Good Enough for God

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 that 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.

God’s Holiness is the Standard

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.

Why Jesus Matters

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.

Never Good Enough

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 loving relationship with God.

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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.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Trust Versus Fear

The opposite of trust is fear, and fear causes us to make wrong choices. Trusting in God frees us from desperate actions because we believe God will take care of us. When we don’t trust in God, we are left to rely on ourselves. But when we doubt our ability to manage our security, we fall into fear. The uncertainty of the future causes us dread and we feel uneasy because we have little or no control over it.

Fear and trust oppose each other. When we’re filled with fear, we find it hard to trust, if not impossible. When we fully trust, we don’t fear because we have complete confidence in God’s promise and ability to care for us. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We’re afraid to trust in God because we doubt He exists or doubt His love and concern. Every choice we make is based on what we believe about our security, what or whom we rely on.

Trusting in God’s Provision

A few years after college, my roommate, Tim, and I went crabbing off the Pismo Beach pier. We had a crab trap, fishing line, and some bait. In setting up the trap, we discovered we had nothing to cut the fishing line. Tim left to search for something sharp to cut the line, hoping someone might help. While I waited for him to return, I asked God for something to cut the line. As soon as I had finished praying, I saw a knife less than three feet away at the edge of the pier. Why hadn’t I seen it before? Was it always there? Had my expectation of God opened my eyes? When Tim came back empty-handed, I held up the knife and smiled. “Look what God provided,” I said.

When we trust in God’s provision, we believe He will provide for our needs. He doesn’t promise to give us our dream job or house, but He will take care of us, often in unexpected ways. Nor does He promise to keep us in our current job or housing. What God will do is keep us in His care when we trust Him to do so, even if it shows up as a friend’s couch to sleep on. If God responded to need alone, He would meet all the unmet needs in the world. But God responds to belief, not to need. He responds to what we believe about our needs and God’s ability to meet them.

When we don’t trust, we fear we won’t have what we need. So we worry about how we will get those things. We worry about what will happen to us. Because of fear, we rationalize our need to keep more for ourselves or take more for ourselves. We lie, cheat, and steal to insure our security because we believe we alone are responsible for it. When we trust God for our needs, we have peace because we know God will meet our basic needs in response to our trust.

Trusting in God’s Protection

I grew up in a neighborhood built near an undeveloped shoreline. The shoreline had unmanaged trails between the tall scrub where kids used to ride their bikes on the weekends. Most of the time, the area was devoid of people. I used to go to this deserted area to think and pray. One time, I noticed a pack of four teenagers in the distance moving in my direction. Feeling unsafe, I turned around to go back to the street. I heard someone shout, “Hey, you,” but I didn’t look so as to pretend I didn’t hear. I asked God to protect me. Then I heard many feet running toward me from behind, getting louder. I continued to trust in God and didn’t run or look behind me, but stayed calm. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t afraid, but in spite of my fear, I placed my safety in God’s hands, believing that if they attacked me, He would be with me. To my amazement, the running sounds stopped abruptly. Curious, I looked behind me, but saw no one. When I looked ahead, I saw a police car parked on the street fifty feet away. God has answered my prayer and protected me.

When we trust in God for protection, we believe in God’s peace in the midst of threat. God doesn’t always protect us from harm. The apostle Paul was jailed and beaten. But he had peace because he believed God was with him. God gave him strength and endurance in those situations. When we don’t trust, we don’t have peace, we feel unsafe everywhere we go, even at home. We buy a gun, we distrust all strangers, we don’t go out alone, we always fear the worst. When we entrust our lives to God, then He becomes responsible for what happens to us. Whatever happens to us, He can give us peace and confidence that He will take care of us in the midst of threat.

Trusting in God’s Justice

When a close friend had wronged me, I was deeply hurt and disappointed. But I entrusted the situation to God. My friend felt justified in his actions at the time, but a year later, he contacted me to apologize. He said that what he had done to me had now happened to him. He now knew how awful he had been and how it felt to be on the receiving end of such treatment. I wasn’t expecting an apology, but God had worked in his life to open his eyes. In my mind, God had brought about His flavor of justice.

When we trust in God’s justice, we believe God sees everything. We believe that God feels deeply about what He sees and will respond when we entrust the situation to Him. I think we often judge God for being inactive, but we often fail to exercise our belief in God’s justice by committing situations to His care. God responds to our belief regarding His handling of injustice, not to the injustice itself. When we don’t trust in God, we feel we must secure our own justice. We get even, we protest, we sue, we refuse to forgive. When we entrust our lives to God, He doesn’t protect us from injustice. But God will work circumstances toward our eventual good, if only to teach us trust, patience, and forgiveness. An example from the Bible is the story of Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph experienced many injustices, but he trusted in God who eventually rescued him and raised him to a position of honor where he saved many people during a time of famine.

Trusting in God’s Kindness

You may have noticed a theme in this article that God doesn’t protect us from hardship. What good is it to trust in God if we can’t be assured of an easier life? We experience hardship either way. When we trust in God, we can live in peace instead of fear. Hardship becomes a vehicle for God to show Himself to help us through challenges. God uses the hardship to teach us and change us into people of strength, confidence, and joy.

What we believe about God is important. If we believe in a stingy, distant God, then we experience that very thing. If we believe in a loving, generous God, then we experience mercy and abundance. Our experience of God is based on what we believe about Him. Our belief is often formed by how we have judged the circumstances of our lives. We interpret hardship as God’s abandonment. If we entrust our hardship to God, He can work it to strip away those blocks in our lives that prevent us from experiencing Him.

Benefits of Trusting God

If our experience of God has been negative, then it will be hard to trust. Try to move past judging God for your disappointments. Learn to trust God with your life circumstances. In doing so, fear will have less hold on you and peace will have a stronger hold. When we trust, we find it easier to be patient, to make sacrifices, and to take risks. When we fear, we take shortcuts and miss out on the benefits of a life lived deeply.

Romans 14:23 says that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Using the language of this article, I can rephrase this to say: Whenever we don’t trust in God, we sin. When we don’t trust in God, we act from self-preservation that results in behaviors that oppose God’s law of love and deny His goodness. When we trust in God, we are free from sin because we are depending on Him. The goal for me is not freedom from sin because I know that Jesus had died to free me. My goal is freedom to experience God in every way possible, to experience His goodness and presence. When we trust in Him, we experience His involvement in our lives, which encourages us to trust in Him more.

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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.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Engaging God

How do we come to know God? Do we grasp God by reading books? Or by listening to others tell us who God is? Reading a book about someone isn’t as instructive as interacting with that person firsthand. Someone can read all the books written about God, but never experience the living God who interacts with us humans. Our relationship is with an actual person, so our understanding of God ought to include a direct experience of Him. The various people in the Bible all had a direct experience of God. For God to be real to us, we need to experience Him in a real way. I believe God wants us to experience Him.

I want to know the living God, not the God confined to pages in a book. A book cannot contain God because His nature is unlimited. John 21:25 says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” Besides, our relationship isn’t with a book, but with a living God. The Bible points us to God, but the Bible shouldn’t take the place of God. So how do we engage the living God, the One who right now is watching you read this article?

Starting with Trust

Here is a spiritual principle: God reveals Himself in response to our trust in Him. God doesn’t stand on a street corner and say, “Here I am.” He has no need to prove His existence to the skeptic. If we wait for God to show Himself, it won’t happen. Rather, He waits for us to make the first move in His direction. We risk by choosing to trust God. In response, God makes Himself more real to us.

For the novice, it starts with an initial belief that God is real, often with no solid proof. Later, we understand that God expects us to fully entrust our lives to Him in light of His mercy and sovereignty. At that point, we take the scary step of entrusting our lives to a being we have never seen. For many people, God rewards that step of “faith” with an undeniable experience that validates their act of trusting.

This principle is repeated over and over in our lives. We entrust God with a specific situation, believing that God will work it out according to His wisdom. We place at risk our control over the outcome. By trusting, we risk failure, embarrassment, and loss. Nevertheless, we choose to trust God with the outcome. In response to our trust, God intervenes and makes Himself real by how He answers. We experience God when He sustains us, encourages us, surprises us, or when He sends people who lend a hand or speak the words we need to hear. We glimpse God in those things. We learn about God’s love for us. We learn that God hears us and helps us. We experience God in a way that’s real, but it’s in response to our decision to trust in Him.

Trusting Within Hardships

This principle is one theme in my book, Four in the Garden. Creator tries to impress upon Cherished, the protagonist, that every hardship is an opportunity to trust in Creator. By trusting, Cherished grows in his knowledge of Creator by experiencing Him within those hardships.

In 2004, I suffered a terrible back injury. I couldn’t stand or sit because of excruciating pain. I spent most of my day in bed. At other times, I would lie on the sofa if I could manage the trip from the bedroom. On one occasion, my friend, John, visited me while I was lying on the couch. During that visit, I learned that he had been suffering from abdominal pain for three months. I felt compelled to pray for him and asked him to move closer so I could place my hand on his stomach. After a minute or two, I stopped praying and removed my hand. He said his pain was completely gone. He wept from gratitude and amazement. I wept with him.

The Rewards of Risk

Had I not risked to pray for John, God wouldn’t have healed him that day. I was in tremendous pain during his visit. I could have focused on myself and not have considered offering to pray for him. But I stepped out in trust and faith, not knowing if God would heal him. God surprised both of us.

I suppose I could have been jealous because I was in greater need of healing than John, but I wasn’t jealous at all. I had learned a few things about God from that event. I learned that God is compassionate. I learned that God heals. I needed to be reminded of those things right then. The greatest lesson I learned that day is that God can use me when I am at my lowest point. When I was disabled and in pain, God used me. When I was most in need of healing, God used me to heal. That is a profound lesson in giving, receiving and God’s timing.

My healing wasn’t instantaneous like John’s. It came slowly, over the course of many months. But I took comfort in knowing God as a compassionate healer. So, by taking risks with God, God makes Himself real to us. We come to know God as He reveals Himself to us in response to our trust in Him. By faith, we step into the unknown, and He meets us there to make Himself known.

Getting Out of Our Boat

The story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33) seems to center more on Peter than on Jesus. Jesus’ disciples were in a boat fighting rough weather at night when they saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. On seeing Jesus, Peter asked for permission to come out to Jesus on the water. Peter walked on the water for a short time, but started sinking when he became afraid. At that point, Jesus took hold of him to keep him from sinking and brought him into the boat (verse 31). His experience of Jesus was more dramatic than the other disciples because he took a risk and got out of the boat. Because of that event, all of them were convinced that Jesus was God’s Son (verse 33). But Peter learned so much more. He learned firsthand that Jesus could empower him to do the impossible. Of more importance, he learned that Jesus would take hold of him if he ever found himself sinking or afraid.

If we play it safe and stay in our boat, we won’t encounter God. To the degree we risk is the degree we experience God. God wants us to know Him, but He waits for us to get out of our safety zone and step toward Him in faith and trust. I challenge you to trust God more. If you take that risk, He will engage you and surprise you.

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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.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

A Beautiful Ache

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.

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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.

Website: http://www.fourinthegarden.com
Email: rickhocker@fourinthegarden.com

Hiding From Love

We’ve all heard the statement that God is Love. If that’s true, then why don’t we throw ourselves at Him like an adoring fan tries to get close to a favorite celebrity? In spite of all the glories ascribed to love, if we look deep inside, we’re afraid of it. And God’s love is the most frightening of all. So, whether we realize it or not, we hide from love.

Being Seen

Love sees us for who we really are. It sees past our defenses and disguises. It peers into our very souls. It sees what we want no one to see, including God. Most of us dislike the intensity of close examination. We prefer to control our secrets. We keep love at a safe distance to prevent it from peering too deeply into our souls. We chose to hide from love’s scrutiny. If we are truly seen, then we will be rejected, we tell ourselves. Sometimes, we hide because we are ashamed, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I’m encouraged that, in spite of their hiding, God sought them out. That shows God’s desire for relationship. When God asked them why they were hiding, they said because they were naked. They weren’t ashamed because they were nude. They were ashamed because they now had something to hide, their sin against God. When one has nothing to hide, then exposure is no threat. Because we have something to hide, we don’t want to be exposed, even before God.

God’s love sees you as you truly are. God unconditionally loves what He sees.

A Mirror

Love acts as a mirror. It shows us ourselves through the eyes of another who reflects to us what they see. We don’t like to see ourselves in this manner because it requires another to relay what they see. They might see something repulsive. Can we trust others to tell us the truth? Do we want others to tell us the truth? It’s difficult to trust people to be an impartial mirror. People withhold or exaggerate. Yet, we need mirrors in life. We need someone to tell us the truth about us. On our own, we can’t see ourselves accurately because the proverbial plank in our eye (blind spot) gets in the way. We can’t see the sign taped on our back that announces our foolishness. That’s why we need a mirror.

God’s love speaks the truth if you are willing to listen. It reflects to you your true nature.

Being Safe

When love draws near, we don’t feel safe, sometimes. It’s like a hound dog sniffing at the door of our pantry. We cringe because we don’t want it to discover our stash of candy bars. If love only knew what we did in secret, it would withdraw, we tell ourselves. We want to control what love sees and has access to. We welcome love, but on our own terms. So we keep love at arm’s length, lest it be too threatening. One reason love is scary is because it requires us to be vulnerable. When we are vulnerable, then we can be hurt the most. When our heart is exposed, rejection and reproach can wound us deeply. Knowing that, we try to protect our hearts as best we can.

God’s love can give you a sense of safety if you learn to trust it. It holds you when you are most vulnerable.

Hidden Monsters

Love shines a light into our souls. It exposes what’s hidden in the dark, things even we don’t want to see or admit to. Our monsters are those things we’re ashamed of, those things no one is ever meant to see or know about. We believe that these monsters are so ugly, they would repel even the most tolerant. If they threaten us, then they will certainly threaten others. We don’t venture into the dark of our own souls because we know the monsters are hiding there. We think that love isn’t strong enough to handle our monsters, that love is too pure to embrace such ugliness.

God’s love is strong enough to enter the dark of your soul and seek your monsters. Although perfectly pure, it’s capable to love the ugliness you cannot bring yourself to love. But you must give God permission to enter your soul.

Intimacy

Intimacy is being known. I have heard it defined as “into me you see.” Being known is one step further than being seen. It means we are understood. The knower “gets us.” We find comfort in knowing that someone understands us, even if we don’t understand ourselves. God’s love understands you.

God knows your thoughts and motivations. He can make sense out of your jumbled feelings and desires.

No Sense In Hiding

We cannot hide from God although we fool ourselves in thinking we can. God already sees everything and knows everything. He knows all about our monsters. He knows about the defects we aren’t aware of. When the mirror of His love exposes new monsters, our normal response is shame and embarrassment. But the monsters have been there all along, undetected by us. God has known about them for years. Others may have known of them, but didn’t tell us. So when God exposes them, be grateful because God thinks you are ready to see them. It also means He is ready to deal with them, so don’t beat yourself up but let God have access to them so He can heal you.

The Great Seer and Knower

When God sees you, he sees past your stuff. He sees past your history, past your deficiencies. He sees your soul, the unique person you are, the person behind the mask, the child within the adult. He sees the pure essence of your being, beneath the layers of debris you pack on yourself. That is what God really sees and wants to see. He sees past your hurts and fears, and sees you as a beautiful, fragile soul. It is your soul He loves. Everything will be stripped away one day, and that which will be left is what God sets His sights on, what He desires to embrace, what He chooses to love.

God knows you. He knows your thoughts, your desires, your obsessions, your destructive behaviors. And yet, He loves you. Unconditional love is not based on merit or worth. It is based on its own ability to love for its own sake. It is based on choice. And God has chosen to love you because His core nature is love. God is love manifest. He loves because He cannot help but love.

Freedom

All these observations support the claim that love is freedom. Freedom to be seen. Freedom to be known. Freedom from fear and hiding. Love makes you free, free to be yourself. Be open to love and let love free you. Let God love you and show you who you really are. If you dare, look into His eyes and see what He sees, the person He embraces with unbounded love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear” – I John 4:18.

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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.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Loving Ray

What to do when someone doesn’t change

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, then 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-eight 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 hell 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 ten 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.

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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.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

The World behind the World

Recently, my brother-in-law made a comment about a realistic computer game he had been playing. At one point in the game, a flaw appeared in the virtual world that revealed elements behind and below the scene. He equated this experience to a brief glimpse into the secret world hidden behind the world we see. I believe in an unseen world behind this world that is as real and active and diverse as the world we know. Although this world is invisible to us, sometimes we catch an indirect glimpse of it or feel it when something stirs within it.

It’s not too implausible that a world like this could exist. Without the aid of a microscope, we would be unable to see the teeming world of life that exists in a drop of pond water. As a kid, I found it fascinating to watch the variety of amazing creatures swimming past the field of view of our home microscope. Let’s consider the universe in which our Earth is just a speck. Without the invention of the telescope, we would never have seen distant galaxies or colorful nebulae. Or consider the unexplored world that exists at the bottom of the ocean. These real worlds exist outside of our own, but cannot be seen without the use of special equipment. Why then is it difficult to believe in a world that is inhabited by beings we cannot see?

The Unseen Spiritual World

This unseen world I’m referring to is the spiritual world. This is the world where God and angels navigate and from which they occasionally interact with the physical world. I’m told that the Disneyland theme park has an underground network of tunnels through which employees appear and disappear, and supplies and trash are carted. In a similar way, spiritual beings travel behind the scenes, but make their presence known when it’s needed. They are always there, unseen, but influence the world and our experience of it.

Does it matter whether we believe in this spiritual world? It matters in that this spiritual world is eternal. It preexists the physical world and will exist after this physical world ends. Of greater importance is that we must learn to trust in it. More specifically, we must learn to trust in God and believe that He is always there and will make His presence known when needed. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” – Proverbs 25:2. God chooses to hide from mankind, but allows Himself to be found those who seek Him. This is intended to test our hearts and to distinguish those who are sincere, those who desire to know God from a pure longing and not for selfish ends.

For those who seek God, this spiritual world isn’t as elusive as it is for others. It is a rich world that satisfies our deepest cravings, a place where we can connect to God and find peace and love. People these days seek peace, but we discover authentic peace when we encounter God. The peace that God gives can quell every fear and worry, but we cannot obtain it without first obtaining God. I have learned that the peace of God is God. When we experience God, we experience peace. It is not something He gives, but something that He is. When we receive peace, we receive God. When we give peace, we offer God to others.

Hide and Seek and Find

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 29-13-14. The apostle Paul said, “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us” – Acts 17-27 (Living Bible). The spiritual world is hidden from us for a reason: so we might seek after God. Those who have no need for God will never experience Him, as He will remain hidden from them. But for those who earnestly seek Him out of a recognized need for what only He can give, we are promised that we will find Him.

When we find God and ask Him into our lives, He comes and dwells in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17). The God of the universe makes us His habitation. We become temples of the living God. God becomes accessible to us to a greater degree. Jesus says in Revelation 3:20, “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.” The image of having a meal with Jesus alludes to sharing, companionship and intimacy. God desires these qualities of relationship with all of us.

Responding to the Spiritual World

As you go through your day, be aware that the spiritual world surrounds you. This unseen world is aware of you whether you are aware of it or not. More than just being aware of you, the spiritual world endeavors to influence your life and offer assistance if you are open to it. Seek to be open. And, maybe, you might catch a glimpse of it or feel it when it brushes past you. We need not fear this mysterious world because God inhabits it and He can be trusted.

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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.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

The Joy of Impermanence

A few weeks ago, I attended a play at the local Junior College. The play had a lot of set changes. One of the sets was a tall, red cabin with a high porch and steps. The lights went out and the stagehands rolled the cabin off the stage to the left. I felt as though God had said to me, “This will be how the world will end. The set will be rolled off the stage, leaving it empty for the next act.” I felt a rush of emotion, almost to the point of tears, because I felt I had been given a glimpse of something profound.

It was as though God had pulled back the veil and I saw things as they truly are—impermanent. We forget that everything we see will one day be gone. The Bible tells us that nothing lasts forever, not even this world. Revelation 21:1 says that the first earth and first heaven will pass away. God will make a new heaven and earth. That will be the second act of His play.

We hate change. What we hate is the discomfort that accompanies change. But change is inevitable, because nothing is permanent. But we can find encouragement in this knowledge.

No Dark Night Lasts Forever

For those who have endured suffering, they have learned that all suffering comes to an end. Ultimately, even a lifetime of suffering has an end in the liberating release of death. I suffered terribly after my back injury, being in constant pain for a year. Most of that time I spent lying in bed because I could not stand or sit. I comforted myself in the knowledge that my pain would not last forever. Eventually, my body did start to heal and I began to experience hours, then days, when I was not in pain. I did make a full recovery, even though some told me that I would always be disabled.

No hardship lasts forever. The law of impermanence makes it so. This knowledge helps us to endure and have patience when we are beset with overwhelming circumstances. One thing that does last forever is God’s love. It is constant. We can rely on God’s love to keep us afloat during times of crisis. God doesn’t often rescue us from crisis but He gives us the strength to endure it, the peace to accept it, and the grace to be transformed by it.

No Good Fortune Lasts Forever

When finances, health and possessions are abundant, we think we are secure, but these things are not designed to last. They fade. Sometimes, they are lost in an instant. Instead of living in fear of loss, a better attitude is to be thankful for their presence in our lives and to enjoy them while we are able. Let us appreciate these blessings all the more because they are temporary.

Our investments or health can fail. We can lose our jobs or homes. Some might respond by saving more, living healthier, or taking fewer risks, but none of these guarantee security. The only real source of security is God, who is unchanging across eternity. The impermanence of things causes us to place our trust in God rather than in the false security of our possessions.

A Vanishing Act

The Bible says that we are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:14). Our lives are like the temporary props on a stage. We are rolled on and then rolled off, never to appear again. We judge our life spans in terms of decades, but relative to the aging of the Earth, our lives are very brief.

In spite of their brevity, we are desperately attached to our lives. We cling to our lives with a fierce grip. Why is that? I think we fool ourselves into thinking that the severity of our grip will prevent our lives from being taken from us. Whether we have a tight grip or loose grip, we have no power to force our stay on Earth.

I’m a proponent of the loose grip approach to life. Since everything is impermanent, why cling to things? Why accumulate to excess? Why fear what I cannot control? We are exhorted to accumulate treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:20) and to set our minds on things above and not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2).

The Best Attitude is Gratitude

If everything is impermanent, then we can find encouragement in knowing that nothing bad lasts forever and that everything good should be enjoyed while it lasts. Even when we experience hardship, we can look for the good in our lives and be thankful for it, no matter how small the portion. In my darkest hour, I took comfort in knowing that God had surrounded me with love. The love of God and others can sustain us through difficult times.

During those times when the good seems far away, we can enjoy the present moment experiences of our senses: warmth on our skin, favorite smells, the marvels of nature. We can enjoy our interactions with friends and family. Creativity. Movement. Engaging our minds. All these things are freely accessible to most of us. Let us enjoy them as they are experienced, since they are fleeting and never captured again after the moment has passed. And let us have gratitude for each of these moments because God can be found in them if we look.

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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.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Resurrection is Reconnection

Jesus’ Resurrection

What Christians celebrate at Easter is the resurrection of Jesus. His resurrection demonstrates God’s power over death. But God already demonstrated that power when Jesus raised people from the dead, such as Lazarus. If God’s power over death had been established, then why did Jesus need to rise from the dead?

Defining Death

First, let’s start with a new definition: Death is separation. When a person dies, they are separated from their body. Also, they are separated from their loved ones, which is a type of death or loss experienced by both parties, the deceased and those left behind. The soul continues for the deceased, but without a body.

Why Resurrect?

When Jesus died, He could have gone straight to heaven. In that case, He would have continued His existence as a spirit, just as God the Father is a spirit. Why resurrect at all? Why come back for your body? Why not shed this frail, mortal body and be done with it? Why not remain a spirit and be free from the confines and limitations of a physical body? For the rest of this article, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html and download the article listed at the top of the page.

Mind Resists Spirit

How much time do you spend in your head? Almost all of the time, I imagine. Most of us identify with our minds and thoughts. Why shouldn’t we? Our minds are running constantly, unaided, like our beating hearts. Our minds are active even when we sleep and create the symbols of our dreams.

Our minds also get in way of God. They trip us up because they can’t grasp the infinite.

Has it ever occurred to you that your mind isn’t the only place to inhabit? Many of us spend our entire existence in our heads, detached from the rest of our bodies. People who inhabit their bodies are more in touch with their physical selves and are more open to intuition. Intuition comes to us via our bodies, not our minds. If we recognize that our minds are only one component of who we are, we will be more open to other ways to receive information.

To read the rest of this article, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html.