August 9 Reflections

When someone lives in bondage, slavery, or imprisonment they slowly but surely become numb to the true, the good, the beautiful. Eventually they forget that they were made for more.

In the movie Shawshank Redemption, a long-time prisoner named Red explains the psychology of prison to his friend Andy, who persistently dreams beyond the walls. “These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized. They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.” Though Andy had been in prison a long time, he has not forgotten life outside the walls. He has not forgotten who he is. He says, “There something inside me…that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.”

Religious organizations and institutions routinely put people in bondage and prison. They bait you…set you up…and then trap you in religion. They will declare that you are saved by God’s grace alone. But once you enter or join the group, they hand you a list of 75 things you cannot do.  You were told that trusting in Jesus would lead to freedom. They might even quote Jesus, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) Immediately though upon joining they set out to control you by inflicting rules, shame, “shoulds.” And one might wonder where is Good News? Where is freedom? Where did grace go? Where is lightness of spirit? Joy? Sometimes people have lived in bondage to rules, religion and should for so long they have forgotten who they are. They can only define themselves by what they don’t do, not by who they truly are in grace.

Religious groups, organizations and institutions can take your life away from you causing you to live in fear and shame. The Apostle Paul fought against this his whole ministry. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) Do not let people with their human-made up rules and their bondage interpretations of faith lead you to be burdened. This week the Hebrew people are set free (Exodus 13). Pharaoh lets them go. What are they going to do? Do they remember who they are?  Are they going to choose freedom or slavery? A choice that you have as well: to choose the freedom Christ offers or to choose the bondage of religious institutions and organizations; to choose rules or relationships. We are going to think about this on Sunday as we continue to study the story of the Exodus, which is our story. Some possible passages to read: Exodus 13:17-22; Galatians 5:1-15; John 8:31-38.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

August 2 Reflections

Why couldn’t God just snap his fingers and the Hebrew people could be released from Egypt? Why did there have to be such a mess…people dying, and lambs being slaughtered? Why doesn’t God make it easy to be released from bondage? Why can’t God just say the word and people be released from addictions…from shame…from abuse…from depression…from slavery to feelings of nothingness…from brokenness? Why does it have to be so hard? Why so often does life have to be such a bloody mess?

These are questions I wonder about as we look at the final plague: the death of the firstborn in homes that do not have the sign of blood above the doorpost, which created the holy day of Passover. All this death, loss, and grief just so the Hebrew people could be released. Isn’t there an easier way? I believe in God’s wisdom there is not an easier way. The people’s bondage and Pharaoh’s anxiety to keep them in slavery were so deep that an extreme demonstration of God’s love was needed. God uses a mess to fix a mess. I think anything less would have seemed phony or superficial. 

Our bondage and slavery to sin…death…fear…destructive behaviors and thoughts really is a mess. It is hard. It is a struggle of life and death. God could, but does not, just snap his fingers and say be released. It would seem superficial; not really getting at the heart of the issue. The point is not only can we not fix others, we cannot fix ourselves, no matter how much self-effort we put into it. God is in the business of changing lives. All he asks is that we be open to his love and trust his work for us. The bloody mess of the Old Testament in the Passover is fulfilled in the New Testament by Jesus suffering and dying on a cross, so that we could be released from bondage to be free to love.

A contemporary song that has been speaking deep truths into my life is by Building 429 called “Blessing I Can’t See.”

I’m lifting up my heart again

Cause even when I can’t see the plan

I know your love is closing in on me

You hold the whole world in your hands

Still You feel the pain you understand

Ain’t just a war I’m standing in, oh no

It’s a blessing I can’t see yet.

I trust You in everything

I trust you in everything, oh God.

Whatever tomorrow brings

I trust You in everything, oh God.

As we think about God’s love closing in on us to provide freedom from bondage here are some passages to read for Sunday: Exodus 12:1-13; John 3:16-17; Galatians5:1; Galatians 5:13-15.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

July 12 Reflections

Many times in my life I have accommodated, sought to please others, or take care of others’ pain, generally giving in or giving up self because I was anxious others would not approve of me. Because you know of course the world will come to an end if someone does not like me. I paid attention to the feelings and actions of others not my own. How someone will react is more important than what I think or believe. I often became a chameleon changing to whatever the loudest voice of whom I wanted approval was voicing. I would act cautious so as not to upset anyone.

Through God’s grace I am seeking to live into a different way…a grace of self -defining.  This way is based on values; knowing what I believe I take thoughtful positions. I have the capacity to see my part; to be able to step back and see my interactions with others. I listen to others not to know what I must believe but to stay connected. I seek not to be sabotaged by the reactivity of others but live out what I believe God is leading me into as I seek to be who I am by his grace. I seek adventure. I seek challenge. I want to be stretched for growth and my imagination stimulated until I transition from this world to the next.

In this different way…the grace of self-defining; I offer, not to change your mind, some things I believe. You may think I am nuts. You may think I am a genius. It does not matter. Together as we self-define and stay connected, we have a real relationship instead of a made up “get alongness” that really is fake and phony.  So here goes:

1.) I am race challenged and I suspect you might be as well.  I have no understanding of what it means to be black in America. I have no understanding of what it means to be a brown immigrant.  I have no understanding of what it means to be native American, or Chinese American, or Korean American. All I pretty much know is what it means to be white in America. And by and large I have not taken the time to learn. This does not mean reading a book; it means developing a relationship with someone “different” than me. I regret that I have not done much of that to this point. I do want to live out the life of Jesus, who by the way was not white, and seek to treat people as he treated people.

2.) I believe women are to be celebrated in the life of the church using their gifts of leadership for the building up of the church. I reject a male, macho, chauvinistic attitude that wants to treat strong capable women as “the little woman” who is helpless and not capable of thought or leadership. Many if not most women I have met through the years have powerful gifts for leadership. I remember the elder who told me years ago that his wife is the one who should have been elder, not him. But because we believe that the Holy Spirit can only work with certain hormones and not others the church is weaker.

3.) I believe children of believing parents are welcome at the Lord’s Supper. My thought is this if we are not going to allow them to participate then let us not baptize them. We say you are part of the Covenant Community but not really. In Reformed theology we make a big deal about the continuity between the old covenant and new covenant. Lord’s Supper is the continuity of the Passover. Baptism is the continuity of circumcision. Children who were circumcised and brought into the covenant community participated in the Passover from the earliest age. To me it is inconsistent to not allow the children of believing parents to participate.  I have met many five-year old’s who have a greater understanding of the fact that Jesus loves them than a lot of adults.

Now as I define my beliefs, I do not expect you to automatically go along with them for your own self. But I do want you to respectfully think about them as I would yours. The story of Moses has a ton of this sort of interaction going on…defining…responding…not defined…reactions…anxiety…less anxiety. This week we see what happens when Moses defines and is shot down by Pharaoh and the people. How do I face that? How do you face that? Where do we turn? We are going to think about that this week. Some passages to read: Exodus 5-6;James 1:2-8.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

July 5 Reflections

I love the story of Moses and the Exodus. It is so real, so honest. There is so much grace. I have read writings and heard sermons that berate Moses for his lack of faith and his feeble walk with God. Mr. and Mrs. Shame-based Holy Pants all self-righteous and tearing him down to of course teach us what not to do. When Mr. and Mrs. Shame-based Holy Pants would have died, or certainly fainted, at the sight of a bush burning and not being consumed. Yet feel inclined for some reason to tear him down for his weaknesses. By the way, Moses made the hall of fame of faith in Hebrews 11.

When I think of Moses, I think of someone I can relate to. I struggle with some of the same things he struggled with.  I think some of the same thoughts he does. I fail. I make mistakes. Yet God who is full of grace and mercy uses me. Just think of his life. An extraordinary birth in the face of infanticide from an anxious Pharaoh. He supernaturally is saved and raised in the house of Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s daughter becomes his adoptive mom. Moses is raised in the palace with all the trappings of royalty, the best in education and fine arts. At the age of 40 he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. In a rage he killed the Egyptian and buried the body. When Pharaoh found out, he was after Moses to kill him. Moses ran to Midian. There he sat by a well and began to reflect on his life. God graciously moved in his life and provided a spouse and children. For forty years he tended the sheep of his father-in-law. Day in and Day out same routine. Forty years…thinking about his failure…thinking about his identity; am I a Hebrew or an Egyptian or a Midianite? After 40 years God shows up in a big way, doing what he does best, which is call broken restored people into mission.  

Yet it feels too much for Moses. The burning bush where God whispers his name feels too much. The voice that says I have seen and heard their cry and I am coming down to rescue them coupled with the sacredness of the invitation for a personal relationship is too much for Moses. It leads him to hide his face and say, “Who am I?” “What if they don’t listen to me?”  “What if they ask who sent me, what do I tell them?” “What if they do not believe that you sent me.” “And finally, “LORD forgive my sin and send someone else.” How incredibly human, almost humorous: send someone else. I don’t think I am enough. I have failed. I don’t know who I am. I am eighty years old. In the lowliest profession in the world: a shepherd. I am not enough. 

A short poem says it so well:

And it hurts that I can’t be

What everyone wants

Or what anyone needs

And it hurts that I can’t be

What I want

Or what I need

Because I am not enough

And I won’t be enough

And I will never be close to enough

And I am just so tired.

So tired of not being enough.

We are going to think about this on Sunday as we reflect on Moses’s call to go. Some passages to possibly read: Exodus 3:11-4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

June 28 Reflections

If you have ever experienced a desert you know that it is if often considered a dry, desolate, and barren place. It seems hard for life to dwell there, though there are plants and animals that are specially adapted to the extreme conditions. Deserts have a way of stripping everything away down to the essentials…like the need for water. Yet there is a beauty to deserts if one takes the time to look.

Moses ended up in a desert. For the better part of 40 years, Moses lived in a palace. While there he got the best education possible in that day. But he needed more education at God’s “university”-the desert. It is there removed from the limelight that he grew into a healthy, mature person able to know who he was and who he was not. Through obscurity, time, solitude, and pain Moses was being prepared to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. So that at the age of 80 he came across a bush that did not burn and God spoke. Moses was ready to hear.

Silence and solitude were a regular part of the rhythm of the life of Jesus. Jesus would often pull away from others so that he could hear the voice of the Father more clearly. He stated in the Gospel of John that everything he did was what he heard from the Father. As a follower of Jesus, I must learn from him and do what he did. I need to slow down to listen to the still small voice of God and pay attention to his whispers. Teresa of Avila said, “Settle yourself in solitude and you will come upon Him in yourself.” This quote speaks to my heart. There is an old Christian tradition that we listen for the heartbeat of God within ourselves. Solitude…contemplation…silence is about getting quiet so we can hear the heartbeat of God.

By and large these words silence…solitude…contemplation scare people, especially in the United States where we have every communication possible available to us. Some fear the silence.  Others are afraid because they do not understand the importance of listening in the quiet. Listening to God but also listening to our own selves. I do believe that God speaks deep within each of us; God’s voice joins with my voice, and I can see things more clearly. Spending time alone helps me to define myself more clearly. I can get clear about who I am and how I want to live my life.  “I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not defined by another person.” Olivia Wilde.  In other words, we need contemplation to remember who we really are…children of the living God. It is so easy to forget that we are deeply loved and embraced by God.

We are going to think about this on Sunday as Moses spends forty years in the desert being honed and equipped to lead and how God shows up in an unusual way in the midst of the ordinary. Some passages to read and reflect on:

Exodus 3:1-10; 1 Corinthians1:26-31; Mark 6:30-32: 32; 1 Kings 19:11-12.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

June 21 Reflections

I am an American. I was born in the United States of America.  I am Caucasian of Dutch descent. I was born in Iowa to Edward A and Esther Boone at Sheldon, Iowa(I know can anything good come out of Sheldon, as Philip asked can anything good come out of Nazareth…well Jesus came out of Nazareth and I did come out of Sheldon, so yes something good can come out Sheldon) and have lived in Iowa in various places for 55 of my 64 years.  I am a follower of Jesus Christ.

Who am I? This is one of the most important questions that can be asked and answered. Which is the most important piece of your identity? Because sometimes the various pieces of the identity come into conflict. My primary identity is that I belong to Jesus Christ. As important as all the other pieces are this is most basic…primary. If this comes into conflict with family or country I choose to identify with Jesus. I am Verlyn loved by Jesus. And if in the country I love something goes on that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus…I choose Jesus. A song I learned as a little child speaks even today:

Jesus loves the little children…all the children of the world…red, brown, yellow, black, and white…they are precious in his sight…Jesus loves the little children of the world. (Jesus Loves the Little Children) Jesus loves those children of different colors the same as they grow into adults. Jesus loves all the adults of the world…red, brown, yellow, black, and white, they are precious in his sight.  Sometimes a touch snarky response to “Black Lives Matter” is to say, “All Lives Matter.” While true…this is also true all lives do not matter until Black lives matter…. Brown lives matter…Red lives matter…White lives matter.  My desire is that I would love all people as Jesus loved no matter the color of skin, recognizing all are made in the image of God.

The identity issue is important in self-defining. Who am I? It determines my yes and no. What I will do. What I will not do. Moses was on a journey of figuring out who he was. Am I an Egyptian? Or am I a Hebrew? At one point he sat down at a well.  Sorting through his past, his present and what did his future look like. From the court of Pharaoh to being on the run wondering who am I. We are going to think about this on Sunday as we consider Moses sitting at the well. Some passages to read and reflect on: Exodus 2:11-25; Acts 7:20-29Psalm 42Acts 10:34-38.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

June 14 Reflections

For years I struggled with and sometimes still do the idea and thought that I am not enough. I am never quite enough. I am inadequate. Not everyone likes me nor do they like the job I am doing. In my mind there are always subtle hints that if only you were better our church or organization would be a lot better. Why can’t you be like the pastor down the street or on TV? So, to compensate I would often go on a massive campaign to please everyone so that they would think I am wonderful or to compensate I would leave before someone asked me to leave. This chronic anxiety of thinking I am not enough is like background noise that is below the surface in my life affecting how I show up in all situations. Without intentional self-awareness work this background noise can be unnoticed but completely in control of my life.

As we saw last week sometimes the anxiety is caused by someone else. The Pharaoh instead of seeing the Children of Israel as a blessing saw them as a threat. In his anxiety he forced them into slavery. Yet some did not get caught up in his anxiety, their hearts were set on the living God. For instance, the midwives in last week’s passage and in today’s passage Amram and Jochebed the parents of Moses did not give in to the prison of the Pharaoh’s anxiety. Instead each based their worth, identity, and security in the living God and chose actions opposed to the edicts of Pharaoh. They did not try to please him, rather their actions were based on who they were.

The chronic anxiety that I face…I am not enough…must be faced with the truth of the living God who says I made  you…I love you…I delight in you, I rejoice over you.” I am enough. I do not have to prove it…or earn it. I simply need to rest in the truth; letting this truth sink into my subconscious to quiet the background noise.

As you think about it, what would be the background noise of your life? The chronic anxiety that is below the surface yet affecting all that you do. Things like…I am not enough…I am a loser…I am a nobody…I don’t count…I am a failure…I have to win at everything. The truth of the living God who loves you must be constantly brought to mind fighting the chronic anxiety. For instance I have notecards somewhat like flashcards that say things such as: I am enough; I am completely accepted by God; I am valuable; my thoughts count; I am strong in Christ; I am loved by God; I am a delight to God; I am resting in Jesus. I run through these cards often to remind myself of who I am and bring the anxiety level way down.

Anxiety in systems and in individuals is what we will look at this week in the story of the birth of Moses as we think about a big God with an even bigger plan.  Some possible passages to read: Exodus 2:1-10; Isaiah 40: 25-31; Philippians 4:4-7.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

June 7 Reflections

A book that I have read by Chuck De Groat, “Leaving Egypt” begins with the question, “Are we not slaves?” Sometimes we feel trapped in circumstances and situations that seem beyond our control. But often as he points out “we are slaves to ourselves, trapped in patterns of thinking and feeling that stifle our freedom.” Are we not all slaves?

I want to share with you a slavery/bondage that I had for many years and possibly at times still struggle with today. The bondage of being nice. I believe as a follower of Jesus I am called to be kind; not nice. For years I lived trying to be nice. Nice lacks self-definition. Nice simply does what the other wants, so they will ‘Like” you, or you think you can make someone happy. Nice is fusing with the other. That person’s feelings become my feelings. That person’s likes and dislikes become my likes and dislikes. If they are happy, I am happy. If they are sad, I am sad. Nice is being a non-entity. I have no idea who I am; I simply live another’s life, so tuned in to having them like me, that I never do what I want to do or never be who I truly am. I simply become an appendage to them. It is bondage.

When I was nice in relationships, I would end up despising and hating myself and often the other person. It was often a slow steady grind of despising that would eventually end the relationship or there came a time of self-definition which could either make or break the relationship. Because the truth is, emotionally immature people will fight against my self-definition. They want me to continue to be an undefined blob, morphing into what they want me to be; constantly attached to them, seeing everything as they see it. Nice meant I would not self-define because I was so afraid someone would not like me or think I was wonderful. This is bondage. I was a slave to niceness.

Gradually grace has worked its way into my heart, so that I can live out of kindness, which is not bondage. Kindness is being self-defined. Out of who I am, I offer to you myself for your good and my growth. I do not give myself up, my likes and dislikes. The likes that bring me joy I do not put aside just to make you happy. I live out of my likes and dislikes, my joys and passions and offer myself to the other as I truly am, not as they want me to be. I am not kind to win your favor or get something from you. I am kind out of my self-definition.

When I was being nice, I lacked self-definition. I lacked self-awareness, doing everything to fuse with another to be liked. Trying to make them happy; be their “god” or “savior.” This is bondage… slavery. I do not think Jesus was “nice.” But he was kind out of knowing who he was and why he was here.

We are going to think about slavery and bondage and freedom as we begin a series on the life of Moses “From bondage to freedom.” Some passages to read and reflect upon: Exodus1; Matthew 2:13-15Genesis 15:13-14; John 8:34-36.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

May 31 Reflections

A story of discontent was written in 1886 by Leo Tolstoy a Russian author. A story relevant though for today. In the story a man named Pahom had a desire to own more and more of everything. He was not content. Satan is aware of his inner discontent and began to plot a temptation for Poham. The arrangement, through an unusual set of circumstances, came to be that Poham can walk around as large an area as he wants in a day. The entire area he walked around will be his. The only stipulation was, that he had to return to the starting point by sunset or he forfeited everything. He had a dream the night before which he sees himself lying at the devil’s feet, who is laughing at him. Not to be deterred he started out the next morning with a plan to get as much land as possible. At first, he walked…then he walked faster…then he began to slowly run…soon he was running as hard as he could because sunset was coming. He was exhausted but got to the place he started just as the sun set. Everyone was cheering for him, but exhausted from the running, he dropped dead. His servant buried him in an ordinary grave only six feet long, which is all the land he ever received.

Discontent can lead to an endless pursuit of money, things, possessions, your idea of beauty, or what really matters in your world. Contentedness is defined in the Urban Dictionary this way: The state of mind, you reach when you look at your life in all its imperfection, and say “good enough“.
Contentment is true peace of mind and has absolutely nothing to do with any external pleasure or condition, but rather your attitude.  Contented people tend to possess psychological flexibility. Here are some things in my life that help contentment to flourish.

  • Living in the moment. Mindful of now, not rocketing into the future.
  • Enjoying deeply what is free…such as the beauty of creation.
  • Learning from mistakes rather than dwelling on them.
  • Learning to love and accept oneself…self-compassion.
  • Focus on relationships not religion, or things.
  • Life is a journey of loving well, not a competition.
  • Living in grace not shame…I am perfectly imperfect.
  • Developing an attitude of gratitude…focusing on what I have, not on what I don’t have…
  • Resting my entire life and being in Jesus.

We are going to think about contentment this week. Paul said he had learned the secret of contentment. Paul is not like a billionaire who tells the one who has nothing not to worry about a thing. Paul suffered deeply and had deep joy, yet in both situations he declared he was contented. The secret for Paul, and for me and you as well, is a relationship with Jesus, where we are in Jesus and Jesus is in us. We are going to explore what this means this coming Sunday. Some passages to read include Philippians4:10-13; John 14:15-21; 2 Corinthians 11:16-29; 1 Timothy 6:6-8.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

May 24 Reflections

Meditation, solitude, and silence are practices that I have engaged in most of my adult life. Being a social introvert, the spiritual disciplines of silence/solitude and meditation come easily to me. Alone does not bother me. The devotional masters through the ages have recognized these disciplines as a way to open ourselves up to Abba, Jesus and Holy Spirit and that a relationship with the Holy One is possible. The account of Lazarus in John 11 is a passage of Scripture that is ripe for use in meditation and solitude.

Place yourself in the story with Jesus. There are the questions of Mary and Martha. The despair and grief of the people. The fact that Lazarus has been dead for four days. When Jesus asks to see the place where Lazarus is buried, Martha the practical one points out that there will be a smell. The King James says it dramatically, “he stinketh.” Jesus points out that the way to see the glory of God is to face the dead, “stinky” parts of our lives. If we avoid them, we do not need to weep. If we avoid the stinking mess, we don’t have to face our helplessness, and we need not come into a real relationship with Jesus. If we avoid it, we can do without the courage it takes to face the stench of death. But then we also do without transformation…no stench, no resurrection…

To come alive, to be transformed, I must be aware of the dead parts of myself. The parts of myself buried in past hurt, suffering, loss, rejection do not lay dormant, they affect how I show up every day unless I can bring them into the healing presence of Jesus. I need to let Jesus call out, “Verlyn, come out.” The real me with all the hurt, suffering, loss and rejection must come out. This is a vulnerable place. It is risk. Sometimes I think it would be easier to ignore the hard places because it requires less effort and not as painful. Yet the pain goes with new life. So, listening to Jesus, I wobble out with all my dead places visible, still wrapped in grave cloths of a former life. Then I realize that nothing is completely dead within me, so dead that it cannot be raised. Then Jesus speaks, “Unbind him and let him go.” There is freedom. No longer bound up by the past…the hurts…the pain…the memories…the loss…the rejection. I am set free by the loving power or powerful love of Jesus.

Hopelessness typically comes out of the dead places in us. We have trusted in something or someone other than Jesus. This week in the movement from hopelessness to hope we will focus on the powerful love of Jesus to bring healing to our hearts and souls. Listening for his voice to speak, “unbind him/her and let him/her go.” Some passages on which to read/reflect/meditate: John 11:35-44; Ephesians 1:15-23; Colossians 3:12-17.

May Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn