Belonging by Josh Pinkston

Ellis gets pretty excited about seeing birds fly overhead

Ellis gets pretty excited about seeing birds fly overhead

Over the past few years, I’ve wiggled and writhed in and out of positions and circumstances. Nothing has felt quite like I’ve belonged. There have been beautiful things about each place we’ve been, but nothing has felt “right” and some things just felt wrong. It’s hard to explain, and possibly completely illogical, but I find it painful to even imagine not trying to pursue this ideology of belonging. Every day, I think about how I’d rather live adventurously trying to find belonging than to one day die wondering what life would have been like if we had. (I don’t write that with pride; in fact, I think there’s a lot of dysfunction in it).

In just three years, I’ve worked as a district representative with hundreds of churches and planned camps/retreats, lived in an apartment building as the community planner, been a pastor, a bartender, a server, and the manager of a pub, and moved across state lines three times. In just three years! It’s hard for me to ignore how crappy this makes my resume look. Each of these changes has made my roots and sense of identity feel ambiguous.

The other day, my friend Brook Fonceca shared a quote from Thomas Merton that I found to be striking:

Before the Lord wills me to do anything, He first of all wills me to ‘be.’ What I do must depend on what I am.

What does my life say about who I am? Everything I’ve come to rely on and believe in through my faith has its center in Genesis 1.27, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” I’m determined to believe this about every individual I encounter and to expend energy trying to discover more and more what it means about us.

What I’ve grown comfortable with understanding so far is, the image of God is Love; being made in that image means, we are all inherently, intrinsically also Love. It is not a visual image, but one we all know when we see/experience it. Our faith speaks to this and aims to simplify every believer down to this center of being. Underneath all our behavioral conditioning, mental training, and emotional structuring lies this reality: Love. We are It, but we are not It alone.

This belief/understanding/foundation is more critical than whatever else I seek. What I mean is, this starting point is more important than the destination because this starting point is internal; it’s who I am, and who I am should not be decided by where I am. That starting point is the guiding point.

Now, I’m not throwing out my (possibly)  illogical ideology of belonging (I’ve experienced it before and believe it’s worth spending a lifetime seeking), but how I seek it determines what I find. I’m seeking peace and belonging, but I’ll never find it with anxiety and criticism as my compass. And as the journey extends and wanders longer and further, it becomes more and more difficult to do, but I want to seek with peace and love as my compass; directing my minuscule decisions and actions, even my thoughts. After all, Jesus directs our attention to that level of being, “The coming of the kingdom of God (the place of ultimate belonging) is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.

The soul is made of love and must ever strive to return to love. Therefore, it can never find rest nor happiness in other things. It must lose itself in love. By its very nature it must seek God, who is love.
– Mechthild of Magdeburg

Savoring Normalcy by Josh Pinkston

Normalcy seems to be something we lament. We want vacations, excursions, new toys and technologies, and whatever else we can find to help remove us from the feeling of normalcy. Personally, when I feel I’m in a rut of normalcy, I become physically agitated and feel an impulse drive to mix things up.

I know of a pastor who ended up driving his car through the town park on his way to work one day for this very reason! It wasn’t a violent or careless act (he looked to see no one was there first), but it was a bit reckless (a mother and child wound up safely being where he could not see them…which created an awkward eye-contact moment).

I believe that a lot of our culture’s unhappiness stems from our disdain for normalcy. We work the same job, doing the same things, driving the same commute, seeing the same people every day and life loses its wonder. There’s nothing to explore or surprise us that isn’t without some form of inconvenience or emergency. Eventually, our minds foster practices of wandering to other places, people, and things. Before we know it, we’re living life on auto-pilot and no longer present to ourselves, God, or the people around us.

Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember?
– Jesus, Mark 8.18

Normalcy often numbs my ability to see. I’ve seen the sun rise and set many, many times over; why should the colors still fascinate me? I’ve driven around the city more times than I can count; why should I still appreciate the view? I’ve been around my friends long enough to know their good and annoying qualities; why should I still feel any gratitude for them when they haven’t done anything for me lately?

Years ago, I remember realizing how rarely I actually looked at Shawna’s face. I had seen it a million times, and just stopped looking; I mean really looking, like I did when we were first together. It resulted in our becoming distant from one another. I had to let my eyes be open again and savor normalcy. The fact that her presence is a normalcy in my life is one of the greatest gifts! As I began sensitively looking at her in the eyes again, I was quickly and consistently struck with how beautiful and significant she is to me. Sensitively seeing her beauty again has made my days brighter, my mind more alive, and our relationship richer.

The experience I’ve had with seeing her can be applied to all areas of life. Here are a few ways to practice savoring normalcy:

Stop.
Do whatever it takes to interrupt your insensitive way of thinking and take an active role in directing your attention. When your mind is racing, stop. Be present. Maybe even laugh at yourself. I always find something to laugh at when I stop and see my unconscious behavior.

Notice.
What is around you? Who do you see? How do you see God’s presence? Do you? Why or why not?

Accept.
God, people, and the things around you are all real and present, whether we feel sensitive to it or not. Consciously and sensitively accept their presence, as well as your own.

Participate.
Respond and behave in a way that shares in God’s presence and the presence of those around you. Choose Love. Doing this will bring each of us to the brink of our fears and ultimately free us from them.

Those four mini-practices help me shape a life that I want to be living. When I become insensitive to normalcy, I find myself fantasizing about other lives I’d like to live. But regularly stopping, noticing, accepting, and participating invigorates me with Reality.

There is far too much beauty and significance in the world being overlooked and ignored. Jesus teaches us to see correctly. There’s nothing normal about life. It’s in a constant state of dynamic flux; which an aware and sensitive soul sees. Christ lives with this vision.

Recently I was visited by a very good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I asked her what she had observed. “Nothing in particular,” she replied. I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little.
– Helen Keller, Three Days to See

I am here to give sight to the blind and to make blind everyone who can see.
– Jesus, John 9.39-41

Finding Refuge by Josh Pinkston

Come and, like living stones, be yourselves built into a spiritual house...
– 1 Peter 2.5

The idea of church has always fascinated me. We’ve created such a definitive image of what It looks like (presentations in a building with songs and speaking), but it’s clear that we haven't fully appreciated Its reality. As Shawna and I have moved more times than I like to count, we’ve found and participated in many, many different expressions of the same thing. It’s been an education!

What I’ve discovered is people who go to church are often there for the exact same reason that people go to the bar: Acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy. Those are all things that I believe don’t exist without the presence of Christ.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above; it comes down from the Father of lights [the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens], in whom there is no variation [no rising or setting] or shadow cast by His turning [for He is perfect and never changes].
– James 1.17

We do not have to acknowledge the presence of Christ (at all, let alone correctly) in order for that presence to be actively dynamic. The reality is that nothing exists without that very presence.

All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being.
– John 1.3

Christ is present and people flock to where they get the greatest sense of Him. It’s why we gather in coffee shops, bars, barbershops, homes, theaters, concerts, and churches. There is an experience of acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy. Most wouldn’t name that sensation “Christ,” but it is my conviction and observation that it is not, nor could not be, anything less.

On the other hand, when we find less than acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy in any one of those places we will typically demonize them. It’s why people also avoid churches and others avoid bars. They’ve sensed that “that” presence is not there. While their experience is valid, it is incorrect. Jesus teaches us to wake up, see beyond our sight, with faith. With the eyes of Christ we see that there is no absence.

Peter’s encouragement to, “Come and, like living stones, be yourselves built into a spiritual house,” really blows up our contemporary construct of what church is. A house is a place of refuge, rest, acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy. We can do that anywhere, anytime, literally. “Like living stones.” We can be a part of building an atmosphere of acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy in the streets, coffee shops, bars, barbershops, homes, theaters, concerts, and church buildings. It should be the emphasis of everything that happens within church buildings.

Having been a part of church my whole life and now working in a pub, I see wonderful people coming into both places who have the same motivation. Everyone is looking for God. Everyone is looking for refuge; which is God. We confuse it for more alcohol, sex, church service, affirmation, popularity, and money, but there’s a reason the people who get those things never have enough: it was never what they were really looking for in the first place. 

Now, while that sounds nice and easy, I never want to make is sound like this is just something we do on our own strength and creativity. We must be people who are accepted, secure, and intimate in order to provide space where people can find acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy. That takes strong and courageous people. It takes time, perseverance, commitment, consistency, faith, hope, and love. It takes being present to this Presence at all times and in all places, not only at some times, in some places.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest (renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.
– Jesus, Matthew 11.28-30 (Amplified Bible Translation)

Being Still (Even When Life Is Not) by Josh Pinkston

Be still, and know that I am God.
– Psalm 46.10

I think the majority of the western world is familiar with this verse. It’s so vague it’s generally acceptable. In my personal journey in Contemplative Christian Spirituality, it is where I began.

When I first started practicing Silent Prayer, I didn’t know where to start. The Psalm 46 passage was a huge help; Be still, and know that I am God. Repeating that internally, quietly, and slowly was a shock to my normal flow of thought. It interrupted my neurosis, broke my cyclical emotional thinking, and directed me to the Source. It created room for the God to be with me, internally; where my consciousness would normally be crammed with self-absorbed obsessive thinking, there was room. Space for something other to be present. That’s not something they teach in churches. We’re taught how to think correctly, rather than how to think openly to the presence of Christ in all, and through all…including ourselves!

I revisit Psalm 46.10 in a new perspective now. Today, times are stressful. Money is short. Life is disorganized, inconsistent, and chaotic. “Be still, and know that I am God.” It is a difficult thing to do.

I know it’s tempting to think, “Be still and know that I am God and everything will work out just fine,” but I don’t believe in the prosperity gospel that some Christians subtly proclaim. I see people dying of hunger, thirst, and pain all the time, every day. We lost our first son before birth. Terrible things are happening all the time and have been since the dawn of time.

To think that if I do the right thing or pray the right prayer or believe the right way God will perform a miracle for my benefit is to believe in the gospel according to Harry Potter. It’s magical thinking and self-centric theology. I don’t think prosperity is what makes God good or relevant. That’s a very American, heretical, and deceptive idea of God.

So, if “be still and know that I am God” won’t help me pay the bills, sustain security or health, what good is it?!

That is an important question. It’s the questions we’re afraid to ask (and peacefully sit with for some time) that will lead us to the answers we so desperately need.

When we can answer that question for ourselves, within ourselves, we begin to know “God’s peace, which transcends all understanding.”

Be strong and very courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
– Joshua 1.9

I Hunger and Thirst, But Not for Christianity by Josh Pinkston

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.

Jesus, Matthew 5.6

Recently, I was sitting with a couple pastor-friends in The Oregon Public House while I was on break. We began discussing how churches are in decline, young people are disinterested in Christianity, what this means for their daughter, and ways how her and others’ hearts might be stirred again. I couldn't help feeling like I can relate more with their daughter than with the concern for the church.

I’m a pastor. I like the Church. But I am feeling finished with how our Christian culture has kept its message on Christianity, which has changed and morphed and failed and succeeded, rather than Jesus, Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It’s a culture that I’ve come to identify as “Churchianity.” One example of this is we give answers to questions no one is asking. For instance, what if I don’t care about life after death? Is Jesus still relevant? Here? Now? Prove it!

Churchianity tells us what to believe before learning how to believe.  It gives a “first time believers” program that is somehow supposed to be a supplement or fast-track to a relationship with Christ, but usually centers on beliefs about Jesus and historical/biblical events, being present at church, inviting people to church, and volunteering at church. If Jesus was so concerned about what we believe and our spending time at church, why would He waste so much of His time speaking remarkably unclearly with parables and never once inviting or directing people to temple or church?

Believe Me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father
neither [merely] in this mountain nor [merely] in Jerusalem. …
A time will come, however, indeed it is already here, when
the true (genuine) worshipers will worship the Father in spirit
and in truth (reality); for the Father is seeking just such people
as these as His worshipers. God is a Spirit (a spiritual Being)
and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit
and in truth (reality).

Jesus, John 4.21, 23/24

I’m done learning what and where to believe. Knowledge and context have a tricky way of being domination in disguise. If I can “know” something about God that someone else doesn't, then I can feel that I am in someway above others and in more control of or closer to God than them. It’s an embarrassing confession and kinda sick. I easily use God, theology, experience, and religion as a path to false security by feeling dominant in one way or another. I am (or at least want to be) completely done with that.

I don’t want Christianity anymore. The Christianity I’m talking about is not Jesus’ spirituality or teachings, but the one I’ve come to know as Churchianity. I’m done being told what to believe and being instructed to tell others what to believe, as if right-belief is what Jesus was really concerned with. For the past decade, with each passing year, I’ve become more and more increasingly convinced that Jesus’ emphasis was emphatically how we believe.

How I believe is far more important and significant. How do I believe in an eternal, infinite God who is Love? How do I believe this God is personal and intimate? How do I believe that this God is all and is in all?

And you shall love the Lord your God out of and with your whole heart and out of and with all your soul (your life) and out of and with all your mind (with your faculty of thought and your moral understanding) and out of and with all your strength. This is the first and principal commandment. The second is like the first and is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
Jesus, Mark 12.30/31

This is a lot of Love. It breaks my heart when I really sit and consider it. How am I with my wife? How am I with my son? How am I with the my friends? How am I with the strangers who come up to the counter at the pub and order a beer? How am I when I’m mopping the floor at midnight? How am I when I am alone and no one is looking? Are the whole of my heart, soul, mind, and strength being engaged? Am I in Love? Because Jesus is and directs me/us to that place. If I am a Christian, I should be increasingly learning this on an experiential level every day. That is how I believe.

Does how we believe increase relationship with God and love for others (including our “enemies” and those different than us)? If not, I doubt it is actually Jesus we are following but a culture labeling itself with Christianity. That is not the faith Jesus professed. It may even be the antithesis.

I am hungry and thirsty, but not for Christianity; I hunger and thirst for righteousness (uninterrupted intimacy with God; not self-righteousness), of which Jesus is the embodiment. It is my conviction that every single person hungers and thirsts for Christ's righteousness, but the Way has become muddled and overgrown. We need to constantly return to asking, seeking, and knocking.

For everyone who asks and keeps on asking receives; and he who seeks and keeps on seeking finds; and to him who knocks and keeps on knocking, the door shall be opened.
Jesus, Luke 11.10

Intimacy with God by Josh Pinkston

The practice of intimacy with God is something I feel passionate about, but find difficult to put into words. I think this is because it seems to be one of the least talked about aspects of Christianity. 

We talk about belief in God, worshipping God (almost always as it pertains to music), and praying to God about our wants and gratitude, but rarely is the concept of intimacy with God directly addressed. Yet, it is the most important aspect of Jesus’ spirituality.

Without being actively intimate with God, our faith inevitably turns in on itself and becomes about self-preservation, which is the antithesis of Jesus’ spirituality.

Think of the intimacy Jesus is directing us toward when He says, “'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (intellect).' This is the great (most important, principal) and first commandment.” Is love not an intimate thing?

Another way to look at it could be, if I study facts or beliefs about Shawna without spending time with her myself, our marriage would be painfully hollow. She would not know me. And I would not know intimacy with her. My studies may help change my behavior and give me insights, but it would not be the same as loving her with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind.

Sadly, that is what the religion of Christianity has been reduced to for many. We try to love God with our beliefs, opinions, and certain behaviors, but leave the whole of our hearts, souls, and minds out of the equation. And it robs ourselves and the world of the reality of the Gospel.

The first step to intimacy with God is realizing, accepting, and understanding how Christ is already intimate with all of us:

All things were made and came into existence through Christ; and without Him was not even one thing made that has come into being. In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men.
– John 1.3/4

Life is Christ. When we are numb to the wonder of life, we will be numb to the closeness of Christ. Waking up to this reality is one thing; staying awake to it is something else altogether. When we see intimacy with God as something far off and to be attained to, we make it all about ourselves: What am I doing to get there? How am I behaving in a way that will attain it? But the whole message of the Gospel is that there is no divide except for the one we’ve accepted in our own hearts.

If we see God as being far off, we will not experience the intimacy of life with Christ. It is very possible to be a professing Christian and yet still live a life devoid of Divine Intimacy. At once though, when we see the closeness and permanence of Christ “in all and through all,” we will understand that intimacy with God is not something to attain to, but to be actively accepted, celebrated, and participated with. The notion that just knowing it is enough, is a deception.

We must intentionally and actively participate in intimacy with God.

Be still and know.

When you pray, go into your inner room and pray in secret without using many words, where your Heavenly Father is.

There are some zealous believers who portray Divine Intimacy with an unhealthy emphasis on emotional experience and lengthy prayer sessions. When I speak with folks in this predicament, I get the sense that they are really seeking validation and consolation, not necessarily intimacy with Christ. The problem is that emotions can be easily manipulatable, manipulating, and even faked. Intimacy cannot be faked. Although it can be emotional, is much more than an emotion. Seek intimacy, not emotion. The point of prayer is not to multiply words, but to simplify the whole of our lives into one act of prayer.

That emphasis places a distance between us and God because it centers on emotion, which is unsustainable. Any distance we "feel" between us and God is the result of our internal emotional and mental condition, not the result of God's actual proximity. Emmanuel, He is with us.

By love may God be gotten and holden, by thought never.
– Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing

The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.
– Jesus, Luke 17.20/21

The kingdom of God is within you now. Where are you?

Everyone Is Good. by Josh Pinkston

It’s a bit sad to know how shocking (or even offensive) it might be for some to hear a pastor say, “Everyone is good.” Many Christians have a theology built on the foundation “Everyone is bad and so Jesus had to die to make up for the difference, because God is good even though people suck.” That’s one way of looking at and interpreting Scripture, but it is incomplete.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
– Genesis 1.27

All things were made and came into existence through Christ; and without Him was not even one thing made that has come into being. In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men.
– John 1.3/4

There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
– 1 Corinthians 8.6

Everyone (and even every thing) is made in this Light. There are no exceptions. Yeah, the person you just thought of, whom you consider might be an exception? They are not. And neither are you! This is what Scripture teaches, and all Scriptures that feel contrary need to be filtered through this fundamental truth.

Too many Christians are more comfortable identifying themselves with their “original sin,” rather than what came before that: our original goodness. Goodness, Love, and Light are actually who we really are by the very nature of our having been made in God’s own image. That reality is something that we should sit with for a long time. We need only remove the layers of hurt and defensiveness that have built up over our real selves.

This flips religion on its head! Instead of it being a way to make us acceptable to God, it’s a way to help us continuously and fully accept God, Who has always and ceaselessly accepted us.

Now, I am not saying that everything about everyone is good, but I am saying that everyone is inherently good. It’s what my faith in Christ teaches me every single day. That subtle nuance makes a world of a difference. It means that when we’re behaving selfishly or cruelly, it’s because we’ve become oblivious and thoughtless to who we are.

In those respects in which the soul is unlike God, it is also unlike itself.
- Saint Bernard

Christianity is the journey of discovering our (all of our) native identity; it’s not an attempt to make us someone we’re not. It is remarkably freeing to know, recognize, and understand this. So many people try to make themselves good by what they do exteriorly without seeking a goodness (God) within themselves first. It is how so many people (and many pastors) do great things, but then end up burnt out and doing something seemingly completely out of character. Scriptures tell us that “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” are fruit of the Spirit (who dwells within us), but so many go about trying to make it the fruit of our efforts.

Don’t just strive to do good; strive to be in union with God; Who is all and is in all. Then goodness will be our natural disposition, without tiring us.

Love all that has been created by God,
both the whole and every grain of sand.
Love every leaf and every ray of light.
Love the beasts and the birds,
love the plants,
love every separate fragment.
If you love each separate fragment,
you will understand the mystery of the whole resting in God.

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)

It is the difference between religion and relationship. If it exhausts us, we’re focused on the wrong thing.

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
– Jesus, Matthew 11.28-30

A Spiritual Practice of Making Room by Josh Pinkston

With our recent move back to Portland, I’ve been thinking a lot about the contemplative Christian spiritual principal and practice of making room.

Most of my life is centered on filling room. Whether it be in my schedule, heart, ears (with music, podcasts, etc), and relationships (always busying ourselves, never sitting intimately together), the idea of making room feels abruptly counter intuitive.

When I think about Jesus’ description of prayer, it sounds like making room to me:

When you pray, you should go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father who cannot be seen. Your Father can see what is done in secret, and he will reward you. And when you pray, don’t be like those people who don’t know God. They continue saying things that mean nothing, thinking that God will hear them because of their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him.
– Matthew 6.6-8

Make Room:

  1. Go into a private place
    • make room in your schedule and surroundings; externally and internally
  2. Don’t multiply words
    • don’t fill the time with your own voice, make room to hear and listen

For years, I’ve felt a personal emphasis on making room. I believe it is an important dimension of Jesus’ spirituality and guidance. But how do we “make room?” By Trust. (Trust is the truest definition of faith). Most of the time, I get caught in filling up and busying my mind, schedule, relationships, and prayer because I internally believe it is my surest or quickest way to find fulfillment; at least sense of security, comfort, and satisfaction. It is an unarticulated belief. But the way I fill my time reveals that it is a belief.

Anton Chekhov was very correct when he said, “You are what you believe.” If I’m anxious, it’s because I trust my anxiety will benefit and defend me more than simply trusting God. If I’m chaotically busy, it’s because I believe my busyness will accumulate significance, rather than God’s love and intimacy. Pastors are caught up in this deception often. “You are what you believe;” what you really believe. Is your hope for satisfaction and wholeness in Christ? Or is it in busyness, accomplishment, being liked, or financial security? I have to look deeply at my life to give an honest answer.

To make room requires moving one or more of my methods of security out of the way, at least for some time, in order to give God some space. Doing this takes trust. Especially when I’ve invested heavily emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually in the idea that something else will bring me the satisfaction and wholeness I desire.

To “be still and know” requires my trusting God will meet me in the stillness and knowing. Even when I don’t feel it. Trusting. It takes trust to make room; to be still and know; to be silent; to be loving and receptive to God and others.

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!