Monday, October 30, 2006

Hey wait, don't throw that out...

When you purge your belongings, its always hard to know where to start, especially if the task seems overwhelming due to the amount of stuff you have to sort through. I write with the awareness that one man's junk is another man's treasure. After our garage sale this summer, I hauled the leftovers to the curb for the Monday morning trash pickup. A guy pulls up and asks if he could have the BBQ grill, which wasn't even a part of the sale. I was just getting rid of the rusty of piece of metal. He drove away like he had found a brand new one. A blog buddy [stepchild] wrote my thoughts on the whole matter of kids. We have been doing church simply, in our home with a few other couples, for about a year and a half now. Invariably, when people (always churchgoers) find out what we are doing, the first question is "what about the kids?" Like a smartalek, I say "what about them?" What they usually mean is, how do the kids learn about the God and Jesus and the Bible with out the church as we know it. I hide my offense in their assumption that I am insufficient to lead my children to awareness of those truths. I have to keep in mind that I have been sorting through my pile labeled "Children and Faith" for quite some time now. So when a collector looks at the things I've discarded at the curb, an honest first reaction is to scramble and try to save the precious things from destruction. I don't need them anymore, so I don't put up too much of an argument. What I've kept and taking with me on the journey is a belief that children should be children. Let them play, imagine, create, explore and mostly, learn the way children learn, by watching what Mom and Dad do. Try as we may, but there will never be a greater force on our children than their parents. As a Dad, I take this very seriously.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Would you like to buy some insurance?

I heard an interesting ad this week for a new kind of insurance. It makes sense now that this kind of coverage is easily needed. Even five years ago we probably wouldn't have even known what the heck the commercial was talking about. Identity theft is a 21st century phenonemon. Who would have thought that someone could essentially "become" me just by possessing a few bits of personal information. The anonymity of the Internet allows a thief to pose as me in exchange for goods purchased by my means. Actually, identity theft isn't entirely new. It's been going on for years. The relevant bits that get taken are not credit card or social security numbers, but the facts about who we really are have been stolen. This, like any theft, renders the victim helpless. Until the perpetrator is caught, he keeps running up the bill which lands in your lap. But most self-respecting citizens, once they find their identity missing, will take immediate steps of action to stop the crime from continuing. It's a hassle for sure, but a few phone calls to the bank and credit card companies bring quick results. I was a victim of a similar crime. I had my identity stolen, or so I thought, but I had let it go for so long, I forgot what it looked like. I couldn't recall it from memory, so I just assumed there was nothing I could do. But when I found the gem buried in my stuff, I knew that it was never really stolen at all. I was just led to believe it was. to be continued...

Thursday, October 26, 2006


If we are overcome, it means there is a force stronger than us. My son has started working out with weights. I can already tell. It won't be long until he pins me down when we wrestle. His arms are noticeably bigger. He's about to catch me in height. His strength will soon surpass mine. He will eventually be able to overcome me physically. So for years, I carried around in my stuff the idea that the strongest thing about me was my sin and my desire for it. I was never reminded that since I am now in Christ, the old is passed. I have new everything. I have new power available to overcome. I have it because I am His child, I have His Spirit and I have His authority. After sorting through this pile labeled "Identity," I am carrying out a bunch of junk to set by the curb. I no longer need to believe that my most powerful desires are for behaviors that will harm me and other people, and lead me away from Jesus and all that He offers me. I face my day differently now because of this gem. I pull it out often and polish it, gazing into it. I listen for its message, one of strength, of belief and hope that I am complete in the eyes of the One who ultimately defines my identity. It doesn't warn me or try to invoke fear in me, or shame me for recent mistakes. As I pack for the journey, this is the first thing in the bag. I used to write songs. Sometimes people would ask me what my favorite one was. I would have to say it is the one written about this idea, titled "Overcome." (click for mp3). Below are the lyrics. ------------------------------- Overcome by Kevin Shinn Owned by love, Could I know such power? Bound to grace, Free to journey near Your embrace? Instead I'm prone to wander far away from what I'm made to be Waiting patiently, reveal to me what I have yet to see. Overcome Overwhelm Over all Over everything in me Every word Every thought Every care Over everthing in me Overcome

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Owned by Love

One of the first piles of stuff I sorted through was labeled Identity. Identity, to me, is simply what I believe about myself, which then influences how I act. I believe I am a man, so I dress like one. I'm a grownup, so I don't play GI Joe anymore. I believe I can fix stuff, so I worked on and repaired our washing machine last night. All of these beliefs affect what I do. The thing about identity, however, is that it can be based on falsehood and not truth. Truth says I am a grownup man that can fix things. Falsehood wants to call each of those things into question. The choice is up to me of what I want to believe. So over the years, I've been handed ideas about identity that I stowed away among all my belongings. I've been told I am a sinner, just a sinner, with a wicked heart that cannot be trusted, that I am prone to wander, that I am one sin away from adultery, divorce and spiritual suicide. Reinforced were names like Mess and Needy. Men's retreats reminded me that I just don't get it, that our wives just put up with us and that the key to marital harmony is to go home after work and sweep more floors, change more diapers, and take out more trash. In college, we were told that out of a group of 50, only 5 of us would be walking with God in ten years. What was the purpose of that? It only created fear and reinforced the identity that I will most likely be one of the 45. I could give you chapter and verse for all of these concepts, because I found them cross-referenced and labeled in the pile of stuff. But there, underneath all, buried deep down, was a gem that I will never let go of. The gem is stated this way. "For by what a man is overcome, by this is he enslaved." The context of this is negative. If a man is overcome by evil, he is enslaved to evil. If he is overcome by lust, lies or the idea that he is one sin away from spiritual oblivion, he is enslaved to those things. They will lord over him. But if this is true, wouldn't the converse also be true? If a man is overcome by Good, would he not, in turn, be enslaved to good? If the Beauty of God has overcome a man, would he not be enslaved to that beauty? to be continued...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Two suitcases and a duffle bag

What should I pack? This is the inevitable question before embarking on any journey. What will I need along the way? Do I really need a travel alarm, or will my wristwatch do? Should I take 2 pairs of jeans or three? The tough thing is the uncertainty, never knowing if we will really need what we are taking. Although everyone is different, I find that how we decide what to take on trips is the same. We base the decisions on our values. What is important to me is what I will want on the trip. For example, when my wife and I were first married, we would get ready for a weekend away in two different ways. As I packed the car, my things were in a duffle bag with room to spare. She has two suitcases you have to sit on to shut (one for each day away.) If you looked in our luggage you would find what we value. My tidy little bag shows that I value mobility and simplicity. Hers reveals that she values variety and options. She may not need all that stuff, but its security to know that its there if she ever wanted or needed it. I'm approaching midlife based on my values of packing. I want to simplify my life as I get older. I don't want a lot to encumber me. I don't want lots of stuff to manage. This explains my felt need to rethink all that has been handed to me on my journey up to this point. to be continued...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Coat, Backpack, Suitcase

I am preparing for a trip. And I love to travel. A great memory created for our family was our trip to the UK three and a half years ago. We took planes, trains and automobiles through England, Scotland and Wales. We reference that trip often in our conversations. I wish we could do it again just thinking about it now. At the time, our kids were 8 and 11. So we knew they could be mobile enough for all the different transportation we would be using, but we also knew we had to be smart about what we took as luggage. As we prepared, we reduced everything down to three basic components: Coat, Backpack and Suitcase. Everyone (especially my wife) could take what they wanted, just as long as it fit into these three items we would carry. When departure time came, we would recite the checklist: COAT--BACKPACK--SUITCASE, then off we would go. Getting on a train, or subway, or bus, one of us would call out the essentials. Sure enough, each of us had all three. This made traveling much simpler for all of us. Less to carry. Less to worry about, yet all we needed. The journey I am preparing for is the back half of my life. Up to now I've collected quite a few coats, backpacks and suitcases, into which I would cram neat little tokens and souveniers picked up along the way. I know I can't, nor do I need to, take all of these with me on the next leg, so I am in the process of sorting through what I want to take and what I need to leave behind. The tokens and souveniers are those ideas handed to me by people I met along my journey. They came in the form of tips and techniques to help me live a better life. They also take the shape of exhortations that I must follow, or else. I also find commands to obey, laws to fear, lists to keep, imperative thoughts to nuture. As I take time to go through all this baggage, I'm trying to condense things back down again to one coat, one backpack and one suitcase. This will be the theme of my next few posts. I hope to share my thinking of how I am trying to simplify my faith and ready myself for the journey into Uncharted Waters. to be continued...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Photos on the fridge

I got a missions publication in the mail yesterday from an organization with which some of my friends serve. Though I hadn't seen this particular magazine in a few years, I still had a similar default reaction as I leafed through it. I felt guilty. I used to think I felt guilty because I wasn't orienting my life to follow suit with the people in the pictures and stories. I also thought it might be because for years I bought into the idea that God calls everyone to go and since He didn't really tell me to stay or go, then it would be safe to just say that I am disobedient. I also wondered if the guilt had anything to do with a lack of zeal for the condition of the world, and a general hard-heartedness I possessed. I now don't think it was any of these. I feel guilty because its easier to want to be someone other than yourself. I've always carried with me a buried feeling of not being enough to really make God smile. I found it hard to accept that the things I was good at actually had a place in God's Kingdom. God needed preachers of the gospel, not a gardener or a lover of nature or a guy who could make memorable beer and pesto. I constantly compared myself to people who witnessed better, spoke better, served better, led better, and deceived myself into thinking I needed to be like them. God was happier with my friends in Nepal than He was with me. I admire folks who live cross-culturally with the purpose of helping people find faith. I love their newsletters. I read their blogs. I stick their pictures on my fridge. But slowly I am doing away with the notion that I have to be like them. To do so diminishes their giftedness, their calling, their passion and their unique place in the story.. well as mine.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Which stack do I put this one?

I work a cruddy job. The biggest thing I don't like about it is not having enough to do to fill the day. I could probably do all that needed to be done in about 4 hours, but rules are rules, and I need to stay 8. I learned very quickly to never ask the supervisor if there is anything extra that needs to be done when I have run out of things to do, else I will find myself cleaning out carts that don't need cleaning or sweeping floors that I swept that morning. Instead, I stick to my responsibilities and stretch them out to fit the time I have and thus fly under the radar. One of my most favorite concepts in the New Testament is the idea of the priesthood of believers, that is, every person of faith has direct access into the holiest of places, and therein can speak to and receive directly from the Almighty. This puts us all on equal standing. But somewhere in the task of equipping these saints, have we put more emphasis on training them to do church work than on finding out what these dear people are hearing from God and in turn, helping get them into position to serve out of that calling. In some ways, I wonder if we have problems motivating men to serve because they see church like my job, nothing much important to do, yet fearful of saying anything because they don't just want to do grunt work for which there seems to be no point. The intent is good, I guess, but how much can we really find out about a man's heart by having him fill out a spiritual gift survey? We teach a class, hand out a multiple-choice quiz, pick them all up and sort them out. All the teachers are put in the children's ministry stack. All the servants are placed in the children's ministry stack. All the merciful are piled on top of these in the children's ministry stack. All the prophets are round filed. All the leaders are stamped with a question mark and the rest are divided up among the staff. We as leaders must keep in mind that everyone by faith has access to the presence and voice of God. Do we encourage them to listen and trust them to act on what they hear, even if it does not fit into our program? Or will we somehow just try and fit them into what we are doing?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Learning to say "Ouch"

I obviously think and talk alot about the Church and the condition she is in. One might assume that its out of my own woundedness that I write, and that would be partly accurate. I have my share of stories of how I've been hurt by others, but I would be a fool to think that someone else out there is not telling the same type of story because of some way I have offended them. But this isn't my point. I have much to say about the Church because I want so much for Her. I know people who have been severely let down by the Church as an entity or by particular representatives of Hers and they have never gotten over it. The pain led to despair and despair has a crippling effect on the soul. When I meet someone like this, I always try to listen for one particular element in their story: Desire. Our worst pain comes at the point of our strongest longings. I had lunch with a guy one day and was going on about my current frustration with the Church, when he stopped me and said, "Man, I like church. I don't know what you're talking about?" I realized the conversation wouldn't go much further because he could not see my desire through the pain that I was offering. He assumed I was demanding an "either/or" proposition. There was tension in the conversation between me and my experience and his, which many folks take to mean either I'm right or he is. I'm not fighting for everyone to agree with me, because that's not how I see the problem. I think I am asking for, and hopefully extending, the permission to say, "Ouch. If we or someone we know has been wounded or let down by the Church or Her servants, we should be able to say, "Ouch, that hurt!" And with most wounds, we want to figure out how to not let that happen again. One path to prevention is to give up and say the Church is full of hypocrites and live in bitterness toward Her. Another way is to figure out how to hold grief for the pain in one hand (because the wound matters) and not let go of the hope for a better future in the other.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Father's Day and the New Leviticus

Here's where I get confused with the whole law thing. My years of reading the New Testament as the New Leviticus left me searching for commands I was not obeying, rules I was not following, sins I was not confessing, promises I was not holding to and attitudes that needed adjusting. I don't know why I didn't catch this earlier, but it finally dawned on me that I'm not going to be able to make this work, despite what preachers and teachers wanted me to think. I really got worn out going to church and hearing yet again about how much I suck and walk away wondering why did I show up today? The worst was always Father's Day, when you go and they hand you a little screwdriver at the door with a little impersonal Xeroxed note attached, saying something about the nobility of being a dad, only to encounter a sermon reminding you of what a poor dad you are and here are 7 steps you are unable to take or 7 promises you will never be able to keep. I feel like such a bad person for pointing this kind of stuff out, because from my vantage point, guys seems to be OK with all of it. I conclude this because they keep showing up, subjecting themselves to the treatment. It's kinda like a procto-exam. If you know the prostate is working good, do I really need the doc have me bend over and check me out every week? Yet guys are still all lined up. The New Leviticus says don't neglect assembling together, but does it have anything to say about neglecting assembly that is a waste of time, and creating or pursuing assembly that inspires, heals, motivates, and encourages instead of inflicting guilt, passivity and numbness?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Trust and Belief

In my life, I can think of only a handful of people who I felt really believed in me. These were people who, because of their belief, enabled me to think better of myself. I don't know where I would be without them thinking more highly of me than I was capable of thinking. I probably wouldn't be married. When I first met her, I thought she was too good looking for me (hot wasn't really a term we used back then). She had a way of lighting up the room when she entered. All eyes turned her direction, especially mine. But that's about as far as it went. There was no possible way such an attractive, winsome woman would ever be interested in balding, pale, blotchy skinned me. I didn't believe. But Mike was one of those guys who saw what I didn't see, and made it a point to ask me a question I'll never forget: "Does Karen have a boyfriend?" "No," I replied. "Have you ever thought about doing something about that?" He believed in me, believed that I would be a good match for this woman I thought was way over my head. I kinda think this is what Jesus wants to do with us. He wants to shed a Law from us, which tells us what we can't do, and give us a new Spirit that sets us free to become what we alone could never imagine. I think this is why the whole Law is fulfilled in one word. to be continued...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Understanding the New Leviticus

If we as followers of Jesus are indeed free from the Law, why is it we have a tendency toward wanting rules to keep us in line. What is it about being legalistic that becomes appealing? I think I have an idea. We live according to laws everyday. Law is useful. Law brings order to societies. It ensures that the bad guys get punished by protecting its citizens. Keeping the Law in society is a good thing. If I don't speed, I don't have to pay a ticket. If I don't traffic meth, I can stay out of jail and sleep in my own bed. This sounds good to me. But ultimately, Law is based on distrust. We don't trust our people of our society to live in such a way that puts the concern of others ahead of their own. So we have to set things like speed limits, and ban certain substances because we can't trust them to drive at safe speeds on their own or avoid drugs that will inevitably bring harm to themselves and others. Wherever there is distrust, there is disbelief. "I don't trust you" means I don't believe you are good or are capable of coming through. This might true in the earthly kingdom, but in the Kingdom of God, there is no place for either of these. In Jesus' realm of rule, we are free because he has set us free. He believes in us. He trusts in us. He does things like give us a Great Commission and then heads for home. He is saying, "You are now my friends, not slaves. Live in your freedom. Become all I've created you to be. Live freely in such a way that a world in bondage can't imagine why they would not follow me." Do I not treat myself with this same distrust and disbelief? And is it safe to say that I distrust and disbelieve myself the most because I know who I am better than anyone? What keeps me from accepting the fact that in Christ I am actually a new person with a new heart that can be trusted? Is this why I feel I need the Law to keep me in line? to be continued...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Erring on the side of law

When I was in college, there were catch phrases that floated around our community. These were little nuggets of information that indicated an agreement with the values of the group. Some of them were: -"Either this book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book." -"Use your twenties for training." -"You can't soar with the eagles if you hoot with the owls." There was another idea that existed that I accepted as gospel truth, but for the life of me I can't understand why. The phrase was, "I'd rather err on the side of law than on the side of grace." This meant that one was better than the other, and that if I were to take sides, I would take the side of discipline, of hard work and of right and wrong. It never dawned on me to break down this logic. First, if a person is going to make an error, does it really matter which side the error falls? It's still an error. Yet in my communityt, one side was more preferable and it was clear what side that was. This must be why ideas about grace were fairly limited. I got the part that we are saved by grace, but missed the memo on how to live by grace. Second, doesn't the law lead to death? So why did we as eager college students feel so compelled to go there? No wonder all conversation in our accountability groups centered around all our personal failures. We were trying to keep a law, and law doesn't lead to life. This is the path we were led. And its funny how I find myself wanting to defend my past by wondering how much I would have learned about the Bible and discipline with out that experience. But isn't that kind of like the slave being grateful for the master's whip because it taught him obedience? Again, this assumes that with out the law, the person cannot be trusted to do the right thing. to be continued...

Monday, October 09, 2006

The New Leviticus

This is a subject I've hesitated to write or even talk about, because of its controversial nature. I fear being misunderstood, but that kind of fear only leads to bondage, even though it will probably mean that I will continue to burn bridges of opportunity with the community I have been associated with most of my life. The problem stems from one simple verse in the New Testament. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, " YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Is it really that simple? I have never been led to consider the idea that the believer in Christ has the Spirit indwelling, and within that new relationship is the basis of all new life, faith, hope and love. There has always been added an assumption that the Spirit is not enough to guide me away from sin, away from my flesh and the influence of the world. I don't know if I am alone in this, but I am waking to this assumption and am starting to ask questions, ones that are leading to new freedom in Christ personally, but alienation from some of His people. I think back to the days of new faith at age 17, when I finally decided that the way of Jesus was the way for me. Life radically changed after that. I experienced that new relationship with the Spirit. Things were different. I made new decisions accordingly. I was thrilled. Then, a few months later, I entered college, found a student ministry right away and was shaped by its emphasis on Scripture and personal discipline. And somewhere along the way was handed me the huge assumption that I am fundamentally a bad person and am one step away from spiritual disaster. What this resulted in was a focus on everything negative, and the Bible became a type of law to follow. I was encouraged to read it and look for things I'm not doing right, which only served to reinforce the assumption that I am a screw up. Fear of letting God down in some way became the norm, and the Bible daily showed me every way that I was failing Him. So to do better I took copious notes on every expository sermon I heard, not wanting to miss anything that might keep me from sinning. I made sure I read my bible every day (first thing of a morning) so I would not blow it somehow. I memorized countless verses so I would find success. But it didn't work and I couldn't figure out why. I still struggled with the same problems. I was still anxious. I was afraid of people, and ultimately afraid of God. Then it dawned on me, that maybe the reason I struggled so much with what was called my "walk with God" was the fact that I was still chained to the Law. I was reading the New Testament as the New Leviticus. Had I merely exchanged one law for a new one? To be continued...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My Christian Porn

I have a confession to make. This morning I was listening to Christian radio again. I know I shouldn't. It doesn't help me. I don't really know why I do it. Its just a form of porn for me, I guess. I have some sick need in me to feel right, so I seek out ways to disagree so I can feel better about myself. But I was really disturbed in what I heard today. It's probably why I felt compelled to keep listening, when I knew I should tune the truck radio back to sports talk radio. It was the man's anger. I mean, he was livid. He went on and on about how pastors are failing the church and society because they don't manage their household. He continued by saying that the majority of pastors should leave the ministry because of their children, adding that the term "PK" has come to be equated with unruly kids. He made it clear that in no uncertain terms that this is a sin and an abomination. I'm a dad of two kids. I love them dearly and I do my best to let them know daily that they are loved and that life does not revolve around them. I realize that they, in spite of all my love and affection, have choices to make. With my son, when he would disobey or disrespect his mom, I would explode in anger. It never really worked with him. The angrier I got, the more distant he became and the more he rebelled. I blamed it all on his choices and lack of respect. It didn't dawn on my that my attempts to intimidate him into obedience were not going to work. He was too strong. I needed a new approach. I worry about the teaching of angry guys like this one on the radio today. Sure, they may have their "household in order." But maybe in reality the kids are just scared to death of dad. Obedience, yes, but at what price. Some would say that doesn't matter. I think it does. It is God's kindness that leads us to repentance. His anger is justified, but its not what does the trick in getting us to move back to him. What was equally disturbing were the radio hosts, who commented after the tirade, "Boy that guy can preach. He went from preachin' to meddlin'." Maybe that's what they call it. They went on to make a generous offer of sending the CD of this message to your pastor if you send in a love gift. I wondered if I should pray for the pastors who would get the tape, that it would not become an ever greater chain on their burden of trying to raise their kids. It left me sad, not inspired to change.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Teaching Theory without Experience

The older I get, the less certain it seems I am. I thought it would be the other way around. In my 20's I knew everything. Now, in my 40's, I often feel clueless. Could this be that what I held to be true in the past had never really been tested in the realm of faith? Now that I am at a point in life where my faith really matters, or at least seems to be called upon in a more relevant way, I am getting the opportunity to decide what I want to believe and what I want to discard as irrelevant. Take this song that I wrote back in 1994 as a theme for a student retreat titled, Uncharted Waters. The idea we tried to communicate was trusting God in the unknown. I wrote these lyrics in theory. They did not flow from any personal experience, only out of what I hoped to be true, or what I was taught to be true. UNCHARTED WATERS ©Kevin Shinn, 2006 [click here for mp3] Set to sail, It's time to board On a lifelong journey we can't afford The trip is set, the plans are made We need not worry, the cost is paid He will lead us through uncharted waters He will lead us deep into the sea Knowing all the time the treasures we will find Are waiting for us only if we go. What will we face as we explore Away from safety of the shore Teach us, Lord, if we fear change Nothing ventured nothing gained The winds of worry, the storms of doubt The Prince of Darkenss toss us about But our Captain, faithful and true Will protect us and lead us through I listened to this song again last week and was struck by my naievte. I think I wrote Truth, but Truth that had never been tested. This is why I envy guys who can teach. I can't ever imagine not being haunted by this question, "Do I really know what the hell I'm talking about?" The notion that experience was anything we could rely on was grilled into me as evil. Truth is truth, regardless of experience, but thinking this way made me conflicted. The little choo-choo train diagram set me up for derailment. I became an engineer of ideas that I could not back up from experience. If I ever found myself in combat, I would feel better about following the guy who has actually been shot at than the guy who wrote three books on warfare, but never aimed a gun in his life. I was on my way to being the latter.