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

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