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

March 8 Reflections

Years ago, I was at a rehearsal dinner for a wedding that I was officiating. During the dinner the host served a very small amount of champagne to the guests. As I think back it wasn’t much more than a thimble full. It was given so a toast could be made. I took the little glass of champagne and join in the toast. That was all the alcohol that was served. The rest of the evening went on in a delightful way. The next week a parishioner from the church stormed into my office emotional guns blazing. His finger pointing at me began to berate me for having that drink at the rehearsal dinner. He truly thought that it was the end of Western Civilization and Christianity because I took a small sip of champagne. It was all my fault if the church died. After telling him I didn’t think the wagging finger was appropriate, he calmed down a little, but never accepting my story and stormed out trying to make me feel guilty.
False guilt is everywhere. The Christian church specializes in it; in fact, has a P.H.D. in it. We have it mastered. We make up little rules and then seek to make people feel guilty for not following them. I can think of many that I have come across in the ministry and my own personal life. False guilt is when you are made to feel guilty for something that is not morally wrong, nor against what God teaches in his Word. In the situation above if I had gotten drunk, got in my car and drove home and while doing that hit three pedestrians which resulted in them dying…yes, there is moral guilt. That is sin. That is real guilt. True guilt is real. This week we think together about the truth that grace is greater than guilt, true and false guilt. It is the real guilt in our lives that led Jesus to a real death on the cross where he really took all our real guilt upon himself that we could really be forgiven.  Grace is greater than false guilt because it helps us see the truth of this made up guilt. Grace is greater than true guilt because Jesus gives his life on the cross for this guilt. The innocent one dies for the guilty.
The words spoken to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you” are words spoken to us as we humbly confess our sins to Abba. Abba is not a condemning God ready to squash you at every instance possible, rather he is loving God ready to pour out grace that covers all your guilt. We are going to think about this on Sunday as we look at a woman’s story of grace. Some passages to read: John 8:1-11; Romans 8:1-4; John 3:16-21; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.

Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

March 1 Reflections

This week we begin a new series of messages with the theme, “Grace is Greater.” Grace helps us face all the hard experiences of life including, but not limited to, shame, disappointments, mistakes made, desire for revenge, the need for forgiveness. This Sunday morning series will be coupled with an evening study from 4:00 – 5:15 to be held at round tables in the sanctuary. My hope is that our understanding of grace will lead us to be healthy spiritually and give us the strength to face the hard realities of life.

This week we are going to begin in the morning by looking together at what I consider to be my life verse. “By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace to me was not without effect.” (1 Corinthians 15:10) God’s grace to me is the theme of my life. Grace has transformed me.  Grace is knowing that there is nothing I can do to make God love me more and there is nothing I can do to make God loved me less. God loves me in this moment as much it is possible for an infinite God to love. I knew the words of grace for many years. I even preached it. But it was much like knowing just the words to a song, but not the melody, tune, rhythm or the deep passion of the music. I really had missed it. It was in the season of melancholy that I learned the passion, the tune, the melody, the rhythms of grace: God’s unconditional love. God loving me just as I am, not as I should be, I was never going to be that, but loving me in this moment as I am. Total, complete acceptance. This changed everything; from my personal life and relationships to my preaching and how I show up in ministry.   

I have a picture that hangs in my office that was taken on a morning run which includes my life verse. It is a picture that says so much to me. It speaks to my heart and soul. The picture is of a barn and windmill which reminds me of my formative years where shame took root in my life. I don’t blame anyone for this, it simply happened in the reality of my life. I grew up thinking that I did not have any worth. I thought I was a mistake. Those experiences of shame are represented in the low-lying fog in the picture. It gives the picture so much character, as does the shame when I reflect on my life. It is the hard experiences in life that bring character in the picture of our lives. Above the fog the sun is beginning to rise. Incredible depth and beauty. To me that is grace. It does eventually drive the fog away bringing clarity. But in this picture, they coexist, together forming a beauty that only God could capture in his incredible, radical grace. We are going to be thinking about this on Sunday as we begin to wander through powerful stories of grace. This week staring with the Apostle Paul. My hope and prayer is that this will not only be words for you, but you will learn the melody, tune and rhythm of grace and transformation will take place. 

Some passages to read: 1 Corinthians 15:1-10; Ephesians 2:1-10;  2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

February 23 Reflections

One of the most transformative and life-changing truths is found in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus, who is God, took on human flesh and came to earth to be with us, not simply by us. I think it is an important distinction. With us means that he entered into our experience. He feels what we feel. He touches our pain and hurt. There is nothing that we face that he has not already faced. Jesus is not an observer. He didn’t come to earth thinking this was a spectator sport. I am going to come and look around. Simply be by them. Not really get to know them or try to understand their experience, just walk around in my holiness and be by them. This was not Jesus. He came to be with us.

When we think of healthy relationships, we have seen there are four movements:
1. Identity: Who we are that never changes.
2. Self-definition: What I say yes to. What I say no to. What I will do. What I won’t do.
3. Connection: Reach out our hand to all people, even with those we don’t agree with.
4. Surrender: Surrender every relationship to God.
Jesus is the perfect example and teacher of what it means to have a healthy relationship with God and others. He is our clearest picture of what it means to have identity, self-definition, connectedness, and surrender. What we are going to think about this week is how he connected when he made his dwelling among us.  He touched people. He physically touched them. He held out his hand and touched even the most unlikely of people, a leper, which is what we will look at this coming Sunday. 

This gives me hope because I know then that Jesus reaches out his hand to touch my pain, my sin, my failures, my shame, my depression, and my brokenness. He is truly with me in all of it, touching me with tenderness and gentleness.  “A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. “(Matthew 12:20) As we are healed, transformed by his loving gentle touch, we then seek to live in the same way. Bringing gentleness and tenderness as we extend our hand to others in connection, to be with them, to understand and love and heal. We are going to think about this on Sunday as we conclude the series on healthy relationships. Some passages to consider: Luke 5:12-16; John 1:14-16; Matthew 12:15-21; Hebrews 4:14-16.

Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

February 16 Reflections

Thornton Wilder wrote a classic play called, Our Town.  Written in 1938 it is a fictional story of an American small town called Grover’s Corners. The story is about everyday life in its mundane and glorious beauty. In the story a character named Emily dies at age 26 and is able to come back for a visit as a spirit where no one can see her, but she can see everyone else. The frustration is that no one on earth can see the beauty of day to day living. “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it?” Do I realize life while I live it, every second? Or do I just go through the motions? God has given the gift of each moment.  So often I have mindlessly just gone through 100 motions in the day without being mindful of each moment, literally each breath. One of the areas of growth for me is to slow down and be attentive to each moment.

I also have come to realize that God is writing a story with each of our lives in those moment by moment details. Every one of our lives is unique and is an invaluable story. This week the young people are going to lead us into the adventure of thinking about how we live our lives with the cards we are dealt. The cards we are dealt in life tell a story. Some of the cards are delightful, some are hurtful. The thing that has brought me hope in the midst of knowing my own complete story is God’s story. God’s story of grace, hope and love speaks into my story. A piece of my story is shame. Growing up believing I was never enough. Incidents of being laughed at for economic status or abilities in the area of sports, academics and music. These painful incidents are part of my story. Yet, God’s story comes alongside, overlaps mine and tells me a whole different story. I am his child. He loves me. He delights in me.

I want to slow down and be attentive to every moment of my life, because God is writing a pretty incredible story. I want to see the moon and stars in the morning. I want to see the sun rise and set. I want to notice the clouds and the breeze in my face. I want to see the trees, the deer, even the rabbits and squirrels. I want to see people, not just pass them by. I want to enter deeply into the ache of life, and the joy of living. I pray that I can be mindful, not mindless in the face of the beauty of being alive. All of this is possible because I know underneath, around, within it all is Abba who loves me. This is the only way I know to make sense of the cards I am dealt. We are going to think about this on Sunday as the youth lead us. Some passages for reflection: Romans8:26-28; Genesis 50:15-21; Romans 8:35-39; Matthew 3:13-17.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn