October 6 Reflections

John Claypool tells the story of a time when he went to camp as a Jr. High student. No one at the camp knew him, so he could literally weave a story of who he was. His dad ran a huge company and made lots of money. His mom won a beauty pageant. He was an A student and star of the football team. He could easily break the Jr. High track record for the 400 in the coming year. These were all white lies, not having much effect on anyone but himself. His dad worked in a factory. Mom was a stay at home mom, while cleaning some homes on the side. She was never in a beauty pageant. He was an average student and athlete, never a standout. Why did he feel the need to tell those lies about himself and his family? Why do you and I feel the need to exaggerate, make up stories about ourselves, try to make ourselves look better than others?

He goes on to tell his story of how he always felt less than others and that he was never enough. It was only when he had a radical experience of the love of God in his life, where he knew in his heart that he was accepted and loved by God as he was, that he began to shed the idea of trying to prove he was somebody. I know the same is true for me and I think probably for you as well. The deep truth of life is that God unconditionally loves us as we are; knowing that we can face the lies of a culture that says we have to be a certain way to be somebody. In Christ we are somebody; we are enough. Knowing and believing this means we don’t have to steal from others, nor lie about them and ourselves.

Basically, lying is about making ourselves look good or saving our skin. Satan, the father of lies, wants you to believe that you must look a certain way, have a certain income, live in a particular neighborhood, wear a name brand, and have a list of accomplishments to be worth anything. If you don’t, you began to steal and lie to make yourself look good to others. We think things such as plagiarism, white lies, cheating, gossip, exaggeration help bolster our self-image. The deep truth that sets you free is that God loved you first; accepted you as you are first. You don’t have to make up stories…you are incredible, and your story is the story of God’s amazing grace. We are going to think about this on Sunday as we reflect on the command, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16) Some possible passages to read and reflect upon: Exodus 20:16; Ephesians 4:14-25; John 8:39-47; 1 Corinthians 13:1-6.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

September 29 Reflections

God is always first. I have said this often in messages. First in importance, yes, but also first in order. For instance, God has always existed, then Father, Son and Holy Spirit create. God loves first, from that first love, we love. The commandments can be seen this way. They are given because of who God is…first. God is the giver of life. He protects life, nurtures and cultivates life. Therefore, this is what we are called to do, not murder others. God is the ultimate faithful lover; therefore, we are to be faithful lovers, not committing spiritual or relational adultery. God is the first generous giver…it is his nature to give, therefore we are to have a generous spirit and not steal. God is always first. It is from a relationship with the living God that we called to reflect him to the world.

Two questions that I and many others struggle with are: Am I enough? And will I have enough? I believe these are at the root of stealing something that is not ours, whether it is money by all sorts of means, or cheating on a test, or plagiarizing, or shoplifting. The bottom line is taking something that is not ours. If I don’t believe I am enough, I must get things that make me enough. If I can’t afford that piece of clothing which I think will make me enough, I will shoplift it. There is story after story of people who grew up poor, that go off on a mission of making enough so they will never be poor, but their mission includes breaking the law and cheating and swindling others, so they will have enough. If it was settled that I am enough…I am a child of God, loved and cared for and that God who is all loving, powerful and mighty has promised to care for me that I would have enough, the temptation to steal would be faced head on in grace.

The continuum is also seen in this command. At the foundation/start of the continuum is the truth of God’s unconditional love and our identity as a child of God…I am enough…I will have enough…our hearts and minds can wander away…I am not enough…I don’t have enough…we began to think of ways to be enough and have enough…we start small ( a little amount of money…cheat a little bit on a test)…began to move to bigger amounts…cheating others out of their livelihood…farther and farther away from I am enough…God says I will have enough. At any point you can turn and go back to the Father. The effect of taking $10.00 from your mom’s purse is different that embezzling millions of dollars and forfeiting 100’s of families livelihoods. Both are sin, but they are not equal…one is much further down the continuum.  Both require turning back to the One who loves you more than anyone else in the world. We are going to think about this together on Sunday. Some passages to read and reflect on: Exodus 20:15; Matthew7:7-12; John 3:16-17; Isaiah 58:5-10.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

September 22 Reflections

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) God’s benediction includes human sexuality. It is a good gift from God to be celebrated within the covenant of marriage. Sounds so easy, but the brokenness of human life makes it complicated. Money, sex and power are the three aspects of human life where the brokenness of humanity often shows itself most clearly. When it comes to money I believe, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be faithful stewards. As far as power goes, we   are called to be humble servants. When we talk about sex, as followers of Jesus, we are called to covenant faithfulness. The 7th commandment is about this covenant faithfulness. “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)

The key, as in all the commands, is to see this command through the eyes of grace. The people are released from slavery: this is how free people love. Love looks like covenant faithfulness. As I did in the command to not murder it is important to see the continuum of the command to not commit adultery. It begins with the same truth: God’s unconditional love…live in covenant faithfulness (with me says God and with one another)…seeing a beautiful/handsome person of the of the opposite sex(this is not necessarily part of the sin continuum away from God’s love; it is part of being human)…instead of letting the seeing of the beautiful/handsome person out the back door of your mind, you begin to nurse this image, fantasize, dwell in it…this is called lust…the heart and mind are absorbed with this person…(which Jesus called sin, just as the act of adultery is sin…remember all sin is sin, but not all sin is equal)…you begin to intentionally engage this other person in conversation (flirting); seeing if there is an opening for a deeper physical relationship…the relationship intimacy deepens…the act of adultery. Each step on the continuum is away from the unconditional love of God. At each step you can stop, turn back to the Father, confess the sin and received forgiveness.  The forgiveness is extended to adulterers if they see their sin, turn back to the Father, resting in his unconditional love. (John 8:1-11) On the continuum if the matter stays in the heart (it still is sin) but the human community consequences are not nearly as devastating as actual physical adultery. One counselor emphasized at a minimum at least 100 people will be affected.

This is a deeply intimate command, which in my mind can only be approached with God’s grace. Issues of sex before marriage, rape, incest, unfaithfulness, sexual abuse, pornography (for women as well as men), same sex attraction, same sex marriage, fantasy and acting out the fantasies are all included in the command. All of them cannot be covered in one message, but what I hope to do is cover some foundational truths in grace.

On Sunday we are going to think about the command, “You shall not commit adultery.” Some passages to read and reflect on: Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:27-28; John 8:1-11; Hosea 11.

Grace upon Grace,


September 15 Reflections

The person somewhat smugly said, after being caught in a particularly degrading sin, “Don’t judge me. You sin too and all sin is equal.” I have heard this statement many times in my life as a pastor. “All sins are equal. What I have done isn’t any worse than what you do every day. All sin is equal.” I think this is misleading and I think it is nonsense. All sin is sin, but not all sin is equal.
Look at it from the perspective of the commandment, “You shall not murder.” Many of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day thought they had followed the command if they did not intentionally take someone’s life. Jesus said, “Not so fast.” He went on to teach that you must go deeper. He taught that taking someone’s life was wrong, but if you harbor anger in your heart toward someone you are also guilty of breaking this command.  He was not saying that both sins were equal, he was simply saying both are sin. So just because you do not literally take someone’s life doesn’t mean you have kept the commandment. You must go to heart-depth. When we go there, we all know we are sinners in need of grace. This is not a hierarchy of sins, some worse than others, it is a continuum away from God’s love. It looks something like this:
God’s Unconditional Love…Protect and Cultivate Life (You shall not murder)…Momentary Anger at someone…Harbor this anger, nurse it, let it build…seek to hurt with words…think about how you would like to kill that person…premeditate how to take someone’s life…carry out the actual murder… (completely moved away from God’s loving will)  Note each step along the continuum is away from a relationship with God who loves you unconditionally. At each step away you could have stopped, turned back to the Father, confessed and received forgiveness. The forgiveness is extended to murderers if they see clearly what they have done, feel deep sorrow, turn back to the Father and confess their sin. The farther you move away from God’s love the more destructive you are in community. You destroy life, families and neighborhoods by taking someone’s life. If someone hates me, I can absorb that. It is still sin. But if someone kills me, it not only takes my life; it also hurts my family, friends, community and world. It has much greater impact and damage, therefore not equal with someone being angry at me.
We are going to think about the command, “you shall not murder” on Sunday. Some passages to read and reflect on: Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21-26; Genesis 4:1-12; Matthew 7:7-12
Grace upon Grace,


September 8 Reflections

Megan was 15. Her dad never had time for her growing up, he was always gone for work. Then when she was 12 her dad left her mom and her for another woman. Now, three years later he wants to talk with her. She is hurt, angry and confused. What does it mean for Megan to honor her dad?
Freddy had constantly lied for his mom. While growing up he told so many lies for her because she was a drunk and bailed on so many of her commitments. Now as an adult she continually wants him to again lie for her. What does it mean for Freddy to honor his mom?
The secrecy of the physical and sexual abuse in her home as a child had built up for years in Karen. She could not take it any longer. It was eating her up inside. She needed to talk about what her dad had done to her. What does it mean for Karen to honor her dad?
The 5th Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother…” is, too put it mildly, complicated. For many it is not a stretch. Many grew up in homes where mom and dad were not perfect, but the positive strengths outweighed the weaknesses. But what about the many homes where the weaknesses, abuse, neglect, and abandonment were dominant? Where the bad things that happened ought not to have happened; and where the good things that ought to have happened didn’t. Some will say ignore the command. How do we live loved in those situations? How do we honor those who hurt us?
The working definition that I would like to use for honor is this: To honor is a decision to treat parents with dignity and courtesy and to provide long term loyalty to their best interests. Note honor is not affection, love, agreement, obedience or because they are worthy. To honor is not a feeling; it is a decision to treat with dignity and courtesy, which in many cases includes forgiveness. To forgive their weaknesses might set you free to love in a new and unique way. In commandment 5 we move to love for others. And it starts with the family. Loving family is “game on”, everything else can feel like practice. We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some possible passages of Scripture to read and reflect upon: Exodus 20:12; 1 John 4:16-21; Romans 8:14-17; Genesis2:21-25
Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

September 1 Reflections

In Japan, corporate life is so intense there’s actually a word to refer to people dying from overworking: Karoshi: which literally translates to “death by overwork.”
In 2013, 31-year-old journalist Miwa Sado logged 159 hours of overtime in one month at the news network NHK, before dying of heart failure in July 2013. And in 2015, a 24-year-old employee of a car manufacturer jumped to her death after working over 100 hours of overtime in one month.
Work can so easily be misused. It can become “workism” where it not only focuses on production but moves to become the core of one’s identity.  God created us out of love and gave the instructions to work, create, and produce. But in the midst of that he said, “REST.” Take Sabbath for sure one day per week, where you do not produce or work. Where you can take the time to…Stop…Rest…Delight…Contemplate. All to remember who we are and whose we are. We are not God, but we do belong to God who loves us and cares for us deeply. Out of love for us he says, “rest.” I have brought you out of the prison of slavery to sin and death to freedom and life, not to work endlessly trying to earn love, but to rest in my love and mercy. To do that one day per week is set aside. It also works to take 15 minutes to one hour per day to remember. At least one week per year to remember (Vacation).
The Sabbath was not made to create 365 rules of what you can and cannot do, it was created for you to renew and refresh your soul and body. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, man was not made for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some passages to read and reflect on: Exodus 20:8-11;  Mark 2:23-27 ; Colossians 1:15-20; Matthew 11:28-30.
Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

August 25 Reflections

As a child growing up, we often used the 10 Commandments in worship as a responsive reading. The pastor would read a phrase and then the congregation would read a phrase. I know as I got older it would seem a little funny when we got to commandments 6-10. The pastor would say to the congregation, “You shall not kill.” The congregation would respond, “You shall not commit adultery.” Pastor: “You shall not steal.” Congregation: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” And the pastor would get the last word, “You shall not covet.” Actually, Jesus did because we always ended with his summary of the Law. It was funny because it looked as if the pastor was pointing his finger at the congregation and saying, “You shall not kill.” And the congregation was, “Oh yeah, and you shall not commit adultery.” Pastor, “okay then, you shall not steal.” I know it was not intended to be that way, but it was what I experienced as a little boy. We had to pay attention to 6, 8, and 10. The pastor had to pay attention to 7 and 9.
All the commandments are for all of us, not as a way to get out of the prison of guilt and sin, but as a guide to live a life of love when God has set us free in his love. The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism understood this. It is one of the features that sets the catechism uniquely apart from all other confessions of faith. Most confessions would place the commandments under the categories of sin/guilt. The commandments are given so we can see our sin. While the Heidelberg Catechism is very clear on our sin and guilt, it does not put the commandments there, it places them under gratitude. In gratitude for God’s love and grace we seek to live in love with God and others. They don’t free us from the prison of guilt, they are our response to being freed to love.
This week we will think/reflect together on the 3rd Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.”  Have you ever noticed in yourself or in others that when a person falls in love with someone their language changes, especially toward the one loved? Love changes our language…our speech…our tongue. Even poems and love letters are written. God’s love for us is beyond comprehension. It is deep. It is eternal. When you fall in love with God, which I hope we all do, our language changes. We speak of God differently than if we did not know his love at all. To me that is what this commandment is all about: when you fall in love with God your language changes concerning him. That is what we are going to think about on Sunday. Some possible passages to read and reflect on before Sunday: Exodus 20:1-7; Isaiah 6:1-7; Matthew 12:33-37; Deuteronomy 6:4-9
.Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

August 18 Reflections

Reflections for August 18, 2019
There are times I have said in jest, “The stoplight gods are looking kindly on me today, or they are looking unkindly on me today.” Of course, kindly means they are green when I arrive; unkindly is red, especially if it just turned from yellow to red. When I come to work,  I have two stoplights: one on Highway 18, which I understand, and one downtown which I do not understand. It is rare that I can hit both green. Sue seems to have much better odds when she is driving, so the stoplight gods are with her. But the point of the downtown stoplights evades me especially when I leave the church in the evening following a meeting and no one is on the corner but me and I sit there waiting… for what?
Of course, there are no such things as stoplight gods. If there were it would an image of a stoplight always green. And people would pray to it for the lights to be always green. The parting blessing would be may the stoplight god be with you and always will the light be green. It sounds silly.  But that is what people are inclined to do, make idols that help us think we can control life and God. We bow down to them thinking that somehow God can be manipulated, controlled or reduced to being only in certain places, such as stoplights. We believe that somehow this idol will bring us closer to god, or this idol really is god and when it speaks or acts it is just like God speaking or acting. For many years I thought if I believed the right “theology” I would be able to control God. God must act this way because the theology says so. I got a handle on God.  The Holy Spirit helped me to see after making myself and probably a lot of people miserable that God is bigger than any theology. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
We make idols when we think an object, a person, a group of people or an ideology is “god.” It speaks for God. In our country we make idols out of donkeys and elephants. Political parties become idols. It doesn’t make a difference which; each party has come to believe they speak for God. If you are a true believer you will be a democrat or a republican, depending on which idol you worship. But God is unfathomably bigger than any politician or political party. We need a healthy dose of Isaiah 40, “He (God) sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. God stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.” (Isaiah 40:23, 23) We worship the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world not an elephant or donkey. We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some passages to read for reflection: Exodus 20:1-6; Deuteronomy 4:15-20; Isaiah 40:18-31;  John 4:19-24.
Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

August 11 Reflections

Reflections for August 11, 2019
R. Scott Sullender shares the account of a woman named Marlene in his book “Losses in Later Life.” From day one in her life she was told how cute she was. She was the apple of her parents’ eye, the youngest and prettiest of six children. She was fussed over. She was dressed up. She was admired. She was entered in all the beauty contest and usually won. Always she was expected just to stand there and look pretty. Don’t say anything. Don’t do anything. Just look good. And so, she did. As she grew into adulthood, she incorporated those values. She too worshiped at the altar of appearance. She spent hours in front of the mirror, among the clothes racks, and in the beauty salons.
The only trouble with this scheme was that Marlene grew older, and at thirty-eight her beauty was dull compared to the sparkling looks of younger women. She began to have a growing sense of emptiness, and at times panic. It was a long journey to break free from the grip of the false god of beauty, youthfulness and appearance which at best is temporary, to connect her into faith in the living God who is eternal and never changes.
It is not a bad thing to take care of oneself and look like you care. A god is created when you take a good thing and turn it into a false god. We take a good thing and make it ultimate. This good thing, and it can be physical health, marriage, children, family, relationships, sports teams, athletics, music, a political party, wealth, vacations, electronic devices; actually, the list is endless because as John Calvin said so clearly “our hearts are idol factories” becomes the ultimate thing. It is anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God; anything you seek to give yourself what only God can give. I have been doing a lot of self-reflection this week about the gods I have created in my life. For way too many years I made the approval of others a god, where what people thought of me was more important than what God thought of me. There are more, but part of looking together at the first commandment is to seriously look into our own hearts and see the gods we have created and put before the living God. That is what we are going to think about this week. Some passages to read and reflect on: Exodus 20:1-3; Matthew 4:1-11; Matthew 10:32-39; Mark 12:28-34.
Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

August 4 Reflections

As a child I can remember hearing sermons on the 10 Commandments. The point it seemed to me at a young age was that I better shape up or God was going to squash me. Or bad things would happen to me if I was not a good boy and follow the commands. I don’t recall hearing a lot of grace connected to the commands, which I find interesting, because I grew up in a Reformed Church that taught the Heidelberg Catechism faithfully. The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism place the 10 Commandments squarely in the section on gratitude which follows grace. The 10 Commandments are born in grace as we see in Exodus 20:1-2, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” God’s irresistible grace first…then the commands.
I never tire preaching/teaching about grace. That is how I am going to approach the series on the 10 Commandments. God releases us from the prison of sin and death and sets us free to live in love with him and with others. This is a powerful truth. It is life changing. It is literally a Copernican Revolution, where your viewpoint of faith and life is radically changed. Let me explain. Copernicus lived in the 1500’s. The scientific community believed that the earth was the center of the universe which meant that everything revolved around the earth. Copernicus proved that the sun was the center and that everything including the earth revolved around the sun. Imagine the change in thinking that this required. Some resisted; others gradually came to accept this truth.
I believe grace is a “Copernican Revolution.” For too long we have been led down a path where we think and believe that we must be good enough (follow the 10 Commandments perfectly) and then maybe God will love us, and we can get into heaven. This is the religion of human pride and arrogance. The Scriptures teach a whole new way. God loves us first. God accepts us first. We cannot earn his love. It is gift. We receive it and want to shape our lives around his love not to earn anything, but to live in gratitude for the gift. We are going to think about this in the coming weeks as we reflectively go through the 10 Commandments. Some possible passages to read for the introduction this week: Exodus 3:1-10; Exodus 20:1-3; John 8:31-36 Romans 13:8-10.
Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn