Presence in the Pain

It’s one thing to be in pain and another thing to be in pain – alone.

It’s hard enough to be in pain, but to be alone in pain is another thing altogether that many of us would rather avoid at all costs if possible. Last night I made a hospital visit and was reminded of this truth: God is present in our pain. We can serve as reminders of that for others.

This morning I read Psalm 68 and came across verse 19: Blessed be the Lord day by day, the God of our Salvation, who bears our burdens (NRSV). How amazing is it to worship a God who isn’t just strong enough to save us, but also strong enough to enter into the pain with us?! I love the images this verse sets up in describing God’s character. Yes, he is Savior and at the very same time the psalmist seems to acknowledge that God’s identity (as Savior) doesn’t exempt us from pain or burden. God’s identity as Savior doesn’t set up a wall between him and us. Instead, it draws him close -close enough to carry our burdens. He doesn’t run from our burdens, he runs to them to carry them with us.

We sometimes think (or feel) that burdens signal God’s absence, when water-two-handsin fact they can serve to point us to God’s presence in the pain. I think of Jesus on the cross dying a criminal’s death while hanging between two criminals. The whole time, Jesus was sharing in their pain. Both recognized that Jesus was suffering with them and both called for his help – but one went a step further. He probably thought something to the effect of – “This is the beautiful one… the innocent one… who became ugly, guilty, and burdened, so that we won’t have to die alone, in our pain. He desires to be God with us now, later, and forever. Jesus remember me, when you enter paradise.”

Let God carry your pain. You are not meant to suffer alone. Share your burdens… let God bear them, let others bear them too. If you try to carry your burdens alone you will be crushed by them. But remember: God has entered the fire so that in the fire you can find him there and know that he desires to be with you in life, in death, and in life after death. Don’t run from burdens, seek His presence.

Look for him there.

Bless him day by day.

 

 

 

 

Currently Reading: Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas; Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home – Richard Foster

Currently Listening: La Puñalada Trapera – Carrie Rodriquez


Terror Into Beauty

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but here we go:

I have been enjoying preaching every week at Primera Waco. It’s been a blast. I have been following the Luke readings in the lectionary as part of a series on the life of Jesus.

This week (the Sunday after Tuesday’s election) the text was: Luke 21:5-19. It was a challenging text but nonetheless, relevant and timely. Some of the themes in the text had to do with God’s presence and our witness in the midst of destruction and persecution.

The part of the text that struck me the most and that I found most liberating was verse 13. “[Your persecution], will give you an opportunity to testify” (NRSV) or “It will lead to your giving testimony” (NAB). In other words, our persecution does not give us permission to retaliate in violence or anger or worry. Jesus tells us to respond to persecution without fear. Instead let the beauty of Christ’s life shine in you. While persecutors might take away your freedom, your rights, and even lock you up and torture your body, there is something they cannot touch: the beauty and hope of Christ’s presence in you.

With Christ, we take that terror and turn it into beauty.
Here is the full sermon: https://soundcloud.com/emanroldan/a-time-to-witness

Peace

 

-Emmanuel

 


An Overdue Update

Ah!

So much has transpired since the last time I wrote in this blog (in May!). Now that life has slowed down (at least for a little bit), I plan on making sure that I am able to blog more often. One of my professors described the process of blogging as,  “a hungry animal that you have to keep on feeding.”

For now —

Three important updates:

  1. I am in a relationship!
  2. I graduated!
  3. I got a job!

I am currently dating the girl of my dreams. She is everything I could ask for. She is kind, funny, smart, and above all, beautiful inside and out. As I type this we are sitting in a “rural” low-lit, coffee shop listening to The Shins on the overhead speakers. We’re both working on our laptops. She’s got a mint tea on the table and I got some drip coffee, black. The glow of the computer screen illuminates her blonde curls and with her smile she is lighting up the rest of the room. I love exploring new places with her. I also love talking about her every chance I get, so feel free to ask away. She is the kindest human I have ever met and she is teaching me so much. Thanks be to God.

I graduated from Baylor University’s Truett Seminary this May with a Master of Divinity degree. My concentration was Theology. I took a wide range of classes from a Death and Resurrection Capstone, to a Holy Spirit Seminar, to a Creation Care class, to field supervisory training in a clinical setting at a local hospital. From my degree I earned 93 credit hours and received 600 clinical hours from continuing education in Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE). I had four internships while I was in seminary. Two of those at a church and non-profit in Washington D.C. and two of those at a local hospital working as a Chaplain. For three years I worked as a campus chaplain at one of Baylor’s residence halls. Throughout all this, Truett and Baylor have given me a greater love for God and his church. I am humbled.

Most recently, I accepted an offer to serve as the Senior (not Señor) Pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Waco. This summer was wild. I wasportugal.jpg out of town for six weekends in a row and then would have to return to Waco to work 50-60 hours a week at my internship as a hospital chaplain. I was out of town preaching, interviewing, visiting family (mine and my girlfriend’s). I traveled approximately 8,722 miles in the course of about 6 weeks. For you math nerds, that’s 1454 miles per week (that’s about the distance from Dallas to New York each week). Crazy! Although I felt every mile on my body, every mile was worth it. The offer at Primera came out of nowhere. It was truly a God-thing. I would love to sit down with you sometime and tell you about it. I start preaching the second week of August. God has been faithful. I am indebted to my parents, my family, friends, and my church community in San Antonio and Waco for their support and love.

I am learning these things.

  1. Our faults become the means by which we receive grace. It’s precisely because we are imperfect that we need grace. But, as Barth says, “We would rather not live by grace. Something within us energetically rejects it.” Therefore, as long as we are hiding and pretending that we don’t need help or forgiveness, we are missing out.
  2. (I learned this last summer working at the hospital and had to relearn it this summer): Sometimes, people’s reactions are less about us and more about them. I noticed that my selfishness often led me to believe that if people were acting a certain way around me, then they were acting that way because of me… not always true.
  3. Finally, God is aware and he cares. He feeds the birds, how much more will he feed you? I’ve learned a good deal about God’s goodness and faithfulness during this season. Every day is a gift.

Let’s keep learning and thanking God together.

Peace

-Emmanuel

Currently Reading: Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work – Eugene Peterson; Dogmatics in Outline – Karl Barth

 


Two recent sermons

Here are two recent sermons that I preached in Austin, TX this past year – one in the Fall and the other in the Spring. I was honored to have been invited by my friend Mark, pastor of Sunrise Community Church, to preach in this diverse and welcoming congregation.

The first message was given during a series on Paul’s letters. I was asked to give an overview of the book of 1 Thessalonians. I wanted to highlight the importance of God restoring all things in the end. This vision of the end (which is really a beginning) transforms our present. My favorite verse from 1 Thessalonians –

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here is the link: https://soundcloud.com/emanroldan/1-thessalonians-sunrise-cc

The second message was given during a series on Genesis. In this series, major stories from the book of Genesis are preached on and treated. I was given the task of preaching over Sodom and Gomorrah (yikes!). It was probably the most challenging sermon I have preached to date. Here, I wanted to highlight the fact that yes, God is a God of love, but in order to be our Savior, he also has to be Judge! He is both Savior and Judge! He is, as Karl Barth writes (and Melito of Sardis before him), the Judge who was judged in our place. My favorite verse from Genesis 19-

29 So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.

Here is the link: https://soundcloud.com/emanroldan/sodom-and-gomorrah-sunrise-cc

I hope these sermons are edifying and helpful on your spiritual journey.

Peace

-Emmanuel

 

 


Spiritual Friendship

Last night I had the honor of leading a discussion group into the topic of Spiritual Friendship. For the past 2 weeks and for the next 3, this will be a topic of conversation at the group I lead. (Here’s a link to the curriculum and articles I am using: click here)

The idea of deep spiritual friendship has been on my mind for about a year now since Dana Robert, director of The Center for Global Christianity and Missions at Boston University, came and spoke at a chapel service at Truett (you can read about it here). I first heard this term when Wesley Hill came to Baylor in 2014 and spoke about how Spiritual Friendship is something that must be recovered in the church.

Since then, I have started paying more attention to my friendships. What are they worth? Have I been a good friend? Sadly, I sergebac7thcenturyhave to say that I am up against a pretty large deficit and a losing streak. I believe I can be a good friend and have often been a good friend, I’m just not sure if I have been consistent or committed to being a better friend each day. I am becoming convinced that many things fragmented in our society are a result of our inability to make friends and be friends (e.g. marriage, economic inequality, race and gender issues). Last night we talked about how often we settle for “being friendly” instead of doing the hard work of “being a true friend” to those we love.

The latter is hard work. Most of us would rather settle for being friendly because it is easy, requires less of us, keeps us in control, makes us feel powerful. I admitted to the group that I often struggle with relationships for several reasons. One is because I have learned that relationships change us. I do not like change. Therefore, when I sense that a relationship is about to change me, I choose to distance myself. It is scary. And yet, friends are gifts from God that can allow us to be more like the people God created us to be. Friends are supposed to build us through encouragement and critique. They should have the right to call us out on things and also the right to love us while being loved by us.  If I’m honest, I don’t like people “loving me.” When people “love me” it makes me feel helpless, vulnerable; not in control. Friends have a way of reminding us who we are AND who we are not and it is uncomfortable because I usually pretty content with the person I think I am.  The second reason I struggle with relationships is because of the heartaches that have accompanied them in the past. I have been hurt by people in the past and often project that on others in a way that is unfair to them. People are different. I am learning that I can’t live in the past world of wounds and broken relationships. Nevertheless, I must do the proper work of processing and mourning. The way to healing is not by going around suffering, but through it.

So join me. Join me on this quest for healing from my past hurts and into true friendship. Learn with me what friendship means and share your thoughts with me. Encourage me and challenge me. Imagine for a second what it would look like for the church to truly embody this? Maybe we need to throw out all our fancy strategies for missions and evangelism, for discipleship and worship, and learn first (or concurrently) what it means to be friends of God and friends with one another (I’m not saying we need to throw them out completely, but the commitment to strategy must submit to the commitment to love God and love others). In John 15, Jesus tells his disciples, “I have called you friends…” Maybe we need to recover this in our churches. Maybe we can set the world on fire with the deep love that can come through friendship.

So finally, practice friendship alongside me. (I’m not saying “be my friend” but if you want to, that’s cool too!) What I mean is: allow yourself to be led into a true friendship. I challenged the group to find a friend (or two) that they would invest in and commit to helping grow that person toward Christ-likeness. Maybe you can do this too and find that you too, perhaps, if you allow it, will be changed into Christ-likeness in the process. Allow yourself to speak into that person’s life and let yourself be changed by God through that person. After all, the call to follow Christ is a call to die to ourselves, to be transformed, to live with God. Join me and let’s follow this call together.

Peace

-Emmanuel

(by the way, if you are looking for resources, I would recommend starting with: Becoming Friends by Paul Wadell, if you are looking for something more challenging, check out the medieval monk: Aelred of Rievaulx and his book, Spiritual Friendship. As a group, you might even benefit from reading Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together, and discussing it with two or three people each week. Hope this helps.)

 


Trump, Graduation, & A Boat

Thoughts have been everywhere lately. Along with those thoughts – emotions. I have struggled to write lately because life has not resolved in many ways I thought it would. Regardless, I think I am learning.

I am learning that our behavior matters. Even small, consistent behaviors. Prayer can be protest. N.T. Wright says that each time we worship we are engaging in something that is counter-cultural because the very act of worship says “Jesus is King. Caesar (my 401(k), my diploma, the government, my 10-year plan, my idea of God) is not. 

The future looks like a forest right now: dark, crowded, potentially dangerous. The only things I know about the future right now (not really) is: 1. I will graduate in May and 2. We will have a new person leading the country. Yet even this is uncertain. Nevertheless:

We have to lead with behavior even when we’re “not feeling it” and our emotions will eventually catch up. For example:

I have been guilty of not liking (maybe hating) Trump (e.g. feeling).

And I have also, at the same time, neglected praying for him (e.g. behavior).

Behavior says a lot about what one believes is important. It bears witness to reality. If you want to know what you believe, just look at the way you behave. If I say “I love the un-loveable”, which behaviors reflect that? Maybe I need to act in ways which show love to the unloveable and I will eventually come to love them the way Jesus does.

I am reading the story of Moses and the story of Jesus’s disciples. I have learned through them that action reflects belief. The Hebrew midwives stood up to abortion because their belief in (and respect for) God led them to act in a way that was different (Exodus 1:17). Moses struggled with action (Exodus 4:1), but he eventually went. The disciples struggled to believe Jesus (Mark 6:50-52). And yet, they found themselves in a boat, following Jesus. I think this normalizes doubt for those who follow Christ. Of course we will struggle with believing him. He calls us to great things and it is often terrifying, but pride must die and should not master us.

Moses says to God: “What makes you think I can do this?”  God replies: “I will be with you.” The disciples are terrified when they see what Jesus is capable of and Jesus comforts them by saying, “Courage! Don’t be afraid, it’s me.” What God says (and does) is more important than what we can say and do. Yet, he is so patient with us.

 

I currently find myself in situations like these. The question for me is whether I can look past myself, get over myself; my pride, and look to the God who able to do infinitely more than I can imagine. Perhaps, one way of doing this is acting and then trusting that God will be with me. I am not sure which one comes first: acting or trusting. Maybe there is not an order. Or maybe love makes the determination. Regardless, this God is the one who desires to be God with me because he loves me. Wow.

 


A Vision

“…and all will sing out Hallelujah”

Those words at worship yesterday brought a vision of something great. In my mind, I saw a sea of people praising God. It was easy to do because all I had to do was look around me and observe.

And yet, this was different.

Those words made me think about the songs we sing.

We often don’t think of songs as having purpose/identity-building characteristics. But they really do. Music, like fashion, is driven by narrative. You wear something because you want to live into the story that those clothes tell and you want it to match the story that is going on in your mind.

Richard Rohr, in Breathing Under Water, makes a bold claim by saying that more than anything else we are addicted to, we are addicted to our own thoughts. This addiction to our own thoughts then manifests itself through other, more popular addictions.

It’s almost as though we have stories on “repeat” each day in our minds. They influence what we eat, who we talk to, what we wear, and hundreds of other choices. Those stories are sometimes antithetical to the story of scripture and drive us to do things that are contrary to the people we have been created to be.

At Harris Creek, we are going through a series called, Rebuilding from Rubble. The series is focused on spiritual formation. Yesterday’s sermon reminded me that we have a responsibility to God for the life we have been given. We must be transformed as our minds are renewed and the interplay between the stories we hear and the habits we practice must be given attention. It was good to be reminded that we must take practical steps to change each day. God has already taken the initiative and the ball is in our court.’ This became clearer to me when reading through Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. In the book he says that fixing our marriage may do more for our prayer lives than our prayer lives can do for fixing our marriage. He gets this from 1 Peter 3:7. Of course he is not saying prayer is not important. He is also not saying, “don’t pray.” What it does mean is that we can’t just “pray” and wait to be magically changed. God wants to involve us in the change process. What an amazing God. He desires relationship. He desires mercy, not sacrifice.

More than wiping the hard drive of our mind, he wants to capture the love of our hearts and allow us to willingly move toward him in love. When we give it all to God, it is less like being handcuffed and dragged around by God and more like holding the hand of the one you love and letting that hand guide you wherever it may take you. At first, it may seem unnatural, the habits you need to practice will be hard, but let love be your guide. Fixing your relationships and practicing healthy habits within them may be the best thing you can do for your prayer life, and thus, your spiritual formation.

I read a quote by Martin Lloyd-Jones a while back that I loved. He said that the greatest reason for unhappiness in our world comes from listening to ourselves rather than talking to ourselves. The songs we sing, the story of scripture, the habits we practice, give us a way of “talking to ourselves” (without being weird) liberate us and help us see the new person we are becoming. And this is truly an interplay between faith and practice. We act because we believe and we believe because we act. It is mutual.

Every day matters.

What stories will your let yourself be influenced by today?


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