May 17 Reflections

Running one morning while it was still dark, I came across this huge blob in the middle of the road. It startled me at first because I was thinking about other things like what I am going to write for reflections this week. It was a very large raccoon. In the dark, startled, it appeared to be the biggest raccoon ever. It has been moved to the side of the road. But it has been four days. It is getting bigger. It smells when you run by. It is decomposing while crows and the like have a feast. Four days.  It is hopeless for that dead raccoon.  There is no expectation that it will come back to life.

Lazarus had been in the tomb four days when Jesus came to Bethany. There was already an odor (John 11:39).  Hopeless. There was no hope anyone was going to see Lazarus on earth again. All hope was gone. There are times our situations can seem hopeless. There does not seem to be a way out. At times the Covid 19 pandemic can feel that way. Will this ever end? All these restrictions are annoying and yet we know they save lives.  We want things to go back to the way they were. In the middle of hopelessness people throughout the ages have lamented, expressing deep regret, grief or sorrow in words, songs, and tears. Lamenting is different than complaining. Complaining is more self-centered. “I am upset I can’t go out with my friends.” Lamenting is God-centered, crying out to God for the suffering and pain. “How long LORD? How long must we wrestle with Covid 19 and day after day have sorrow in our hearts.” (Psalm 13) In the midst of hopelessness, lamenting is a normal response.

Jesus lamented. He wept for the brokenness of humanity which he came to heal and restore. The tears of lament bring healing to broken hearts as they are watered with hope. From the time they leave our eyes until the time they reach our hearts something supernatural happens. What started out as hopelessness, begins to bring hope as they hit our hearts. The end of the story is not hopelessness.  We are going to think about lament and hope the next two weeks, listening to the story of Lazarus in John 11. This week lament, next week hope. Some passages to read in preparation: John 11:17-35; Psalm 13; Psalm 34:18; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

May 10 Reflections

I picture walking with Jesus, for instance down the road to Emmaus, and him asking me what is it that I most need from him. In this picture I can see me asking if I could only know more about him. I want to learn more; get another degree, after all a BA, MDIV, and Doctor of Ministry are not enough. I need more facts, more information. I need to go to a few more conferences to find the magic formula for a happy life. Like a dieter on the 11th plan they have tried, I think just one more book or plan or conference or degree then I will have arrived. I picture pouring myself out to Jesus to show me what is the magic answer. That is what I need the magic formula or answer. In that walk I can see him turning to me, taking me by the shoulders, looking me in the eye and saying, “There is no magic formula or 8 step plan…what you need is to trust me.” Trust me.

I can remember being struck by that at one point in my journey with Jesus. It was a gentle summons to my soul, “Verlyn you say you trust me, but you don’t really. You maybe rely on me. I am your go-to in times of trouble. I fit in your personal mission statement. You throw me in here and there in your conversation like you know me. You know facts about me. You have hundreds of books about me. You even talk about me a lot because you are a pastor. You know I died for you, but you constantly think you must earn my dying on the cross for you. You think you are always paying me back. You think you always must add a little; be a little in control…earn grace just a little bit. What I am asking you to do is to trust me 100%. Give up all your self-effort. Trust me. Stop squatting. You are miserable and you make everyone miserable around you. Trust me.”

Trust. I have come to see and know that Christianity, which to me is following Jesus, can be summed up in one word: trust. I so clearly see Jesus asking me and you, “Are you going to trust that I love you and that this love is a gift freely given, not to be earned or deserved.?” “Are you going to trust that I am with you always…every second of every day?” “Are you going to trust that in all things I am working out something good in your life?” “Are you going to trust that I am the light of the world and that you will never walk in darkness?” “Are you going to trust that I control the wind and waves?” “Are you going to trust that even on a bad day, I love you and I delight in you?” “Are you going to trust that you are enough?” “Are you going to trust that dying on earth is simply a transition to another life because of me?” The list goes on and on…the point is Jesus simply wants our complete 100% trust. This sums up following him: trust me.

We are going to look at trust this week in John 14 where in the midst of the disciples being troubled in spirit Jesus simply says, “Trust me.” I picture him looking me and you in the eye in the midst of our troubled times and simply saying with love, compassion and mercy, “Trust me…I got this…it is going to be okay.” Are we going to trust or squat not quite sitting in the chair of faith; not quite resting?

Some passages to read for Sunday: John 14:1-14; Psalm 56; Proverbs 3:5-6.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

May 3 Reflections

In November of 2015 I traveled with a group of folks from Bridge of Hope, the congregation I was serving at the time, to Liberia through an organization known as One Body One Hope. This organization worked closely with an orphanage that housed children whose parents were either killed in the revolution or died from Ebola. Living with these people for a little more than a week my faith grew exponentially as I saw them having nothing yet content. Living in faith not fear. Yet the stop of the spread of Ebola in that country was done by observing some basic health practices. Isolation of those diagnosed. No contact with the body of a loved one who died from Ebola. This one was so significant because often loved ones would spend days by the dead body. To stop the spread often a dead person’s body was immediately cremated upon death. Also, some basic health practices such as washing hands and using bleach to wash hands became a priority. Through diligence the spread of Ebola stopped.

There are times I have heard Christians say I am not going to live in fear by living my life as if Covid 19 does not exist. We are not called to be wimpy Christians, be strong and courageous. While I agree with living in faith not fear, I don’t agree with being inattentive and failing to use common sense all in the name of some trumped up superficial idea of what faith is. If you want to see faith and using common sense in the face of a crisis, I will take you to Liberia where no health care is available and often all the people have is faith and common sense. I struggle when people separate faith and common sense. Go ahead, accuse me of not living in faith…I know better.

While in Liberia I contracted pneumonia. Pneumonia was and is the leading cause of death in Liberia, it was not Ebola. There is no health care to speak of and medication is too high of price. It hit me hard. My lungs were compromised. High fever, coughing endlessly and so very tired. There was a PA along on the trip. She did have one medication with her that I needed. But one more needed to be found. One member of the group went out on an all morning pilgrimage to find it which she eventually did one hour away from where we were staying. I took my medication. I rested. I drank fluids until I couldn’t anymore. And people prayed for me…oh how they prayed for me; back home and in Liberia. I often chuckle and say you have not been prayed for until you have been prayed over by a Pentecostal Liberian. I think Satan turned tale and ran when that prayed was not just said but literally yelled. But never once did that person imply, I could stop taking my medication or following basic common-sense health practices. It was that and faith. I did recover in time to leave and not only to leave but preach the morning that we left. In my weakness I sensed God leading me to extend an altar call. People began to come forward with tears in their eyes to recommit their life to Christ or commit for the first time. The people lived in faith. But also, common sense. We need to do the same in the days of Covid 19.

Paul wrote to Timothy. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid (fearful, anxious,), but gives us power (dunamis), love (agape) and self-discipline (self-control, sensible, mindful, common sense). (2 Timothy 1:7) The Holy Spirit living in us gives us power to see, understand, and live fruitful lives. The Holy Spirit gives us agape the energy to give of ourselves for the good of another. The Holy Spirit also gives us common sense, self-discipline (the ability to say no that we may yes to God), self-control, and the ability to use our brains. So, when I believe that it would not be wise to worship corporately this coming Sunday, it is not because I do not have faith, it is because my faith also includes my mind and common sense and love for others and myself; you cannot separate them. Some passages to read for Sunday: Romans 8:31-39;Numbers 13-14:9; 2 Timothy 1:7.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

April 26 Reflections

A scout is a soldier or other person sent out ahead of a main force so as to gather information about the enemy’s strength, position, or movements. Or simply it is someone who searches for something or someone in various places. For instance, someone might be sent out to scout around for the best place to park the camper. These scouts go out to help make the future a little less anxious for the group.  There are a couple of scouts however, that are not helpful to you and me in our walk of faith. The scouts of anxiety and worry.

These scouts are off in the future. They really do run ahead of reality. When they return, they tell tales of giants, insurmountable odds, and worst-case scenarios. For instance, if I have an ache in my side the scouts of worry and anxiety fly off into the future, totally removed from reality, and tell me you have a big battle ahead of you it is either cancer, heart or lung disease, it is going to be awful. You are not going to survive. When in reality I strained a muscle lifting the lawn mower out of the vehicle.

It is so easy to let our minds and hearts run ahead of reality. Instead of sinking into the moment of now and simply living. The Message translates Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:34 this way, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Let God fill this moment; experience this moment fully and completely. The Israelites in the wilderness were asked to do this: trust God for this moment, today. Do not run ahead of yourselves. Manna will be here today. Tomorrow more will be there. Trust do not hoard today. I think in our day and age it might be toilet paper. Do not hoard there is plenty. What if I get Covid 19 and must be quarantined? I therefore need 56 rolls of toilet paper. Seriously? Hoarding is lack of trust. Trust in a God who provides today.

A spiritual practice that has been so powerfully used in my life is mindfulness. There is a significant amount of literature and videos that talk about this spiritual discipline. It is about disciplining yourself to shut out all the noise of this world and sink into God filling this moment. Not rushing ahead nor dwelling in the past but sinking into right now. The fullness of now. I can be out on a run in the morning and thinking about the past or the future, actually obsessing about it, and miss the moon, or the stars, the meteor shower, the clouds, the birds singing, the cardinal or the woodpecker pecking, the deer that runs across the path, or the skunk that I want to avoid, the wild flowers, rabbits and squirrels, the sunrise just as it begins to come up with all its nuances as clouds surround it, the freshness of the morning, the breeze as it touches my face, and yes even a cat as I wrote about a few weeks ago. God, I believe wants us to live now, not in the past with unresolved guilt or nostalgia, or in the future with worry and anxiety. But in the fullness of now. That is what we are going to think about on Sunday as we consider the Israelites in the wilderness. Trusting God for “now.” Some passages to read and reflect upon: Exodus 16; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Matthew 6:25-34.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

April 19 Reflections

One of the spiritual disciplines that I enjoy and breathes life into me is meditation; taking the time to still my soul in solitude to hear the voice of God. Sometimes this is done by simply spending time alone quieting my mind and reflecting on truth from God’s Word or it is done by focusing on God’s creation or using guided mediations from the “mindful movement” or the “daily calm.” Anything that allows me to still my soul and let God be God. Every day I experience this as I run/walk in the early morning while seeking to still my soul resting in God’s love and enjoying the beauty of creation. Jesus often set aside time to be alone to pray and consider the Father’s voice in his life. He needed to get away from the crowds.

A passage that I have used often in meditation is found in Mark 4:35-41. This is the story of Jesus leaving the crowds behind and crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat with his disciples.  A storm came up which made the disciples frantic while Jesus slept through it. The disciples woke him up and he said “Peace be still” to the storm and the wind and waves quieted down. Jesus is Lord not only of the church, but also of nature and circumstances in life.

In times in my life when chaos seems to swirl all around me or when a decision needs to be made, I seek to quiet myself and center on this passage. The storm is what is raging within and around me and I picture Jesus coming alongside me and saying, “Verlyn, peace be still.” He speaks his peace into my situation giving me a clear sense that he is Lord over whatever it is I might be facing. There have been times I have thought he was asleep and didn’t care about me.  But those times have been short-lived as he speaks his peace into my life with the still small voice that says “Verlyn I got this; it is going to be okay. Trust me. Trust me.” I trust this even if the storm is not stilled immediately knowing that ultimately, he will bring me to a safe harbor. He’s got my life. He’s got my heart. He’s got my past covered. He’s got my present secure. He’s got my future in his hands. His peace is real, not a fantasy. We are going to think about this on Sunday as we consider faith during crisis.

Some passages to read and reflect on: Mark 4:35-41; John 20:19-23; Psalm 46; John14:25-27

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

April 12 Reflections

Standing by the graveside of a loved one who has died often brings tears. Just like the tears of Jesus speak volumes, so our tears in those moments speak. The tears can speak of deep gratitude for a life well lived. They can speak of deep loss, hurt and pain. Or they can speak of a bitterness and anger of a life ended too quickly. The tears can be one tear that slowly slides down the face. Or deeper when it moves to a sob, where you cannot catch your breath and your shoulders move up and down. Then there is a wailing when the loss has created such a devastation that the person might fall to the ground in complete sorrow. Tears are appropriate probably necessary in loss. Last week we saw that Jesus weeps with us in our pain and hurt. This week on Easter morning we are going to look at the tears of Mary Magdalene… “Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb crying.”

But something changed for Mary that morning. I can picture her tears moving from intense sorrow to intense joy and the picture of Psalm 30:5 and 11 comes alive, “Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning…you turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” Tears both places…one of deep pain…the other incredible joy. The reason: Jesus is alive! That truth changes everything.

Are you someone who likes to be surprised? Can anyone get by with throwing you a surprise party? Imagine the surprise. Mary thought he was the gardener. But when he said, “Mary.” She knew that voice. It was almost as if Jesus was playfully talking to her, going along with the whole gardener thing. And finally, not able to contain himself…SURPRISE! I think God’s grace comes to us in surprising forms at times, especially in our most vulnerable and anxious moments.

There was a time this past winter when I was filled with apprehension. I was wondering about life with an ache and sadness. Why? What? Where? How? About everything. I was out for my morning run through the prairie at Dordt College. I decided to stop at a secluded spiritual reflection shelter that had been built for solitude. It was cold so I knew no one else would be there. There is a large rock I sat on looking out over the prairie. It was completely dark, except for the stars and moon. I prayed. I cried out to God. As I was praying and reflecting, I heard “meow.” I do not like cats. “Get out of here!” How inopportune. She stayed. “Meow” getting closer. She jumped up on the rock. I just surrendered to her presence as she purred and began to rub her body across my back. Gently, tenderly. Purr, again and again. Tears formed in my eyes. God was speaking. “It will be okay. It will all be okay.” Of all things God used a cat unexpectedly. Surprise! I am here. I hold your life; gently and tenderly. I began to feel deep gratitude to God for life, love and laughter all because of an unexpected cat. Surprise!

We are going to think about that on Easter Sunday. God’s surprise in the empty tomb. God’s surprise amid our most difficult times.  Some passages to read John 20:1-18; Psalm 30; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.


Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

April 5 Reflections

“God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.” (Jurgen Moltmann)

During crisis or a difficult time period of our lives or in the center of struggle our perception of who God is can go to dark places. It is possible to see God as vindictive and angry. We messed up so God is punishing us for our wickedness.  He is carrying out vengeance on us, until we shape up by repenting and trying harder to be good. Or we can see God as an unhappy parent; always chiding and telling us to get with it and behave better. Or maybe God created the world and became detached; not caring what happens to us at all. Somewhat of an unmoved mover. Though none of these are the picture that Scripture gives of God. How do we view God in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis?

Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9) If you want to know what God is like all you need to do is observe me: my responses to your life show who I am. Jesus was not an unmoved mover; nor a hypercritical parent figure or vindictive punisher. Jesus loved well. In that loving well he cried. He wept on different occasions. A deep indication that he did indeed care for people and what they were going through. On Palm Sunday following the pep rally of the singing and palm branches Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept for it. So many people not getting it. He loved them. The requirement was simple: accept that love into your life. It was painful that they would not come to him. He had such deep compassion for them. Similar to the words in Matthew 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks, under her wings and you were not willing.”

A story that Wayne Jacobsen tells in his book, “He Loves Me” illustrates this scripture so well and the deep compassion of Jesus. A forest fire had raged and as it was finally coming under control the firefighters went along the blackened landscape looking for hotspots. A large lump caught one firefighters’ eye. As he got closer, he noticed that it was the charred remains of a large bird. He wondered why it had not flown away. He decided to kick it off the trail with his boot. As he did, he was startled by four little birds who ran away. The mother’s body had covered them to protect. She gave her life to protect them. She stayed with them as the flames seared her body with pain.

Jesus is the author of compassion and mercy. He weeps when people walk away from his life changing love. He weeps when people are wracked with suffering. He weeps when he faced giving himself for people in the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus is not crotchety, he is not fussy and judgmental, he is not vindictive, he is not unmoved by our suffering. He weeps and he moves to act. We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some passages to read: Luke 19:28-44; John 11:17-36; Hebrews 5:1-7; Matthew 23:37-39.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

March 29 Reflections

We continue in the reality of the COVID 19 crisis as we have the first confirmed case in Sioux County and as the virus continues to spread across our country and world. There is a mixture of fear, common sense wisdom, panic, ignorance, denial and I hope in our lives, faith in the living God. I think it is a matter of focus. Where is our attention? Much like the story found in Matthew 14:22-33.                              

My life verse is 1 Corinthians 15:10 and my life story is Matthew 14:22-23. I want to share this with you on Sunday.  Where do I put my focus? Where is my trust?  The storms of life come. It can feel like my life is being buffeted by waves. I can focus there or on Jesus the One who calms the waves and the One who controls them. In the movie “World Trade Center” which is an account of 9-11, two port authority police were trapped inside the rubble. McLoughlin and Jimeno were in the struggle of their lives hoping to just survive. For thirteen hellish hours they were entombed in a narrow void of debris. At one point Jimeno was crying out to Jesus for help. He was ready to simply give up. However, you want to analyze and break it down, Jesus came to him with a bottle of water. He believed it was a sign that it was going to be ok. Jesus had him. Jesus was with him. He simply cried out as Peter did, “Lord, save me.” (Matthew 14:30) Jesus does come in our deepest need to help, sustain and restore.

I believe with all my heart Jesus is alive. I believe Jesus is with me every second. I believe Jesus lives in me. Right this second. This is not a nice idea. It is not a psychological gimmick to make us feel better.  It is not a fairy tale. It is a living reality. Will I trust? Will I keep my eyes focused on him?  It is one of the reasons as I sought to live out this story that the illustration of the chair has become so important to me. Will I rest in Jesus? Or will I squat? Will I focus on the waves or on Jesus? What or whom will I trust? That is what we are going to think about on Sunday. Some passages to read and reflect upon Matthew 14:22-33; Psalm 56; Acts17:24-28; Mark 4:35-41.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

March 22 Reflections

Reflections for March 22, 2020

Faith with Wisdom not Fear

The world has changed. The last few months the emotional state of the whole world has moved from awareness to concern to in many places and hearts panic. The anxiety meter has hit 10 on a 1 to 10 scale with COVID-19. As people who claim to “believe that our only comfort in life and in death is that we belong body and soul in life and in death to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ”; how do we respond? Notice I said respond, not react. A reaction is a non-faith and non-mindful solution to a crisis which causes the anxiety to rise. A response is faith based and is a mindful solution based in reality. Faith and our minds which God gave us are used in a response. COVID-19 is serious. With faith and wisdom, we need to respond for our own lives and others.

As I have said before the most heard command in all of scripture is, “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you.” (Isaiah 41:10) The call is to not live in fear; but rather in faith with a lot of wisdom thrown in. God is God. God is big. God loves us. God promises us wisdom. 

In faith with wisdom I encourage us to not live in fear.  We are following guidelines provided by the CDC and our state leaders. I am not going to let my pride get in the way thinking I know better than the health professionals. Here is our response as a church.

  • Until further notice all activities at the church facility are either cancelled or postponed to a later date.
  • A modified worship service will be live streamed and on our local cable channel at 9:30 AM on Sunday morning.
  • Giving of offering can be done in several ways: 1. You can drop off or send your gift to the church office. 2. You can go to Premier Bank and deposit directly in the church account.  3. An offering receptacle has also been placed inside the east door. You can place your offering in there as well.

This week I am going to be speaking to the issue of faith in the face of crisis. We will look together on Sunday morning at Jesus’ words in Luke 12:22, “Do not worry…” Yes, there are reasons for worry, fear and anxiety, yet Jesus says there are greater reasons to live in faith, trust and hope. We are going to look at those reasons on Sunday morning. Some passages to read and reflect upon: Luke 12:22-34; Psalm 46; Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 14:22-32.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

March 15 Reflections

One of my five top favorite praise songs is “Broken Vessels/Amazing Grace).”

All these pieces
Broken and scattered
In mercy gathered
Mended and whole
But not forsaken
I’ve been set free
I’ve been set free

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me, oh
I once was lost
But now I’m found
Was blind but now I see

You take our failure
You take our weakness
You set Your treasure
In jars of clay
So take this heart, Lord
I’ll be Your vessel
The world to see
Your life in me.

This song speaks into my life because I have experienced the brokenness of life: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and relationally. One example: in my former congregation there was a breakdown in relationship with a couple. A brokenness that led to a complete cutoff in communication. I think I made attempts, but none successful to lean into healing. I was challenged at a Churches Learning Change retreat, while at First Rock Valley, to contact someone where there has been a breakdown in relationship. I thought of this couple. As I opened my computer to contact them, I noticed an email from one of them. They wanted to get together over coffee. This was a God moment. A journey began with Jesus doing what Jesus does, mending broken lives.

Jesus never said the word “grace.” He was, however, the complete picture of grace. If you want to know what grace is look at Jesus. The way he loved the woman caught in adultery: grace. The way he treated Zacchaeus: grace. The woman at the well: grace. Mary Magdalene: grace. The way he restored Peter after his failure: grace. Mending broken lives is Jesus’ work.

We are going to consider this on Sunday as we look at Peter’s story of grace. The movement from self-reliance to brokenness to restoration is the story of our lives. Grace is greater than our brokenness. Jesus is greater than our brokenness. We will let Jesus do what Jesus does in our lives? Some passages to reflect on: Matthew 26:31-35; Matthew 26:69-75; John 21:7-19; Matthew 12:15-21.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn