Churches May Be Closed, but This Pastor Says We Have Reason to Hope

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez says he came face to face with the fear and anxiety created by COVID-19 when his own daughter contracted the virus over the summer after giving birth to a beautiful baby girl. The pastor’s daughter, 29, ended up in an intensive care unit fighting for her life.

The challenging lessons learned by Rodriguez, founder and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, are part of his new book “From Survive to Thrive: Live a Holy, Healed, Healthy, Happy, Humble, Hungry, and Honoring Life.” 

Rodriguez, who pastors a church in California, joins the show to explain that all of us are “failing, surviving, or thriving.” He says he hopes his book will serve as a practical guide for anyone who desires to thrive in this season, even as government lockdowns close church buildings and the virus continues to affect our lives. 

Also on today’s show, we read your letters to the editor and share a good news story about a generous young man who is using his dog treat business to fight canine cancer. (You may purchase Lily’s Barkery treats here.) 

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

“The Daily Signal Podcast” is available on Ricochet, Apple PodcastsPippaGoogle Play, and Stitcher. All of our podcasts may be found at DailySignal.com/podcasts. If you like what you hear, please leave a review. You also can leave us a message at 202-608-6205 or write us at letters@dailysignal.com

Rob Bluey: We are joined on “The Daily Signal Podcast” today by Reverend Samuel Rodriguez. He’s president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the author of a new book called “From Survive to Thrive.”

Reverend Rodriguez, it’s great to welcome you back on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” Thanks for joining us today.

Samuel Rodriguez: Thank you for having me.

Bluey: Absolutely. Well, your new book is out at a time when millions of people are struggling from COVID-19. This pandemic has wreaked havoc on so many people across the globe. Some who may have contracted the virus, other who have lost loved ones from it.

Your book “From Survive to Thrive” offers a message of hope for overcoming some of the challenges that we face in life today. Can you tell us more about that?

Rodriguez: Oh, without a doubt, it’s a biblically substantiated prescription for these troubled times. In full disclosure, a great impetus in writing the book emerged out of experience within our family regarding COVID-19.

My 29-year-old daughter, after giving birth to my wonderful Camila, my granddaughter, ended up with COVID-19, first week of July. And because her immune system was suppressed, unfortunately, my daughter ended up in critical condition in the ICU with the help of the ventilator to breathe.

We’ve never been down this road before. So all praise be God, prayers work, they really do. And my daughter is now completely healed and fine. But it served as a motivating factor on pushing back on the idea of a perpetual survival mode.

The idea is to remove the lid of despair, angst, consternation, anxiety, depression. How do we remove the lid that somehow quench, cure, obstruct the fullness of peace or joy in our respective lives.

That’s why we wrote the book survives abroad, and it’s a personal testimony of our journey, but again, a biblically substantiated prescription for these very troubled and unique times indeed.

Bluey: Well, Reverend Rodriguez, I love how you organize the book. Each chapter “From Survive to Thrive” has practical steps that readers can take things [from] and chapter titles like “Holy Quarantine: Our Reboot, Recharge, Restart”; “Humble Pie: Serve Before You Slice”; and the one I like best: “Alive to Thrive: Refuse to Settle for Less Than God’s Best.” What do you want your readers to take away from the book as they go through it?

Rodriguez: Every single person on the planet, as we speak today, they can find themselves in one of the following three respective categories, without a doubt: Every single person is either failing, surviving, or thriving. Every individual, you’re either failing, surviving, or thriving.

If I were to engage a biblical narrative as a metaphor, every single person is either an Egypt, the desert, or the promise land. And many people, unfortunately, never truly enter the promise land, a life where they are living to their fullest.

Where all their God-given abilities and giftings are in full activation and manifestation. Where you’re changing the world around you for the greater good. Very few people ever reached that point.

Many people somehow end up in the desert of perpetual survival mode. Some people end up in the desert of perpetual victimization. And we permit our past, our circumstances in perpetuity to define us.

I want this book to give you the biblically substantiated Christ-centered prescription to remove the lid. To remove the lid that stops you from living a John 10:10 latter portion of the verse, an abundant life in Christ, not just in eternity, but on this side of eternity.

So hopefully, and prayerfully, the reader will obtain it and understand that there are lids. Some of them are self-imposed. Some of them are placed on us by life itself. The moment we remove the lid, we live life without a lid, and we changed the world around us.

Bluey: And as you and your family went through this personal experience with COVID-19, what was your message to them? Obviously, that sounds like I had no idea that your daughter was in critical condition. But there must’ve been times when your family itself was struggling and asking questions. What was your message of hope to them?

Rodriguez: The message of hope was one that said, “Listen, in our journey, even in our faith journey, as Christians, as followers of Jesus, there’s a false gospel teaching out there. It’s completely false. That teaches that as Christians, we will not suffer pain and we should not be suffering pain. That’s just totally outrageous.”

No, there is suffering on this side of eternity. We go through things, be it infirmity, be it economic melees, be an unrest, be it relational issues.

We go through things. But the guarantee in Scripture—you asked about what message did I convey. It was the message of the Apostle Paul to those in the book of Romans, all things work together for the good of those who believe. They really do. He makes all things, he, meaning God, makes all things work together. Even those difficult moments.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture, one of my favorite passages is … Psalm 65:11, “He will crown the year with a bountiful harvest, and even your hard pathways of difficulties will overflow with abundance.” That’s God’s promise. And that’s the message I convey to my family in a very difficult time indeed.

Bluey: Reverend Rodriguez, what can we, as Christians, do to help those who may have lost faith or blame God for the suffering from this pandemic? Do you have advice for our listeners and the things that they can do in their own personal lives?

Rev Rodriguez: Right. We as human beings, it’s natural to play the blame game. And we usually blame three groups of individuals. We blame others, we blame the enemy. There’s a lot of “the devil did it.”

There are things that the enemy could probably sue us for defamation of character, that he probably says, “I never had anything to do with that.” But there are things that he’s responsible for. And then sometimes we blame God.

At the end of the day, we should sway away from the blame and just recognize that in life, we will go through trials and tribulations. There are moments of angst, there are pandemics. But in the midst of it all, there is a sovereign, mighty, loving, grace-filled, merciful God who loves us, and who has a purpose for us that cannot and will not be denied.

Again, the purpose of this book is to push people out of failure, out of perpetual survival mode, and equip them biblically speaking, not just to live, but to thrive, and for each person to become a blessing.

Let me give you one final example. People that are surviving pray like this: “Lord, answer my prayer and please bless me.” Thrivers, this is how they pray: “Lord, make me an answer to someone else’s prayer and make me a blessing to everyone I know.” Radical transformation.

Bluey: It certainly is. Again, we’re talking to the Reverend Samuel Rodriguez. The title of his book is “From Survive to Thrive.”

Reverend Rodriguez, a follow-up question to that: Those parents out there, or grandparents, who have young children, what are some of the ways that you can help them understand what we’re going through right now with this pandemic? And what’s your advice to maybe elementary or even high school-age kids who are struggling?

Rodriguez: Yes. It’s important for us to be able to contextualize this within a macro worldview that is biblically substantiated. Meaning, ladies and gentlemen, Dorothy, we may not be in Kansas anymore, but we’ve been in Kansas before.

This is not the first pandemic. Throughout the course of human history, humanity has confronted a number of very serious diseases, pestilence, illnesses, pandemics across the board, plagues, actually. So many things, and yet here we are as humanity. We’re still standing.

God has a plan for his children, meaning us collectively, as a human race created in the image of God. That should be sort of the macro metanarrative conveyed to children at the elementary level, all the way to high school: Let not your heart be troubled.

One day, you should even tell them, “One day, you’re going to write about this, or you’re going to read about it. And people are going to reference 2020 and the season of COVID and the season of a pandemic. And what should you say?” And you should say that we saw the grace of God, that we held onto faith, that we kept on loving and caring about others.

That’s what we took out of the COVID pandemic. That God is with us in the good times and in the bad times. The same God of the mountains is the same God of the valley. That should be the message conveyed.

Bluey: Thank you. That’s great advice. You and I had the pleasure of working together. I really truly feel blessed to have worked with so many talented people earlier this year with The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission. What did that experience teach you about the virus and how we could successfully recover from it?

Rodriguez: Oh, without a doubt. And to me, it’s one of the highlights of this year and maybe my lifetime, just working with you, the entire team, what a blessing indeed.

Again, let me use biblical term, forgive me, I’m a pastor. We could be both prophetic and practical. We don’t have to be either/or. And we could occupy that space of common sense, of reason and faith, a little Thomas Aquinas there, faith and reason. We can be both.

And because the virus, as I alluded to previously, is real—my family was personally impacted by this virus, so it is real—we could be practical.

We can take every single measure, personally speaking, take that personal onus and responsibility to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. At the same time, simultaneously, not to get political, but to be very affirming to our current reality, maybe to push back on some of the most restrictive measures—there is mental health.

There is mental health, there’s community health. There is health for especially communities that are impacted egregiously by the lockdowns.

I have seen a very measurable uptake in the communities that we serve regarding the child abuse, domestic abuse, depression at the highest numbers we have ever seen. The call out for help, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, all because of the restrictive lockdowns. And sometimes the remedy is actually more egregious than the actual disease itself.

So I pray that we find a happy medium, where we can both keep people safe—those that are most vulnerable amongst us in our various communities—while simultaneously living life to the fullest within the reality of our current day and age. And I don’t think it should be either/or, it should be both/and.

Bluey: Thank you for raising that. I think that that is something that is of great concern to so many people.

And as we’ve seen the virus, again, have this surge, we’ve seen more and more political leaders resort to lockdowns and other restrictive measures. And one of the areas where you’ve been outspoken and served as a leader is in terms of how religious organizations or churches can continue to spread the good news and interact with their congregations.

What are some of the ways that you’ve seen churches in particular react and carry on that message of God and in Jesus in ways that are doing so responsibly while at the same time being realistic about what we’re facing?

Rodriguez: My smirk is not sarcastic. My smirk emerges out of my current reality of California. That’s why I’m smirking.

My governmental authorities here, the powers that be in California, have deemed through executive fiat and decrees, while not necessarily living up to these decrees and fiats in their personal lives, lifestyles, and activities, that churches are not essential.

And it’s not only troublesome, because churches are completely essential. Churches are doing an incredible job in ministering to the mental angst right now, the spiritual angst.

The spiritual well-being of an individual is completely essential. It impacts the mental, emotional. It impacts even the family life of so many individuals, so many communities. So spirituality is essential, church is essential.

Here’s one of my phrases. The governor recently [said] liquor stores can continue to be open and can be visited, of course. Churches have to be shut down. He shut down churches again.

And my response was, in essence, you’re telling me that Jack Daniel’s is essential, but Jesus Christ is not. Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

Listen, we’re big boys and girls. We can do this. In our church, for example, we do temperature checking. We wear masks. We CDC distance by family. We do everything by the book, everything by the book. Everything you do at Target and Walmart, at a liquor store, at a cannabis store here in California.

So we do all of that. So you’re telling me that I have to shut down. Again, don’t want to be political, but I find it to be discriminatory. I find it to be an act of discrimination without a doubt when you identify a church and just determine that churches are not essential elements within your state government apparatus. Unfortunately, it is the reality.

I hope and pray churches will continue to shine the light of Christ, provide services, call up every individual, every church member, every family, especially the elderly and the most vulnerable, in these difficult times.

This is when people need to be connected to God and to each other, by faith, through Christ, in hope that this will come to an end—and it will. And the other side of this unprecedented chapter, we will see a harvest.

Bluey: I couldn’t agree more with you. I can tell you from my own personal experience, the church that our family has been attending for about 12 years has decided to go all virtual. And starting in March, we would have a Sunday service over Zoom.

And in the beginning, [I] certainly understood some of the restrictions that were in place, we were still learning a lot about the virus. But as the months went on, I saw reluctance to go back to in-person services.

So we’ve actually made the decision on to find another church, where as cold as it is here in Virginia on Sunday mornings at 8 a.m., we take the family out so we can celebrate together. We can have the Holy Eucharist.

And I think that you’re absolutely right. It is so meaningful to be there in a safe environment, outdoors, where we can have that service. And so I hope that other churches think creatively about how to make this happen.

I do think that there are measures in place. And it really hurts me that when schools and churches are told that they can’t open and you see bars and liquor stores be permitted to continue doing their business. It does send, I think, the entirely wrong message to the American people.

Rodriguez: It’s incoherent. There’s a lack of continuity. It’s discriminatory because it’s not equal application of the law, without a doubt.

And again, in hindsight, when we revisit what took place from COVID-19 and what can we learn as Americans, to a great degree, we discovered that our God-given rights are God-given rights, not the rights given to us by one another.

This is not 1789 France. This is America—our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence. Our Founding Fathers were wise enough to understand that our rights are given to us by God. These rights are in jeopardy.

And for whatever reason, in times of a crisis, it seems that the government has the right to obstruct, to hinder, to quench, to stifle my God-given right. And that is not what the Constitution says.

We need to build a firewall in the future. This can not happen again. Our rights do not die in the face of a pandemic. They do not die. Matter of fact, we need our rights more than ever in difficult times.

Bluey: We certainly do.

I want to ask you one question about the recently completed presidential contest, which, obviously, we know is still being challenged in courtrooms and states are still debating certifications and having recounts. It’s left a lot of Americans divided. Families maybe not talking to each other, neighbors no longer communicating.

What is your message as we move on from 2020, from a political standpoint, and how perhaps we can come together and find some common ground with our neighbors in this time?

Rodriguez: Your political affiliation should never cancel your prophetic assignment. Your political affiliation should never cancel your family assignment. And your political affiliation should never cancel, let me speak to the Christians now, your Christian assignment.

Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor. Love your Republican neighbor, your Democrat neighbor, your independent neighbor. Love the neighbor that voted for [Donald] Trump and love the neighbor that voted for [Joe] Biden. Love the neighbor that doesn’t look like you and those that look like you. Just love your neighbor. That’s what we’re called to do.

I am so committed, not to advancing the agenda of the donkey or the elephant, but to elevating the agenda of the lamb, who is the lion of the tribe of Judah, who is Jesus.

So I have my values, and I both believe, advance, and hopefully try to convince others to align themselves with values that I do believe are biblically substantiated—life, religious liberty, and biblical justice. Psalm 89:14, righteousness and justice, truth and love.

Can you imagine a government that operates like that? Righteousness and justice, truth and love. That would be just amazing. In the words of millennials, that would be fire.

So here it is, but I hope and pray that people come together for such a time as this. And I do believe that as Christians, we have a mandate to help somehow facilitate peacemakers, repairers of the breach, unity. A united church can heal a divided nation, a divided church can’t do absolutely anything, but a united church can heal a divided nation.

Bluey: That’s so true. Thank you. And finally, Reverend Rodriguez, are there any closing words you’d like to share with our listeners about the book, “From Survive to Thrive,” or anything else that you’ve been working on?

Rodriguez: We’re living in very difficult times. I do believe that we’re the precipice of an amazing, multiethnic, multigenerational movement in America, really. And we’re going to see a movement that will reconcile Billy Graham’s message of [Martin Luther King Jr.’s] march. Get ready for that. It’s going to be beautiful.

Let not your heart be troubled. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid of perpetual depression, angst, consternation, and that this thing is just in a slippery slope without any end whatsoever. There are individuals out there fully committed to being light in the midst of darkness. And every single time light stands next to darkness, light always wins.

Bluey: Reverend Sammie Rodriguez. The book is called “From Survive to Thrive.” [I] encourage our listeners to pick up a copy. We appreciate you joining us on The Daily Signal and thanks for writing it. Couldn’t come at a better time. We appreciate it.

Rodriguez: Thank you for having me.

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