August 4 Reflections

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

June 30 Reflections

This week we are going to start by going back in history; all the way to the 2nd Century. There was a movement at that time known as Docetism, which taught that Jesus only appeared to be human, but really remained all divine while here on earth. This teaching was fought against by the early church which proclaimed clearly that Jesus was 100% divinity and 100% human. This is called in theology the incarnation where God became a human being…totally. A by-product of Docetism was that the human body was denigrated to “less than” status. What is important is the spirit of humankind, not the physical side. Again, traditional Christianity fought against this, though probably not a vigorously as the teaching on Jesus.
I believe Scriptures teach a much more holistic view of humankind. I believe each human being


June 23 Reflections

The story of my life includes a time when my life crashed. I was 45 years old and I wondered about the purpose of life. I wondered it anyone cared. I wondered if I was supposed to be working in full-time ministry. It was triggered by a simple, yet for me brutally shameful comment: “I don’t think he is working hard enough.” This was at a time when I was working 60-70 hours per week, not taking any day of the week off. My vow that I was living with from my past was: “I will work hard/be busy so people will think I am wonderful and like me.” I did that, but someone did not like me. The whole structural lie came crashing down burying me in depression. It was my “broom tree.” (1 Kings 19:4) I came to understand the triggers of my depression through the different parts of who I am: my physical body, my mind, my emotions, my relationships and my soul (spirituality).
Out of the crash came a new beginning…a new learning…a new identity. Fighting shame that says I am never enough and a mistake for being alive. Grace found me. God found me in the crash and gave me new life, new purpose and new dreams: it told me I am loved, first, and I am enough. I do not have to earn it by working hard: it is gift! Out of the crash came a new vow: I will rest in Jesus, trusting who he says I am, while living wholeheartedly for him. Rest…trust…wholehearted: these are the words of new life. One of the pivotal passages of Scripture that brought and brings so much healing and perspective is the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 where he sits under the broom tree in his melancholy despair praying that he might die and says, “I have had enough LORD…take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1Kings 19:4) When you read Scripture every person comes to a point when their life crashes. Joseph in prison…Moses murders a man…Peter denies knowing Christ…Paul on the road to Damascus…Jeremiah’s despair…David’s adultery and betrayal. Out of each of those comes new life and a new dream. We are going to think about that on Sunday by looking together at 1 Kings 19 and considering when life crashes. Where has that happened for you? What did you learn about God, about yourself, and about others? Maybe you are in it now and need hope that something new will come. Will I ever feel “normal” again? Or has everything changed? Is it hopeless? Can I possibly know that everything will be okay? Let’s go on the journey with Elijah and seek God; listening for the gentle whisper that says: “I love you…I hold you…I live in you…I will never let you go.” Some possible passages to read and reflect upon: I Kings 19; Psalm 42; Jeremiah 20:7-18; Psalm 13.
Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

June 16 Reflections

A little different slant in the reflections this week. I want to reflect on three snapshots of life. The first is the Relay for Life event this past week in Hawarden. Sue is celebrating 29 years of being cancer free. The year 1990 was a year full of emotions from shock to celebration. For Sue to hear the words, “you have cancer” to “there is no sign of cancer” (after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) triggers that full range of emotions. The story of her experience has led to a chapter of gratitude. Gratitude for seeing our children graduate from high school, college, get married, have children (grandchildren for us). The goodness of God continues to write this chapter of grace. We were also reminded of loss that evening as we walked the lap reading the luminaries; many were in memory of someone who lost the battle to cancer. Some recent, other’s years ago. Some of them we knew, grateful for the impact their lives had on the world, though not sure why so soon they left loved ones. Their courage and strength in the face of cancer still provides inspiration for those who knew them.
As Father’s Day approaches, I remember my dad who lost the battle to cancer thirty-five years ago. I was 28 years old at the time. As I was reflecting on that I realized that I have lived more of my life on earth without him than with him. My children did not know him at all. He was not perfect, but I am grateful for his living with honesty and faithfulness. Those lessons still resonate within my heart.
The third snapshot is the picture of me returning to First Reformed, Hull to lead worship and preach this coming Sunday. This will be the first time in eight years; the first time since I took a call to Bridge of Hope in Sioux Center. Going back will trigger good memories of joy and celebration as well as some difficult memories of going through struggle and hardship. I know that I am a different person than when I left. God has used life experiences to lead me on a journey of grace that has brought so much change. My life verse is 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God I am who I am. And his grace to me was not without effect.” That effect is the truth that I am Verlyn loved by Jesus full of grace and truth. Seeking to live as one loved looks different than one seeking to earn love. God loves me first…as he does you. Rest there…you cannot earn it; it is gift. I hope to celebrate that gift every day but praying that it would be so this coming Sunday. Just for fun here are several of my favorite Scripture passages to read and reflect on if you desire: 1 Corinthians 15:3-10; Matthew 11:28-302 Corinthians 12:7-10; Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 John 4:16-19
Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

June 9 Reflections

She was hesitant, almost fearful as she began to share her story of being abused as a young girl. Tears flowed as she spoke of the physical and sexual abuse in her home of origin; at times wondering if she was going to be accidentally killed in fits of rage and anger. The mental, emotional and spiritual pain coupled with the physical hurt, betrayal of trust and absolute fear often would lead her to thoughts and plans for taking her own life. Really, who would care? She had buried it for so many years, but finally could not hide it any longer. If healing was going to happen in her soul and relationships, she needed to tell her story, first by writing it out and then beginning very selectively to share it with a few. To start this journey of healing took an incredible amount of bravery, that began with the courage to process and explore the story of her life.
Courage. We talk about it. We see it in others at times. We admire it. But what does it look like for you and me to have courage to face our fears? On Sunday we will look in more detail of the story of Peter and John in Acts 4 as they stand before all the religious leaders being questioned. These are the same religious leaders they were fearful of following the crucifixion of Jesus when they hid behind closed doors. In Acts 4:13 we are told the religious leaders took note of the courage of Peter and John and remembered that they had been with Jesus. I think here is part of the way to have courage to face the hard things of life: spend time with Jesus, who wants to spend time with you first. Solitude, prayer, reflective reading of Scripture, meditation, worship, and grace-filled relationships are all ways to spend time with Jesus, which leads to courage in facing the hard things.
I love this quote from John Wayne, the actor who often played a tough and tender cowboy in movies: “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” In Churches Learning Change when it speaks of courage says, “Do it scared!” Facing fears can only be done knowing that God loves us and will never leave us. We are going to be thinking about this Sunday while being challenged to “saddle up.”  Some passages to read and reflect upon: Acts 4:1`-13; Joshua 1:1-9; Psalm 118:6-9Hebrews 13:5-6.
Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn