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

November 24 Reflections

Will we allow, our circumstances from the past and present, to fuel our transformation or fan the flame of self-destruction? Will we trust in God who loves us unconditionally and promises that everything that comes into our lives is for our good? We have been journeying through these questions by looking at the life of Joseph. He is one who trusted in the unconditional love of God through all his circumstances (family issues, a slave, treated unfairly, forgotten, imprisoned) and was personally transformed. It was that personal transformation that literally allowed him to be part of changing the world at that time.

I don’t know about you but when I was young, I thought I was going to go out and change the world. It wasn’t too long before the reality of life hit me, and I realized that my influence was limited. I began to hope that maybe I could influence change in a church or a community or my own family. I was reminded of my humanity, my limits, and maybe for the first time realizing I could not change anyone. On my desk I keep a handwritten note that says: “I cannot change anyone. I cannot fix anyone. I do not control anyone.” The only thing I can do is love well.

The following words from an anonymous rabbi have helped me understand my limits and set me free to seek personal transformation and love well.

“When I was young, I set out to change the world. When I grew a little older, I perceived that this was too ambitious, so I set out to change my state. This too I realized was too ambitious, so I set out to change my town. When I realized I could not even do this, I tried to change my family. Now as an old man I know that I should have started by changing myself. If I had started with myself, maybe then I would have succeeded in changing my family, the town, or even the state-and who knows maybe even the world.”

We have a choice: will our circumstances fuel personal transformation or fan the flame of self-destruction? We are going to think about this on Sunday in our final look at Joseph’s life. Some passages to read: Genesis 50:15-21; Psalm 131; Hebrews 12:1-3.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

November 17 Reflections

We live in a broken world with broken people. We are going to get hurt. We are going to hurt others whether intentionally or unintentionally. Those hurts require forgiveness, especially for our own selves, not necessarily for the other person. Otherwise we drink the poison of unforgiveness thinking we are hurting others, when we are only destroying our own selves.  What are the deep hurts that require forgiveness? Lewis Smedes in his book, Forgive and Forget, lists three unfair deep hurts that bring us into the crisis of forgiving: disloyalty, betrayal, and brutality.

He defines each:

Disloyalty is when I belong to a person and I treat him or her like a stranger.

Betrayal: Turn the screws a little tighter and disloyalty becomes a betrayal. My partner, friend, colleague is disloyal to me when he treats me like a stranger, but he betrays me when he treats me like an enemy.

Brutality: Someone who assaults me physically, mentally or emotionally. We are brutal whenever we reduce another person to less than human excellence.

Joseph experienced all three of these. His brothers were disloyal to him. They also betrayed him by treating him like an enemy. They were brutal. They desired to kill him. They sold him and then lied to their dad. Joseph was betrayed and brutalized by Potiphar’s wife. While in prison the cupbearer was disloyal. He forgot Joseph.  And yet Joseph chooses to forgive. He made a choice not to live in hatred, anger, vindictiveness, revenge, and misery. He made a choice for life. We are going to look at that choice on Sunday and then ask the question: Whom do we need to forgive?  Or maybe we need to ask for someone else’s forgiveness.

Does God work for our good when others have been disloyal; or when we are betrayed or brutalized? That is a hard truth to trust. Is forgiveness a “good” that can come out of the hard experiences? Is forgiving mainly about setting myself free? We all have a choice to make: Will we allow our circumstances to fuel our transformation or will we choose to use those circumstances to fan the flame of self-destruction? Can we say: My past does not define me; but can serve as an opportunity to refine me? We are going to think about all of this on Sunday as we consider Joseph and his acts of forgiveness. Some passages to read: Genesis45:1-15; Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:21-35; Psalm 51:1-7.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

November 10 Reflections

We have been looking at the life of Joseph around the theme that God is up to something in all our circumstances for our good. So far, we have seen this truth in our families of origin, when we are treated unfairly, and when we are forgotten. Joseph has been in prison for thirteen years for something he did not do, and he has been forgotten by someone who could have helped. What possible good can come out of this? I believe that God uses the circumstances of our lives to teach us humility. Joseph learned humility in the thirteen years in prison which led to wisdom.

Joseph, at seventeen, told his brothers and dad that they were all going to bow down to him. Now I don’t think that was wise. Sure, you can have the dream that could be interpreted that way, but I think you would keep that to yourself. But we all pretty much have the same heart issue. In my pride I want people to “bow down” to me or dance around me or at least I want to be the big noise at the party where trumpets blow when I walk in.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” In my pride I want to be independent of God and do what I want (in other words be God). Also, in pride I want to be the center of attention. Humility is something very different. Try this definition on: humility is the place of entire dependence on God, where I choose to forego status and use my resources and influence for the good of others before myself.

Jim Collins wrote the best- selling book Good to Great which is a summary of a five-year study of what turned good businesses into great businesses. It was a surprise for many that one of the key factors in all good-to-great companies was leadership characterized by humility and determination. Big personalities were not required. High powered charisma was not required. Good looks were not required. In fact, many of the leaders were self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy-but they had this blend of humility and determination or grit.  Joseph learned humility in the crucible of his circumstances to be completely dependent on God and to serve others. We are going to think about this on Sunday. How has God forged humility into our lives through our circumstances, which are for our good? Some passages to read and reflect on: Genesis 41; Philippians 2:1-11; 1 Peter 5:5-7; Matthew 11:28-30.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn 

November 3 Reflections

A few weeks ago, I was having trouble with our home’s thermostat. It wasn’t working. I checked the manual that came with it and did all the recommended fixes from the obvious to the not so obvious. Nothing. So, I called the 800 number. I was put on hold. Forever. I seriously thought I was forgotten. My call was lost in some sort of “cloud jam.” Just when I was tempted to hang up, a real live person came on the line. I was not forgotten.

This is minor compared to feeling forgotten by God. Have I been forgotten? That is a question that comes from those who are living in God’s story, you, me and Joseph. Joseph had gone from favorite son, to slave, to prisoner for a supposed sex crime he did not commit. He now sits in a prison cell. He had to feel forgotten by God and most likely forgotten by his family. But the amazing thing is that even though he spent day after day in prison, he was part of God’s great story. God was up to something in Joseph’s circumstances for his good and for God’s glory.

Each one of us is part of God’s story. Our lives are chapters in a book of grace. There are chapters that are filled with disappointment and abandonment and feelings of being forgotten. There are chapters where you can literally be in the prison of grief and loss, depression, forgetting your value, and crisis. This is part of God’s story that he is writing. It is hard to see. It is hard to trust that God is up to something good in all your circumstances.  The only way we can trust is to believe that God is almighty in power and that God is our Abba, Father who loves us and is faithful. Maybe you are in a prison of guilt, shame feeling forgotten. Know this: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16) God has not forgotten, he is writing a story that all the circumstances (chapters) of your life are ultimately for your good. We are going to think about this on Sunday as we continue to consider Joseph’s life. Some passages to read and reflect on: Genesis 40; Isaiah 49:12-17; Luke 12:4-7; Philippians 1:6.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

Something to consider: maybe the story you are telling yourself about your life is not God’s story at all.

October 27 Reflections

The phrase “You have to go backwards in order to go forward” has opened a whole new area of my heart for God to do his transforming work. How can I stop having 10-year-old Verlyn show up? I think you know what I mean in your own life. As a child you experienced something which you then placed a meaning on that experience. To self-protect you develop a habitual way of being. I grew up with a deep sense of shame, that my family and me were not enough. I remember being laughed at many times because we were poor. To self-protect I worked hard and was busy, so I did not have to let anyone into my life. Also, if I worked hard people will think I am wonderful and like me. All I ended up with was a deep tiredness and loneliness and the awareness that not everyone will like you even if you work hard. God has revealed to me a whole new way of living that is healthier and allows me to show up as 63-year-old Verlyn: “I will rest in Jesus, trusting who he says I am, while living wholeheartedly for him.” To go forward in this truth, I had to face some of the negative vows from the past.

Think of what Joseph had to face in order to move forward. He had to face a family culture of lying and secrets. Abraham lied twice about Sarah. Isaac and Rebecca’s marriage was characterized by lies. Jacob lied to almost everyone; his name means “deceiver.” Ten of Jacob’s children lied about Joseph’s death, faking a funeral and keeping a “family secret” for over ten years. All the secrecy and deceit went to a new level in Joseph’s life. He lost his parents, siblings, culture, food, language, freedom, and hopes all in one day. Then while serving as a slave in the home of Potiphar, he was falsely accused of rape and sent to prison for years. All the circumstances of his life could easily have led Joseph to say, “I don’t have a right to exist. My life is a mistake. I am worthless. I will never trust anyone. I won’t take risks. I won’t feel. It is too painful. I am a loser.” Yet, he didn’t. Joseph was aware of his past. He examined it. He thought about it. Then he opened the door to God’s future by rewriting it with God, not by ignoring the past, or rewriting the past, but acknowledging it and being open to God’s grace for a transformed present and future.

Can we affirm the large, loving hand of God through all the pain and hardship of our lives? Joseph did because he had a profound sense of a “Big God.” A big God that is working for our good in all things. In our families of origin and even when we are mistreated. We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some passages to read: Genesis 39; Romans 12:9-21; 1 Peter 3:8-17; Psalm 139:7-12.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

October 20 Reflections

Often our families seem a little messy. We can wonder about God placing us in a particular family in our foundational years of growing up. With the mess, is it possible for us to believe that God was up to something good in those circumstances? It is a mixture: there was positive and negative, there is light and darkness. One way to deal with the past is to pretend it did not happen. Only remember the positive. But even if you try to blot out the “mess” it has a way of creeping into our lives in how we respond today. We learned a “way of being” in the mess, that is not healthy spiritually for us today. For instance, if you were taught as a child to be quiet and never speak, it can be hard for you today to speak up for yourself and say what you believe. The past has a way of showing up in how we respond today. And a lot of this has to do with our families of origin.

Joseph grew up in a mess. His early life was one mess after another. Yet, somehow in the midst of it, he trusted that God was up to something good in his circumstances. Think of Joseph: his mother died when he was young; he had a father who spoiled him; his brothers hated him; sold him into slavery; his brother slept with his daughter-in-law; he was imprisoned under a lie; he was forgotten and this is just a piece of his life. But this past did not stop him from living in the present and into the future with confidence that God was up to something good.

Too often we get stuck in the past and end up like Miss Havisham from Charles Dicken’s novel Great Expectations. The daughter of a wealthy man, she received a letter on her wedding day at 8:40 AM that her husband to be was not coming. She stopped all clocks in the house at the precise time the letter arrived and spent the rest of her life in her bridal dress which eventually turned yellow, and wearing only one shoe since she had not yet put on the other at the time of the disaster.  Even as an old lady, she remained crippled by the weight of the crushing blow. It was as if everything in the room and house had stopped. She decided to live in her past, not her present or her future. Can we believe that in all our circumstances (even the past) that God is up to something for our good so we can be fully alive in the present and into the future. Can we be open to the unfathomable love of God to receive healing for the past hurts and “mess” of our lives? We are going to think about that as we begin a study of the life of Joseph. Some passages to reflect on: Genesis 37; Hebrews 12:14-15; Romans 8:26-30; Matthew10:26-31.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn 

October 13 Reflections

Reflections for October 13, 2019

Wanda Holloway is the Texas mom who hired a hit man to kill a 13-year-old girl Amber Heath and her 38-year-old mother Verna Heath because Amber made the Jr. High Cheerleading squad ahead of her daughter Shanna. She thought that if both were killed Shanna would be on the squad. The plot failed when the person she contacted for the hit grew a conscious and reported her. The desire for herself to be somebody through her daughter’s accomplishments started in her heart; started with coveting. Coveting is an intense desire for something that someone else has which often leads to pursuing it. Coveting is at the heart of all the commandments. Am I enough? Will I have enough?

The story of the Texas mom is an extreme case, but you and I face the same temptations in our heart. The house that someone else…the car that person drives…the success of a sports team…dance team…band…choir…the spouse of someone else…physical looks…the job…the amount of money made…the other church…the clothes. The list can go on and on. Coveting is in all our hearts. There is a continuum. Coveting starts with admiration, though admiration is not the same as coveting. It moves to desiring which really is still not coveting. The next step is an intense longing for something/someone, that started as admiration and desire, which leads to a complete dissatisfaction with what you have.  Admiration…Desire…Intense longing…Dissatisfaction with what you have…Pursuit. One person described this continuum in this way. You are in the dating stage of life. You admire a certain couple’s relationship. You desire to have the same kind of relationship. Where the line is crossed into coveting is when your heart says I want to have that kind of relationship with that young man or woman not just anybody. Intense longing for that one person leads to dissatisfaction with the one he/she is dating. And the pursuit begins. The heart has crossed the line to bondage; not freedom.

God does not desire behavior modification; he wants heart transformation. He wants us to know that we are at the very root of our lives loved unconditionally by him. This is our identity. In our hearts to know that we are enough and that we will have enough, sets us free to know joyful contentment.  That is what we are going to think about this week. Some possible passages to read and reflect upon: Exodus 20:17; Philippians 4:10-13; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; Hebrews 13:5-8.

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn

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