Homosexuality, Christianity, and the Bible: Moving the Conversation Forward pt2

After a few weeks and two posts on the matter of homosexuality and Christianity, I’m still having a hard time moving my mind and heart away from it. The continuous responses I’m receiving and conversations its started has kept me wanting to move the conversation forward. Most interactions have been warm and encouraging, for which I am very grateful. Those that have not been, still seem to end well.

The reason I find importance in talking about homosexuality and Christianity is because I am seeing the absence of this conversation cause a lot of damage, on both sides. It is not helping churches to be unclear on whether or not there are limits to their level of acceptance (most might welcome a gay person, but where service and ministry are concerned, it becomes complicated). It is also not helping everyone outside of churches to feel the awkward ambiguity, especially as it relates to being an expression and impression of Jesus.

I have had a number of pastors and people question me over my theology. Part of me understands these questions, while another part of me is perplexed. I am a licensed Foursquare pastor because of our radically progressive and inclusive roots. While Foursquare is now a more conservative and traditional denomination, the originator of our movement was a remarkable and somewhat reckless woman, who we affectionately refer to as Sister Amiee.

She defied many of the traditional boxes we still find in religion today. She helped us to begin seeing deeper and greater dimensions of Scripture. During her lifetime, the understanding of divorce was very one-dimensional and damning. Sister Amiee, though, had an exceptionally complex life and was divorced and remarried twice. I am thankful that her relationship with God is revered and respected because of its fruit, rather than deemed as invalid because of a moralistic theological opinion.

While Jesus never blatantly addressed homosexuality, he did directly and bluntly address remarried divorcees in Matthew 5.31/32, calling it “adultery,” which appears to be Scripturally condemned far more times and explicitly than homosexuality throughout the entire Bible. Thankfully, today the majority of Christianity understands that these statements are symbolic and meaningful, much more wonderfully than on some level of face-value legalism. Scripture always aims to lead us to these deeper levels, not mere moral behavior-control; to Relationship with God and others, rather than mere opinion about God and others.

Therefore, if you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you subject yourself to legalistic rules? “Do not touch! Do not taste! Do not handle!” These all are to perish with use and are aligned with the commandments and doctrines of men. These things have indeed a show of wisdom in self-imposed worship and humility and neglecting of the body, but are worthless against the indulgence of the flesh.
– Colossians 2.20-23

They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
– 1 Timothy 4.3-5

In most Christian denominations today, the seemingly clear words coming directly from our Lord about divorce and adultery, along with all the many passages addressing adultery, are understood differently. We have 6 verses regarding homosexuality and over 50 about adultery, but we thankfully aren’t preaching or saying behind closed doors that remarried divorcees need to return to their original spouses or else be rejected by God, the church, or from inheriting the kingdom of God.

So, why hasn’t our interpretation of the 50+ verses translated to the 6? Maybe it’s because we know so many remarried divorcees who are obviously in an intimate and fruitful relationship with Christ, like Sister Amiee. Maybe it’s because we can more easily identify with their heterosexual circumstances. Either way, it is revealing an inconsistency in our theology and treatment of people who are made in the image of and loved by God.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
– Galatians 3:28

…there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
–Colossians 3:10

I should confess and clarify, I filter everything Paul writes, and all of Scripture, through the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus stated that all of the Law and Prophets hang on loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbors as ourselves. (Quite a few people have had a knee jerk reaction to my emphasis on this passage and Love because they felt I was being sentimental. I promise you, that could not be farther from the truth. Love is patient, kind, does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love is brutally challenging and life-changing and there is no greater culmination of this reality than the cross. Sincerely trying to live that way, inside and out, on a daily basis is life’s greatest and most daring and Divine challenge. It is hardly sentimental. This is what I mean when I use the word love: "God is love,” 1 John 4.16. So, as I was saying...)

Jesus stated that all of the Law and Prophets hang on loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbors as ourselves, but there are pieces of Scripture that don't actually hang on those two commandments. Some even contradict them and, in turn, Jesus contradicts those passages; even contradicting the very words attributed to God in Leviticus 24.20 & Exodus 21.24 when He says in Matthew 21.24, "You've heard it said 'eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.' But I say, do not resist an evil person. Love your enemy and bless those who persecute you."

It is not my goal to belittle or demean Scripture. I love the Bible, read it on a regular basis, believe in its relevance and importance, study it, seek God with and through it, wrestle with it, and allow it to guide my life. But, I filter everything I read through Jesus' life (present then and present now). Simply having a knowledge of Scripture is not what Jesus wants for or from us, neither is it what Jesus modeled. Again, I’m not wanting or trying to change or devalue Scripture, but to lift it up, open it widely, and look under, over, and through it with the lens of Christ. The words have far greater meaning than what is at face-value.

Christ is the tentpole of Scripture; the fulfillment of it and the revelation of God. If something doesn’t hang on the commandments “Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as your very self,” then I’m not going to waste time trying to hold it up myself (though I will wrestle with it). Jesus Christ is the point of Scripture, not the other way around.

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
– Jesus, John 5.39/40.

Josh Pinkston
Moving the Conversation Forward: Homosexuality & Christianity

Personally, these past few days have been quite a journey. I had recently shared an article regarding my Scriptural beliefs and understanding of the relationship between homosexuality and Christianity. They differ from what is traditional and I felt moved to share them. I’ve experienced an outpouring of responses, mostly very positive. It’s seemed like what I’ve experienced God do in my life has resonated with a lot of people, which has been a very sweet confirmation. It reminds me of Jesus’ words, “Wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

The texts, emails, comments, and messages I’ve been receiving have kept this matter on my mind and prompted me to follow up. One friend-pastor encouraged me to “move the conversation forward,” and those words left a great impression on me. I had only shared my beliefs because I felt prompted in my heart to be honest and wait for what God would do next. This has been very exciting.

Before going any further, I want to clarify that theologizing about the acceptance or rejection of a homosexual person’s faith without an actual, meaningful relationship with someone in that position is not helpful, nor is it what Jesus modeled. Even if you’re convinced homosexuality is a sin, that is all the more reason to be sharing a table with a homosexual person regularly; become good friends. If, when we do set this table, we find that people do not want to sit with us, we should observe and reflect on how differently people who were considered "outsiders" by the church regarded and understood their relationship with the one we call our Lord and Savior. This is what Jesus modeled and it is where God will continue to grow and move the church.

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
– John 5:19

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they [Pharisees and religious people] say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.
– Jesus, Matthew 11.19

The church will not grow and mature by merely getting all the “right” people in one room together. If we’re the Body of Christ, we have to behave like Christ. We need to be less concerned with who is “right” or in or acceptable and more concerned with the love, service, and sacrifice of Christ being incarnated in our own lives. If Jesus was as concerned with what is right or wrong and true or false as we’ve been, he would have spoken much more bluntly, rather than use messy metaphors and symbolic language.

Someone had expressed concern that I was making the mistake of loving our culturally biased notion of love, rather than Jesus, the person, embodiment, and expression of True Love. As a deeply rooted Christian, I completely understand and identify with that concern. It is so valid and vital to faith. But again, as a deeply rooted Christian, who shares meaningful relationships with people in the homosexual community and sees Christ in, with, and through them all the time, the Love that I see is not weak, baseless, shallow, romantic, sentimental love. It is the profound, sacrificial, transformational, challenging, and unifying Love of Christ.

Over the last three years, I’ve had a number of Christian friends (some of whom were/are pastors) come out to me, most of the time, unaware of my personal, affirming beliefs. Each one of them is an outstanding person. They are amazingly skilled and wonderful pastors, friends, teachers, speakers, writers, listeners, parents, children, artists, and believers. What I was gifted with by their coming out to me was seeing an extremely painful and beautiful process unfold.

Most of these people have spent decades of their lives fighting with themselves and refusing to be honest with others or themselves. They’ve gone to counseling; they’ve exhausted themselves in prayer; they’ve gone to therapists; they’ve ignored and rejected a primary function in their humanity, all in an effort to love and be loved according to how they’ve understood Scripture and the church. They have vetted themselves. God, I wish we all would spend this kind of time digging so deeply and desperately for the truth of who we are, how God made us, and how to live honestly with our faith.

For a Christian to come out and remain a Christian reveals that their faith is not about popularity or social acceptance. Their faith is a deep rooted conviction, and it defines who they are so much that they are unable to be dishonest about who they are. We need people like this in our churches, who’ve vetted and dug up themselves and stand honestly before God and everyone. We need their voices at our tables and contributing to our conversations.

My reasoning is shaped by an understanding I hold with a piece of Scripture in Luke 7.2-10. It’s when the Roman Centurion Guard sends for Jesus to heal one of his servants. With our knowledge of Roman culture, where homosexuality was commonplace, it’s been easily interpreted that the centurion and his servant, for whom he had such a concern for that he sought an Israelite’s help, may have had a romantic relationship. Jesus responds to this Roman by healing the servant and even tells the Israelites, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.

Even if their relationship was not sexual, it stands out that Jesus asked for absolutely no qualification from this “outsider,” who even worked for the Israelite's literal, violent, cruel oppressors. Jesus simply serves him, honors him, and responds to his faith in Him. Couldn’t and shouldn’t we do just the same?

As Christians, sincere followers of Jesus Christ, if and when Scripture leads us to divide from or judge others, we must return to the example and presence of Christ in our own lives.

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
– Jesus, John 5.39/40

More than theology, we need Jesus. More than Scripture, we need Jesus. Jesus sits at a table with everyone, those we might deem right and wrong, accepted and unaccepted. If we are serious about seeking, following, and loving Jesus, we must join Him at that table because that is where He will be found. And whatever agenda we might have for everyone sitting with us, it must first and foremost be defined and directed by humility, service, presence, and love in Christ.

Josh Pinkston
Sex, Faith, and the Church

Over a year ago now, we experienced one of the more historical moments in our generation. The Supreme Court ruled that legal marriage should be an option for any two consenting adults, no matter their gender. (As if this is news to anyone). 

A lot of my friends were celebrating, both Christians and non-Christians. Quite a few of my Christian friends are lamented this culture shift, though. I even read one pastor say, “Saddened over the people who reject the gospel and love of God.” This pastor is a sweet man and I have a lot of affection for him, but I can’t understand what he means.

The Gospel is not about sex. Jesus never once made the Gospel sound anything like that. It doesn’t exclude sex, but it by no means hinges on it. Neither is God’s love about sexual orientation. If the Gospel was about chromosomes, genitalia, and orientation in the way like we’re behaving, Jesus would have probably addressed it much more explicitly and deliberately. But the One whom we call “Lord” never specifically addressed homosexuality, a circumstance not uncommon in that time period. … I think this may have been the moment when I just lost all my conservative Christian friends. I really hope not though! I love you!

I promise I’m not being careless or thoughtless. In fact, I’ve given this a great deal of thought over a number of years. It is my conviction that blindly accepting and believing Scriptures is the opposite of what Jesus desires and modeled for us.

Here’s what forms my belief on this matter:
On May 13, 2014, I was reading the Gospel account of Mark and came across chapter 2, verses 23-27. Jesus is walking through the fields with the disciples on Sabbath (the Holy Day of Rest). The Scriptures are extremely detailed and clear about how and why this Holy Day of the week is to be observed. The Pharisees are watching Jesus and notice the disciples picking grains of wheat and eating them, which is unlawful on Sabbath. This is the conversation that follows:

Some Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why are your disciples picking grain on the Sabbath? They are not supposed to do that!” Jesus answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his followers were hungry and in need? It was during the time of Abiathar the high priest. David went into the house of God and ate the sacred loaves of bread that only priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his followers.” Jesus finished by saying, “People were not made for the good of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for the good of people.

And in chapter 12 of Matthew’s account of this same story, Jesus adds:

Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

All pastors and most Christians can attest that Scripture has pages and pages more to say about Sabbath and worship than it does homosexuality. In fact, if there’s anything Scripture is the greatest authority on, it would be worship and relationship with God. Yet, when the Pharisees point out that what Jesus’ disciples are doing is “unlawful,” His response is to point out two major contradictions in Scripture when people acted unlawfully, yet remained “innocent” in God’s eyes.

When I read this on May 13, 2014, it pierced my heart to realize that what the Pharisees did with Sabbath, we’ve done with sexuality. We’ve proclaimed like the Pharisees, “They’re not supposed to do that!” And, given the context of Mark 2 and Matthew 12, I don’t think it is inaccurate to believe that Jesus would also say, “People were not made for the good of sexuality. Sexuality was made for the good of people.” The Law and Scriptures are about relationship with God; their point and purpose is to direct us to relationship. But when we make relationship with God about Law and Scriptures, we’re getting it backwards and creating the same opposition to the heart of Christ as the Pharisees.

We point at a few passages of Scripture, with hardly any consideration of context, and form a damning belief of others before learning to take the strongly loving, accepting, and serving posture of Christ. It should be made clear, beliefs about Scriptures are absolutely worthless and meaningless if they aren’t conditioning us more clearly and purely into the person of Christ.

We have “condemned the innocent,” and it does nothing to advance Jesus’ mission, which is that we “may have life and life more abundantly.” We’ve obsessed over the Law of sexuality and disregarded its Purpose. We’ve demanded the sacrifice of people’s sexual orientation, rather than embodied the mercy and love which Jesus modeled and instructed for those who say they follow Him.  God desires mercy, not sacrifice. This is the Gospel (literal translation, Good News).

The Gospel is not about sex. It is about loving God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths, and loving our neighbors (whomever that might be at any given moment) as ourselves. Jesus made it clear that everything in Scripture hangs on that, not anything else. When we make it about anything else, we are not living in our Christian faith, but in our cultural and contextual bias.

I know the argument on the other side of this subject usually asks, Well, does anything matter then? Is there any such thing as morality? Is there even a line then? And I would say, there absolutely is, but it is far more internal than it is external. Jesus was very clear about sin (thoughtlessness, lifelessness) beginning in the heart.

Out of your heart come evil thoughts, murder, unfaithfulness in marriage, vulgar deeds, stealing, telling lies, and insulting others. These are what make you unclean.
– Jesus, Matthew 15.19/20

How do we love our spouses (gay or straight)? Are we demanding, domineering, deceitful, condescending, or unfaithful in our hearts? Are we oblivious to God’s presence in our relationships? If so, we are sinning. We’ve crossed the line and are missing the fullness of God’s Love being present to us, working in, and operating through us. There’s the line. And it applies to all of us. Gay or straight, we are just as guilty and in need of Jesus’ grace, love, and presence to lead us into “life and life more abundantly.”

I’ll finish this lengthy article with this:

As I scroll through social media, I know my gay and lesbian friends are seeing the same disparaging posts from Christians that I see. If any of you are reading this, I am sorry. It is not the reality of Christ being portrayed. Our faith is about the presence of Christ “in all and through all.” The purpose of our faith is to discover, celebrate, and participate with that presence without interruption, no matter the circumstance.

To my gay Christian friends, I am inspired by your commitment to and love of Christ, as well as your deep experience of self. Thank you for persevering. A good number of Christians have come out to me over the last couple years and I consider myself incredibly blessed to be a part of your lives. I’d love to come to your wedding, and Shawna and I would be happy to bake your cake if the bakery won't!

To my Christian friends who are frightened or upset by my beliefs and these times in our society, please just trust God, and love God and our neighbors more than our country, our politics, our government, and our understanding. Peace in trusting and loving God is always the most Christ-like response to any circumstance, whether we consider it favorable or not:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.
– Hebrews 13.8

Josh Pinkston
Pain vs Christianity

Shawna, Ellis, and I have just come through a lot of transition lately…four years, to be specific. Some of it has been painful and challenging. Other parts of it have been an incredible relief and outrageously beautiful. Maybe it’s just our circumstances tainting my vision, but I seem to see the majority of people I know or talk with going through some sort of transition. This has had me thinking a lot about what my faith has to say about death, resurrection, and peace.

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
– Romans 8.22

Four years ago, our first son died before he was born. I’ve written about him before. He remains a part of our lives, conversation, and future. Since then though, we’ve experienced a deep sense of being lost.

To a certain extent, it has been by choice. As we noticed life going back to normal after he had passed it felt like saying to him, “You didn't matter. You didn’t change anything. We’ll just carry on as if you never were with us.” It felt wrong. So, for better or worse, we decided to completely uproot ourselves and begin adventuring.

We wanted to live adventurously, like we would have wished for our son. That has led us on a fairly wild ride of ups and downs and our experience has been a complete surprise to us. My hope, faith, and love were tried right down to their deepest core. It caused me to shed a lot of who I thought I was and how I knew to identify myself. It simplified my view of myself quite a bit, which was a terribly painful process, but extremely revealing, and somewhat rewarding.

This new understanding of myself has also completely altered my view of others, mostly as it pertains to expectations. I have far fewer expectations on people. Life is so devastatingly hard. When someone is an asshole, I get it! In some regards, they have every right to be. The things that people endure on an external and/or internal level exceed the human mind’s ability to comprehend.

Most folks have no idea what secretly motivates them in conversation or relationships or life. I doubt that anyone really does. We are shaped by such an amazingly complex convergence of DNA, circumstance, impression, interpretation, and spirit, it seems impossible for anyone to be in control of it. The best we can do is just try to control our response, and that is a tremendous feat.

I am grateful for this deeper appreciation for the difficulty of life. I’ve not enjoyed the learning process, but I am incredibly grateful for the result. Seeing myself more simply has released me from a ton of illusions and delusional living. I realize there are a ton more, but this was a healthy layer of covering. These difficult years of loss and being lost have led us into greater intimacy, acceptance, and love.

I wish this appreciation of pain were more reflected in the church. Someone who has experienced devastating pain can tell when they are talking to someone who hasn’t. Platitudes are the worst. And for the most part, churches and many churchgoers represent themselves in a way that does not connect with people who know the pain of loss, which is a shame considering it is at the core of our Gospel.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud [agonized] voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
– Matthew 27.46

That verse isn’t quoted often in churches, but it lies in the crux of our Gospel story. Most of Christianity over-identifies with the Resurrection (redemption, forgiveness, new life, etc) with very little consideration given to the Crucifixion (loss, darkness, painful transition, etc). This creates a disconnect between churches and the rest of creation because everyone else can't ignore the Crucifixion. It's happening. The two need to meet together, and the strange and difficult reality of life is that the experience of the joy and hope and exuberance of the Resurrection is proportionate to the depth of pain and experience of the Crucifixion.

I would say, the Crucifixion is still happening. And the Resurrection is still happening. The Christian journey is clearly a very personal, intimate, and internal one. Jesus did not say, “Let me pick up the cross for you.” He said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Following Jesus does not free us of our cross, the reality of life; it lightens its weight by being shared. It brings meaning and significance to it.

What is most beautiful and significant and relevant about Christianity to me is the fearlessness of Divine Love indistinguishably intertwined with creation and the human experience. That is the summary of the Good News. Everyone is experiencing (or going to experience) a crucifixion, but the emotional and mental freedom to transcend it by the Way of Love/Christ is something of a Divine gift. It takes a deep sense of transcendent faith to believe that true Love and Resurrection really are an option, and the Reality.

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 (AMP)

Josh Pinkston
My Kingdom Go

For the past three years I’ve felt like my spiritual journey has been wandering in a state of purgatory. There has been a lot of “letting go” as well as being let go. Some of these things have been superficial and obvious, while others have been unexpected and painful. Deep emotions and “feelings” I’ve held onto as compasses have dissolved or evaporated. Inspired dreams and plans have vanished like mist as my family and I wandered through them and into ambiguous territory. It has created some powerfully challenging experiences.

As circumstances, ideas, hopes, dreams, and plans have come and gone, those “things” have revealed a great deal to me about myself. “Things” that I’ve held onto have proven to be unreliable and inconsistent, which becomes a problem for me wherever I have internally over-identified them with God. My family would step in a direction and believe it was the “right” thing, but then found ourselves lost. It’s been hard letting those “right” things go and holding onto faith in Someone more than things.

Concepts create idols of God, of whom only wonder can tell us anything.
—St. Gregory of Nyssa

On one hand, we are being freed from false ideas and beliefs, while on the other hand, it has felt like they are being ripped from us. I liked those false ideas and beliefs. That’s why I believed them! This has produced the purgative experience. It makes freedom look a lot less attractive, which helps me see where I am more religious than in Love.

Our Father, who is in heaven,
Hallowed be your Name.
Your kingdom come...

– Jesus, Matthew 6.9/10

One thing I never spent much time thinking about with this prayer is how, praying “Your kingdom come,” insinuates and practically necessitates, “My kingdom go.” This is one of the most foundational values of Christianity, that I can see. We’ve watered it down to moralistic lists of do’s and don’t’s, but at its conception, it’s something more more meaningful and transformative.

“My kingdom go,” as it was modeled by Jesus, looks like the freedom to be publicly mocked, hated, and killed and it hold no influence over the ability and capacity to be in Love. That is the realist of freedoms. But getting there means letting go of anything and everything that holds me back; however good, pleasant, or righteous I might confuse it for being.

So, I ask myself now, What is the most loving way? Not, what is the most convenient, pleasurable, easiest, or beautiful way, but the most loving. My faith teaches me that the way of Love, while it may include crucifixion, leads to resurrection.

I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].
– Jesus, John 10.10

Josh Pinkston

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment.
– Jesus, Matthew 22.37-40

The “all” in that statement is one of the things that makes Jesus so drastically countercultural and challenging (and possibly “irrelevant”), at least for me personally. Just sitting and thinking for a minute about my whole mind and what that means…there is so much going on in there: fear, worry, love, desire, passion, doubt, faith, anger, etc. There are loud, extrovert areas of my mind and areas where I hide resentment, aversion, hurt, and insecurity. To love God with my whole mind is asking me to engage all of these areas, which challenges me to completely rearrange the way I’ve intentionally and unintentionally structured my mind.

How could I ever gather all these areas of my mind together and transform, or allow them to be transformed, into simply love for God?? It’s a remarkably complex implication from such a simple statement, which is one reason why, I suppose, so few try.

One could surmise that God is just cruel for “commanding” this out of us, but that is why the knowledge and deep inner-trust that God is Love is so vital to a spiritual journey. If God is Love and, as one of my heroes Jerry Cook would say, “always predictably good,” then maybe I’m missing a gift in this divine and human challenge.

So, what is the gift?

Having a divided-mind is painful and debilitating. I may have grown comfortable and accustom to that debilitating pain, even to the point that I’ve accepted it as normal. And, as far as I can tell, our culture is designed to help me feel that way.

...for the one who doubts is like a billowing surge of the sea that is blown about and tossed by the wind. For such a person ought not to think or expect that he will receive anything [at all] from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable and restless in all his ways [in everything he thinks, feels, or decides].
– (Jesus’ brother) James 1.6-8

Unstable and restless in all his ways.” Those are the characteristics of a divided-mind and life. It is the root of anxiety and violence. I can attest to this. I can also attest to being far more than double-minded. I am easily quadruple-minded at most times! Although, I believe what James is saying is there are only ever two minds: one set on Christ and one that is set on many things. That difference takes an individual from loving God with their whole mind to not.

When Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with your whole mind,” he is inviting us to wholeness; or “wholliness” for the sake of using a pun. He’s inviting us to healing in the areas of our minds that have been closed off. He’s inviting us to freedom in areas of our minds where we’ve been locked up. But the real gift is not only wholeness, healing, and freedom. That is where I see many churches and Christians getting hung up. We hyper-focus on wholeness, healing, and freedom, but then ignore their meaning, which is utter union in and absorption into Love. That is the Christian way, the Good News.

That is the gift Jesus offers us by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your mind,” though it is no small task to receive. Especially when you then add on your whole heart and your whole soul! It is a spiritual, mental, and physical journey and I cannot imagine a more exciting and adventurous way to live my life.

Josh Pinkston
A New Season of Let (not a typo)
All of these pictures were taken last week while wandering around the grounds at Camp Crestview.

All of these pictures were taken last week while wandering around the grounds at Camp Crestview.

This time last year, I referred to the Season of Lent as my Season of Let. I had forgotten about this until having some time to journey around in nature recently.

While taking pictures of dew resting on branches and grass, I remembered one of my favorite verses about God’s “voice”:

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

Only a few days ago, I stumbled across this short verse while flipping through the pages of an old Bible I used a few years ago. The words stopped me, but so did many others as I scanned through passages I’d underlined and notes I'd written. This morning though, they came back to me:

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

The word “let” seems ridiculous. Who would not “let” God speak gently to them? But then, there are days when God’s presence and ways feel so distant, my reaction to this word is, “Of course, I’d ‘let’ God speak. Why wouldn’t I? Now, if only God would start speaking!” Couched in the middle of that indignant thought is the real question: Why wouldn’t I let God speak?

There are many reasons I’d rather not let God speak into my life, here are some personal biggies:

  1. Busyness: I’m busy. I’m trying to balance learning to be a loving and present husband and father with working long hours, maintaining meaningful friendships, juggling miscellaneous responsibilities, and allowing some space to take care of my own internal condition by doing things that bring me life (nature, music, writing, and rest).
    1. Busyness reduces my sensitivity and receptivity to the “descending dew” to the likes of precipitation gathering on a windshield as I drive 60mph trying to get to my next destination. It’s not that God isn’t speaking, it’s that I’m having to look past it, toward the next thing I have to do. Plus, God can wait, right?
  2. Exhaustion: Busyness creates exhaustion. This takes a toll on every area of responsibility, including making space for things that bring me life. When I finally do find a hour or two to myself, I end up finding I’m emptied of energy or the ability to rest because I’m in need of recuperation and repair.
    1. When my energy is drained and I am in need of recuperation, my attention is sleepy. My eyes need to shut and I just want/need to go to sleep. The “descending dew” on “tender plants” is lost on closed eyes, unable to see it. It’s not that God isn’t speaking, it’s that I’m buried, out of reach, and disconnected.
  3. Irritability: Exhaustion creates in me irritability. I know this well. And the first people to receive and perceive my irritability are those closest to me, which only irritates me more.
    1. When I’m irritable, I’m closed off and running on fumes. Recuperation becomes a burden. Easily, I find myself resenting things that would normally produce life in me. It’s not that God isn’t speaking, it’s that I couldn’t care less about what’s being said because I’m too self-centered on thinking that no one’s listening to me.

Those are just a few reasons why I wouldn’t “Let” myself receive the Gentle Whisper. Of course, recognizing and acknowledging these issues is a big first step to overcoming them. It enables me to communicate more clearly with myself, God, and others. Communication helps create connection.

This all hinges on how I manage my own mind. Do I make space in my thinking for stillness and receptivity? Or do I hurriedly rush from thinking about one responsibility, relationship, desire, or worry to another? And then, do I fill any gaps that might occur in my day with music, my cellphone, brainless chatter, or resentment? Another temptation might be to fill any alone time with over-analyzing myself. Perhaps, I’m giving into that temptation right now. It is a temptation that distracts me from simply letting the word or presence of God descend on me in this present moment, and in my present condition, as a “tender plant,” rooted and established in love (Ephesians 3.17).

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17:33

It’s not about me. It is about Christ. It is about letting myself participate with what is present and descending gently all around and on me right now. This challenges me to completely reconstruct how I’ve allowed my mind to wander thoughtlessly through each day. It invites my consciousness to wake up and stay awake. It directs me toward life, and life in abundance.

I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance; to the full, until it overflows.
– Jesus, John 10.10

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

Josh Pinkston
Savoring Normalcy

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:

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.

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

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.

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

Josh Pinkston
Finding Refuge

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)

Josh Pinkston