Faith – Martinez Tribune https://martineztribune.com The website of the Martinez Tribune. Fri, 24 Mar 2017 17:34:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.1 Homily on the Woman at the Well https://martineztribune.com/2017/03/24/homily-on-the-woman-at-the-well/ Fri, 24 Mar 2017 14:32:55 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=6885 By NOE TUASON Special to the Tribune NOTE: This is a Homily at Mass celebrated on the third Sunday of Lent on the Gospel about the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:5-42), preached by Deacon Noe Tuazon from the Diocese of Oakland. The Gospel today is the story of the woman at the well.  She was not …

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By NOE TUASON
Special to the Tribune

NOTE: This is a Homily at Mass celebrated on the third Sunday of Lent on the Gospel about the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:5-42), preached by Deacon Noe Tuazon from the Diocese of Oakland.

The Gospel today is the story of the woman at the well.  She was not only a woman, who was basically treated as lower in rank than the men, but also a sinner. But, more so than a woman and a sinner, she was a Samaritan. She represents those who were treated as strangers or foreigners, marginalized, despised, discriminated against in Jewish society during Jesus times.  Jesus reached out to them.

Today, the woman at the well represents as well, those who are treated as strangers and foreigners in our country – marginalized, discriminated against, despised, forced to live in the shadows. They are the new Samaritans.

Today I would like to talk about these new Samaritans. Some of you may not agree about this. It is alright to disagree as long as we don’t find ourselves disagreeable.  What I will talk about is not a political but a moral issue, a social justice issue. I would like to talk to you about the undocumented immigrants in our midst.

They face the “go back to your country” slurs. They live in fear. They don’t call the police when there’s a break in. They think twice before they bring a sick child to the emergency room. They work in menial jobs that few people want: dishwashers, waiting on tables in small restaurants, or in the farms.

While the majority were born in Mexico, almost half are from other countries: China, India, the Philippines, Central and South American countries. And a relatively smaller percentage are white.  There is a growing sense of fear in their communities due to the increasing number of raids of the Immigration and Customs agents, or ICE.  Because of fear, many are having mental health issues including the children. The Catholic Charities of the East Bay reported, that in one community, more than half the children were afraid to go to school.

Those children are especially vulnerable. Those who were born here are U.S. citizens. If their parents are deported, who would care for them? And some of the older children and adults were brought here very young. They know of no other country except the U.S.

Certainly, undocumented immigrants have violated immigration laws. But most have been driven here by severe poverty in their own country where earning a living wage for survival is impossible. Is it a crime to be poor? Is it a crime to want to better the lives for their family? Coming to America is fraught  with danger. Many never make it.  Some are murdered. Young women are raped. But the lure of a better life for their family is very strong.

Outside of violating immigration laws, most undocumented immigrants are law abiding people. They pay their taxes. They are not a drain to society. They make contribution to social security through their employer, and yet, they cannot expect any benefit when they are too old to work.  I have a friend who has been here for over 30 years. She ran away from an abusive husband. She came here to try to help her children back in the Philippines. She is old and diabetic. But, she cannot stop working. There is no retirement for her. If she stops working, she will not have any money for herself and for her children. I suspect she will continue working until she drops dead.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (or USCCB) says that in Catholic Catechism, the government has two duties. The first duty is to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person. Persons have the right to immigrate and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nations: (Catholic Catechism, 2241).  The second duty is to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good. Just so we are clear, I don’t think the Church is advocating an open border.  It is making a plea for social justice.

Indeed we must secure our borders and enforce our laws, but we are, first and foremost, people of faith. We must understand and respect the rights of people to try to come to the U.S., and we must understand and respect the rights of the undocumented immigrants. They should not be treated like criminals. They have the right to remain silent when interrogated, right to an attorney, and right not to be searched without a search warrant, and a right to be treated with dignity. A Hispanic priest in our diocese said that among Latinos, to be called and treated like a criminal is a terrible thing. A criminal is one who has committed a crime like stealing or breaking in; assault, rape or murder.

What can we do as people of God? First, educate ourselves about our Catholic position on immigration reform.  Go to the USCCB website and read “The Catholic Position On Immigration Reform.”  Two, go to the Diocese of Oakland website and read Bishop Michael Barbers statement regarding President Trump’s executive orders on immigrants and refugees.  I would like to quote a portion of it:

“‘The Catholic Church’ … stands with the immigrant, refugee, and migrant community. We oppose actions that promote fear and hostility towards people of all faiths and nationalities. We remain committed to our mission of welcoming the stranger through legal services, refugee resettlement, education, and community outreach. …

“Our country has welcomed people fleeing religious or political persecution, war, poverty or violence since its founding. The spirit and tenacity of our shared immigrant ancestry has shaped and defined our nation. As a faith community, the Catholic Church is an immigrant church with a long history of embracing newcomers and caring for migrants.

We know the stories of persecution, violence, and oppression that drive people – including children – from their homelands seeking safe haven in the United States. Despite the rhetoric of fear, we believe that people of good will and conscience understand that for many this is a life or death situation, and (we) choose to be on the side of life.”

As Jesus reached out to the Samaritan woman, we should reach out to undocumented immigrants. I have here a few cards, in English and Spanish, which states their rights. If you know anyone who is undocumented, get a card from me, make copies and give it to him or her. If you know that he or she needs a lawyer, tell him or her to go to the Catholic Charities of the East Bay website and call their immigration legal services. The phone number of the lawyers are also posted on our bulletin board.  It is wise to keep that number in our wallet.

As you leave the church after Mass, please remember what Jesus said. I was thirsty and you gave me water to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me. If you ask “when did we give you water to drink, Lord? When did we welcome you?” Jesus answers, “Whatsoever you did to the least of my people, you did unto me.” God bless you all.

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Rick Hocker: ‘Are you good enough for God?’ https://martineztribune.com/2017/01/27/rick-hocker-are-you-good-enough-for-god/ Fri, 27 Jan 2017 18:28:45 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=6426 By RICK HOCKER Special to the Tribune Are you good enough for God? How good must one be to please God? How do you know if God is pleased with you? Does going to church earn us points with God? By the way, going to church isn’t one of the Ten Commandments. We are commanded …

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By RICK HOCKER
Special to the Tribune

Are you good enough for God? How good must one be to please God? How do you know if God is pleased with you? Does going to church earn us points with God? By the way, going to church isn’t one of the Ten Commandments. We are commanded to keep the Sabbath holy by not doing work on that day, but nothing is mentioned in that commandment about weekly attendance at church or temple. Have you kept the Sabbath holy by avoiding physical exertion? Okay, so what about the other commandments? Have you obeyed every commandment without fault, including the commandments about coveting? Does perfect compliance make you good enough for God?

I hope you see the problem here. Our perceived status with God varies depending on what measuring stick we use. The most common measuring stick is comparing ourselves to other people. “I’m not as bad as those people,” we might say. That’s a cop-out because we can always find someone who is less righteous than us. When I make myself righteous at the expense of others, that’s called self-righteousness. Jesus hung out with the unrighteous, not with the self-righteous. Awareness of our failure at being righteous is the beginning of true humility.

The proper measuring stick is God’s holiness. Leviticus 19:2 says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Isn’t God making an unreasonable demand of us? Let’s be realistic. Who can attain to the level of God’s holiness? No one can. And yet, that is the standard God uses. God imposes such a high standard because He wants us to realize that we can’t attain to it. Jesus says in Mark 10:18, “No one is good, except God alone.” Psalm 14:3 says, “No one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. By God’s standard, no one is righteous, no one measures up, no one is good enough.

But we need to feel good about ourselves. Our fragile self-esteem requires a positive self-view. We don’t want to be self-deprecating people who see themselves as miserable sinners. We want to believe we’re okay. The truth is we aren’t good enough, not even close. But we don’t have to be miserable about it.

If we could be good enough by our own efforts, then Jesus wasted his time on Earth. Jesus came because we weren’t good enough. God knew we weren’t good enough from the beginning. That’s why he sent Jesus. The human Jesus was the only one good enough for God. In him, God said He was well pleased. The divine Jesus fixed our problem of not being good enough.

1 Corinthians 1:30 says that Jesus has become our righteousness. His goodness becomes our goodness. We no longer have to be good enough because He is good enough. That’s one of the basic tenants of Christianity. The implications are wonderful. We don’t have to strive to please God because, in Christ, we are already acceptable to God. Our status with God isn’t based on our behavior, but based on our belief in Christ’s death in our behalf. We need not compare ourselves with others anymore. We are free from the pressures of guilt or fear in our relationship with God. No longer do we worry if God is displeased or fear whether God will punish us.

I struggled with how best to present this point, so if I sound too strong, it’s because this topic is the most important I’ve ever written about. So many people wonder if they are good enough to get into heaven. The answer will always be no. We will never be good enough. Jesus died so we don’t have to be good enough. Instead, we can have a relationship with God that supersedes such worries.

When guilt or fear assails us, we have a choice. We can justify ourselves before God based on our own merits. Or we can lean on Jesus. Jesus justifies us before the Father as our loving advocate. Our confidence need not rest in our goodness, but in God’s goodness. I want to trust in God’s goodness and not my own. For years, I condemned myself for failing God. Now, I understand that God accepts me unconditionally, not because I did anything right, but because Jesus brought me into a loving relationship with God.

For more information, visit www.rickhocker.com.

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Rick Hocker: A beautiful ache https://martineztribune.com/2016/10/07/rick-hocker-a-beautiful-ache/ Fri, 07 Oct 2016 17:57:50 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=5424 By RICK HOCKER Special to the Tribune In continuing my theme on God’s love, I asked myself, “What situation most profoundly impacted me with a deeper understanding of God’s love?” The event that comes to mind was an unusual and memorable experience. It happened during a private time of silent reflection. In my mind’s eye, …

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By RICK HOCKER
Special to the Tribune

In continuing my theme on God’s love, I asked myself, “What situation most profoundly impacted me with a deeper understanding of God’s love?” The event that comes to mind was an unusual and memorable experience. It happened during a private time of silent reflection. In my mind’s eye, I saw Jesus standing before me. He brought his hands up to his chest and opened his rib cage as one would open a hinged clamshell. Inside, I saw his beating heart. As I gazed upon his heart with astonishment, I was transported into its interior and found myself in a stormy ocean. With each forceful beat of his heart, the turbulent waves surged and crashed against me. I understood that these waves were God’s love for me. But this love was wild, powerful and unrelenting, not the tender, maternal love we normally ascribe to God.

In my book, “Four in the Garden,” I wrote a scene based on this experience. Here is an excerpt:

“As each fierce wave engulfed me, I sensed an intensity of love, untamed, driving, even painful. I felt Creator’s raw desire for me, a perpetual ache of intense yearning for union. Beyond imagining, and yet so real, I discovered Creator’s love to be powerful, passionate, and relentless, coursing through His being like a mighty river that carves canyons in pursuit of its destination. In this vision, I was the target of Creator’s ardent pursual, of His anguished longing to be united with Him.”

What strikes me the most is the intensity of God’s longing. It surpasses strong desire. It’s an agonized yearning that seems unquenchable. It’s the longing of a lover for their beloved. It had never occurred to me that God aches for me, aches to be united with me as if the entire universe suffers until this love is consummated.

The bridegroom’s longing

The Bible refers to God’s people and church as Christ’s bride. Paul writes, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” – Ephesians 5:31-32. Paul infers that Christ and his church shall become one in the way that a husband and wife become one. He is using the example of marriage to describe our relationship to God. I believe that the sacrament of marriage is given to us to foreshadow our eventual union with God. The Bible mentions a wedding feast to celebrate this future holy union. “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb (Jesus) has come…” – Revelation 19:7.

We see an example of Jesus’ longing in Matthew 23:37. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Jesus longed to gather God’s people to himself. God, the Father, shares this same longing.

God longs for this union with the intense yearning of a bridegroom who looks forward to his wedding night. God aches for intimacy with us, for a space where both are vulnerable and see each other’s naked selves, stripped of concealments. Our destiny is for intimate union with God. This future mutual “knowing” is expressed in Corinthians 13:12. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face (with God). Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I believe that God desires to be fully known by us, but only to those who seek to know him.

Being desired

For a long time, I believed that God loves me, but this experience impacted me because I came to understand that God also desires me. Not only desires me, but passionately yearns for me. I didn’t know that God could feel such intensity of longing or ache with anguished desire. Sometimes, I forget that God can feel any passion at all. This experience removed any doubts I had about God’s feelings for me. I now know how much he wants me, more than any person could ever want me. And I understand how Jesus could be so willing to die in my behalf. His longing to gather us to God was a driving force for him. He still longs to gather us to God, to join us into holy union with himself. The people of Jerusalem were not willing. If we are willing, we will know God and be fully known and loved.

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, “Four in the Garden.” His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California. Visit www.fourinthegarden.com.

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Loving Ray: What to do when someone doesn’t change https://martineztribune.com/2016/07/08/loving-ray-what-to-do-when-someone-doesnt-change/ Fri, 08 Jul 2016 17:47:13 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=4638 By RICK HOCKER Special to the Tribune I met Ray at Sunday church. I heard he wanted a ride to the weekly home church that I attended, so I offered. Each week I gave him a ride. Each week I learned more about him. At first sight, one knew he was different. He had a …

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By RICK HOCKER
Special to the Tribune

I met Ray at Sunday church. I heard he wanted a ride to the weekly home church that I attended, so I offered. Each week I gave him a ride. Each week I learned more about him.

At first sight, one knew he was different. He had a massive nest of black, bushy hair. I would have called it an Afro, but it was far more unruly than that. He was overweight and wore baggy clothes. His arms hung loose and jiggled when he walked, causing his hands to flap forward at the wrists. His most unusual trait was that his eyes constantly darted as though he were assessing the threat of every person in the room. I soon learned he had a large helping of paranoia. His primary obsession was the “demon people.” These malevolent beings were always telling him what not to do.

When I would pick up Ray to go grocery shopping, he would say, “Oh, no. The demon people don’t want me to leave the house.” After I convinced Ray it was okay to go shopping, on the drive home he would decipher the license plate of the car in front of us. License plates were always bad news. “Oh, no. The license plate is telling me that I shouldn’t have bought the candy bar.”

By now, you must have deduced that Ray was not mentally stable. He didn’t work and couldn’t work. He lived by himself in Section 8 housing. Twice a week, he attended compulsory “socialization” where others like him came together for planned activities. His apartment was filthy. His hygiene was lacking. His diet was atrocious.

Frustrating behaviors
At weekly home church, eight of us met in the leader’s home. Ray would eat the snacks and then doze on the couch while the group discussed the Bible. This happened every time. Ray had more interest in food than in the Bible. It frustrated the heck out of the leader.

Ray frustrated me, too. Every time I saw Ray, I needed to remind him to not listen to the demon people. “Don’t pay attention to what they say. They don’t have your best interests in mind. They never say anything good or helpful.” Ray would hang his head and say, “You’re right. I shouldn’t listen.” But 10 minutes later, he would be listening to them and getting worked up. And I would lecture him again. I believed that if I repeated myself enough times, Ray would get it. That never happened.

Ray’s purpose
I didn’t know what to do about Ray. He was already on medications. He had case-workers who were trying their best to help him. I prayed for him. I also prayed for myself, that I would be more patient. One day, God said, “Ray will never change. Will you love him anyway?” It floored me to hear God say that someone would never change. I suppose I was naïve, thinking that people ought to change. I had seen people change, especially in response to prayer. What is the point of a life if that life never changes? The question wasn’t directed to God, but He answered. “The point of Ray’s life is to teach others to love.”

God had pressed my reset button. I staggered to reorient myself to this new information. The measure of life wasn’t about its impact on the person who lived it, but about its impact on those people who are affected by it. All of us have heard inspirational stories about people who have touched the lives of others, but what about those people who challenge us to be better? Ray’s life did have a purpose. Ray was God’s gift to me to teach me about unconditional love.

Easier love
Things changed for me from that point on. I no longer expected Ray to change. Can you imagine how freeing that was for me? I knew I would have to repeat myself to Ray uncountable times, but that was okay. It became a given, like brushing my teeth. I became more patient with Ray. My earlier frustration was due to my expectation that Ray should change. With that expectation gone, I had little cause to get frustrated. No one expects newborns to do a whole lot, so their parents tend to be extra patient. As expectation increases, so does our impatience.

I found it easier to bear with Ray, to listen to Ray, to let Ray be Ray without any conditions. My job was to simply love him, not try to change him. So often, our love has conditions. But unconditional love values what is and has no agenda or expectations. What surprised me was that Ray’s quirks became more endearing to me. These odd mannerisms defined him as a unique person. When a puppy chases its tail, we deem it peculiar or silly, but that behavior is part of the whole package that we can love.

God’s gift
Ray was a person who chased his tail, a puppy who would never grow up. We tend to be less tolerant of people than pets. We expect people to be grown up and act a certain way. When they don’t fit our expectations, we shun them. But it may be that God has placed these people in our lives to show us that our love is conditional and to give us an opportunity to practice unconditional love.

In the months that followed, I would watch the leader of our weekly home church get increasingly impatient and frustrated with Ray. I would smile and wonder whether the leader would ever see Ray as a gift from God to teach him how to love.

***

Rick Hocker is a game programmer and artist. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, “Four in the Garden.” His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California. For more on Hocker, visit www.rickhocker.com.

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A working definition of faith https://martineztribune.com/2016/01/07/a-working-definition-of-faith/ Fri, 08 Jan 2016 04:39:05 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=2897 By RICK HOCKER Special to the Tribune What is faith? Most would say that faith is a strong belief in spiritual things. I think that faith is something entirely different. Belief is a product of the mind. Faith emanates from the soul. Belief determines what we think and choose. Faith determines the extent we experience …

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By RICK HOCKER
Special to the Tribune

What is faith? Most would say that faith is a strong belief in spiritual things. I think that faith is something entirely different. Belief is a product of the mind.

Faith emanates from the soul. Belief determines what we think and choose. Faith determines the extent we experience spiritual reality.

Have you ever had a conviction that something was true, even though you had no proof? For example, you were convinced that you would make your rent or mortgage even though you didn’t know where the money would come from. Your conviction was so strong that you didn’t worry, although the circumstance seemed to demand it. Your conviction was not based on reason or resources, but on something else. This unshakable confidence springs from your being and affects your will, mind and emotions. It has an energy all its own that sustains it over time. Faith operates like that.

Faith versus belief
Belief is a conviction of the mind regarding something that may or may not be true. Faith is a conviction of the soul regarding what it knows to be true. This soul knowledge is not intellectual, but intuitive, dynamic and trusting. This truth that the soul “knows” is not doctrine or belief, but an apprehending of spiritual reality.

I was at a Christian conference when someone pulled me aside to ask me to pray for the presenter who had injured her knee earlier that day. She could barely stand or walk, but was expected to speak up front in five minutes. In that moment, I had no doubt that God would help her. I knew this at my core with absolute assurance. That feeling was bigger than my own thoughts and feelings. I laid my hands on her knee and prayed for a minute or two (we didn’t have much time). Then, I told her to stand up. She looked at me as though I were crazy, because she knew she couldn’t stand. Again, I told her to stand, because I confidently believed she could. She stood without pain and was amazed. She was able to give her presentation immediately.

A starting definition
The most often quoted definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I find it interesting that this definition does not mention truth. The only truth required for faith is the unseen spiritual reality in which we place our confidence, not the truth we learn in church or classrooms. We don’t put our faith in doctrine, but in the dynamics of the spiritual world. This faith operates in spite of or in defiance of the truth of our senses, our prevailing circumstances, or the opinions of others.

But shouldn’t our faith be in God? Our faith needs an object, but the object is not always God. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt . . . you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.” (Matthew 21:21) Jesus didn’t say we should have faith in him or God. He just tells us to have faith.

The power of faith
A woman suffering from a hemorrhage for 12 years tells herself that if she touches Jesus’ garment, she will get well (Matthew 9:20-22, Luke 8:43-48). As soon as she does so, she is healed. Jesus then asks who touched him, because he has felt that power has gone out of him. She comes forward and explains the reason she touched him and how she was immediately healed. Jesus tells her that her faith has made her well. How was she healed? By God or by her faith? Jesus explained that it was her faith that healed her. This is an important distinction. This tells me that her faith had a power all its own, apart from God.

Also, notice that the object of her faith was Jesus’ garment. Her faith was based on her conviction that touching Jesus’ garment would make her well. She believed that Jesus had the power to heal, but her faith extended beyond Jesus to his clothing. His clothing had no power, but her faith had so much power that it resulted in her healing. Note that she didn’t ask Jesus to heal her. She apprehended the healing for herself, without any action on Jesus’ part. Even Jesus didn’t know what had happened until after the fact.

A revised definition
All this to make the case that faith can be defined as “spiritual intention.” This is a radical departure from the standard Christian definition, but my goal is to always present things in a different light. Let me elaborate on this definition.

Spiritual intention is a conscious positive focus that emanates from our soul. It has power and influence over circumstance. It is a confidence and conviction in a spiritual reality that transcends our physical reality. We put our faith and trust in that unseen spiritual reality, believing that it has more weight and effect than what we can see and feel.

Spiritual intention is not a mental exercise. It is not the result of concentration or convincing ourselves. Instead, it is generated from the core of our being and doesn’t engage our mind directly. We feel it as a bold confidence, an inner conviction, an unshakable expectation. It is a conviction that comes forth from our soul and that our soul fully embraces because it is conceived in our soul.

Recognizing faith
Let’s use the following scenario: your child is traveling cross-country by plane during a high terrorist alert. Many parents will worry. Some will hope their child is safe. Some will tell themselves their child is safe as many times until they convince themselves. Some will pray and ask God to protect their child. Some will put their trust in God to protect their child, but still wonder and worry. If we doubt, then our faith is questionable (Matthew 21:21).

What would intentional faith look and feel like in this scenario? You would “intend” your child’s safety by entrusting your child to God. You would project your intention over the situation by bathing it with your positive thoughts and prayers. You would believe that your intention is effective and powerful to activate a result. You would have confidence that your intention is enough, that you don’t need to do anything more. You would feel it with your entire being. You would feel it as an energy that has a power all its own.

Have faith
Faith does have power if we can learn to engage it. We spend too much time living out of our minds. Let us seek to live out of our souls, where faith is produced. If you are feeling faithless, know that faith is described as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). It is something we can ask God for. And as Jesus said, we only need a tiny bit: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:6) We are called to live by faith (Galatians 3:11) so it behooves us to apprehend authentic faith in our lives.

“Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith.” – Martin Luther King

About Rick Hocker
Rick HockerRick Hocker is a game programmer and artist. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his book, “Four in the Garden.” His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California. Visit http://www.fourinthegarden.com for more information.

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Faith drives experience: A meditation on faith & belief https://martineztribune.com/2015/12/17/faith-drives-experience-a-meditation-on-faith-belief/ Thu, 17 Dec 2015 19:28:26 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=2748 By RICK HOCKER Special to the Tribune “Because you believe in My goodness, you experience My goodness.” God spoke those words to me during a song at church. For the rest of the service, I was caught up in the implications of that statement. I wondered if the inverse were true. If I didn’t believe …

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By RICK HOCKER
Special to the Tribune

“Because you believe in My goodness, you experience My goodness.” God spoke those words to me during a song at church. For the rest of the service, I was caught up in the implications of that statement. I wondered if the inverse were true. If I didn’t believe in God’s goodness, would I not experience it?

Is my experience of God’s goodness based on my belief in it? I recalled the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) in which one servant hid his master’s talent in the ground because he believed his master to be a hard man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he scattered no seed. The one talent entrusted to him was taken away and given to the servant who had gained five more talents. Because he believed his master to be hard and unfair, he experienced an unkind master. The other servants experienced their master’s joy. The servants’ belief regarding their master determined their actions and their experience. In the same way, our belief regarding God determines our actions and our experience of God.

I have often wondered why my experience of God differs so widely from others who follow the same God. I believe that God is personal, interactive and accessible. My experience of God reflects that belief. Because I read in the Bible about numerous occasions when God spoke to people, it was no stretch for me to believe that God would speak to people today or that God would speak to me.

“God never speaks to me,” I have heard people say. That declaration leaves no room for God to do anything different in the future. The word “never” shuts down all expectation.

Without realizing it, those people have closed themselves to God’s communication.

Fortunately, God can exceed our expectations of Him and often does. When He does, our belief about Him expands because of our experience.

However, we shouldn’t let our experience determine what we believe about God. Our experience of God is limited and small. If that is our primary frame of reference, then our God will be limited and small, and we won’t experience the fullness of God that is described in the Bible. The God of the Bible is a God of great compassion, a God who is active in the lives of people, a God who works wonders. If we choose to believe in a God like that, we will begin to experience those attributes of God.

As we start to experience more of God, our lives do not necessarily become easier. We experience God in the midst of life’s challenges and it’s our experience of God’s love and empowerment that enables us to endure and overcome those challenges. God doesn’t spare us from hardships because He uses them to transform our character to be more like His.

If you desire to experience more of God, then first evaluate what you believe about Him. Do you limit God by believing He can do little in your life? Do you believe God to be stingy or generous, distant or close, active or uninvolved? Do you constrain God by what you believe He can’t or won’t do? Let us expand our belief so that God will have more opportunity to make Himself more real and active in our lives. God does desire a closer relationship with us.

We limit God by what we tell ourselves about Him. “I haven’t been loving, so I can’t expect God to be kind to me,” we might say. Conditional statements like that prevent God from acting on our behalf. We refuse any possible gifts in advance. We make the mistake of seeing God as a human parent who punishes and withholds, when God is said to be faithful even when we are faithless. (2 Timothy 2:13)

God is greater than the human parents who modeled imperfect love for us. “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:11-13)
Let us guard against limiting God by our thoughts and attitudes. Actively choose to believe in God’s goodness toward you. May you then begin to experience more of His goodness in your life.

About Rick Hocker
Rick HockerRick HockerRick Hocker is a game programmer and artist. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his book, “Four in the Garden.” His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California. Visit http://www.fourinthegarden.com for more information.

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Morello Hills Christian Church to recreate Bethlehem https://martineztribune.com/2015/12/10/morello-hills-christian-church-to-recreate-bethlehem/ Fri, 11 Dec 2015 05:33:05 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=2646 By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN Martinez Tribune MARTINEZ, Calif. – For most Martinez residents, Thanksgiving Day marks the start of the holiday shopping season. For Bill Francis, it’s time to think of rebuilding Bethlehem. Francis, a Martinez native, is the pastor of Morello Hills Christian Church, 1000 Morello Hills Drive, and since at least 1999, the …

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Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus are portrayed at Morello Hills Christian Church's annual live nativity scene and re-creation of Bethlehem. (BILL FRANCIS / Courtesy)
Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus are portrayed at Morello Hills Christian Church’s annual live nativity scene and re-creation of Bethlehem. (BILL FRANCIS / Courtesy)

By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Martinez Tribune

MARTINEZ, Calif. – For most Martinez residents, Thanksgiving Day marks the start of the holiday shopping season. For Bill Francis, it’s time to think of rebuilding Bethlehem.

Francis, a Martinez native, is the pastor of Morello Hills Christian Church, 1000 Morello Hills Drive, and since at least 1999, the church has had a Bethlehem display to tell residents and visitors about the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

“It started as a drive-through,” Francis said.

In those early years, people who wanted to see the church’s exhibit could stay in their cars and hear a recorded narration as they drove past five individual scenes – the angel Gabriel addressing Mary, the mother of Jesus; Joseph, Mary and a donkey traveling to Bethlehem; the stable in which Jesus was born; the three Wise Men traveling from the east to visit the family; and the shepherds who left their flocks to do the same.

Francis said the scenes, set up in the church parking lot, were inspired by those he saw at college.

Eventually, the church set up a refreshment stand at the end of the series of scenes.

About 15 years ago, Francis and his church decided to expand the displays. No longer would people simply drive or walk by.

Instead, they could walk the streets of the town where Mary and Joseph had traveled to comply with the order of Caesar Augustus that all under the rule of Rome must have their names recorded in a census.

That meant building a stable, since the Christmas story tells how the couple tried to find housing at the Bethlehem inns, but were only given space among livestock, since the first bed Jesus had was a feeding manger.

Other structures were assembled, too, to give the church parking lot the look of a village where visitors could sign their names on the census roll and participate in activities the church decided would be the types of things everyday residents of Bethlehem would be doing.

Since the church has been putting up the display for several years, it no longer has to start from scratch to prepare for the event. The sets are kept in storage until it’s time for parishioners to set them up, which they are doing on workdays as the time for Bethlehem to make its next appearance approaches.

Each year, the church tries to vary the activities, or introduce something new, Francis said. But each is based on the jobs or tasks that would have been done during the Biblical era.

At one spot, children can make simple pottery or make the unleavened bread that is described in the Old Testament account of the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt. At another spot, visitors can see and participate in some carpentry crafts or learn how to twist twine.

Both children and adults can learn how to play with a dreidel, the four-sided top that often is used during Hanukkah celebrations.  Each side has a Hebrew letter that is part of the acronym of the phrase “A great miracle happened there,” in commemoration of the temple re-dedication that is celebrated in that Jewish holiday.

Each player spins the dreidel and gives or takes game pieces from the beginning pot, depending on which letter faces up when the top lands.

“We wanted period games, so we chose the dreidel,” Francis said.

Those visiting the Morello Hills Church Bethlehem village also will see other representations of the day. Soldiers who walk through the streets are a reminder that Bethlehem and its surrounding countryside was occupied by Rome.

Visitors can also see animals, such as the Jacob sheep whose parti-colored wool is like that described in the Old Testament book of Genesis in the story of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob, who practiced selective animal husbandry to develop speckled sheep for his personal flock. This breed of sheep often has more than two horns – up to six.

During some of the church’s previous Bethlehem reenactments, visitors have seen miniature horses, llamas, goats and chickens.

The presence of the animals started early in the village re-creation, Francis said.

“I started making calls to the local 4-H,” he said. He reached Scott Compton, a Lafayette resident and 4-H Club liaison who owns Jacob sheep.

Through Compton, Francis has arranged to have the type of livestock that one might have seen 2,000 years ago in the small Palestinian town.

“It’s been harder lately,” Francis said. Some of those who owned the animals that made appearances at the display have sold their properties and found new homes for those animals. But between Compton and a woman who has a farm, this year’s edition of Bethlehem still will have animals, Francis said.

The highlight of each night of the Bethlehem display is the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph, often accompanied by a donkey as illustrated in many nativity paintings. As they arrive at Bethlehem, an inn keeper directs the couple to the only space available, a stall with a manger where the newborn baby will be placed.

“Most years, I record a new sound track,” Francis said, and he’s done that for this year’s production. “Then I get actors to read the parts.”

At Morello Hills, church volunteers portray the holy family, and each year the newborn Jesus is portrayed by an infant.

Three babies will be taking turns in the role of Jesus this year, and each is a girl, Francis said. That’s not unusual; in fact, one of the babies has two older sisters who have, in turn, played Jesus in this version of Bethlehem.

Francis said members have visited a larger Bethlehem production in Redwood City, and he said a smaller production may take place in Pittsburg. Years ago, a small church off Monument Boulevard in Concord had a live nativity.

But he doesn’t know of any closer reenactment of the birth of Jesus. “It’s a niche we can fill.”

Francis has only vague estimates of the public attendance to the church’s two-day display. “We’re not as good as the Roman government!” he joked. Even though visitors are encouraged to sign the “census” rolls, he said, “We don’t keep track.”

However, he said the replica village may get from 300 to 500 visitors each year, with those numbers based on the supplies the church provides for the activities and the amount of refreshments it serves.

He and other church staff and volunteers are busy helping visitors during the two-night event. And the visitors tell them they like the live display.

“People love to hang out,” he said. “They say it feels nice to be out and to have a community of people and fellowship. They appreciate having it.”

Each year, the little village gets new visitors, and they tell church members “they’re shocked by the ‘live-ness,’” Francis said. “It’s a real baby and real animals, and people enjoy seeing them.”

He said he believes the church has achieved its goal of having a holiday activity that welcomes anyone who stops by.

“I took a spin class at the Y, and people told me they have been coming for several years in a row and look forward to it,” Francis said. “That’s pretty cool.”

The Morello Hills Christian Church Visit to Bethlehem will be open from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, and Saturday, Dec. 19, in the church parking lot at 1000 Morello Hills Drive, Martinez.

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‘The perfected soul’ https://martineztribune.com/2015/11/25/the-perfected-soul/ Wed, 25 Nov 2015 19:13:22 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=2554 By RICK HOCKER Special to the Tribune EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt on the topic of “meditation on transformation,” one of the themes from Martinez resident Rick Hocker’s book, “Four in the Garden.” Why couldn’t all of us have been born perfect? Wouldn’t that solve all of the world’s problems? If we were …

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By RICK HOCKER
Special to the Tribune

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt on the topic of “meditation on transformation,” one of the themes from Martinez resident Rick Hocker’s book, “Four in the Garden.”

Why couldn’t all of us have been born perfect? Wouldn’t that solve all of the world’s problems? If we were perfect, God would’ve been spared a whole lot of anguish. But we’re not perfect, neither at birth nor at death. We’re born imperfect into an imperfect world where evil exists. God couldn’t have planned it this way. Or did He?

What would it be like if we were created perfect? We would be flawless. Our bodies would have no defect or disability. We would be fully developed at birth, having all the knowledge we needed for life. We would know good from evil and would always make the right decisions. If we were perfect, there would be no room for improvement.

But without room for improvement, there could be no increase in intellect or maturity. There could be no growth, or change or expansion of spirit. We would be locked into a state of unchanging perfection. We couldn’t become anything other than what we already were. We would have no need or desire to better ourselves because we had already arrived at our destination.

In creating us, God didn’t want to create perfect beings. Instead, He wanted to create beings that were able to grow and expand without limit. He wanted these beings to have ever-increasing sensitivity, maturity and grace. He desired beings who could offer Him an infinite depth of relationship throughout eternity. These creatures would be the greatest of all God’s creations.

Let’s call this new kind of creature a PERFECTED being.

Although God can create perfect beings, such as angels, He cannot create perfected beings. Maturity cannot be created. It is developed over time and requires the fuel and fire of life’s experiences. A perfected being is grown, not created.

God is at work cultivating perfected beings. This type of perfecting isn’t a fixed destination, but a transformation. It is a state of continual growth. It is a constant movement from glory to glory, an ever-deepening and ever-widening quality of being. This process isn’t static, but is dynamic like the infinite expansion of the universe. God has built into each one of us the unique capacity to grow indefinitely throughout eternity. This capacity sets us apart from all other creatures, even angels. It qualifies us to become suitable companions for God.

The process that perfects
For us to be perfected, God had to design a process. Our life here on Earth is the process. God wisely determined that we be born into the world with a broken nature, predisposed to selfishness and willfulness. And He also determined that temptation and evil would coexist on Earth with us. Why? So we may be perfected.

How then are we perfected? We’re perfected through suffering. We’re perfected when we make mistakes, when we face challenges and difficulties. We’re perfected when we show compassion to others, especially when we love and forgive the imperfect.

If we were perfect, we would never make mistakes, and, therefore, we wouldn’t learn from them. If others were perfect, we wouldn’t need to learn forgiveness or compassion. If we lived in a perfect world, we wouldn’t be challenged or grow.

God’s perfect plan hasn’t been thwarted. It was God’s intention that sin and corruption enter the world. The purpose of their existence isn’t to torment us, but to give us something to overcome, and by doing so, to become transformed. Therefore, it becomes necessary that we must experience suffering – loss, disappointment and pain. With transformation in mind, God intends for us to suffer. He wants us to make mistakes. He desires us to taste failure. He also intends that we laugh and have fun. He wants us to experience the entire spectrum of life and feeling. He eagerly hopes that we will fully participate in the experience of life so we’ll become the fullness of what we’re intended to be.

I don’t advocate self-imposed suffering. In times past, religious people used to indulge in self-inflicted suffering, such as self-flagellation, for purposes of sanctification. True sanctification cannot be hurried or helped by devices of our own choosing. Suffering is God-ordained and sanctification is the result of how we respond to that suffering. We must let God choose the means of our sanctification and not add more vinegar to the cup of suffering He has destined us to drink. God wisely knows what’s needed for our sanctification.

Responding to suffering
Suffering is the catalyst for transformation. It has the potential to create a depth of character and maturity that is unattainable any other way. Suffering itself doesn’t transform us, but is the fuel by which we can be transformed, if we seek it. The transformation depends on how we respond to the suffering.

The most spectacular human beings are those who’ve suffered in some way. They’ve been transformed through their trials into selfless, loving people. I think of the saints and martyrs who suffered and were remembered not for what they suffered, but for their character. These people wouldn’t have been so amazing if they hadn’t suffered as they had.

At some point in our lives, we will experience suffering. It’s necessary for our growth. When we encounter suffering, we must understand that it can be utilized as a transforming energy in our lives. The suffering itself is not beneficial. The benefit comes from what the suffering can accomplish in us if we allow God to work through it. We shouldn’t resist suffering, but allow it to change us as we trust God in the midst of it. Transformation occurs when we surrender our pain to God and He turns the pain into growth.

The real issue is growth, not how much suffering we have experienced. Suffering isn’t the only way we can grow. Growth can come from many sources. More suffering doesn’t guarantee more growth. Some people suffer much and don’t grow at all or become bitter. The quality of our character isn’t proportional to how much we’ve suffered.

Scripture gives us the analogy of the refiner’s furnace in regard to suffering (Isaiah 48:10). Silver and gold are refined by heating the metal to a very high temperature at which the impurities float to the surface and can be skimmed off. In the same way, suffering becomes the fire that heats up our lives and brings out our imperfections. God is then able to lay hold of our sin and immaturity, and perform a deep work of growth and healing. Thus, we are refined and purified by passing through the fire of suffering.

Scripture also says that it was fitting that God should make Jesus, the author of our salvation, perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10). As a perfect example for us to follow, Jesus demonstrated that suffering is part of the human experience. Although Jesus was already perfectly divine, he needed to be made perfect in his humanity through what he suffered. As imperfect followers of Christ, we can expect that we, too, should have to experience suffering in order to be perfected.

A new creature
I believe God passionately desires for us to become the full expression of what He has designed us to be. There is a unique destiny for each one of us that is in the heart and mind of God. Therefore, I believe that each person’s life, with all its difficulties, is custom-designed to produce a special result. All the elements of our lives, the good and bad, are the culture in which we are grown. The difficulties and failures that are unique to your life are designed to be the means by which God can fulfill His final design for you. Everything in life does have a purpose – the formation of a new being out of the raw materials of a human soul.

At this stage, we are like caterpillars, frail and vulnerable. We can break or self-destruct. As caterpillars, we cannot comprehend what it will be like to be a butterfly. Its beauty is beyond us. Its new nature is inconceivable to us. And yet, in spite of that, we’ll experience this marvelous transformation that is beyond butterflies and the static perfection of angels. I believe God created the miracle of metamorphosis to foreshadow the mystery of our inevitable transformation.

This world is a specially designed mixture that contains the potential for spiritual life and maturity. God created this world for the primary purpose of maturing souls. Our life on Earth becomes the crucible into which the raw materials are put in. Because of these divinely placed ingredients, an enhanced form of spiritual life can be cultivated – transformed human souls.

In reality, we’re being groomed by God for God. We’re being groomed for relationship with Him. Some people think that we’re being groomed for service, but God already has angels to serve Him. God is developing in us the capacity to be His companions for eternity. All the relationships in our lives are intended to prepare us to have relationship with God. As we make mistakes in our interactions with others and learn from them, we grow in our ability to listen and communicate and to develop those skills that will enable us to interact with God Himself. In cultivating our relationships, we’re cultivating our capacity to relate to God.

Not all become butterflies
Not every seed that’s planted grows to maturity. Unfortunately, people disqualify themselves every day by their choices. The very life that’s intended to transform them is rejected or avoided. This is a sad reality and yet God knew this would happen. Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-8) tells the story of a farmer who sowed seed, but only the seed that fell on good soil grew to maturity. In the same way, God has scattered billions of seeds, or souls, upon the Earth in hope that some will grow to full maturity, although not all will succeed.

We can sabotage this process of transformation. Oftentimes, we do so by our own ignorance. We don’t understand life or God. We don’t know how to respond to life as it presents itself to us. We hide from it or we reject it entirely. Our choices determine how much we’re transformed by our circumstances. Do we make choices that stimulate us to grow and be stretched? Or do we make choices that keep us comfortable and stagnant? We won’t grow if we aren’t challenged. We won’t expand if we don’t take risks. We grow very little when life is easy and comfortable. We can mature the most when life hands us difficulty.

A new perspective

We shouldn’t concern ourselves too much with the unfairness of life, unanswered prayers, or bad decisions we have made. A more worthwhile focus is to seek to be transformed by life. We shouldn’t measure our life by all the good or bad things we have done, but by how we have responded to life’s circumstances, whether good or bad. Did we choose to trust God and entrust our lives to Him, believing He can transform us through everything we go through?

God hopes we might understand this process of transformation and embrace it. To embrace this process is to embrace life. To embrace life is to welcome its joys and pains, to deeply experience the full spectrum of life’s experiences, and to allow it to transform us into beauty.

“We are not material beings on a spiritual journey; we are spiritual beings who need an earthly journey to become fully spiritual.” – John Bradshaw

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The spiritual practice of trusting in God https://martineztribune.com/2015/11/20/the-spiritual-practice-of-trusting-in-god/ Fri, 20 Nov 2015 21:11:34 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=2535 By RICK HOCKER Special to the Tribune EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a speech by Martinez resident Rick Hocker, on the topic of trusting in God, the main theme of his book, “Four in the Garden.” I remember the morning I ran out of food. I was a poor college student at the time, attending …

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By RICK HOCKER
Special to the Tribune

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a speech by Martinez resident Rick Hocker, on the topic of trusting in God, the main theme of his book, “Four in the Garden.”

I remember the morning I ran out of food. I was a poor college student at the time, attending Cal Poly State University just a few miles from here. I had no money to buy more food. When I poured the crumbs of my last box of cereal into my bowl, I said to myself, “Cool. God is on the line to feed me today.” I had no one to rely on but God that day and I expected God to step up to the occasion.

That morning, a student brought donuts to class. I know they aren’t nutritious, but I saw them as God’s provision. To be honest, I’ve always considered donuts as food from heaven. When I saw them that morning, my glee meter hit the top. At lunchtime, a stranger asked me if I wanted his extra sandwich. When I said yes, he also gave me his apple. That night, a friend treated me to dinner. No one knew my need except for God, and God provided for me that day. Because I had focused all of my expectation on God, I experienced His provision in a greater way than I ever had before. I trusted God and He came through. I’m curious what would have happened if I hadn’t trusted.

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between faith and trust? Faith is a belief, not so much of the mind, but of the soul. Trust in an action. We have faith in God, but how does that translate to action? Trust is the action of placing our confidence in God. It is not just a mental exercise; it involves our whole being.

In 2004, I had a back injury that left me bedridden for six months. I was in excruciating pain during that time. My doctors were no help. I had no income. My medical debts mounted. Life had collapsed on me. I could make no sense out of what I was going through. I was a prisoner in my own body, barely able to move. I prayed a lot. I couldn’t do anything else, but pray. Lying in bed, I spent a lot of time staring at my bedroom ceiling. The ceiling and I became special friends, kind of like the volleyball Tom Hanks spoke to in the movie “Castaway.”

I could see no way out of my predicament and I despaired. One morning, when I was without hope, God spoke to me. He said that I was mentally incapable of understanding His purposes behind my ordeal. That was His polite way of saying I was dense. He also said that I would not be disappointed in the end. In fact, he repeated that promise three times just to make sure it would stick in my spirit.

I took heart and chose to believe that God could create something worthwhile out my darkness, although I could not see how. I chose to trust. In one sense, I had no choice. In another sense, I did have a choice. I could have chosen to fear. I could have chosen despair.

Most of the time, God was not accessible to me during that ordeal. It felt as though He had withdrawn Himself on purpose. I sought God and He was not to be found, when I needed Him the most. So, I told the bedroom ceiling my fears and questions, because when you’re mentally dense like me, you talk to ceilings. My progress was slow, but I did make a full recovery. I found work again and was able to pay off my debts. Looking back, I’m grateful for that experience because it changed me and taught me some deep lessons.

At one point, I had to face the reality that I might be permanently disabled, that I would never walk again. That terrified me. Could I trust God with that possibility? I realized I was setting myself up for potential disappointment. You see, I was trusting God for healing. God was asking me to trust Him with any outcome, including disability. We trust in the wrong things. We trust God for a job, a place to live, a breakthrough, a healing. God doesn’t want us to place our trust in a specific outcome. He wants us to place our trust in Him and Him alone. We place our trust in a person, a person whom we believe will take care of us and has our best interests in mind. We trust God with all possible outcomes, not just the ones we want.

Once during prayer, I fell into a waking dream, a vivid trance. I found myself in a dark parking garage. I was tied to a pillar and two men were torturing me. The men forced me to swallow gasoline which burned my throat and insides. They shoved long nails up my nostrils and hot blood gushed out. I didn’t know these men nor could I understand why they were doing this to me. I prayed that God would rescue me, but the torture continued. When God didn’t show up, I began to doubt and despair.

Eventually, someone entered the garage and shouted at the men, who ran away. The vision ended and I was shaken and deeply disturbed that God would put me through an experience like that. Then God said as clear as ever, “Do you trust Me with your life?” I have pondered that question ever since.

What God is asking us is: Can you trust Me with sickness? Can you trust Me with loss? Can you trust Me with humiliation? Can you trust Me with the thing you fear the most? We believe that God loves us and has our well-being in mind. You won’t like hearing this, but our well-being isn’t high on His list. What is high on His list is our transformation. Well-being is fleeting, but our transformation has eternal significance. The process by which we are transformed is at odds with our well-being. The process is uncomfortable.

Transformation is the stretching of our souls to enlarge our capacity for more of God. More of His life and presence. More of His Spirit. More of His activity in our lives and inner being. Ephesians 3:17 expresses Paul’s prayer that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith. Two verses later, Paul ends his prayer with his request that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. God can indwell us, but He cannot inhabit us in all His fullness unless our souls are enlarged to contain it.

Do you know what a cistern is? A cistern is an underground reservoir for storing water. Friends of ours in Hawaii have a cistern underneath their house. Rainwater is collected in their cistern and they use this stored rainwater to water their yard and gardens. Each of us has a spiritual cistern within our souls. It is the space within our souls where God dwells. This cistern is like an elastic bladder than can be stretched and expanded to contain more of God’s life within us. We enlarge our cisterns by choosing to trust God, especially when trusting is the most difficult, when life tempts us to doubt and fear.

We can be transformed by life or not. If we choose to trust God, then we are changed to more closely match His holy blueprint for our lives. If we don’t trust, then the transformative effect doesn’t touch us and the things we have gone through are for naught. We miss out and stay the same as before. This transformative power of trust is covered in more depth in the book I wrote.

Some of the most spiritually beautiful people in the world have undergone suffering and been transformed by it. These people seem to have a stronger presence of being, a deeper understanding of life and self, and greater compassion than others. These people do not view suffering as bad, but see all of life as a means to experience God. They transcend the need to label their experiences, but focus instead on knowing God and grasping His fullness in their lives. The cisterns of their souls have been enlarged and filled to the brim with Living Water.

God is powerful enough to use anything in our lives to transform us, if we allow it. It is our trust in God that transforms us, not the event itself. At its most basic level, it is our struggle to remain in that state of trust that stretches and enlarges our souls, that increases our capacity for God’s life within us, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

I mentioned that when I was bedridden, God was not accessible to me. There are many reasons why we get disconnected from God. One reason is because God withdraws Himself from us. He does that to see whether we will seek him more earnestly or walk away. When the water dries up, will we put down deeper roots to seek new sources of water? Will we dig our cisterns deeper until we hit water again? If we choose to dig, then we have deeper cisterns to hold more of His Spirit when times of infilling come. There are two ways that spiritual water comes to us: The first is when the Spirit causes water to well up within us. The second is when the Spirit sends rain upon us as in revival. Well-water is more reliable than rain, but in either case, we can drink the Living Water that we have collected.

I don’t know about you, but my Christian life has been characterized by long stretches of drought and thirst. I’m like one of those tabletop sand gardens. You can drag that little wooden rake until your fingers cramp, but you’re not going to find any water that way. My spiritual thirst is what propels me and motivates me to seek God and to keep digging my underground cistern. It worries me when I have no thirst because then I become apathetic and abandon the work beneath my house. If you’re not spiritually thirsty, then ask God to revive your thirst. Spiritual revival starts with thirst, not with outpouring. What good is it for God to send rain when all we have are thimbles to catch the rainwater? It is our thirst for God that drives us to seek Him, to plead for his presence, to long for His Living Water, to keep digging our cisterns to hold the water He sends in response to our thirst.

Another way that we get disconnected from God is because of fear. Fear is the enemy of trust. Fear contracts us. Trust opens us up. Fear looks inward. Trust looks outward to God. When we fully fear, we cannot trust. When we fully trust, we do not fear. Usually, we have a mixture of both, but one will be dominant. So how do we trust?

Picture yourself in the middle of an ocean. Imagine that you are terrified of drowning. So you panic and you fight the water, clawing and thrashing and sucking water into your mouth. Your resistance makes you sink. Trust is best illustrated by the example of relaxing and floating on top of the water. But you’re still afraid of drowning. Your breathing is rapid because you’re fearful, but you choose to relax and float in spite of your fear. Trusting in God is like floating in God. You let go and relax. You hand over your safety and security to God. Your surrender your being to the vast ocean that is God.

Surrendering is difficult for us. We would rather cling to the edge of the pool or find some object we can grab on to, some raft or log or floating debris. Sometimes, we cling to our possessions or jobs or other people in order to stay afloat. I used to think it was spiritual to cling to God, but He has since told me that I’m not supposed to cling to Him. He holds on to us, not the other way around. We are to trust in His grip on us. He wants us to let go of our grip. To release our grip on all the things we cling to. That’s really scary because if we let go, then what will hold us up? God will hold us up. What if God lets go and allows you to fall? Would God do that to you? He might, if He thinks you’re ready. Because, only when we are in freefall can we learn to fly.

So we need to trust the ocean that is God and relax and float. But what if it’s stormy and the waves are crashing down on us? We choose to trust God that He can keep up afloat and we choose to not give in to fear. Fear pulls us out of the present moment. Fear tells us all the horrible things that will happen to us. When we trust, we set our gaze on God and God anchors us in the present moment. In that moment, we have peace, because we are trusting God. And we go into the next moment trusting God and staying in His peace. Fear is kept aside by doing this. Fear wants the center of attention, but we keep our attention on God. Staying in the present moment is important because that is the space where God dwells. When you focus on the past or future, God’s active presence isn’t there because they aren’t real. The past and future are imaginings without living substance, like a static photo album. God dwells only in the present moment so it behooves us to remain there.

On one occasion, I climbed a tall hill to spend time with God. Somehow, I lost track of the time and it got dark very quickly. When I started down the hill, I couldn’t see my way because there was no light. The hill was treacherous, with jagged rocks and thorn-bushes. There was no path or trail. I had scaled the hill by zigzagging around the outcroppings and cacti. Now, I had to find my way down the hill in the darkness. I was afraid I would trip on the rocks and fall into the thorns. God told me to step and trust. Not seeing a thing, I took one step into the darkness and my foot landed without incident. I stepped again into the unknown and didn’t fall. I stepped and trusted, stepped and trusted. With each step, I marveled that nothing happened to me. I couldn’t grasp how I bypassed all the big rocks and thorn-bushes. It seemed as though they weren’t there. Eventually, I made it down to the road and I was amazed at God’s protection.

This experience has become for me a vivid example of walking by faith, when I can’t see where I’m going. I wrote a scene in my book based on this very experience. God didn’t say he would protect me or promise to bring me to my destination. He only said, “Step and trust.” And that’s a present moment activity. We trust from moment to moment, with each step forward, believing God will be with us when our foot lands.

Trust involves our entire being. We entrust our entire selves to God, believing that He is trustworthy. Trust involves all our emotions. We entrust our entire humanity to God, with all our messy and conflicting emotions. By the way, trust is not an emotion. It is a decision that we make in the midst of our emotions and, sometimes, in spite of them. Trust encompasses all outcomes. We trust God with whatever happens to us, even if it’s not what we want. We will never trust perfectly, but the One in whom we trust is perfect and is able to fulfill His purposes for us because He is committed to that end.

Either God can be trusted or not. You have to decide this for yourself. It’s important to figure this out because there’s a huge difference between trusting in yourself and trusting in God, between a fear-driven life and a peace-driven life. If God can be trusted, then trust Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. God is trustworthy and faithful. He will see us through every situation, even when it’s dark and we can’t see our way.

David knew about trusting in God. Here is what he says in Psalm 27: The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Let’s pray: Lord, increase our thirst for You. Grant us holy desperation. May we pant for You like a deer pants for water. Cause us to dig deep and seek You until we find You. Break the power of fear in our hearts and help us to let go of the things we cling to. Enable us to trust You with our entire being and to trust You with all outcomes. Thank You for your faithfulness and for loving us so fiercely. Amen.

About Rick Hocker
Rick HockerRick Hocker is a game programmer and artist. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his book, “Four in the Garden.” His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California. Visit http://www.fourinthegarden.com for more information.

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Grace Episcopal Church welcomes interim rector https://martineztribune.com/2015/11/20/grace-episcopal-church-welcomes-interim-rector/ Fri, 20 Nov 2015 20:32:20 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=2530 By BOB BURMAN Special to the Tribune Recently, the Reverend Jeffrey Frost began an 18 month term at Grace Episcopal Church in Martinez as its Interim Rector. In this capacity he will care for the congregation and lead them in a process of discernment in preparing to call their next regular clergy. Reverend Frost says, …

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Reverend Jeffrey Frost. (COURTESY / On File)
Reverend Jeffrey Frost. (COURTESY / On File)
By BOB BURMAN
Special to the Tribune

Recently, the Reverend Jeffrey Frost began an 18 month term at Grace Episcopal Church in Martinez as its Interim Rector. In this capacity he will care for the congregation and lead them in a process of discernment in preparing to call their next regular clergy.

Reverend Frost says, that he is “delighted to be working with the people of Grace Church and learning more about the community of Martinez. Clergy transitions are important times of reflection and planning for a congregation. I am looking forward to the time we will spend together.”

Both Reverend Frost and his wife, Ellen, grew up in the Bay Area. They have two adult children, Jean and Kirkland. They have ministered in many localities, including Portland, Oregon; Fort Worth, Texas; Jerome and Buhl, Idaho; and in Redding and Danville, California.

After graduating from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, with a Masters Degree in Divinity, Reverend Frost continued training to become a certified coach for congregational development and strategic planning. Recently, he completed work at Mercy Center in Burlingame to become a Spiritual Director.

“We welcome … .” Grace Episcopal Church is located at 130 Muir Station Road in Martinez.

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