February 9 Reflections

A Pharisee is a religiously well-versed person who makes a big deal of the things they don’t struggle with and hides the things they do struggle with. Impeccable morality is what I think of when I think of a pharisee. Someone rigid, never smiling, and certainly not laughing or being playful.  You think more of a very serious reptile than a playful puppy. Absolutely zero fun to be around. After all it is a serious, big-time job to play God. I can be sarcastic and a satirist when it comes to pharisee-type people. I can pick on them quite easily. But I think the point of self-awareness, which is an aspect of emotional maturity, is that I can pinpoint the pharisee within me.

Where do I hide the things I struggle with? Where do I appear to take the moral high road on things I do not struggle with? I do not struggle with the feelings that a gay person does. I can take some sort of angry moral position against this lifestyle, while totally ignoring my own brokenness in my life. Much like the person who is out in public lambasting the gay person, while privately addicted to pornography. Never once speaking out against pornography, but always speaking out against gays. Or the person rallying for the anti-abortion movement, while privately beating his wife and children at home.

In the attempt to be non-Pharisaical and practice what I preach here is something about me.  I face depression in my life for a variety of reasons. I am self-aware of this. There is a physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and relational piece to this. Some pieces of the pie are bigger than the others, but all are there in some proportion. In the midst of that I know that alcohol can contribute to the problem because it is a depressant and can also be a crutch as it takes the edge off an ache in the heart.  It wouldn’t be a problem if I was a teetotaler, but I am not. Truth is I like to have a drink now and then, but very self-aware of what could happen. I have great compassion for the person who struggles with depression. I have great compassion for the one who deals with addictions to ease the ache in the heart. I don’t pretend to have any moral high ground. I simply want to love well in the midst of the pain and brokenness of life that healing and wholeness might be a possibility.

Healthy relationships require self-awareness.  We cannot ignore the sinful, ugly parts of our ourselves. If we do it will limit the health in relationships to others, and with God as the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple praying points out clearly. We are going to reflect about this on Sunday as we continue to think about healthy relationships. Some passages to read and reflect on: Luke 18:9-14; Philippians3:1-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; 1 Corinthians 15:9-11.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

February 2 Reflections

As we continue to think about healthy relationships a key piece is humility toward God and toward others. The best way I can think of humility toward God is to simply say from a deep-seated belief: I am not God. Truly, I will let God be God. I will be a being created in his image, loved by him, yet I am not God. I receive my identity from him (remember healthy relationships = identity + self-definition + Staying connected + Surrender to God) and I surrender to him. Admittedly there have been times in my past that I thought I was God. I knew right from wrong perfectly. I knew exactly what you were supposed to do. I believed that I had climbed Mount Sinai and not only got the 10 Commandments, but also the 5,345 rules that govern every situation that you come across. Always your things, not mine. I was very good at telling you what to do. Enough of God’s gracious reminders through the years, like, “Verlyn you have no idea what you are talking about, you are not speaking for me. You do not even know what makes my heartbeat. You are talking out of some personal shame or cultural agenda that has nothing to do with me.” Ouch. Point taken and received. I am not God. I am not going to try to run your life. I can’t fix you. I can’t change you. I don’t control you. I can only love you. For me, that is humility.

But I think there is another piece of humility that allows us to keep our hand extended out in connection even if someone might not agree with me. I think a good definition of humility is “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.” (“Humilitas”…Dickson) A humble person is willing to hold power in service of others. The one being humble acts from a height, for instance I believe for me, I am a child of Abba, loved by Abba, delighted in by Abba. My firm identity allows be to be humble. It is settled. It is who I am. I do not have to earn it. I don’t have to prove it. I rest in it. From there I can move and act and give myself away for the good of others, not to prove I am superior, but to live in the reality that each human being is equal to me therefore I will treat them with respect, even when they disagree with  me. The hand out in connection. You too are created in the image of God. I respect you. Here is my hand.

You might think that this going to lead to relativism and the secular idea of tolerance that purports that all beliefs are to be accepted and no one belief is any better than others. I don’t think humility says that. Humility does not turn me and you into doormats. I think humble convictions is a better way. It does not mean believing less: it means treating those who hold contrary beliefs with respect and friendship. Hold your belief firmly (fist up by ear) but do so with a soft heart toward those who hold contrary opinions. We are going to think about this on Sunday as we look at the life of Peter who often tried to play God and thought he knew what was best. The result: damaged relationships.  Some passages to read: John 18:1-11; John13:1-17; Matthew 16:21-23; Luke 22:24-34; 1 Peter 5:5-7.

Grace upon Grace

Pastor Verlyn

January 26 Reflections

There was a time in my life when I obsessively read Scripture, engaged in what I thought was prayer, yet the whole time I was empty, stressed, working hard at being the perfect Christian, the perfect pastor. I was engaged in reading the Bible through in a year, every year till the day I die, because that is what real bonafide Christians do. There came a point when I was thinking that this obsessive reading might kill me, if not physically, at least spiritually. Then there was prayer. I had developed an elaborate system of prayer lists. Every day plowing through the list, like a road grader leveling out a road. No joy. No peace. I mean, really, was I doing enough? Maybe I should read through the Bible twice a year and pray 2 hours a day. Then I will have arrived. But for me it was driving me crazy, and I was not loving people better, I was not preaching better, I was caught in dead spiritual practices, with no life being breathed into me.

I didn’t see the Bible as a love letter from God to me, I saw it as a textbook that I better memorize, or I will be dismissed from the Kingdom. I didn’t see prayer as a conversation of love with Abba, who loved me more than anyone else in the world. I saw it as ritual; going through a shopping list of people and circumstances, that led to me to think that God was pleased with me and I was not going to get stomped on that day.  There was nothing personal in it. Duty, all duty. What I particularly noticed was that I did not love others well because of it. In fact, I became judgmental, why can’t others be like me, they are so lazy. No wonder they are sick or have disease or relational problems. Get your spiritual act together. I was not compassionate. God was stern, and you had better shape up, was my attitude. I walked around like a self-righteous prig, throwing out all my spiritual platitudes which no one found transformative. There came a day when God spoke to me, like Amos the prophet did long ago: “I can’t stand your religious meetings.” (Amos 5:21) God: “Verlyn I can’t stand this anymore. Stop. You are killing our relationship and you are not loving others. I can’t stand your false piety. You need to learn that it is all about love. It is all about relationship. Not some rules you have made up.” So, I stopped. I didn’t stop reading scripture or praying (That would be a bad deal for a religious professional), I stopped obsessing with a rule that was not a relationship. Prayer became a conversation of love. Reading Scripture was reading a love letter.  You can read it over and over and never get tired of it. And I am changed. My heart is changed. When that happens there is great love, compassion and grace for others.

The true test of spirituality is how well you love others. Does your spiritual practice lead you to love God, love others and love your own self? A quote by Bede Griffiths speaks into my heart: “The love of God is not a mild benevolence but a consuming fire.” A love relationship with Abba that heats up my heart and burns away the things that are worthless, leads to loving others. This Sunday we are going to journey together in healthy relationships and how our spirituality must connect us with others, not separate us, disconnect. “I prayed and read the Bible this morning. But I hate you. I am going to gossip about you. I will lie about you or tell half-truths. But I did my devotions. God “hates” this. (Amos 5:21 NIV) God desires a love relationship with you that leads to healthy relationships with others. We are going to think about that on Sunday. Some passages: Isaiah 58:9-11; Amos 5:21-24; Mark 7:6-7.


Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

January 19 Reflections

A song that speaks to my soul is sung by Carrie Underwood. “Jesus, Take the Wheel” tells the story of a young woman with a little baby driving down the road to go home to see her mom and dad, the child’s grandparents. She is reflecting on her life, where she has apparently made a lot of bad choices in relationships, “I’m sorry for the way I’ve been living my life, I know I’ve got to change. So, from now on tonight, Jesus take the wheel, take it from my hands, ‘cause I can’t do this on my own. I’m letting go, so give me one more chance and save me from this road I’m on. Oh, Jesus take the wheel.”

There are so many times I try to run my life. I know the right decision. I know how to do this. It ends in an epic failure, often because I try to put myself at the forefront. I am driving with Jesus in the passenger seat or in the backseat. Often because I didn’t think I was worth loving and that Jesus really did not love me, he simply tolerated me. Even in relationships: I know how to handle this, after all I have a Doctorate. But, if my relationships are not surrendered to Jesus, with Jesus driving, unhealth will spread like a virus.

In healthy relationships we have spoken of the “Healthy Relationships Dance.”

1st: Identity (hands out palms up) knowing who we are. For instance, I find my identity in: By God’s grace I am Verlyn loved by Jesus. Held by Jesus. Filled with Jesus’ life.

2nd: Self-definition (one fist raised by your shoulder) Because of who I am this is what I will do, this is what I won’t do. I can say “no.” I can say “yes.” This is where I end. This is where you begin.

3rd: Connection (the opposite hand out as to shake another person’s hand) Even if we might disagree on something, I can still have a relationship with you where we will listen and learn from one another.

4th: Surrender Relations to God (Both arms raise above your head in an act of surrender.) All our relationships are surrender to God.

This week we are going to look to Jesus and how he lived out healthy relationships. Jesus embraced conflict and did not bring a false peace, pretending that things were okay when they weren’t. He was in conflict with many: Satan, his family, his friends, the crowds, and his enemies, the Pharisees. He was always self-defined and living out his calling. In the midst of that conflict though, he was consistently seeking connection. People walked away from him, not he, them. He surrendered all his relationships to God.

The call of this week’s passage in Luke 9:23-25, concerning healthy relationships, is that we surrender all of them to Jesus. Let Jesus take the wheel. Let him be in the driver’s seat and you and I follow. As we follow Jesus, we will seek to love well as he loved well. We will seek to listen well, respect others, say clearly what we mean or want. Check out assumptions and expectations. I think the challenge for me is to not cut off certain relationships or fuse with some relationships, but rather simply connect by loving well. We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some passages to read: Luke 9:23-25 (The Message), Matthew 10:34-36; (The Message); Matthew 4:1-11 (The Message); Luke 2:41-52 (The Message).

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

January 12 Reflections

This past week I was reading a blog in the BeMoreWithLess website and it spoke to me in a deep way. I have that now and then, where I will come across something that sets my soul on fire because it resonates within me.  These are words I have thought and even pieces of them have written down, but Courtney the blogger, puts it all together in one paragraph.

I don’t want my legacy to be containers full of stuff. When people remember me, I don’t want them to remember my shoes, my furniture or decades of things I stored in containers. When people I love grieve me, I don’t want them to have to make decisions about things I never really cared about. I don’t want my legacy to be containers full of stuff, but rather how I loved while I was here.

For me, I hope they remember how I loved well, because I do believe that loving well is the essence of true spirituality. It requires experiencing connection with God, others and our self. That is why I believe it is so important to be consistently thinking about healthy relationships. We are on that journey now as we think about our identity (bottom line who we are) and self-definition (What I will do, what I won’t do. What I say no to. What I will say yes to. Where I end and you begin) and Connection (offering our hand during self-definition). It really is a movement, almost a dance: both hands out palms up (our identity is a gift from God); one hand made into a fist and raised up by our head (self-definition); and last the other hand reaching out as to shake hands ( Connection). This is the movement of healthy relationships.

This coming Sunday we are going to think about this in terms of when a relationship breaks down as in the story of Jacob and Esau. It is a story of surrender. It is a story of trusting that God will give the strength for reconciliation. Jacob in many ways thought he could appease Esau by giving him all his stuff. All Esau wanted was a relationship with him. It was as if he said to Jacob, “What is all this stuff you are sending me. I don’t want it. I want you. I love you. I want to be in relationship with you.” Loving well is not about things or stuff. It is about a relationship. It is, I think, the same way in our relationship with God. We might think if I give this to God or if I do this for God, he will love me. God says, “I don’t want any of that. What I want is you, just you, surrendered to me, without your stuff. God, too, simply wants a relationship with you.  We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some passages to read and reflect on: Genesis 32; Genesis 33; Philippians3:1-11.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

January 5 Reflections

A personal growth tool that I use called the Enneagram challenged me in the Ennea Thought for the Day on December 31 with these words. “Lay the groundwork for continued growth without making resolutions except one-to let go of the past, connect with yourself, to Wake Up, and be present.” So, I took this to heart and sought to define what it looks like for me. Letting go of the past looks like this for me: I am thankful for my past, but I am not going in that direction (Josh Becker post); I will honor my past; but not live in it; I will learn from my past and write new vows for today and the future, new affirmations about myself; I will show up as 64 year old Verlyn, not 12 year old Verlyn.

Connecting with myself is being present to my current reality: my spiritual health; my physical health; my mental health; my emotional health; and my relational health. Wake Up means to ask the question, “How am I showing up?” Am I awake to the love of Jesus in my life? I want to fall in love with Jesus every morning that I might love well. Be present. I want to be mindful of each moment. I want to be where my feet are planted, not somewhere else, neither the past nor the future, but now! Fully alive in the love of Jesus, loving others well.

As I have been reflecting on some of these truths in the life of the church, I believe a series on healthy relationships with one another is a positive way to begin the year. During Lent we will think together about a healthy relationship with God and then following Easter healthy relationships with our own selves. In many ways they all intertwine; but I will try to stay specific to begin with, healthy relationships with others, whether in church, or community, or marriage and families. This week we will look at the life of Daniel and how he stays healthy in his relationships with others by knowing his identity, defining himself and staying connected to others even when they might disagree. Let’s pray that we can grow all year long in healthy relationships in all aspects of our lives. Some passages to read in preparation for Sunday: Daniel 1:1-21Psalm 100; Romans 14:1-12.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

December 22 Reflections

The holidays seem to bring a unique challenge to loving people well. If you spend a lot of time with family/extended relation a lot of old wounds can resurface resulting in tension and anxiety. When anxiety is present, we can react in ways that are not helpful in loving well. How can we love well in the Christmas season? I believe what is required is a deep experience of the love of God in our own lives. Literally when we fall in love with Jesus, it changes everything, including how we treat those closest to us in the Christmas season.

Julian of Norwhich lived in England during a time of great upheaval. She saw the beginning of the Hundred Year War between England and France. She lived through the Bubonic Plague, which killed a third of Europe’s population. She saw a church divided and in moral compromise. Julian chose to withdraw from society and live in a small room attached to a church in the heart of Norwhich. While in these painfully cramped quarters she received transcendent revelations from God. She wrote about this describing how God’s love and his divine will were at work in all things. “All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.”

Loving people well in the name of Jesus, even those closest to us, is slow, hard work. At times, fruit emerges slowly. But the love of God which is eternal and life changing promises us that “all will be well.” This offers us the strength, perseverance and long-term outlook to stay the course in loving well.

What relationship or circumstance in your life do you most need to hear: “All will be well, and will be well, and every kind of thing will be well?” Remember you cannot fix people. You cannot change people. You do not control people. All you and I really have is to love well. That is our call in this Christmas Season as we remember how much God loved us by giving us his Son. We are going to think about this on Sunday as we focus on the crucified Jesus as Christmas. Some passages to reflect on: John 1:14; Matthew 1:18-23; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 1 Peter1:18-19.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

December 15 Reflections

If we are versed in Christianity we know that Jesus came to earth as a baby and went all the way to death on the cross; rising again on the third day and before he ascended into heaven he promised he would come again some day which we refer to as the second coming. First coming and second coming. But I think there is a third coming. The way Jesus shows up in our lives every day. Where has Jesus shown up in your life this past week? At first the question stumps us, but if we think about it we see the ways he shows up in answered prayer; having courage when needed; reaching out with compassion to someone who is hurting; having someone give you an unexpected gift of love and friendship; or maybe a stranger who stops and helps you fix a flat tire; or a door closes or maybe a door opens. Jesus is the light who speaks and shines into our lives every day.

Leo Tolstoy wrote a children’s book Papa Panov’s Special Day where he tells the story of an elderly cobbler in a small Russian village. All alone on Christmas Eve he reads the Christmas story before going to sleep. Once he fell asleep, he had a dream that Jesus came to him and told him to be ready because he was going to visit him tomorrow. He woke up the next morning because he was going to meet Jesus. He looked outside and noticed a street sweeper out in the cold working. Papa Panov invited him in for a cup of hot coffee. Later in the day, a single mother with a worn face too old for her young age walks down the street clutching her baby. Again, Papa Panov invited her in to warm up and he gives the baby a new pair of shoes he had made. As the day goes by, he keeps looking but all he sees is beggars. He decides to feed them and give them a place to warm up. Soon it is dark. He retires inside and thinks that the dream was only a dream and not true. But then Jesus speaks and tells Papa Panov that I came to you in each and every person you helped today, from the street sweeper to the beggar. “I was hungry, and you fed me…I was naked, and you clothed me. I was cold and you warmed me. I came to you today in everyone of those you helped and welcomed.” (Based on Matthew 25:40)

Can we see Jesus showing up in our lives of those that we love well? Can we see him when the door opens or when it closes? Can we see Jesus loving us well by pointing out a hurt that needs to heal? Can we see Jesus speaking to us in his Word?  Maybe showing up in a colleague or friend? Maybe he shows up in solitude when you are all alone and you know his loving presence. So many did not recognize Jesus the first time he came, no one will miss the second coming, but do you see his coming today? It is all grace! We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some passages of Scripture to read: John 1:9-13; ; Ephesians 2:8-9; John14:23; Genesis 28:10-17.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

December 8 Reflections

One of best self-awareness statements in the Bible is in John 1:20. When John the Baptist is asked by the priests and Levites who he was, we are told that John did not hesitate, but confessed immediately and freely, “I am not the Messiah.” I think it would be a good idea every morning to remind ourselves of this; to declare to our own selves, “I am not the Messiah” …I am not the anointed one to save the world and others around me. It would also be good to remind ourselves that our spouses, children, co-workers, bosses, teachers, pastors, leaders are not the Messiah either. Messiah means, “anointed one.” Jesus was anointed to be our chief prophet, priest and king. I am not. You are not. I am not the Messiah. You are not the Messiah.

                A “Messiah Complex” is when a person holds the belief that he/she can save others. John the Baptist clearly believed he could not save anyone. And yet Jesus said about John, “…among those born of women there is no one greater than John…” (Luke 7:28) The greatest human being who ever lived besides Jesus is John the Baptist, but this one says I am not Messiah. I know I struggle with this as a pastor. I begin to think that my words are the words of God and if you just listened to me you could be saved, just by being close to me.  Yet I know my heart. In solitude I say very easily, “I am not the Messiah.” Among others, where shame tends to rear its ugly head, I must be more than I am because I am not enough.  So, I feel a need to brag about myself to prove to others how wonderful I am. If asked the question, are you the Messiah, I might pause, well let’s think about it, maybe I am.  Often a Messiah complex is born out of deep insecurity; never believing you are enough.

                Proverbs 27:2 says, “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.”  When I began to brag about myself, even subtly, it is a pretty good indication I am sliding into the Messiah Complex. A false bravado born out of insecurity, that people around me cannot survive if I am not around. I deeply desire the self-awareness to know and to live as one who can say, “I am not the Messiah.” Just not know it but live it. Because there have been times I have been challenged, “you say that you are not the Messiah, but why do you keep acting like it?” Ouch.  What am I called to do? Point to the One who is the Messiah! That is what we are going to think about on Sunday in looking at John 1:6-8.  In training to be a FaithWalking coach a piece of wisdom that resonates in my heart and is emphasized throughout the material is this: “I cannot fix you. The only thing I can do is love you well which empowers you to fix yourself.” Added to that I think is this: I am not responsible for you; all I can do is love you well empowering you to take responsibility for your own life. I do not control you; all I can do is love you well empowering you to seek self-control. Some passages to read for Sunday:  John1:1-14; John 1:19-23; John 3:22-30; John 1:29-31; John 16:12-14.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

December 1 Reflections

The holidays bring a dilemma into our lives. Thanksgiving through Christmas is to be a time of cheer, joy, happiness and togetherness. But in reality, there is much suffering, pain and hurt all around us. For instance, for many the thought of getting together with family hardly seems like joy. Murray Bowen described the typical family this way: “An average family situation in our society today is one in which people maintain a distant and formal relationship with the family of origin, returning home for duty visits at infrequent intervals.” Added to the stress of “having to be together” is the personal pain of depression, loneliness, addictions and overeating/drinking. Then there is the world of mass shootings, violence, terrorism, bigotry, and hatred of one another. It is as John talks about, the world of light and darkness. Some refuse to look at the darkness and make a “Hallmark Movie” out of life. Others refuse to see the light and languish in despair. This Advent season I invite you to go on a journey with me as we study/reflect and discern God’s movement in the midst of darkness and light in John 1:1-14.

I believe that all of us need a word from God this Advent season. When God speaks nothing can stop it. I believe that all of us need God to speak a word into the darkness of our lives. I believe that all of us need light to shine in our darkness. In John 8:12, Jesus said that he was the light of the world. We need Jesus to shine in our dark places; maybe the places that no one else in this world knows about. I know I need Jesus to speak light into the dark places of my fears, anxieties, and shame. I need to hold onto the promise, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Is that a scary thought, that Jesus will shine into the dark places of our lives? I guess it all depends on your view of Jesus (God). Do you see Jesus as someone who will squash you every time you sin or make a mistake? Do you think Jesus is some sort of tyrant who tells you to quit acting like a big baby and suck it up? Or is it the Jesus of Scripture who wants to sit down and have coffee with you and talk about life. He wants you to share your darkness; your thoughts, words and deeds. He wants to laugh with you; he wants to cry with you. He wants to think with you through all the hard decisions that you need to make. He longs to heal your brokenness with his powerful light-giving love, so that you can be transformed. My prayer is that all of us are open to Jesus’ light-giving love this Advent season.  Some passages of Scripture to read and reflect on: John 1:1-14; Genesis 1:1-5;    Luke 7:1-10; John 8:12.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn