Making Scary Decisions, Faithfully by Josh Pinkston

Shawna and I have moved 12 times in 11 years of marriage. You’d think we were people who absolutely love to move and dislike being in one place for too long, but you’d be mistaken. Very seldom have our moves been instigated by own choosing. It has not been easy for us.

We surprisingly really enjoy consistency. And now that we’ve just made another big move back to Portland, OR from Sunnyvale, CA with a 7 month old, we’re ready, once again, to stay in one place for a while. We’re living in the Woodlawn neighborhood in NE Portland. I’m currently across the street from our apartment sitting at a coffeeshop which is only a block away from The Oregon Public House, where I’ll be working. The Woodlawn neighborhood is home. It is sweet.

The outside seating area at Woodlawn Coffee & Pastry shop

The outside seating area at Woodlawn Coffee & Pastry shop

Moving here was a huge leap of faith for our family. We were very well provided for in California and near our families (aka free babysitters). It was kind of stupid of us to leave! But this time, it was a choice. While living there and working with Stu Nice and Brook Fonceca at Valley Life Church, I was given more room than I’d ever known. Room to be, heal, dream, and grow. It was such a gift. Absolutely priceless. I am immensely grateful.

Now, not to be morbid or anything, but I think about death on a daily basis. I realize (and want to realize) that this is all extremely temporary and limited and I want to experience the “life and life more abundantly” that Jesus defined as His reason for living. (I don't believe I would be betraying His sentiment by retranslating it to "love and love more abundantly"). In light of that, one of my biggest challenges in life is discovering how I want to spend it. While we were in Sunnyvale, I finally felt like I discovered my vision for our future. At least a very specific direction to walk toward.

Once I began working toward it, the opportunity opened up at The Oregon Public House to help discover ways for the pub to outwardly love its (now our) community. It is a remarkable step in the direction we want to go as a family.

Financially, this is a pretty huge leap of faith for us. Comfort-wise, it was also a huge leap of faith for us (Shawna hadn’t seen our apartment or even been back to Portland since we last lived here). Parenting-wise… you get it. I could go on and on about the leap of faith this has been, but that is also why we had to do it. Life is too short NOT to live by faith. 

Life is so short. If we don’t make room in our lives for God to show His love and care, we will go our whole lives without experiencing and fully knowing it (and it has to take place in that order). Now that we believe we have a vision for the direction of our lives, we have to start walking toward it; fearlessly and faithfully (i.e. full of faith/trust).

My Doubt in Faith by Josh Pinkston

Most people don’t know this about me, but faith continues to be a challenging aspect of my life. There have been a few seasons when I’ve prayed with arduous desperation for God’s miraculous touch or spiritual consolation and felt to have been met with absence. Which really felt more like rejection. Those seasons have left marks on me and I continue to wrestle through them because I believe in God more than I believe in my feelings about God.

Faith is a journey. Doubt is a conclusion; it’s a dead end road, believing there is nothing more to see. Faith says there is far more to see than what meets the eye; and faith in Christ says that what we can’t see is ultimately benevolence and love. But the journey of faith is constantly challenged by my own mental, emotional, and spiritual conditioning. 

I am okay with this, though. Just as much as my times of feeling abandoned by God have caused me to doubt, my experience with "confident Christians," whose certainty of faith has seemed to be an excuse for cruelty and condescension, has equally made me question the validity of the Christian faith. I don't want a faith that looks like theirs. I want a faith (and life) that looks like Jesus'. Faith is a journey, because it is a relationship. Certainty, like doubt, is also a conclusion.

In the midst of a season of perceived rejection, I once had a therapist tell me that I had “unrealistic” expectations on God. That really shook me. Isn’t it the “unrealistic” or “miraculous” that makes god, God? But John would remind us, “God is Love.” With my “god-barometer” set to an expectation of supernatural miracles, I have completely missed the presence and power of Love.

By limiting God’s presence to looking one way, I’ve robbed myself of seeing God in every way. And when God hasn’t met my very specific expectations, I’ve questioned His reality, rather than my limited perception of reality. But again, I believe in God more than I believe in my feelings about God.

All things were created and exist through Him [by His service, intervention] and in and for Him.
– Colossians 1.16 (AMP)

Because of this, we can allow our doubt to work for our faith. When I encounter my doubt or fear, I try to use it as a platform for my faith, rather than a burden covering it up. As a platform, I can stand on top of it and cry out to Jesus like the father in Mark 9.24, “I believe; help my unbelief!

Seeking God When God's Not There by Josh Pinkston

IMG_1551.jpg

There are seasons when the most accessible emotion to me is numbness or disorientation. Sometimes they come with a sense of grief. Other times, they seem mysterious and relentless. The old reliable comforts lose their warmth and grow rigidly frail. Relief is difficult to find except by way of distraction, but it is a shallow answer for a deep condition and only painfully prolongs the numbness, incasing it in callousness. It is an arduous season that, I believe, everyone experiences on a cyclical basis.

When I reflect on seasons like these in my past, two instances quickly come to mind:

  1. Years ago, there was a time when I was going through this season of numbness that was especially heavy. Still, I continued in my regular practice of Silent Prayer. Those times were filled with frustration and internal anguish. Eventually though, I had a personal revelation. It came to mind that I was stuck on trying to “hear” God like I had grown accustom to, but God was wanting and teaching me to “see.”

    I had become so used to “hearing” God (sensing the draw of God’s nature in one way or another), that I was oblivious to the fact that my eyes were closed. When there was only silence, I felt abandoned and angry; but I had only forgotten to open my eyes and see. God seeks to make us whole, not remaining internally blind or deaf.
     
  2. One of the most painful and agonizing experiences of my life was the loss of our first child. The numbness I felt to God’s presence and worth was overwhelming. I prayed and strenuously strained to find the comfort I had known I could find in God’s simple presence. But there was nothing. It was less than nothing. There was a felt absence. It felt as if I were being abandoned and intentionally neglected. It was excruciating. I felt no love, comfort, or peace.

    Something Jerry Cook said years ago has been a guiding light for me, “God is always good. God is always Love. Always work backward from that truth.” So, I persisted in Silent Prayer. It was like sitting in the presence of a shut and locked door with someone looking through the peephole waiting for me to give up and leave. But I knew that God wasn’t wrong; my feelings were. So, I persisted.

    Eventually, I had an awakening: Why would God lessen then pain of our child dying? Was his little, brief life not meaningful enough to feel the agony and pain of loss? No. Of course not. His life was worth mourning and I was trying to use God to numb me to his worth. 

In both of those cases, I was stuck feeling that God is not there. That emotion led me to feel lied to and betrayed. But each time as I persisted, understanding my emotions were what was betraying me, I realized something: God is not there. God is here.

When I can’t be “here,” (meaning: I cannot emotionally and mentally be where I am and in the circumstances I am in) I can’t see, hear, or feel God because God is "here" and I am too busy wishing I was “there.” Silent Prayer allows a stillness for my roots to grow Here, in the present moment. No matter the condition.

Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!
– Jesus, Matthew 5.3 (Amplified Bible Translation)

A Season of "Let" by Josh Pinkston

One of my core Christian values has become "sensitive receptivity." It’s not something I've heard about often, in either culture nor churches, but I’ve discovered that a faith or relationship without sensitive receptivity is riddled with disconnect and self-centeredness. As I’ve learned to actively and intentionally apply it to my relationship with God, it literally changes everything about my life and way of living.

Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.
– Deuteronomy 32.2

That is one of my favorite descriptions of how God’s voice comes to us: like dew descending on new grass…abundant rain on tender plants. What especially strikes me about this passage from Deuteronomy though is the instruction to Let; "Let my teachings fall like rain and my words descend like dew…” What a gentle and humble request. It’s a revealing insight into the character of God.

Letting God’s influence in my life descend like dew requires the receptive sensitivity I am writing about. It takes sitting, being still and knowing, and being consciously available. Is my life set up in a way that makes me unable to receive God’s gentle whisper? It's a good question I regularly ask myself. I look at my day: How did I wake up? How did I prepare for what’s next? How did I travel? How did I arrive?

Am I moving (mentally and internally) at a pace that does not welcome a gentle descending dew? If so, I must change that. Make an effort. Wake up 20 minutes earlier and let myself spend time cultivating a sensitive to the humble, gentle, and easily ignorable presence and love of God. When I let God be present to me in the morning, it becomes exponentially easier to let God be present to me throughout the day.

Even right now: Let.

Let be and be still, and know, recognize, and understand that I am God.
– Psalm 46.10

What's so Good about Friday? by Josh Pinkston

Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”

– Matthew 26.49/50

Friend.

Matthew records Jesus calling Judas “friend” as he is betraying him into execution. Friend. It wasn’t Judas’ actions that made him Jesus’ friend, but Jesus’ own way of seeing him. Nothing Judas could do would have the ability to alter how Jesus saw him. That is freedom.

IMG_7955.jpg

When someone hurts me, I quickly become blind to everything about them except their ability to wound. It enslaves me to a darkness; an inability to see wholly. And rather than address my lack of vision, I behave as if I’ve already seen enough. What's so good about Good Friday is we’re shown how Jesus was free from this. Judas’ betrayal had absolutely no control over His personal disposition or internal condition. That is freedom.

We confuse freedom with getting, behaving, and feeling however we want at any given moment. What we fail to see is how devoid that lifestyle is of freedom. It reduces our consciousness (the greatest tool of humanity) to an appendage. It leaves us lifeless and thrown about by the utterly chaotic whim of our emotions, when we are so much more than that. We become isolated, condescending, and arrested in development; like an orange tree unable to mature enough to produce oranges.

Jesus brings us a present and radical freedom. Most of us are bound to seeing people and circumstances according to a self-centered value system: Good to me = I’m good to you; bad to me = I’m bad to you. When someone presses the wrong buttons, we spit out bitterness as reliably as a vending machine spits out snacks. It is not freedom. It is mechanical and hopeless.

We’re more than emotional vending machines. What’s so good about Good Friday is Jesus reveals to us that we are able to be free. Free from bitterness. Free from fear. And most importantly, free to Love.

Am I Loving Enough? by Josh Pinkston

Recently, I’ve been listening repeatedly to a song called “Columbia” by Local Natives. There have been mornings and evenings when the chorus has quite literally haunted me. The lyrics are about the death of a friend who embodied generosity and love, and how, since their death, “every night” the narrator now asks themselves:

Am I giving enough? ... Am I loving enough? ... Am I?

During my commute this morning, it brought me to tears to reflect with this kind of self-critical thinking, especially when applied to “every night”. With the birth of Ellis, seeing the profound fragility, dependence, and beautiful significance of this new life, while at the same time seeing Shawna undergo a densely vulnerable and foundational transformation physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, I can’t help but feel absolutely awed. What a stupid word to describe how I feel to see them! Words are worthless for communicating the experience. It’s like trying to describe the vastness of the ocean and the countless expressions of life held within it. It’s impossible and vain to attempt.

In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m at risk of being a mere spectator because I’m not the weak, dependent baby, nor am I the mother who’s given everything she was and still continues to give in new and evolving ways. I’m just there. Am I giving enough? They both give everything. I feel so embarrassed for having at times hit my own emotional and physical limits when they’ve given everything they possibly can to do their best.

The joy and companionship I feel when I look into their eyes is the kind of satisfaction and love that people have lived their lives searching for. And here I am, helplessly stumbled into it. It’s ridiculous. Am I loving enough?

This experience reminds me why I have faith in God, and why Jesus’ words and life have endlessly spoken to me. Love. It isn’t a circumstance or an emotion. It is a clarity of vision. And I ache when I think of how rarely I exude the effort to see with this clarity. Then there are moments when I see more clearly who Shawna and Ellis are and I am given a blinding light that knocks me off my ass, like Saul on the road to Damascus, and I can’t believe I’ve wasted a single moment of my life living any other way. Am I giving enough? Am I loving enough? Am I?

I love Shawna so much. And I love our son, as well, so much. And I know that what I see in them is a glimpse of what exists in you; in all and through all. This is what has made marriage so significant to me. Loving with this consistent devotion and commitment is the most enlightening experience to the Reality and significance of life. There is not anything else like it.

Am I giving enough? Am I loving enough? Am I? The tough truth is, there is no answer. The moment I answer with a yes or no, I miss the point. “Enough” insinuates a conclusion. There is no conclusion in Love. It is eternally creative, giving, and present. God is Love. Love is God.

Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God’s child and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
– 1 John 4.7/8

Churchianity: Anxiety by Josh Pinkston

Recently, I read a short journal entry from Ralph Waldo Emerson and haven’t been able to get it out of my mind:

Life consists in what a man is thinking about all day.

I believe that. I believe it’s absolutely true. If my life doesn't look like God's (Love), it's a reflection of where my mind really is, no matter what I claim to be true about myself. My life consists in what I am thinking about all day. The same applies to a church.

IMG_1081.JPG

This emphasis on thought is why myself and so many believers shouldn’t rush into publicly identifying ourselves as Christians: our minds are not thinking about what Jesus thought about. We’re still thinking about ourselves. Our faith is really centered on making ourselves better: more successful, more admirable, more in control, and more loved. It is not focused on relationship with God, like Jesus’ was. This produces anxiety. Anxiety is proof of where our minds really are; what or who they really belong to.

Anxiety is a definitive characteristic exposing a faith of Churchianity (a culture centered on church rather than Christ), as opposed to Christianity (the faith Jesus exemplified and taught). We find so many excuses for living anxiously. Money is a biggie. I know quite a few pastors who use the government to excuse themselves to live, speak, behave, and “status update” anxiously. I feel a new anxiety within myself to provide now that I am a parent. I can even feel anxious about not being loving enough! How silly is that? As if worrying about it will cover my family in more love? At the heart of it, my anxiety has everything to do with control and nothing to do with Love. But I want to be about Love.

I tell you, do not worry. Don’t worry about your life and what you will eat or drink. And don’t worry about your body and what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than eating? Aren’t there more important things for the body than clothes? … So don’t worry.
– Jesus, Matthew 6.25, 31

That language is the mark of Christianity. Yet, it sounds so foreign to how most Christians and churches talk. So many function with the motivation of anxiety and don’t think twice about it. We especially excuse anxiety when it’s in the name of church. This manipulative compromise corrupts our hearts, faith, and peace.

We worry about money. We worry about clothing. We worry about politics. We worry about the youth. We worry. But Jesus asked us, “Can you add even one hour to your life [or anyone else’s] by worrying?” Can worry free you? We attempt to use God to heal our anxieties in the most vain ways. Like a medicine that represses cold symptoms without providing any real healing. This is not Christianity. Instead, anxiety should be to us like an alarm. The emotion of anxiety should ring out in our hearts and minds like a warning siren reminding us to return!

The Lord Yahweh said, “In returning and rest you will be saved; quietness and trust will be your strength.”
– Isaiah 30.15

How do we do this though? We identify with our anxieties so much that when Christ says, “Don’t be anxious,” it’s like telling you to produce a different color of hair out of your head. “But I am anxious, Jesus!” we exclaim. We have to return to the Reality that we actually aren’t our feelings. We aren’t even our minds. We are made in God’s image, so we are inherently Love. This is why anxiety does so much literal damage to our bodies, minds, and hearts; we weren’t built for it. It is opposed to who we really are; who Christ leads us all to be.

Finally, my brothers and sisters, always think about what is true. Think about what is noble, right and pure. Think about what is lovely and worthy of respect. If anything is excellent or worthy of praise, think about those kinds of things. … The God who gives peace will be with you.
– Philippians 4.8/9

All Desire Is Desire For God by Josh Pinkston

Years ago, I was nearing the end of a 5-mile morning prayer-walk I made regularly from Peet’s Coffee to our home in Livermore, CA. I’d always take the long way, through the country and vineyards during sunrise. This was one of the most influential practices in my life. It was how I became a morning person. The beauty, incremental progression, and solitude of sunrise halts my internal busyness. It is captivating to be present to it. It does wonders for my soul to be up before others and begin the day in a way that impacts how the rest of my day will unfold.

On this particular day, something tremendously significant happened. Suddenly, all of my want and desire evaporated. I felt completely satisfied. Entirely. It was unlike any other experience I had known before. I wasn’t even desiring more of the feeling of satisfaction. I was simply and wholly satisfied. I knew and rested in God’s presence and love and needed nothing else out of life, circumstances, or people. I was worried about nothing. It felt like a magnificent spotlight had been projected directly onto me and everything appeared completely clear: I saw things for what they really are rather than what I feel about them in relation to my needs. 

This changed my entire life. It felt like I could point this “spotlight” wherever I looked. I faced it toward my past and became instantly aware of how I had spent my life attempting to use everything and everyone to find this fulfillment of satisfaction. Literally, everything and everyone.

I used Shawna, my wife. My closest friends. Church. Religious behaviors. My family. My focus and center had been misplaced. They were all external attempts to satisfy and internal need. Seeing this simultaneously broke and opened my heart. All frustration, insecurity, and anger in my life was the direct expression of my misplaced desire, burdening everyone and everything with the responsibility of satisfying my subconscious needs.

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all your needs will be provided for you. ... The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or, “There it is!” For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
– Jesus, Matthew 6.33 & Luke 17.20/21

It is my belief that Jesus’ goal was never to form a new religion and call it Christianity, but He came so that everyone might have life and have it in abundance (those are His words). He spoke and taught about what is Reality, not a belief system. Whether you believe His words are true or not bares no effect on the fact that they are. He is waking us up!

If Jesus says that when we seek the kingdom of God first we will find everything we are seeking, it’s because everything we’re seeking for is really found there. For instance, we don’t really desire money. It’s painted paper and ultimately worthless. We desire what money represents to us: security, safety, and comfort. The issue is, those are internal conditions; the very place where Jesus told us the kingdom of God is found.

When we idolize money, sex, friendships, religion, or possessions, we set our gaze on the distant, external horizon; no matter how hard, far, or fast you travel to attain the happiness you’ve attached to it, it will always remain as distant from you as when you first saw it. Stop gunning for the horizon. Seek first the kingdom of God, within you.

All desire is desire for God. Whether misdirected, distorted, or misplaced, all desire is really desire for God. Jesus wakes us up to this. Living with our deepest desire fully satisfied is the abundant life He came to direct us toward. It is a true and definitive characteristic of genuine Christianity.

I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor.
– Philippians 4.12

Live, Move, & Be. by Josh Pinkston

Acts 17.28, “It is in God that we live and move and have our being.”

I love the enormity of this statement. It is not talking about a religion we can opt in and out of. Nor is it projecting on what things look like after we die. It is also not referencing a specific moment in our history or future. It is a definitive description of the ever-present moment; in which, we are all living and all moving and all being, right at this very moment.

It is so hard to fully realize how we see our world, ourselves, and our neighbors very imperfectly. We thoughtlessly and blindly trust our sight and opinions. I realize that culturally the term “born again” has been reduced to meaning fundamentalist or conservative evangelist, but this understanding of our imperfect sight leads us to Jesus’ definition of being “born again”: Completely start over with how we’ve learned to live and move and be.

We’ve shaped our lives around our unquestioned ability to see (the sight I’m addressing is not merely with our eyes, but with our minds and hearts). Everything we do and perceive is filtered through this imperfect or uncultivated "sense" for Reality around us. We've never stopped to question, exercise, and mature in our ability to see. Then our lives our formed, built-up, and complicated on this shaky foundation.

The distractedness of our living, speed of our movement, and state of our being can create an insensitivity to the level of gentleness with which Jesus moves in our lives. God is so kind and humble that He can easily be overlooked and ignored. Zephaniah 3.17 describes this well, “In his love, he will be silent.”

This is why Jesus instructs us to withdraw from life to be with Our Father. “When you pray, enter into your room, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you,” he says. When we slow down regularly enough, we become increasingly familiar with the greater reality in which we are all living, moving, and having our being. We need to intentionally and consciously make room in our minds and lives to grow in sensitivity to God’s gentle humility and love.

God's Nature by Josh Pinkston

On January 23-25, 2015 we made room in our schedules, minds, hearts, and conversations for intimacy with God while on retreat at Camp Koinonia. A few of us took the time to share our experience.

Last weekend, some wonderful folks and I made room in our schedules, minds, and hearts to retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains. It was a time of reprieve and refocus. I’ve led contemplative retreats in the past, but none like this. We had such an incredible time. It was especially meaningful to me for some reasons that will take months, if not longer, to process.

Being in nature is a real catalyst for spiritual intimacy. The surroundings of trees, shrubs, dirt, and a constantly varying sky is disarming. It helps Jesus’ emphasis on giving nature our attention make so much sense.

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus called people’s attention to the nature around them? I’ve heard it explained away as just being the result of him talking with farmers and fishermen, but I can’t help thinking that there’s more to Jesus’ communication. When Jesus says, “Consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air,” I think he actually means, “Consider the lilies of the field and birds of the air.” It is so easy to take the things we regularly see for granted. People overlook their spouses all the time, let alone lilies and birds.

When was the last time you looked at nature as a depiction of God Himself?

From the beginning, creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature. Creation itself makes His undying power and divine identity clear, even though they are invisible.
– Romans 1.20

I don’t want to overlook God’s nature being magnificently and continuously depicted to me. If I'm numb to It in nature, I'll be numb to It in my neighbors, home, and own heart. I need eyes that see.

Ask the animals, now, and they shall teach you;
    the birds of the sky, and they shall tell you. 
Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you.
    The fish of the sea shall declare to you. 
Who doesn’t know that in all these,
    Yahweh’s hand has done this,
in whose hand is the life of every living thing,
    and the breath of all mankind?
– Job 12:7-10