November 29 Reflections

Ernest Becker is his book The Denial of Death, wrote, “The soberest conclusion that we could make about what has been taking place on the planet for about three billion years is that it is being turned into a vast pit of fertilizer.” You are not going to find that on a Hallmark greeting card. Those words are filled with despair, doubt, sourness about life on this planet. He wrote them in response to the silliness he thought existed in religion surrounding the hope of there being any life after this life on earth. Now I will agree there is a lot of silliness in religion. My hope is not based on religion. My hope is grounded in Jesus Christ, who came to show us what God is like. I believe that Becker is wrong, and I will know it in experience when I transition from this world to the next.

Hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised and its strength is in his faithfulness. There is hope that someday all pain, suffering and tears will be over, and everything will be made right. God has promised this in Revelation 21:1-4. That is a promise that someday all things will be made new; all things will be made right. This hope comes through Jesus Christ who is the Father’s yes to all his promises. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:20)

I think hope is also for our day to day lives, not just some comfort for eternal life. I have hope that there is going to be a vaccine to fight against Covid 19. I have hope that race relationships will heal in our country and around the world. I have hope that justice will come for those enslaved in poverty. I have hope there will be a smooth transition to a new administration. I have hope that conflict in families will heal. I have hope that churches will be missional caring more about the mission of Jesus than about maintaining a religious club. I have hope that someday prejudice against people’s uniqueness will be eliminated so we can celebrate the image of God in all people. I have hope that the Minnesota Vikings will win the Super Bowl. Okay maybe not this year, but there is always next year. The hope for all of these points, other than the Vikings, is because of Jesus and his promise that some day all things will be made right and he invites us to live in that hope each day to bring that “rightness” to this world now.

This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. We are going to be thinking about hope and how it applies to our lives. Some passages to read: Romans 5:1-5;Isaiah 40:25-31; Revelation 21:1-7; 2 Peter 3:13.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

November 22 Reflections

How many friends do you have on Facebook? This question is hard to answer, because if your only connection to someone is on Facebook it is hard to imagine that this could be called friendship, yet so many do. A person thinks that because they have 500 friends and you only have 20 on Facebook, they have more friends than you do. When those 498 of those 500 might have very little connection with that person other than Facebook. While the one with only 20 has a deep connection outside of Facebook with those people and they could truly be called friends. I think there are Facebook friends and true friends in real life; two very different things. A friend is a relationship of mutual affection between people. It is a strong form of interpersonal bond between two people.

On Facebook if someone wants to be your “friend” or you want to be someone’s friend; a friend request is sent. You always have a choice. You can respond yes, or you can simply let it sit or delete it from your account. The ultimate friend request comes from Jesus. “Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.” (Revelation 3:20…The Message) Jesus desires to be your friend. In the time when Jesus lived the invitation to have supper at someone’s house was an invitation for friendship. It was not the “let’s grab lunch sometime” casual invitation. The invitation for friendship was a sacred moment. Jesus is telling us that is the way it is for you and me. Jesus is saying I want to be your friend. I desire to enter that personal relationship of friendship where we share our lives with one another. The old hymn says it so well, “Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.” (What a Friend We Have in Jesus)

There are times in my shame that the idea of Jesus as a friend seems too chummy…buddy buddy. How could God really want to be my friend? I can sink into Savior…Lord…Christ…Messiah…Son of God. All exalted names for Jesus, but friend feels intimate, close, and relational. Yet Jesus makes the point in scripture that he no longer calls us servants, he calls us friends. In fact, he wants to be our friend. Because after all is not a true friend, someone who knows everything about us and still loves us…accepts us. Jesus knows everything about us and still loves and accepts us. And wants to be our friend. We are going to think about that on Sunday as we finish “Life Basics with Jesus” by thinking together about, “I Am a Friend of Jesus.” Some scripture to possibly read: John 15:9-17; Revelation 3:20; Proverbs 18:24.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

November 15 Reflections

An ancient teaching called Stoicism, which still shows up today in many forms, taught that self-sufficiency was the highest aim of living. Self-sufficiency meant a state of mind in which a human being was absolutely independent of all things and of all people. They proposed to do this by eliminating all desire and emotions so that a person did not care what happened to them or anyone else. “I don’t care” was the mantra stated over and over about every situation in life. Reminds me of an episode from the former show “The Middle” where one of the children was talking to dad about a problem that he obviously thought was inconsequential; he responded, “I don’t care and I don’t care that I don’t care.” It really was funny to see because of his deadpan expression. He was a good Stoic. This “I don’t care” spirit in the Stoic came about by a deliberate act of will in which they saw in everything the will of God. However painful it might be, however disastrous it might seem, it was God’s will. It was useless to struggle against it; a person must just accept it.

The Apostle Paul gave a different way. The Stoic said, “I will learn to be content by a deliberate act of my own will.” Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who infuses his strength in me.” The Stoic, and those who follow this way today, it is all about human achievement; for Paul it was a God-given gift. The Stoic is self-sufficient; the person who walks with Christ is God-sufficient. Paul tells us in Philippians 4 that he can face anything, because he has Christ with him. Paul could say, “I am strong with Jesus.”       

Someone writing about this said that often life was like a roller coaster. One moment trusting God, the next thinking, “I am self-sufficient.” Then something hard would come and I would go back to trusting God. That problem would be eased, and I would go back to self-sufficiency. Up and down…back and forth. “I am trying to live into a new way. This way is a continuous, submerging of my own self into a conversation with Abba. Then I don’t panic in adversity and drive myself crazy with trying really hard to be spiritual; rather it is simply a continuation of being in Abba’s presence…I can truly face anything because I know I am held by Abba.”

On Sunday we continue the series, “Life Basics with Jesus.” This week we will think about, “I am strong with Jesus,” each moment with Jesus; drawing on his life and power.  Some passages to read: Philippians 4:10-13; John 20:19-22; Psalm 27; Psalm 121.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn   

November 8 Reflections

“Dead man walking,” was the phrase used in the past when a person who was on death row was being ushered to his final few moments to whatever form of capital punishment was being used. This phrase, “Dead Man Walking,” is also a title to a movie that depicts a Roman Catholic nun reaching out to a convicted murderer on death row awaiting execution. The conversations are deep and transformational for both. However, he still does pay for his crime with his life. He did pay for his crime with his physical life, but inwardly positive things were happening. In one sense he had found life in the love and care of a nun, and he knew he was not alone as he faced physical execution.

This week in “Life Basics with Jesus” we are going to explore the phrase, “I am alive in Jesus.” Alive is not speaking about physical life (bios). It is talking about an internal fullness of life that is vibrant and vital (zoe). Jesus told us that is why he came…” I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) But we all know people who seemingly walk around physically alive but have the look of an internal life that is dead. Hollow eyes…sad affect on the face…movements that are slow…slouched over…empty inside…lack of energy…there is a deep apathy about anything or anyone. It is as if it is a dead man/woman walking. Maybe that person has been, or maybe is us. The statement by Jesus seems like a fairy tale dream for people with no problems.

On Sunday we are going to think together about what it means to be alive in Jesus. This is how I define it, “Jesus does not want us to just live with our hearts beating walking around as a shell of existence. He wants us to have a deep vitality and vibrancy experiencing the fullness of soul someone knows when Jesus does everyday life with us.” With is the key. Jesus doing life with us. He is not just by us; he is with us in a personal relationship. By is an observer…someone who is around but there is no real connection. With is a relationship…intimate, knowing the realities of pain, joy, suffering and happiness. This aliveness really is all about Jesus who loves us first and perfectly. His loving life in us, creates life. We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some passages to read: John 10:7-10;  John 5:37-40; John 14:1-6.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

November 1 Reflections

One of the spiritual growth opportunities that I and others are and have participated in is FaithWalking.  In FW time is spent looking into your past and how you responded or reacted to experiences. My shame, not thinking I was enough, always led me to work hard and be busy so people would think I am wonderful and like me. There was one point in ministry where it had been nearly three months since I had taken a day off and was applauded by leadership for working hard. I truly thought if I worked hard everyone would think I was wonderful. One day someone complained to the leadership of the church I was serving that he did not believe I was working hard enough. At that point I was easily putting in 60-70 hours a week. It sent me into a tailspin because this was the first time someone did not like my work because I was not working hard enough. That vow did not work any longer.

What I needed to do was write a positive vow to replace an old vow that was outdated and quite frankly not that healthy. Through prayer, discernment, and solitude the new vow that really does direct my life now is this: I will rest in Jesus, trusting who he says I am, while working wholeheartedly for him. The motto for me is “don’t work harder, rest deeper.” Outwardly at times there might not seem to be much of a change, but inwardly it is all different. Living for an audience of one and resting in him is so different than living for the applause of hundreds of people I might not even like. The words of Jesus took on such a powerful impact in this time, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) This is not necessarily the absence of activity; it is more about an inward peace of knowing that I am enough as I am. I am loved by Jesus…I am a follower of Jesus…I belong to Jesus…I am resting in Jesus.

Jesus spoke these words amid a religious system that taught you had to follow a myriad (countless or extremely great number) of rules to maybe be accepted by God. It would lead people to be crazy tired trying to follow all the minute rules. Then maybe God would love and accept you. Maybe. Jesus came not only to fight against this system; he destroyed it on the cross. It is finished. Nothing you can do to add to it. People were tired trying to follow all the burdens of following minute rules. Jesus said if you are tired of this come to me. I loved you first, you do not have to earn it. I will give you rest from all this frantic running around trying to look good and earn my love. Get rid of religion. I offer you a relationship of grace, mercy, love. You cannot earn it. It is gift. That message of Good News was like a refreshing drink in the desert of self-righteousness. We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some passages to sink into: Matthew 11:25-30; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 14:25-27.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

October 25 Reflections

When I was growing up on a farm near Sheldon, the habit of being an early riser was formed. I loved getting up early, even as a young child, having coffee and then going out to do chores before breakfast and school. To me it was fun milking the cows in the early morning with the opportunity to be outside in all sorts of weather. My dad always had one channel on the radio playing music and updating the news and weather, with the agriculture report. Your friend in the Midwest, WNAX. I did not necessarily care for the music because it was all Country Western. Now I know many of you love Country Western and I affirm you in that, but the reality is that I don’t. We can allow each other the space to self-define, to say what we like and don’t like. But I do remember Johnny Cash and the “ring of fire” and Hank Williams “I’m So Lonesome I could cry.” The song had a melancholy feel that spoke into any loneliness that you might be feeling. It really could bring tears to your eyes.


Hear that lonesome whippoorwill

He sounds too blue to fly

The midnight train is whining low

I’m so lonesome I could cry


I’ve never seen a night so long

When time goes crawling by

The moon just went behind the clouds

To hide its face and cry


Did you ever see a robin weep

When leaves begin to die

That means he’s lost the will to live

I’m so lonesome I could cry


The silence of a falling star

Lights up a purple sky

And as I wonder where you are

I’m so lonesome I could cry


     There are times the brokenness of life can lead us to intense loneliness. An accident…a diagnosis…a deep loss…a failure…a mistake…a rejection can invade our lives with a deep sense that we are all alone. And yet a truth in the basics of life with Jesus is that I belong to Jesus Christ. What is our only source of strength in life and death? That I am not my own but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, says the Heidelberg Catechism. I belong to Jesus. I am never alone. He has said I will never leave you nor forsake you. I am with you always until the close of the age. We are going to think on Sunday about basics in life with Jesus by reflecting together on what it means to belong to Jesus. Some passages to read and reflect on: Romans 14:1-9; Luke 15:11-24John 10:27-30.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

October 18 Reflections

Barring any allergies most flowers smell good. They give off a pleasant gentle fragrance. But there is one flower that does not. It is called titan arum. Its nickname is the corpse flower. In other words, it smells like a decaying, rotting corpse. A beautiful flower to the eye, is putrid to the sense of smell.

It does make me think of Jesus when he said, “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but, on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)   

Jesus called imperfect, sinners to come and follow him, not the self-righteous. As he did in the passage for this week. Jesus called Matthew, to come and follow him. (Mark 2:14) Matthew was a tax collector; considered a notorious sinner by the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus went and had dinner at his house. This was scandalous because it was a sign of friendship. Jesus was a friend of sinners; people who had lost their way but had open hearts to love beyond measure. Self-righteous people stink, they are putrid. All pretty on the outside, but inside rotting corpses, not desiring the love of Jesus; do not need him they think. All the while stinking.

Contrast that to Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus), the one who anointed Jesus with a very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. (Mark 14) She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. The beautiful experience  of this is that the fragrance of the perfume would have filled the room. Following the self-righteous complaints and rebukes of a few, Jesus responded, “Leave her alone (honest direct language)…she has done a beautiful thing…I tell you the truth, wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:6-9) Mary’s life had been transformed by the love of Jesus. She was deeply devoted to him and offered this act as a demonstration of her love for him. Self-righteousness stinks, those who out of their need open themselves to the love of Jesus bring an aroma that is life giving.  When your identity is that you are loved by Jesus, (I Am Loved by Jesus) you will want to follow him; loving like he did and does. We are going to think about this on Sunday as we consider: “I Am a Follower of Jesus.” Some passages to read: Mark2:13-17;  1 Corinthians 1:26-31;   Acts 4: 8-13.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

October 11 Reflections

Reflections for October 11, 2020

     I have had a lot of time to reflect in the past 10 days. When I was flat on my back for four days and out of commission for ten days there was ample opportunity to watch Chicago PD reruns, football, but also to think, reflect about what was important in my life. It was during that reflection that I began to think about basics, especially basics in my life with Jesus. My prayers during this time were simple and basic: “Jesus, help me.” And “Jesus have mercy on me.” A group of statements began to formulate in my heart and mind about the basics of life with Jesus. Those statements are going to be the next series of sermons at First Reformed.

                I am loved by Jesus.

                                I am a follower of Jesus.

                                                I belong to Jesus.

                                                                I will rest in Jesus.

                                                I have found life in Jesus.

                                I can face anything with Jesus.

                I am a friend of Jesus.

My hope is that each of these will speak directly into your heart and soul and mind as well.

     John in writing the Gospel that bears his name refers to himself only as “the disciple whom Jesus loves.” This does not mean that he thought he was the only one Jesus loved, but rather the most basic defining characteristic for his life is that he was loved by Jesus. I do know in my own life when it seems everyone and everything is against me the truth that grounds me and gives me stability is simple: I am Verlyn loved by Jesus. This truth is unchanging, unconditional, accepting, transforming, foundational. It is a phrase that I ran through my mind and consistently during my Covid 19 Days. The truth of Jesus’ love for me was and is enough. WE are going to think about that this coming Sunday as we look at the life of the Apostle John and how the love of Jesus transformed him from arrogance, violence, and intolerance to the Apostle of love. Some passages to possibly read: John 13:21-25; Ephesians 3:14-19; I John 4:7-19.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

October 4 Reflections

Listening to the person he had the whole set of rules for what it meant to be believer. He was so certain that if you really wanted to please God you must act in certain ways that he had defined. For instance you needed to be part of a certain political party and have the “right” views on gun control, capital punishment, welfare, opposing the legalization of marijuana, the racism question, home schooling, rock concerts which beverages you can drink , and whether it is appropriate to go to the casino or not.

The person had the rule that you must give 10 % of your income to the local church and perhaps give other sums to Christian organizations. He believed that you must set aside 30 minutes every day to read the Bible and pray if you were a true believer. Regularly he had to tell someone about his faith and invite them to his church which you attended every time the doors were open.  If you follow these rules you can be confident that your Christian life is what God wants. If you happen to disagree with the “true believer” and publicly voice your disagreement, your spirituality is called into question and it is doubtful that you are saved. You will be ostracized and look down upon because you do not dance to the tune of Mr. True Believer.

I always get caught wondering about Mr. True Believer if he loves Jesus. If he at any point in his life fell in love with Jesus. I don’t think it is judgmental on my part it just feels like something really important is missing; that his righteous rules are more important than to be in love with Jesus. Paul faced the same issue in Philippi. Visiting teachers from the home church in Jerusalem had come and told the believers in Philippi to shape and follow all the Old Testament laws and observe all the Jewish holidays.  If you Gentiles want to fully please God, you must become like us. Paul literally went to war with these true believers calling them “dogs” “evil doers” and mutilators of the flesh. He declared it is about Jesus not these rules. It is about a personal relationship with him, not following true believer rules.

Bottom line is to not let others pressure you into their spiritual lifestyle and miss out on the life Jesus wants to give you. The goal is to know Christ and be led by him; not to follow a legalistic code, but a living Christ. You see the legalistic code is rubbish and you won’t be in love with Christ.  We are going to think about that on Sunday as we look together at Philippians 3:1-10.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

September 27 Reflections

There is a story that comes out of Native American Folklore and culture. For a young boy of 12 to reach manhood he needed to spend one night in the forest by himself. Then he was to return in the morning to a ceremony celebrating manhood. He took off into the woods around sundown. He was scared and frightened, every little sound was magnified by the quiet of the night. Every animal sound was as if they had a megaphone blasting into the night. He wasn’t able to sleep much…he was constantly hearing noises being sure that a bear was going to come and attack, leaving him for dead. He felt so alone.

In the morning when the sun began to create a faint light, he noticed that not far away was his dad. His dad had been there all night to protect. In the midst of all the noises and scary moments, his dad, though hidden, had been right there. If he had known his dad was there, he could have rested through the night. Moses questioned God about who was going to go with him as he led the people to the promised land. God told Moses, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. “ (Exodus 33:14) In other words my personal, Spiritual presence will go with you so you do not need to strive to accomplish you can rest in me as you keep moving. I will lead, guide, and protect.

There are many times I think it would be great if I could literally have Jesus walking with me each day. Flesh and blood Jesus, not only the spiritual presence through the Holy Spirit. Especially in the difficult times where I could ask him a question; I could hear his voice. I could feel the touch of his hand. I could look into his eyes. But instead I am being asked to trust in his spiritual presence and that he is always with me and that is enough. When Thomas was invited to reach out his fingers and touch the wounds of Jesus; Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

We are going to think about our desire to see God this coming Sunday as we hear Moses, cry out to God, “show me your glory.” Some passages to read and reflect upon: Exodus 33:12-23; 2 Corinthians 4:5-6; Numbers 6:24-26; 1 Corinthians 13:12.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn