. I recall feeling a sense of betrayal, like I was getting kicked out of where I was, almost as if I was being punished for doing the right thing. It’s really hard to put such profound emotions into words, but that’s kind of what my family and I felt at the time. I knew that other church planters would parachute or move into their respective neighborhoods, and I wanted to follow suit, but I felt like we weren’t quite ready for such a huge step, but I was given approximately 90 days to do so. I can remember the heartache of not having any luck in finding a place, not the right place, but any place. We wanted a home big enough for our family, sufficient space to host gatherings, and in the middle of our target area. But no such luck!

​I can recall my wife and I on our way to go see a home we’d finally been able to secure a viewing for. It was on the eastside of Compton, near the intersection of San Vicente and Lime Street and as we were a few blocks away, traffic started to build up off of Rosecrans and then it came to a complete halt. I was super worried because we would be late to finally have a chance at finding a place close to where we wanted to plant, it wasn’t Lynwood, but just next door in Compton. Our time was running out, we had less than 30 days to be out of our previous home, and now, my anxiety was starting to build up as we couldn’t get any closer to the home on Lime Street. And if things couldn’t get any worse, they did! We soon got close enough to see that the street was closed off with caution tape by the Compton Sheriff’s, we found out that a 7 year old child had been killed in a drive-by shooting. 

Any hopes we had for this house were shot, no pun intended, but it was the truth. We drove to Plaza Mexico in Lynwood to have some café de olla at Café Canela and talk, process, see what our options were. And I remember so clearly telling my wife that we’d reschedule to go and see the house on Lime Street the following day after the cops had cleared the way. She looked at me like, “Are you dumb?” I sat there with a blank face like, “What?” no words… just facial expressions, it was an awkward silence as I was trying to understand what she meant… she finally spoke after an eternity of like 30-45 seconds and said, “Estás loco?Do you really think I’m going to move my teenage kids onto that street where a baby was just killed?” We continued to talk and she said she’d support the church plant but needed assurance that our kids would be safe.

Edna, Nati’s, and Duva at our home in Lynwood
Lynwood is well known for its water towers

This right here was the perfect opportunity to consider moving further away from Lynwood to a nicer area, forget about moving into Compton, and think of Cerritos instead, or maybe Lakewood, Bellflower, or even Downey. It was the perfect opportunity to come up with an excuse to no longer follow through with our plans to move into the community where we’d be planting a new church… but what would that say to the community we’d be serving? Would we really be invested in a community that we couldn’t bring ourselves to move into? How much did we really care about a neighborhood we could not bring ourselves to reside in? Would we be on mission, or “on the clock”? Meaning, would our church plant be set up around scheduled office hours and what days and times we’d be in Lynwood to “do ministry” or would we really be about that life and move in despite the obvious scares? As most of you know, we live here, have been living here, and have recently even bought a house here. Why? Because we know with all certainty that this is exactly where God wants us, and we’ll remain here until He says otherwise.

Watts Prayer Walk in the Nickerson Gardens

I share our story with you, because to us, there’s really no other way to be “all in” to plant a church in a community than to live in that community. To be involved with the community… day in and day out… not just during “office hours.” I mean no offense by this at all, because I’ve got great friends who do not live in the community they serve, as a matter of fact, I know pastors who’ve purchased homes more than an hour away from where their church is… I don’t judge… but for me, I can’t have it any other way. I want the same community that I’m trying to reach with the Gospel be the same community that I see when I go to the store, pump gas, walk our dogs, go to the gym (yes, I said go to the gym… leave me alone!) the same community we support all the mom and pop shops… the same community I ride my bike in, and go to the post office in.

Compton Prayer Walk

Our desire was to plant a church in this community with the people of this community and for the people of this community. Now, I want to be clear, that’s not saying that everyone has to reside within the city boundaries of Lynwood, Compton, or Watts… but at the same time we don’t want to build a commuter church where the entire congregation drives 30-45 minutes just to come for Lord’s Day Services each weekend. We want to minister to our neighbors, their children, and their kids’ teachers. We want to invite the cashier at Superior Grocers, the barbers at Flawless Barbershop, we want to see our City Council members, and school district staff in our church. We want this community and surrounding areas to know that we care… we care enough to be completely invested here. We want them to know that we’re here with them… they’re not our “fixer upper” project… but real people with issues and hurts, real problems, and a real need for Jesus.

Unity Service at Lynwood Park w/ Lynwood School Board President Maria G. Lopez, Mayor Pro Tem Jorge Casanova, and Pastor Nisan Stewart of Greater Emmanuel Temple

The Lord has drawn some amazing people to us, who don’t live in Lynwood, but they know our mission, they know our heart, and they know that this is where we’re called to serve, to reach our neighbors with the Gospel, and to do as much business as we possibly can here. So friends… if at all possible, find a local church. Find a church that you can connect with as close as possible to your home, or make an effort to move closer to your church community, and get to know everyone there… know their stories, pray for them and follow up. Please know that each church has a specific mission (at least it should) and do everything you can to help it get there. I can’t see the early church in Philippi going all the way to Ephesus because the worship there was dope… or because all their family lived there. If you can’t be at your church or in it’scommunity outside of Sundays because it’s too far, you might want to reconsider finding a church closer to home.

Reformed Church LA and Greater Emmanuel Temple serving our community during the pandemic.

If you’re a pastor and don’t live in your community, you might want to reconsider and move closer. If you’re a church planter, move as close as you can to the church building or wherever you all meet. Missional communities are great, but they shouldn’t be geographic courtesies to make those that live far not desire to live closer. I know this can sound complicated… but it’s really not, and in the end, I promise you that you will by far have a better margin for knowing the community you serve, being known by the community you serve, and have built up trust by the community you serve, because after all, don’t we want their trust? Don’t we want them to believe the absolute best message ever? The one we have and want to share with them? The one that talks about Christ coming to save sinners like us? The one that calls us to repentance and turning to Him and Him alone for our salvation… amen? Amen!

Lynwood Mayor Marisela Santana, my daughter Natalia, and City of Commerce Vice Mayor Oralia Rebollo
Compton Mayor Aja Brown and Pastor/ Sheriff Deputy Rafer Owens

Please follow us, visit us, stay up to date with us by downloading our church app or visiting us online at www.reformedchurch.la

Hood and Reformed! Struggling to fit in…

I’ve always had problems fitting in… it’s actually a part of my testimony! I’ve never been able to fully fit in to a peer group on my own. Growing up in elementary school I was an oversized nerd that tried hella hard to be cool but wasn’t accepted. In Junior High School I’d made a promise to myself that I’d fit in somewhere, anywhere… it didn’t matter which peer group. There were stoners, there were cholos, and there were surfers, I didn’t wanna smoke weed, and I didn’t own a surfboard, so the cholos seemed the most interesting. Not only that, it was guaranteed protection from getting chased or beat up by others.

Ordination of my brother Rev. Chris Márquez

Before I knew it, I’d gotten jumped in by Big Pollo (RIP), Poison (RIP), T-Bone, and the homie Chueco. It was my official “court in” as they beat me, punched me, and kicked me for 60 seconds. I was a bloody mess, but I was instantly accepted, I was now a part of a family that would defend me to the death, care for me, feed me if needed, but most of all, offer me brotherhood and fellowship… I belonged. I had a small army of dudes that had my back, accepted me, and welcomed me in with open arms. I quicky began to build up this façade of who I wanted the world to believe I was. I immediately started getting arrested and doing time, in which I’d further build my reputation of someone to be feared and respected. Huntington Park, South Central, and Watts were my stomping grounds!

I would eventually go from juvenile hall, to probation camp, the California Youth Authority, LA County Jail, Department of Corrections, and finally on the run to Mexico as a wanted fugitive. Hiding out there I had an option to further carry out my criminal career by connecting deeper with the cartels, or reinvent myself to start over. I was tired of running, so I chose for an identity makeover. I went to Sinaloa and got fake ID’s, moved to Baja California, started from the bottom as a Night Auditor at a small motel, and worked my way up to General Manager of one of the finest Beach Resorts in all of Baja. But even holding that prestigious job, I never truly fit in to the community there, it’s like they knew that there was something fishy about me, so they kept their distance.

And when I came back years later, I was trying to figure out who I was after the many identity changes, getting reconnected with my homies, prison political associations (IYKYK), all while remaining under the radar so as to not alert the authorities I was back. Then while starting my last prison term, I had a true encounter with Christ, not quite as dramatic as Paul on the road to Damascus, but it was probably a close runner up. And while I was in prison, a place that’d been home for so many years, I now felt out of place because I was a Christian. Upon my release from prison almost 3 years later, going to my wife’s church in Compton, then to a Reformed church and growing there, I didn’t quite fit into either of those two churches.

And now, fast forward a bunch of years later and being 3 ½ years into planting the Reformed Church of Los Angeles, with 4 – 5 more plants in the works, leaving our denomination due to irreconcilable differences, and looking for a new denominational home, I am again reminded that I don’t fit in anywhere, nor does our church. There are places that will tolerate me, there are groups of people that would probably be happy to have us with them to make them look different, and there a couple of groups we’re having conversations with and though we’d be a good theological fit, the question is would we be a good cultural fit. What am I referring to? Being “Hood and Reformed”.

The Reformed/ Presbyterian world has some of thee smartest folks in theological circles. It is also a very homogenous environment within most circles we are connected to. There are very few, if any, Ministers of Word & Sacrament, who come from my type of background. There aren’t many Latino “Teaching Elders” let alone church planters, or even Ministers whom we could connect with that have experienced church planting in the hood. At times it seems like folks we’ve been connected to in our theological circles are too busy to give us wise counsel, or maybe wouldn’t understand some of our struggles, our context, or our need of them and their guidance.

We’re hood, we’re Reformed, we’re confessional, we’re creedal, we’re complementarian, and we’re focused on reaching the urban poor, the under resourced communities where prosperity pushing pimps thrive, fleecing the flock of what little they have. We are adamant about reaching our community with the Gospel, passionate about teaching folks solid theology that they might know God more intimately, love Him more profoundly, and serve Him more passionately. Because we’re in the hood we don’t have the resources that most Reformed/ Presbyterian churches do, so fundraising is another part of our scope of work, by God’s grace He’s provided every step of the way. So what do we do now? Where do we go from here?

We are currently praying, discerning a way forward that God would lead us to make the right affiliations to enhance our ministry… not just Lynwood, but Wilmington, San Bernardino, Santa Ana, Phoenix, and who knows maybe even Chicago and Las Vegas. There are many dope groups of folks with whom we can connect, but the question is which would benefit our lil #GuerillaChurchPlanting movement the best going forward. You see, we’ve got dudes who will be planting that only have a G.E.D. and will be going to seminary, these aren’t the normal paths to ordination, but that’s what we’re working with and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re in unchartered waters here… whereas most Reformed/ Presbyterian churches have moved to more suburban areas, or are in urban areas but not as actively involved with their community (no shade just facts) we want to plant confessionally Reformed churches in the hood by the hood and for the hood. But, unfortunately most of us weren’t raised in the church, we’ve got at least a couple felonies, no undergrad education, we’re bi-vocational, but have all the passion in the world to teach folks in our communities who Jesus really is.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to encounter in my Christian walk was to wait! Wait until I got back into school to finish my undergraduate, wait on seminary, finish seminary, get ordained, and somewhere in the middle of all that we planted a confessionally Reformed church. I’ve got such a huge respect and admiration for the Reformed tradition, its organization, it’s profoundly sound doctrine, rich history, love of God’s Word, commitment to accurately teach the Bible, and the seriousness with which we take theological education, and with all it’s pro’s, there are still some cons.

I think the absolute hardest thing in my Christian walk was my identity. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I used to be this fat nerd as a kid who got bullied, then I became a fake gangster who transformed into a real gangster, then fled the country and took on another name and had to reinvent myself with this new identity, and then when I came back the U.S. to assume my old identity and resume being a hardened criminal. And if that wasn’t enough to confuse me, when I surrendered all to Christ in a prison cell on my knees crying out to Him, I was thrown for a loop.

Friends, becoming a Christian yanked the rug from underneath my footing as I had to become everything I never was in the past, like I now had to demonstrate love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Who me? You gotta be kidding right? Actually yeah, that’s exactly what I had to do. I had no idea how I’d do this, and in doing so I quickly noticed and acknowledged certain things that were hard for me. Like, was I a punk now? Was I a coward for having walked away from the hood? Did this mean I’m weak? I didn’t quite know where to fit in, especially since I was still in prison. And now, I think I’m in the same boat, only now I’m helping lead a church and not quite sure where we fit in.

I wonder if I’m looking for another “court in”(only without the violence), I wonder if we’ll find that acceptance, though we may be struggling to find our place in the theological world, we know our identity is in Christ, we know that we’re kin to other believers by the shed blood of Jesus, we know that we’ve been grafted into Him, and that nothing or no one can separate us from the love of God. We still have many habits, we still enjoy the music we grew up listening to like Pac, Biggie, and Los Tigres del Norte, we minister to our taquero when were out on a Friday evening in Compton, we share Jesus with our neighbors, and promiscuously invite erry’body to church. One thing is certain, is that God’s got us, we’re His and He is ours, we belong to one Holy, Catholic, and apostolic church… keep your eyes peeled as God is doing some pretty dope stuff. Coming to a hood near you soon!

And P.S. Don’t forget to baptize yo’ babies!

Church Covenant?

Is “church covenant” still a thing?

For those people who are true followers of Christ, becoming a member of a church is biblical and imperative, not optional. Every Christian should be excited about becoming a member of a church asking just how can they use their time, talents, and treasure for the sake of reaching the lost… so that other people can also hear the life changing Gospel of Christ, because it is the power of salvation for all who believe. That’s what the story should look like, but instead we have one of “musical chairs” in which people shuffle from one church to another for a season, then on to another, under the assumption that so long as they’re in a church on Sunday, they’re good. That couldn’t be farther from the truth!

When the Apostle Paul wrote his epistles, he often referred to specific groups of people who formed churches. For instance, he wrote the following:

  • To the church of God at Corinth… (1 Corinthians 1:2)
  • To the churches of Galatia… (Galatians 1:2)
  • To the church of the Thessalonians in God… (1 Thessalonians 1:1)
  • To Philemon our dear friend… and the church that meets in your house… (Philemon 1:1-2)

The Apostle Paul was writing to a group of people committed to these churches, people that were sold out for the advancement of the Gospel. In the early church, there was much hard work to reconcile Jews and Gentiles, to set aside cultural differences for the sake of drawing folks to Christ and His Gospel message of salvation… but today? Today we have people leaving churches over their position on the use of masks, vaccinations, and political parties. Today we have people leaving churches over religious liberties being expressed, “I don’t want to be around people that drink alcohol…” Well, at our Reformed church we use wine for communion every Sunday, so I don’t know what to tell you.

The Church has become like Chipotle, where you create your church as you would a burrito bowl, that’s how folks want it, a custom ordered church… and if you put onions in it and they don’t like them, POOF, just like that, they’re gone. It makes no difference how much time the church has invested in them, it makes no difference how many people will be hurt with their departure. Something rubbed them the wrong way, someone looked at them the wrong way, didn’t let them do this or that, preached too long, preached too short, had too much doctrine or too little doctrine in the sermon, too many groups or not enough groups… the case in point being, people are not sticking around to fight for their church. They give up way too quickly and leave for insignificant, nonbiblical issues.

It is a sad thing as we compare the modern church to the early church. Folks would sell all their possessions for the sake of ministry as we see in Acts 2:45, but today we see people church hopping, not committing for long periods of time, or even at all. The modern church has gone from dying for Christ to not even being willing to be discomforted for His sake. This sad fact makes one think, do these folks even really know Jesus… how does one explain Galatians 6:2 and the instruction to bear one another’s burdens yet be willing to leave a church for minor issues, that are more subjects of personal choice than biblical or sinful matters. 

Churches have different methods to become members, for us its an 8 week class, in which we hope will demonstrate a person’s commitment to understand our story, understand our theology/ doctrine, our mission/ values, as well as their commitments as a member coming into covenant. Because we’re a church that bears our theological position in our name “Reformed Church of Los Angeles”, it can draw certain kinds of persons. Some of these people are amazing Jesus loving folk who want to serve His church and our community. But sometimes it draws in problematic people… many problems… After the 8-week class, we publicly receive folks as members and ask them questions, including this one:

“Do you promise to accept the spiritual guidance of the church, to walk in a spirit of Christian love with this congregation, and to seek those things that make for unity, purity, and peace?” 

This all sounds good in theory, but in many churches, it is good, at least until something happens that rubs someone the wrong way. Until something doesn’t go their way, until this, that or the other… everything starts coming under a magnifying glass in which pretexts are being sought out to use and justify an imminent departure. The Lord is no longer deemed worthy enough for differences to be put to the aside and instead the mission of the church reached by fighting for it. All Christians stand upon the Scripture where Christ calls us to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses daily (Luke 9:23) but there are many that won’t even be discomforted let alone deny self or carry their cross, it’s more of a hypothetical understanding.  

My brother and partner in crime Rev. Chris Márquez posted an image about a year ago that clearly specifies what it is that all followers of Jesus must do. And I’m confident that every Christian will affirm those things, that is at least until something doesn’t go their way. The modern Church should look back to our history and see how the church has always fought for truth, fought for each other, and never divided on small issues that were personal preferences. 

Pre-existing tertiary doctrinal issues or religious liberties shouldn’t be an issue (Romans 14). Things like tattoos, alcohol, smoking, dancing, and music are not reasons to divide over nor reasons to leave a church. Heresy being taught, orthodoxy being abandoned, getting kicked out, or the Gospel not being preached are legit reasons. The body needs people of all shapes, sizes, and colors to help it grow by giving of their time, talents, and treasures for the glory of God. To exalt the name of the risen Christ is what every believer should strive for… and as a church planting pastor, it’s always sad when you see or hear of people walking away from their church for minor issues.

So friend, if you’re reading this… don’t give up on your church, don’t give up on your pastor, but above all, don’t give up on the people that God has called you to help reach in the community He’s placed you, with the ministry He’s called you to, and with the gifts He’s given you to steward. Fight for your church, don’t give up on your brothers and sisters, don’t leave your team hanging, and above all… keep Christ where He needs to be, at the center of your decisions. Would Jesus smile at you in approval for leaving your church, or would He frown? He endured the passion… the burden of carrying the Cross after having been beaten almost to death, He suffered the pangs of hell on the Cross… for you… please give His sacrifice more attention than your personal discomfort. 

Since God has called you to a local church, make sure you commit to it. Make sure you become a member there, support it and its mission, speak well of it, invite your friends to it, fight for it, encourage your brothers/ sisters, pray for it, give to it, and most importantly, honor the covenant you’ve made with it. 

Another reason people leave churches often is that their sin catches up to them, and rather than deal with it, they’ll go somewhere else and start off fresh. No one knows, they play it off like they’re super spiritual, all holier than thou… and then when it comes up, and folks find out, they bounce… again. If that’s you, stop running, if you really love Jesus, let Him help you through your struggles, but He’s gonna use the local church for that, so stop running. It’s ok if you’re not perfect, none of us are… so there’s no need to fake the funk. Christ will still love you, and so will His bride!

Church covenant is still, very much a thing. Honor it, respect it, do your part, and give Christ your absolute best… He deserves nothing less than that. He gave His very best, for our very worst… never forget that… ever! God be with you!

Is Church Really Necessary?

“Ok, ok… I’ll go to church!”

This was often a response to comply at the behest of mom, abuela, or tia when we were younger growing up in a Latino home and forced or coerced into going to church, right? And more often than not, it was mass. You see, my beloved Mexican culture, with an exaggeratedly dominant Roman Catholic presence, places a huge emphasis on “going to church” but never on “being” the church or “belonging” to the local church. So what happens is that we get perpetuating generations of our people who are biblically ignorant but rich in cultural traditions.

This beautiful group of folks just became official members of Reformed Church L.A. in Lynwood, CA.

What am I talking about? Here are a few cultural traditions almost all Latinos, not just Mexicans, can relate to? How many of these apply to you?

  • The sign of the Cross with one’s hand when driving by a church.
  • The sign of the Cross with one’s hand at the end of a prayer.
  • Repetitive prayers, like the “Our Father” that are recited over all situations and circumstances with no reference to other biblical passages, just vain repetition.
  • Baptizing of babies as a cultural box to check off, with no biblical discipleship of children, and no true accountability within the Christ confessing covenant community (like Reformed folks do).
  • Quinceañera ceremonies within the church that have no biblical or Scriptural reference, but were imperative that every 15-year old girl have, no matter the family’s financial status or hardship (By the way, quinceañeras are dope, I’m not knocking them).
  • Rosaries prayed for the dead, in hopes of getting their souls out of purgatory and into heaven, when in fact the Bible teaches the opposite (5 Solas).
  • Not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, but never a mention of sexually immoral behavior or relationships.

You see this makes perfect sense. When there is no biblical understanding, how can one be expected to do what the Bible calls for? Now this carries over into Evangelicalism too. People appear to have somewhat of a biblical understanding, however, they have a problem committing to local church. We are a consumeristic people and generation, we are spoiled, we think that the world, and even the Lord’s church is Burger King, and we want things done our way, and not now… but right now! Our people tend to church hop, they continue to move on, over and over and fail to commit to a local church, they will not submit to the elders of the church, and like “chapulines” will continue to bounce from one to another with no real intention of staying, or only as long as the first clash or disagreement and then they’re gone.

This is a really sad thing and was unheard of in the early church! The church endured true hardship and persecution, it strengthened the church as it grew against all odds. But you see, the Lord Jesus was with them, they truly understood the Gospel and it showed in how they lived their life, cared for each other’s needs, and didn’t throw in the towel. But now a days, people leave church after church because of petty things, because someone didn’t say hi, didn’t invite them to a party, looked at them the wrong way, didn’t let them serve where they wanted when they wanted, and one of the biggest is that folks don’t want to be held accountable. They don’t want you to know their sin, so they leave just as you’re really getting to know them.

Even during the pandemic, we were teaching folks about biblical membership and publicly receiving them into our church.

When we first planted Reformed Church L.A. we had multiple people on our launch team that left, some just a few weeks into it, others as time progressed and for different reasons. I remember one dear sister whom I love dearly said to me, “I need to be in a bigger church where I can come and go without being noticed.” Well, for us, that’s just not gonna happen. We know when people don’t come to church, and we’re concerned for them, because we know what happens when people start to drift. We’ve had people tell us they couldn’t make it to church because of their kids sleep schedule, their kids sports, because they’re tired, because they got into an argument on the way to church… the list goes on and on. 

Then there are many, many people in the Latino community who say that they believe in God, and I agree that they may know “of God” but they don’t really “know God”. You see, knowing about God and knowing God are two different things. There are many of our people, who because of our culture, know that there is a God out there somewhere… they have a basic understanding of a God concept, and still many of them don’t like “organized religion”, but unfortunately that’s the way God designed His church… that it would be organized. Lots of people have heard of the crucifixion but they don’t really understand what happened there. They don’t understand substitutionary atonement, they think they’ll go to heaven because they’re good people when in fact that Bible says that, “None is righteous, no, not one…” (Romans 3:10) and that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Many of my people have lots of cool spiritual sounding phrases they have memorized, yet none are biblical. I’m sure you’ve heard them too:

  • God helps those who help themselves. 
  • God will never give you more than you can handle.
  • Heaven gained another angel. (This is a REALLY hard one). 
  • I love God but hate the church. 
  • You are more than enough!
  • God hates sin but loves the sinner.
  • God wants me to be happy.
  • Just put it out to the universe. (Cringe because God made the universe and everything in it.)

As nice as these things sound, they are not biblical. I recently posted about this blog and asked what I should address and my good friend and former City of Lynwood Mayor, Aide Castro said, “People like me that have faith but question everything in the Bible and don’t trust religions.” So… here I am writing about people who have faith, or say they have faith, but question the Bible and are leery of religions. So I think it’d be a good time to address religions. But first, for the record, there is absolutely no way to know the full counsel of God outside of His written Word, the Bible.

Every single religion, outside of Christianity, has a system of merit that they believe will lead them to heaven, we call this “works based righteousness”. In every religion, man and woman have to “do”, while in Christianity, God said “done”, He did for us what we’d never be able to do for ourselves. That is the beauty of the Gospel. Let me say it another way. In every other religion man is seeking to get to God, while in Christianity God came to man. Isn’t that beautiful? It’s so easy, so beautiful that it sounds crazy to folks. 

Christianity teaches that God came to us in Christ. [1] That He lived a perfect life we never could and died a death that was meant for us. [2] And all this He did out of love, He didn’t wait for us to get our act together, while we were still His enemies, Christ came and died for us. [3] And because praying to statues or images is idolatry, and because we don’t need to pray to saints (we are the saints), we have the security of knowing that Christ is our Mediator, we have no need of anyone else. [4] If we repent of our sins and turn to Him, we’ll be saved… that’s it.

So all this is to say what? That if one is a true believer in God, the Triune God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, if one acknowledges that there is no way to be saved outside of Christ, then one MUST belong to a local church, one MUST attend regularly, one MUST trust and obey what God has said in His written Word, the Bible. One MUST give of their time, their talents, and their treasures to help the mission and vision of their church. One must NOT have a consumeristic mentality about church, one MUST belong, be committed to serving and giving. 

Now, let me be clear, there are many biblical Scriptures that are difficult to get our heads and hearts wrapped around, but the problems is that outside of the Bible, we try to make God like us, we try to hold Him to our standards, when in fact it’s the exact opposite, we are to conform to His standards, we should make every effort to live holy lives, to honor God with our lives, be mindful of what we say and do, be mindful of how we treat others, and remember that tomorrow is not promised, if anything 2020 has proven that once again. We are to examine ourselves, test our ways, and return to the Lord when we’ve drifted off. [5]

So dear friend… sister… brother… if you’re not in a church, get in one. If you’ve been bouncing around from church to church, stop it. Commit to one, fight for it, don’t give up on it and stay until you can no longer stay. A perfect example of that looks like is what my brother and future church planter Martin Velazquez said just a few days ago at his house. He was retelling the story of how he came to be a member of Reformed Church L.A. He said that even though he didn’t agree with the theology of his previous church, he would stay there until they got kicked out or when heresy was preached. Not long after that, the Lord answered his prayers and they were officially kicked out for having different doctrine, even though they’d always submitted to and respected their pastor and his views. 

Friends, if you’ve not yet read the Bible, read it! Study it, understand what God is saying in its entirety. Don’t cherry pick a verse here and there and make it say what you want it to. Like we say at RCLA, “we twist churros, not scripture!” I’d encourage you to wrestle with difficult doctrines and see what is in your heart that makes you think you’re right and God is wrong and go check out Romans 3:4 that says, “…let God be true, even though everyone is a liar.”

I love my culture, but my culture has many many errors when it comes to God’s affairs and His Word, the Bible. So by all means, let us honor our culture best by speaking truth into it and not let the world tell us about God. The Bible knew this would happen and warned us to, not be conformed to the ways of this world, but instead to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that by testing we would discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [6] Let me know how I can help you on this journey that I hope you take seriously. God is too big of a deal to take lightly. Let me know how I can be praying for you too. 

That is all, carry on!


[1] 1 Timothy 1:15

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[3] Romans 5:8

[4] 1 Timothy 2:5

[5] Lamentations 3:40

[6] Romans 12:2

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.”