REFLECTIONS BY PASTOR VERLYN

January 17 Reflections

I think that there are two mistakes we can make about Satan, demons, and devils. One is like the beliefs of Ginger who literally sees a demon behind every bush. Whether it is the temptation to eat too many donuts, or bad hair Satan is responsible. If I am suffering a physical sickness it is Satan. If I drop a hammer on my foot it is Satan. If I trip and fall it is Satan. Everything is Satan. When around Ginger you wonder if God is sovereign or not. On the other hand, is Bob who says he does not believe in the ancient mythology of demons and Satan. After all, we live in 2021, not ancient Babylon. With all the advances of science we know that they do not exist. I believe both are errors.

C.S. Lewis put it like this, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves (that is the devils) are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist (Bob above) or a magician (Ginger above) with the same delight.” In other words, in both cases Satan wins. Satan and demons win when all you can do is think about them and they win if you believe it is ancient mythology. 

In this week’s text Satan tries to sabotage Jesus from following his identity and mission. Satan directly confronts Jesus about his identity as a son of Abba, loved and delighted in. He wants to move him away from his identity and his mission to save the world from sin. Satan also seeks to sabotage us by using other people, world views, cultural stimulus to move us away from our identity and God’s dream for us in the world. Satan tempts us to find our identity in what we do…what people say about us…or what we have. Our identity is that we are sons and daughters of Abba, loved and delighted in. Satan even though in reality is the prince of darkness, masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), seeking to sabotage your true identity by making what you do, what people say about you and what you have really attractive and the desirable realities of life. How do we stay grounded in our true identity? We are going to think about this on Sunday as we watch and listen as Jesus faces the temptations of Satan…and remains true to who he is.

Some passages to possibly read: Matthew 4:1-11Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.

Grace upon Grace,

Verlyn



January 10 Reflections

If I were to ask you the question right now, “Do you believe that God likes you and delights in you?” … how would you respond? My experience is that most people who call themselves Christians hesitate when asked that question. Because I am not asking do you believe God loves you because theologically God has to love you.  I am asking if you believe God delights in you being born and likes you for who you are. I think for most the idea of God liking and delighting in us seems “too much” for some reason. God maybe tolerates us in our humanity. Or maybe is ready to judge us constantly because we are such mess ups.  Or maybe does not even remember us because there are so many people. But to delight in us…like us? I do not know.

Brennan Manning in his book, Abba’s Child, tells one of his favorite stories about a priest from Detroit named Edward Farrell who went on his two-week summer vacation to Ireland. His one living uncle was about to celebrate his 80th birthday. On the day of celebration, the priest and his uncle got up before dawn and dressed in silence. They took a long walk and stopped to watch the sunrise, standing side by side with no words exchanged and staring straight at the rising sun. Suddenly the uncle turned and went skipping down the road. He was radiant, beaming, smiling from ear to ear.  

His nephew said, “Uncle Seamus, you look really happy.”

         “I am, lad.”

         “Want to tell me why?”

         His eighty-year-old uncle replied, “Yes, you see, my Abba is very fond of me.”

What if you could respond with a gut level honesty to the question, “Do you believe that God likes you and delights in you?  By saying, “Oh yes, I believe that my Abba is very fond of me.” I think you receive a calm tenderness filling your soul, to know you are not only loved, but delighted in. This coming Sunday we are going to be thinking about identity. Who are you at the core of your being? Most of the time when we think of identity, we think of three things: What do you do? What do people think of you? What do you have? The truth is these are all false premises to build your identity on. How about trying this on: I am a child of God; loved by God; and delighted in by God. By looking at the baptism of Jesus and the proclamation made over his life we are going to think about our identity as well. Some passages to read: Matthew 3:13-17; John 1:29-34; and Zephaniah 3:17.

Grace upon Grace,

Verlyn 



January 3 Reflections

2021 is here! 2020 has been a memorable year! Some would like to forget the memory; others thrived and grew during the hard thing of COVID-19 and all the ramifications. It has changed the way we look at so many things. I know for my own work, I never dreamed I would be preaching to an empty church. I had fears and nightmares at times through the years that nobody would show, simply because I was not enough, but not because the Governor recommended no in person worship. Also, pastoral calls by telephone have become the norm and wearing a mask at times is an issue. 2020 was also the year I decided to stay at First Reformed instead of taking a new assignment as Transitional Minister in another congregation. Some have suggested, when I was in the waiting time of deciding, why go when you can take it easy here and somewhat slide toward retirement. I am not sure I know what retirement is nor do I really comprehend “take it easy.” Both of those sound quite frankly unpleasing. I know my guiding principle is rest deeper not work harder, but that does not mean slide out. Resting deeper for me means living wholeheartedly for Jesus, not resting on my own abilities or strength.

So here we are…2021. One of the reasons I was led to stay is the ongoing work of embedding grace and health in the life of a congregation. I long for and envision a place where grace is the atmosphere we breathe and is so embedded in the life of the congregation that it literally is our DNA.  Grace…not shame, or a critical spirit, or judgmentalism, or condemning attitude, or wardens of a prison of the soul, joyless no laughter environment. Grace breathes life…freedom…joy…laughter…encouragement…hope. Grace is embedded by becoming emotionally mature which ironically comes through grace filled living. This sounds like a circular argument but it so true: when grace is experienced in our souls, we make healthy strides towards emotionally maturity, which then begins to embed itself not only in individual lives but then spreads into a group such as a church.

The first series of sermons for 2021 is titled, “Defining Moments of Grace.” By looking at the life and teaching of Jesus we are going to explore together what it means to be self-defined in a healthy way that leads to emotionally healthy living. Using Jesus as our guide, teacher, and source of power, we are going to think about defining moments in our lives that offer the opportunity for grace filled growth.  Notice I said opportunity. We have a choice. We can choose emotional immaturity. Quite frankly growth is hard work, but so satisfying.

We are going to begin by looking at the story of Jesus as a 12-year-old boy in the temple. He defines himself separate from his parents by saying “I.” When we believe that there is nothing that we can do to make God love us more or less and that God loves us in this moment as much as it is possible for an infinite God to love we become emotionally capable of saying “I.” This is who I am. This is who I am not. This is what I believe God is calling and gifting me to do. This is what I will do. This is what I will not do. Then allowing others the freedom to do the same thing. This is going to be fun! Some passages to read for this week: Luke 2:41-52; John 5:19-30.

Grace upon Grace,

Verlyn



December 25 Reflections

Barry Switzer served as head football coach at the University of Oklahoma for sixteen years and coached the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL for four years. He is one of very few coaches who have won a national title in college football and the Super Bowl in the NFL. He grew up in hard circumstances. His dad was a bootlegger who spent time in prison. Both of his parents died in tragic circumstances. Anything that Switzer earned was through hard work; nothing was given to him. As a coach he always looked for the kid who had nothing but desired to play football and be a better man.  When asked about this he said in one of his many funny but right on quotes, “I don’t want the player who was born on third base but acts like he hit a triple.” Barry Switzer always related better to scrappy players who grew up poor like him, than to the rich and privileged.

Jesus created and owned the entire universe. Yet, he chose to be born in the dugout. God, yet gave up all that privilege to come to earth out of humble love for you and me. He was God yet humbled himself. “Jesus had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim any privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death-the worst kind of death at that-a crucifixion.” (Philippians 2:6-8, The Message)

Jesus was not born nor did he grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth. Humanly speaking he had no status, no privilege, no wealth; after all he was from Nazareth and “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) He was literally born in a barn where donkeys stayed while their owners spent the night at the inn. He had no cradle or bed, just a feeding trough…a manger. He did not act like he was born on third base but went through life acting like he hit a triple. Humility marked his life, beginning to end.

I can relate to God because of Jesus. I can connect with Jesus. He never had it easy, even though he could have. Especially I think this week that because he was born in difficulty, I know that he will be with me in my difficult circumstances. Jesus understands. If he had been born in a palace surrounded by royalty I could not relate.  But he was born in a barn with donkeys around and the first to show up were shepherds, the nobodies of that time. Jesus understands difficulty. He lived it. Because of that I know he is with me in my difficulties. We are going to think about that on Christmas Day. Some passages to read: Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-7; Philippians 2:5-11.

Grace upon Grace,

Verlyn



December 20 Reflections

As I shared last week, I have been offered a position at Maurice Reformed Church as a Transitional Pastor. During this week I have opened my heart to Jesus to see where it is, he wants me to go. It is almost like the song by Clash, “Should I Stay, or Should I Go?” The song is about different circumstances, but I often felt like that in the past week. Jesus should I stay, or should I go? The answer that always came back is either place I will use you for the Kingdom. Through solitude, the helpful discernment of close friends, encouragement of family and Jesus speaking into my heart I believe that Jesus is leading me to stay at First Reformed.

One of the things I have longed for is to help build an atmosphere of grace by growing in emotional maturity. I believe this can be so powerful when it is incorporated in the life of a Body of Believers. This is a significant part of why I believe I am being led to stay. We have a ways to go. That will be the first sermon series as we head into 2021…” An atmosphere of grace as we grow in emotional maturity.”

Thank you for praying. Thank you to those who stopped by, called, emailed, or texted and spoke truth into my life. Your support has always been a great encouragement for me.

This coming Sunday is the last Sunday of Advent. So far, we have focused on Hope, Peace, and Joy. The last of the four words is Love. The greatest lover of all time is God. When we experience that love it changes us, and we love as well. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” God, Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, eternally gives of himself for our good. This is an amazing and incredible love. We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some passages to read: John 3:16-21; Ephesians 3:14-19; 1 John 4:7-12.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn



December 13 Reflections

One of the things we think about at Christmas time is joy. The season is seemingly filled with joy. Movies promise it. Words in songs proclaim it. But amid all the glitter of wrapping paper and ribbons the source of real joy can get lost.

Joy is the theme for the third Sunday of Advent. Many times, we equate joy with happy, easy, and desirable circumstances. If I have the newest gadget, I think I will have joy. If I take a vacation to a warm place that has a beach, I think I will have joy. Many times, we seek joy in circumstances that honestly are always changing and never meet our deepest need: to receive the Good News of Jesus and his love for us. A relationship with Jesus is our greatest source of joy. It never changes. It never goes away. A relationship with Jesus is a joy that stays.

This week my circumstances changed. I live my life open to Jesus ready to go where he leads. Transitional Ministry is something I have trained for and is something I enjoy. Yesterday I was offered an opportunity to serve as Transitional Minister at the First Reformed Church of Maurice. I enjoy serving at First Reformed in Rock Valley. I am grateful for the places Jesus has taken us on our journey together. Is Jesus showing me that more is needed to be done here, to continue to grow in grace? Or is Jesus leading me to a different place to work in transitional ministry? I humbly ask you to be in prayer for me as I seek to know where Jesus is leading. Pray for my mind, heart, and soul to listen and hear Jesus speak. The circumstances of this opportunity could be a source of unrest. Unrest could steal my joy if it were based on circumstances. No…I am walking free, heart open, and filled with joy because I have a relationship with Jesus, and he has my future and the future of First Reformed Rock Valley firmly in his grip.

Jesus was born into this world in a humble place made for all to come. He was born lowly so all could receive him as gift. His birth was not one of prestige but a place of great joy. The angels sang at his birth. Joy in this setting was not based on circumstances. Joy filled hearts and minds because Jesus entered this world with Good News! He came for people long ago…and he comes for you and me.

This week we are going to focus on joy: the gift of knowing, because of Jesus, that it is all right with us even when everything seems wrong.  Please take some time to consider Luke 2:8-12.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn



December 6 Reflections

There once lived a king who announced to prize the artist who would paint the best painting depicting peace. Many great painters sent he king several of their best art pieces. One of the pictures among the various master pieces was of a calm lake perfectly mirroring peacefully towering, capped mountains. Overhead was a blue clear sky with fluffy clouds. The picture was perfect. Most of the people who viewed the pictures of peace from various artists thought that it was best among all.

But when the king announced the winner, everyone was shocked. The picture which won the prize had mountains too, but it was rugged and bare. The sky looked very angry, there was lightning. This did not look peaceful at all. It looked like the artist had mistakenly submitted his painting depicting storm rather than peace. But if anyone looked closely at the painting, he could see a tiny bush growing in the cracks in the rocks. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. In the midst of the rush of angry weather, the bird sat on her nest with peace.

Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise or trouble. Peace means to be in the midst of all the chaos and still be calm in heart. The mother bird at her calm, despite her chaotic surroundings indeed was the best representation of peace. Real peace is about trusting a big God who has us in the palm of his hands and never letting us go. Real peace is spiritual…mental…emotional…and relational. It is the peace that only Jesus can give. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (John 14:27) We are going to think about this peace on Sunday. Some passages to reflect on: John 14:23-26; John 16:31-33; Isaiah 26:1-4; Philippians 4:4-7.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn



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