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

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