Pick Up Your Mat and Walk
HOUSTON — Hispanic leader Samuel Rodriguez urged listeners to reject past constraints and lay claim to God’s promises at a combined service of Hispanic Centennial and National Youth Ministries Fine Arts festival attendees Aug. 2 in Houston.
The gathering combined the enthusiastic worship of Latinos of all ages and the fervency of youth from various ethnicities. A crowd of over 7,000 assembled in a trio of cavernous exhibit halls in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, replete with 10 giant video screens. For nearly an hour, attendees sang worship choruses and hymns in both Spanish and English.
Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the nation’s largest and most influential Latino evangelical organization. He said he found it intimidating, yet providential, that he could address the first-ever combined gathering of the AG Hispanic constituency and the entire denomination’s young people. He said he believes the two groups stand poised to define American Christianity in the 21st century.
“The future of American Christianity lies primarily in the hands of this emerging generation and the Latino demographic,” an animated Rodriguez said in a rapid-fire, rousing address in the midst of the pair of converging events. The crowd responded frequently to the message with cheers, applause, hand waving, and laughter.
The high-profile Rodriguez — a former district youth director — pops up on cable news talk shows occasionally and has been called to the White House on more than one occasion. Rodriguez also is lead pastor of New Season Christian Worship Center in Sacramento, California. He was a featured speaker at last year’s Influence Conference in Anaheim, California.
Lately, Rodriguez said, Satan has targeted both Hispanics and youth, and that can lead to a perpetual state of stagnation. He said the enemy can paralyze Christians spiritually, emotionally, financially, and relationally via myriad methods: sin, failure, fear, the past, shame, religious condemnation, self-pity, victimization mentality, poverty, erroneous thoughts, abuse, broken relationships, unforgiveness, and unbelief.
Christians shouldn’t allow themselves to be stymied by permitting others to define them, said Rodriguez, whose primary sermon text focused on the man healed at the Pool of Bethesda after 38 years of being an invalid (John 5). As a sermon illustration, an 18-year-old lay prone on a mat on the platform until the end of the message.
“The enemy of grace, truth, and love desires to paralyze our future by definitions of the world by nomenclatures and descriptors assigned to us that do not line up with God’s prophetic destiny and purpose,” said Rodriguez, 48. “The enemy will paralyze us if we are not certain about our identity.”
Followers of Christ aren’t defined by their surroundings, circumstances, failures, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, Rodriguez asserted.
“You are defined by what God already did for you,” Rodriguez declared. “The Cross, empty tomb, Upper Room, His blood, His Word. We are the Church of Jesus Christ and the gates of hell shall not, cannot, and will not prevail against us! Hallelujah!”
Rodriguez said naysayers will be surprised to discover in the end that millennials and Generation Z — those born since 2000 — won’t be the most unchurched, non-Christian swath in American history. Likewise, the narrative that Latinos lack the viable social economic bandwidth to provide leadership to a broken world is false, he said.
“I am believing by faith through Christ that you will never be paralyzed again,” Rodriguez told the gathered. “Because you know who you are in Christ. And You know who Christ is in you!”
Above all, that means not being defined by skin color, he said.
“You are, above all, a born-again, blood-washed, Spirit-empowered, devil-rebuking, demon-binding, atmosphere-shifting, righteousness-pursuing, child of the living God!” Rodriguez said. “Paralysis ends right here and right now, forevermore.”
Rodriguez asked the audience to demonstrate faith by standing up and making declarations to be rid of past failures and to anticipate future blessings, symbolically flinging a mat off their shoulders.
“From now on, you and your ministries will see what you could not see before,” Rodriguez proclaimed. “You and your family will achieve what you could not achieve before.”
Rodriguez pronounced the grip of repeated failure, depression, chaos, sin, anxiety, and strife to be over.
“Paralysis will end today and forever more!” Rodriguez said. “Stand up, pick up your mat, start walking.”
Rodriguez brought Joyce Smith of suburban St. Louis on stage, to explain how her son, John, died in 2015 —for over an hour. The reserved Smith explained how she yelled in a hospital, asking the Holy Spirit to resurrect her son. A heartbeat began immediately on a monitor.
Breakthrough, a motion picture depicting the miracle will open on Easter weekend next year. Rodriguez is executive producer.
Only then did Rodriguez reveal the identity of the man on the mat on stage: John Smith.
“There is a purpose for my life and this generation,” said John Smith, adopted from Guatemala as a youth through ChildHope.