On Jesus' Humanness: Day 4 of 4

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Help Me Understand

-Candice Czubernat

“When Jesus says, ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me, get away with me and you’ll recover your life.” -Matthew 11:28, MSG

I think I hear Jesus saying, “You don’t have to hate, or beat down your humanness; your impatience, bad moods and insecurities.  My expectations for you isn’t that you be perfect, but that you be kind, and just and loving towards yourself and others.”  Jesus’ humanness means he understands the “rough edges” of me and you, more than anyone else and that he still very much loves us just as we are. Let yourself receive the gift of a man that walked on this earth.  


About the Author

Candice Czubernat is a married gay Christian woman and mother of twins. She is the founder of The Christian Closet, a web-based counseling practice, she is also a writer, and one of the --10 Pro-LGBT Religious Women You Should Know-- according to The Advocate Online. She has an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and has worked in mental health for a decade. She specializes in seeing those needing a safe place to reconcile their faith with their sexual and gender identities. While she is an out gay Christian, coming to accept her sexuality was a road filled with much pain and confusion. Her family was loving, but their Christian roots did not provide a context for her to accept being both gay and Christian. In her work at The Christian Closet she has come to find that there are hundreds of thousands of others who also connect with this plight and she counts it a privilege to have walked along countless people through the stories of their lives.

On Jesus' Humanness: Day 3 of 4

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My Humanness

-Candice Czubernat

“When Jesus says, ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me, get away with me and you’ll recover your life.” -Matthew 11:28, MSG

As Christians we are so often told that our humanness is what’s bad about us.  It’s the reason we need God: because we are so bad without him.  We walk around every day feeling discouraged about the very things that link us more closely to Jesus than anything else. So take a moment with me and consider what grace and patience you might be able to extend to yourself.  Could this reality change the way you talk to Jesus?  Would this reality change the way you talk to yourself?  Maybe your conversations could look less like, “I’m a horrible person” and more like, “Jesus help me understand my humanness in light of yours,” “help me love the beauty of being me,” or “give me wisdom to know how your humanness can give to my human parts.”


About the Author

Candice Czubernat is a married gay Christian woman and mother of twins. She is the founder of The Christian Closet, a web-based counseling practice, she is also a writer, and one of the --10 Pro-LGBT Religious Women You Should Know-- according to The Advocate Online. She has an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and has worked in mental health for a decade. She specializes in seeing those needing a safe place to reconcile their faith with their sexual and gender identities. While she is an out gay Christian, coming to accept her sexuality was a road filled with much pain and confusion. Her family was loving, but their Christian roots did not provide a context for her to accept being both gay and Christian. In her work at The Christian Closet she has come to find that there are hundreds of thousands of others who also connect with this plight and she counts it a privilege to have walked along countless people through the stories of their lives.

On Jesus' Humanness: Day 2 of 4

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Are You Tired?

-Candice Czubernat

“When Jesus says, ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me, get away with me and you’ll recover your life.” -Matthew 11:28, MSG

Have you ever wondered why it was important for Jesus to be human?  I’m not talking about why it was important for him to come and give up his life for us; the crucifixion.  I’m talking about why it was important that he was a flesh-and-blood man.  This season of Lent and Easter always takes me to a place of considering Jesus’ humanity; the thing we have in common, our humanness.  It feels easy to focus on the whole Jesus-died-for-my-sins and forget that he was human.  He surely had morning breath, hunger pains, and a bad mood every now and then.  As a human myself, I sometimes find more comfort in his humanness than in his Godness.  What I mean is that when I’m feeling discouraged by my limitations, “bad” thoughts, or lack of being able to be perfect I know that if Jesus really was human he too had times of the less than perfect moments all us humans experience.  His humanness somehow expands my graciousness towards myself.  It’s almost as if I can say, maybe these things about me aren’t so bad, they are just simply human and maybe being human isn’t so horrible, maybe it just is.   


About the Author

Candice Czubernat is a married gay Christian woman and mother of twins. She is the founder of The Christian Closet, a web-based counseling practice, she is also a writer, and one of the --10 Pro-LGBT Religious Women You Should Know-- according to The Advocate Online. She has an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and has worked in mental health for a decade. She specializes in seeing those needing a safe place to reconcile their faith with their sexual and gender identities. While she is an out gay Christian, coming to accept her sexuality was a road filled with much pain and confusion. Her family was loving, but their Christian roots did not provide a context for her to accept being both gay and Christian. In her work at The Christian Closet she has come to find that there are hundreds of thousands of others who also connect with this plight and she counts it a privilege to have walked along countless people through the stories of their lives.

On Jesus' Humanness: Day 1 of 4

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Burned Out On Religion

-Candice Czubernat

“When Jesus says, ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me, get away with me and you’ll recover your life.” -Matthew 11:28, MSG

“When Jesus says, ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me, get away with me and you’ll recover your life’ (Matthew 11:28, The Message), the poignant image of his outstretched arms conveys longing, intense desire, and a profound understanding of the human condition.  Jesus knows that we will experience fatigue along the way and get bollixed, beat up, and burned out by church, relationships, parenting, ministry, career, appetites, addictions and our recurring neuroses.  The tenderness of Jesus frees us from embarrassment about ourselves.  He lets us know that we can risk being known, that our emotions, sexuality, and fantasies are purified…the wisdom gleaned from tenderness is that…we can trust ourselves and thereby learn to trust others,” Brennan Manning profoundly expressed in The Wisdom of Tenderness.


About the Author

Candice Czubernat is a married gay Christian woman and mother of twins. She is the founder of The Christian Closet, a web-based counseling practice, she is also a writer, and one of the --10 Pro-LGBT Religious Women You Should Know-- according to The Advocate Online. She has an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and has worked in mental health for a decade. She specializes in seeing those needing a safe place to reconcile their faith with their sexual and gender identities. While she is an out gay Christian, coming to accept her sexuality was a road filled with much pain and confusion. Her family was loving, but their Christian roots did not provide a context for her to accept being both gay and Christian. In her work at The Christian Closet she has come to find that there are hundreds of thousands of others who also connect with this plight and she counts it a privilege to have walked along countless people through the stories of their lives.

I Stand At The Door: Day 2 of 2

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Day 2

-Sue Gilmore

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” -Revelation 3:17-20 (NIV)

Just as there is “nothing new under the sun,” we realize that the church of Laodicea is not too far from the attitude of the western Christian church today. Our wealth and freedoms have also led many of us to not realize or be grateful for the abundance we experience.

In verse 19 Jesus calls the church to be “earnest and repent.” Earnest is not a word you hear too often today, but it means to be sincere, serious, intent. Too many of us are just showing up at church each week -- feeling good because we took the time, but leaving with no sincere or intent thought of the difference worship should be making in our lives. When people ask us about ourselves, Christian is not the first adjective we reach for. Riches and labels have tainted our attitudes, affected our priorities and how we identify. We need to examine our lives: are we making a sincere difference on this planet? Just as in Revelation, Jesus asks the church of today to be earnest, and to repent of our fluffy faith. Jesus is issuing a battle cry an appeal to his followers to overcome the complacency that wealth brings, to overcome the sleepy satisfaction that our freedom of religion brings.

Jesus is knocking at the door, but not as that Sunday school picture portrays. His knocking is calling us for repentance, demanding earnestness, crying out for us to overcome. He is knocking to be invited in to be part of our lives, lives that bring others hope, lives that are rich in truth and mercy. “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” he says in Revelation 3:22, and we need to listen.


About the Author

Sue Gilmore, author, activist, business woman and church worker, graduated from Bible College in the early 1980’s with a degree in Biblical Studies. Her original intent was to follow her schooling with a career in full-time Christian work, but she soon realized that her sexual orientation would not allow her to pursue her lifelong goals. Being true to herself and her sexual identity, she chose instead to pursue a business career in real estate. From the beginning of her career, Sue found that her newly chosen path suited her God-given talents, and proved to be rewarding and satisfying. Now almost thirty years later, she is the Vice President and Regional Manager for one of the largest Title Insurance companies in the nation.   

I Stand At The Door: Day 1 of 2

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Day 1

-Sue Gilmore

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” -Revelation 3:17-20 (NIV)

Many of us heard the last verse of this passage as children; we can picture in our minds the handsome Anglo-Saxon portrayal of Jesus from our Sunday school reader, featuring his long brown hair in a wave of L’Oreal shine, his eyes shimmering in the glow cast around his white face. Jesus’ hand was in midair, knocking on an arched wooden English cottage door from circa 1800. It was all so incredibly charming, and all so incredibly out of context.

The verse, I was told as a child, was Jesus’ invitation to us to come be with him, spend time with him, and make him the Lord of our lives. But just as the accompanying image was a gross mischaracterization of the zero-A.D. Israelite Jesus, so the verse has been lifted from its context and portrayed as a warm welcome, instead of the stern warning that the passage relays.

Revelation 3:20 is part of the letter to the church of Laodicea, a church founded by the apostle Paul that had been just going through the motions of nominal Christian living. The Laodiceans were rich in wealth, but the passage refers to them as wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. How could this be? How could the wealthy be poor? They were being rebuked not because they had wealth, but because their wealth had tainted their attitudes, leading them to the sin of complacency. Jesus is calling them to be rich of heart, to be rich in mercy, to be a strong statement to the world of his love and Grace.


About the Author

Sue Gilmore, author, activist, business woman and church worker, graduated from Bible College in the early 1980’s with a degree in Biblical Studies. Her original intent was to follow her schooling with a career in full-time Christian work, but she soon realized that her sexual orientation would not allow her to pursue her lifelong goals. Being true to herself and her sexual identity, she chose instead to pursue a business career in real estate. From the beginning of her career, Sue found that her newly chosen path suited her God-given talents, and proved to be rewarding and satisfying. Now almost thirty years later, she is the Vice President and Regional Manager for one of the largest Title Insurance companies in the nation.   

In Jesus' Hands

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My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. -John 10:27-28, NRSV

I was a campus pastor when I fell in love with a girl.  The first thought that came to my mind was that the rage of God upon me would be merciless. All my life, I had heard from my faith community members, from the pulpits, from the lips of the people that I respected and I loved, that to be gay or lesbian was one of the worst sins that exist. My Christian faith and my sexual orientation weren't compatible from that point of view. The way that certain branches of Christianity interpret some verses of the Bible leaves no space for LGBTQ people to feel welcome in God's house. I felt devastated. I loved my ministry and I also loved her. I wanted to have both in my life, but my church didn't give me that option. I cried, I prayed, and I repeated both for years, yet the change of orientation never came.

 

I asked myself, what if I keep this relationship with her? What would happen? What is my biggest fear? It was to be stranded from God. I thought the Divine would reject me for loving a woman. In my moment of deepest uncertainty, these verses from the gospel of John came to me and filled my heart with God's Spirit. I read them again and again and I even got a tattoo on my left shoulder as a reminder of this great promise. I am certain that I was, I am, I will always be in God's loving hands, and nothing, nothing, can change that reality. I used to think that the biggest threat in my faith journey was my sexuality, but now I see that the danger was rather my doubt about Jesus' faithfulness to me. The danger was that because of what I'd been taught, I believed ideas that don't bring any good news, but only fear and shame. The threat was that I spent time fighting against something that I shouldn't oppose or deny. There was nothing to change or fix in my sexual attraction, because ALL was good. I was in Jesus' hands that whole time, and there is no better place to be.


About the Author

Esther Baruja, native of Paraguay, has a Master in Divinity from ISEDET Seminary in Argentina and Chicago Theological Seminary.  Esther's focus is theological-based liberation from multi-layer oppressions at the intersections of race, class and gender. She lives in Cleveland, where she is pastoring at Archwood UCC church in Brooklyn Centre.

The Spiritual Practice of Trusting in God: Day 8 of 8

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The Stronghold of My life

-Rick Hocker

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

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 (NIV):

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 the Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden 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. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at  amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

The Spiritual Practice of Trusting in God: Day 7 of 8

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Walking By Faith

-Rick Hocker

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

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 the light had gone. 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. In those moments of fear, 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. 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. We entrust our entire humanity to God, with all our messy and conflicting emotions. Trust is not an emotion, but it involves all of our emotions. It's a decision 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.


About the Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden 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. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at  amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

The Spiritual Practice of Trusting in God: Day 5 of 8

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Living Water

-Rick Hocker

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

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 intentionally 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 will have deeper cisterns to hold more of His Spirit when times of infilling come.

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.


About the Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden 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. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at  amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

The Spiritual Practice of Trusting in God: Day 4 of 8

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Stretching Our Cisterns

-Rick Hocker

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

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 be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. God can dwell in 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 us 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.


About the Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden 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. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at  amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

The Spiritual Practice of Trusting in God: Day 3 of 8

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All Possible Outcomes

-Rick Hocker

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

Looking back, I'm grateful for the experience of my back injury, 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, to believe He 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 that 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?


About the Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden 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. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at  amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

The Spiritual Practice of Trusting in God: Day 2 of 8

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Our Entire Being

-Rick Hocker

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between faith and trust? Faith is a belief. This belief emanates from the soul, more than from the mind. Trust is an action. We have faith in God, but how does that translate into action?

Trust is the action of placing our confidence in God. It's not just a mental exercise; it involves our entire 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 I would not be disappointed in the end. In fact, He repeated that promise three times just to make sure I got the message. 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 continue to fear. I could have chosen more despair. Most of the time, God wasn't 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.


About the Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden 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. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at  amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

The Spiritual Practice of Trusting in God: Day 1 of 8

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God is On the Line

-Rick Hocker

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

I remember the morning I ran out of food. I was a poor college student attending Cal Poly State University, and I had no money to buy 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." On that day, I had no one to rely on but God, and I expected God to step up to the plate.

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 food from heaven. 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 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.


About the Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden 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. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at  amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

The Cycle of Compassion: Day 4 of 4

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Day 4

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. -Matthew 5:44

        It’s easy to feel compassion for some people. They face obviously difficult situations, or they’ve been clearly mistreated, unfairly disadvantaged, or denied rights and privileges. They are clearly trying their best despite having been dealt a bad hand of cards from the deck of life.

        There are others who do not evoke our compassion so readily. They have been born into privileged, advantaged situations and are blind to the undeserved benefits of their circumstances. Maybe they seem to have had an “easy” life, and are ungrateful for their advantages. Maybe they speak about others in a way that indicates they are blind to the challenges that others face. Because they seem to lack compassion toward others, we find ourselves reluctant to show compassion toward them. The flowing, cyclical nature of compassion is especially apparent when we consider how suddenly it stops in our relationships with these individuals.

        The word “enemy” sounds harsh and violent to our modern ears. When we read Jesus’ instruction to love our “enemies,” it’s easy to dismiss it as an antiquated mandate, intended for a society more stratified than our own. I would suggest that we consider not only our enemies, but the enemies of our love: those who seem to halt the flow of compassion. What would it mean to love these people?

        Implicit in Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies is the notion that true love will extend to everyone, not just those who we easily love. The generative cycle of compassion and love will produce even more compassion and love. Those who receive compassion may develop a taste for it, realizing the sweetness of being invited into fellowship. If we withhold compassion from those who seem compassion-less, we eliminate the possibility of love taking root and growing within them. Love is a force powerful enough to win when it is lavished upon its own enemies.

        Who is the person who came to mind as you read the first paragraph? Imagine for a moment that you were living their life. Imagine the experience this individual has had in life. What conclusions might you have reached if you were in their shoes? Today, consider that this person is doing their best. Consider that they may be trying as hard as they can. Extend to them the compassion you would want to receive yourself. The more readily we extend it, the more power we give to love


About the Author

Elizabeth Jeffries is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Pittsburgh and writes nonfiction on a freelance basis. She and her husband, Mark, live in the City of Pittsburgh, and members of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in the South Side neighborhood. You can find her online at www.elizabethjeffrieswrites.com and on Twitter @EPJeff.

The Cycle of Compassion: Day 3 of 4

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Day 3

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second [commandment] is: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these. -Mark 12:30-31

Modern American culture is obsessed with personal responsibility. As children, many of us are raised in systems of inextricably linked actions and consequences. When we break the rules, misbehave or disobey, we go to time-out, get sent to our room or we’re grounded. At school, this sense of personal responsibility is reinforced; if you miss the deadline to turn in your book report, you’ll get a bad grade; solving a math problem incorrectly results in a lower score. Finally, personal responsibility governs our experience of the workplace and of adulthood: if you’re late work too many times in a row, a note goes in your file. If you fail to fulfill your workplace responsibilities, you’ll be at risk of being fired.

The natural conclusion seems to be that our value is commensurate with our obedience, productivity or reliability. We become careful perfectionists at our best and self-hating workaholics at our worst.

Either extreme bears profound negative implications on our social lives, but the implications on our private lives are often overlooked. There is typically a great divide between our public and private selves. We are trained, either outright or implicitly, to put our best foot forward and to project ourselves in the best light possible with others. But we are the only ones who see the entirety of our private lives. We are the only ones who know how selfish we truly are, or how far we bend the rules without breaking them, how easily we become distracted when we’re trying to stay diligent. We alone know the full extent of our failures.

In a culture obsessed with personal responsibility, self-awareness can produce a pervasive sense of guilt; and guilt can give birth to its more insidious counterpart, shame. While guilt is responsive to specific actions or failures to act, shame extends beyond actions to shape our very identities. While guilt is the belief that we have done something bad, shame is the belief that we are bad. Not only will shame, when left unchecked, consume and destroy us, but it is self-perpetuating. We tell ourselves we are the only ones who are this bad, and that we dare not share our true selves with others. By keeping our shame private, it grows—thriving in the darkness of our hearts and minds.

Self-love may sound like a modern concept, but it’s actually an ancient mandate. Jesus spoke of loving our neighbors as ourselves, implying that our ability to love others is inextricably linked with our ability to love ourselves. Too often we speak of putting others ahead of ourselves, as though we are incapable of loving others and ourselves at the same time. Jesus taught us that we can, and must, do both. We can have compassion toward ourselves and toward others simultaneously. Jesus suggests that love functions in a generative, cyclical fashion: our love for our neighbor feeds our love for ourselves. Our sense of common human dignity will expand through this cycle of generative love.

Today, challenge your own conception of love. Challenge any sense of guilt or shame that you may have, and consider those attributes of your character that are lovely. Be a friend to yourself. Love and compassion are unlimited and abundant, so freely pour them out for others—and for yourself.


About the Author

Elizabeth Jeffries is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Pittsburgh and writes nonfiction on a freelance basis. She and her husband, Mark, live in the City of Pittsburgh, and members of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in the South Side neighborhood. You can find her online at www.elizabethjeffrieswrites.com and on Twitter @EPJeff.

The Spiritual Practice of Trusting in God: Day 6 of 8

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Living Water

-Rick Hocker

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

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 intentionally 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 will have deeper cisterns to hold more of His Spirit when times of infilling come.

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.


About the Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden 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. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at  amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

The Cycle of Compassion: Day 2 of 4

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Day 2

A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” (For his disciples had gone off into the town to buy supplies.) So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you—a Jew—ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) -John 4:7-9

We all live a culture that teaches us a specific code of social conduct; we all learn an ethic of appropriate behavior. Included in this ethic is a list of people we have “nothing to do with.” Perhaps this list includes criminals. Or people from other countries. Or people who speak languages other than your own. Perhaps the list is based on class distinctions. We draw boundaries between those we associate ourselves with and those we don’t, and it’s easy—in fact, expected—for us to live in a manner entirely disconnected from those who fall into these “alien” categories.

        The categories were even stronger in Jesus’s day than in our own. Distinctions between people were not blurred by the illusion of American equal opportunity, but explicitly upheld by the class and religious systems of the time. A Jew had nothing to do with a Samaritan not just because of preference, but because of religious mandate. The conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well was more than unusual: it was culturally unclean.

        In striking up a conversation with this woman, Jesus breaks free from expected cultural and religious codes of conduct. Violating the way that things have always been done within his community, He transcends the norms of his day. This transcendence requires an extraordinary level of consciousness. Conscious of the commonality and connectedness between seemingly disconnected people, He notices and interacts with a person he had been trained to ignore.         

I’ve heard this story interpreted in a number of ways. I’ve heard evangelical preachers focus on the woman’s openness to conversion at the end of the story, claiming that its lesson is Jesus’ evangelistic creativity and dedication. I’ve heard conservative preachers focus on the woman’s history of divorce, claiming that it shows that we can’t hide our sins from Jesus. But the story has much greater significance if we look beyond the content of the conversation—and first appreciate the simple fact that the conversation even took place.         

If Jesus’s goal was purely evangelistic, he could have gathered a crowd at the well; or he could have left the well to preach where a crowd was already gathered. If Jesus’s goal was purely educational and corrective, he could have spoken in direct terms with Samaritan woman rather than in the abstract language he chose instead. Instead, Jesus simply paid attention. He noticed a person he wasn’t supposed to notice.

        Compassion requires that we pay attention. Our daily interactions at bus stops, with baristas, or drive-thru operators may seem insignificant, but they define our experience of life. When we pay attention to each other, we validate each other and we affirm our shared humanity. Compassion is not solely feeling sorry for or helping others: it is often as simple as noticing others. Today, I invite you to ask yourself who in your daily interactions you have been trained to ignore. Are you ignoring those around you based on distinctions you’ve made based on class, age, skin color or gender? You have the freedom to choose a conscious life, transcending cultural codes of conduct to notice someone you have been taught to ignore.


About the Author

Elizabeth Jeffries is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Pittsburgh and writes nonfiction on a freelance basis. She and her husband, Mark, live in the City of Pittsburgh, and members of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in the South Side neighborhood. You can find her online at www.elizabethjeffrieswrites.com and on Twitter @EPJeff.

The Spiritual Practice of Trusting in God: Day 5 of 8

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Living Water

-Rick Hocker

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

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 intentionally 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 will have deeper cisterns to hold more of His Spirit when times of infilling come.

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.


About the Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden 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. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at  amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

Cycle of Compassion: Day 1 of 4

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Day 1

We are all human; therefore, nothing human can be alien to us. –Maya Angelou

When I was seven, I saw a homeless man on a downtown Pittsburgh street corner holding a paper cup and asking for change. I was bewildered. I went to Sunday school every week and sat with my family every morning for daily devotions. Every Bible story seemed to make the same claim: God provides for all people, and we should trust him to care for us. I’d been taught that God wants us to rely on His provision—but here was a man who had nothing. Resigned to pleading with strangers for help, he was wholly reliant on his (often stingy) community to meet his most basic needs. Even as a seven-year-old, I felt instinctually compassionate toward this man, envisioning myself in his shoes. And to this day, I haven’t forgotten him—not only because his desperation shocked me as child, but because of the countless people like him I’ve seen since.

While I can’t know the man’s background, I know that it is drastically different from my own. I’ve never truly worried about my next meal or the roof over my head. When I was young, I had the opportunity to receive an education with high earning potential. And I have a long list of family members and friends with the resources and willingness to provide help were I ever to need it.  

When I’m honest about my possessions, resources and potential, I recognize that these are provisions outside of myself, independent of my own personal merit. I was born into privilege and comfort that I did not earn and do not deserve. The human experience is not equivalent to climbing a ladder or running a race: we all begin at different starting points, based on the family situations into which we are born. And we follow unequal paths, with different forces weighing us down or spurring us along as we build our lives. Even the formation of our most personal goals and dreams depend on the opportunities we’re afforded.  

Our modern Western culture places high value on individuality. We are told from childhood that we can be anything we want to be if we work hard and apply ourselves. We’re taught that personal merit leads to success. We get what we deserve. Perhaps this is why we find it easy to pass by those in need on the street corners of our cities. Perhaps we’ve bought into the lie of personal merit: the lie that each of us possesses exactly what we deserve. This lie will quench the flame of compassion before it has the chance to grow.

Today, allow this lie to crumble. Be honest with yourself about the source of your possessions and your opportunities. Each of us is human and is subject to the same chaotic environment. Do not allow yourself to call another person’s experience “alien,” but instead fan the flame of compassion and call all individual experience “human.”


About the Author

Elizabeth Jeffries is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Pittsburgh and writes nonfiction on a freelance basis. She and her husband, Mark, live in the City of Pittsburgh, and members of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in the South Side neighborhood. You can find her online at www.elizabethjeffrieswrites.com and on Twitter @EPJeff.