August 25 Reflections

As a child growing up, we often used the 10 Commandments in worship as a responsive reading. The pastor would read a phrase and then the congregation would read a phrase. I know as I got older it would seem a little funny when we got to commandments 6-10. The pastor would say to the congregation, “You shall not kill.” The congregation would respond, “You shall not commit adultery.” Pastor: “You shall not steal.” Congregation: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” And the pastor would get the last word, “You shall not covet.” Actually, Jesus did because we always ended with his summary of the Law. It was funny because it looked as if the pastor was pointing his finger at the congregation and saying, “You shall not kill.” And the congregation was, “Oh yeah, and you shall not commit adultery.” Pastor, “okay then, you shall not steal.” I know it was not intended to be that way, but it was what I experienced as a little boy. We had to pay attention to 6, 8, and 10. The pastor had to pay attention to 7 and 9.
All the commandments are for all of us, not as a way to get out of the prison of guilt and sin, but as a guide to live a life of love when God has set us free in his love. The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism understood this. It is one of the features that sets the catechism uniquely apart from all other confessions of faith. Most confessions would place the commandments under the categories of sin/guilt. The commandments are given so we can see our sin. While the Heidelberg Catechism is very clear on our sin and guilt, it does not put the commandments there, it places them under gratitude. In gratitude for God’s love and grace we seek to live in love with God and others. They don’t free us from the prison of guilt, they are our response to being freed to love.
This week we will think/reflect together on the 3rd Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.”  Have you ever noticed in yourself or in others that when a person falls in love with someone their language changes, especially toward the one loved? Love changes our language…our speech…our tongue. Even poems and love letters are written. God’s love for us is beyond comprehension. It is deep. It is eternal. When you fall in love with God, which I hope we all do, our language changes. We speak of God differently than if we did not know his love at all. To me that is what this commandment is all about: when you fall in love with God your language changes concerning him. That is what we are going to think about on Sunday. Some possible passages to read and reflect on before Sunday: Exodus 20:1-7; Isaiah 6:1-7; Matthew 12:33-37; Deuteronomy 6:4-9
.Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

August 18 Reflections

Reflections for August 18, 2019
There are times I have said in jest, “The stoplight gods are looking kindly on me today, or they are looking unkindly on me today.” Of course, kindly means they are green when I arrive; unkindly is red, especially if it just turned from yellow to red. When I come to work,  I have two stoplights: one on Highway 18, which I understand, and one downtown which I do not understand. It is rare that I can hit both green. Sue seems to have much better odds when she is driving, so the stoplight gods are with her. But the point of the downtown stoplights evades me especially when I leave the church in the evening following a meeting and no one is on the corner but me and I sit there waiting… for what?
Of course, there are no such things as stoplight gods. If there were it would an image of a stoplight always green. And people would pray to it for the lights to be always green. The parting blessing would be may the stoplight god be with you and always will the light be green. It sounds silly.  But that is what people are inclined to do, make idols that help us think we can control life and God. We bow down to them thinking that somehow God can be manipulated, controlled or reduced to being only in certain places, such as stoplights. We believe that somehow this idol will bring us closer to god, or this idol really is god and when it speaks or acts it is just like God speaking or acting. For many years I thought if I believed the right “theology” I would be able to control God. God must act this way because the theology says so. I got a handle on God.  The Holy Spirit helped me to see after making myself and probably a lot of people miserable that God is bigger than any theology. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
We make idols when we think an object, a person, a group of people or an ideology is “god.” It speaks for God. In our country we make idols out of donkeys and elephants. Political parties become idols. It doesn’t make a difference which; each party has come to believe they speak for God. If you are a true believer you will be a democrat or a republican, depending on which idol you worship. But God is unfathomably bigger than any politician or political party. We need a healthy dose of Isaiah 40, “He (God) sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. God stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.” (Isaiah 40:23, 23) We worship the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world not an elephant or donkey. We are going to think about this on Sunday. Some passages to read for reflection: Exodus 20:1-6; Deuteronomy 4:15-20; Isaiah 40:18-31;  John 4:19-24.
Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

August 11 Reflections

Reflections for August 11, 2019
R. Scott Sullender shares the account of a woman named Marlene in his book “Losses in Later Life.” From day one in her life she was told how cute she was. She was the apple of her parents’ eye, the youngest and prettiest of six children. She was fussed over. She was dressed up. She was admired. She was entered in all the beauty contest and usually won. Always she was expected just to stand there and look pretty. Don’t say anything. Don’t do anything. Just look good. And so, she did. As she grew into adulthood, she incorporated those values. She too worshiped at the altar of appearance. She spent hours in front of the mirror, among the clothes racks, and in the beauty salons.
The only trouble with this scheme was that Marlene grew older, and at thirty-eight her beauty was dull compared to the sparkling looks of younger women. She began to have a growing sense of emptiness, and at times panic. It was a long journey to break free from the grip of the false god of beauty, youthfulness and appearance which at best is temporary, to connect her into faith in the living God who is eternal and never changes.
It is not a bad thing to take care of oneself and look like you care. A god is created when you take a good thing and turn it into a false god. We take a good thing and make it ultimate. This good thing, and it can be physical health, marriage, children, family, relationships, sports teams, athletics, music, a political party, wealth, vacations, electronic devices; actually, the list is endless because as John Calvin said so clearly “our hearts are idol factories” becomes the ultimate thing. It is anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God; anything you seek to give yourself what only God can give. I have been doing a lot of self-reflection this week about the gods I have created in my life. For way too many years I made the approval of others a god, where what people thought of me was more important than what God thought of me. There are more, but part of looking together at the first commandment is to seriously look into our own hearts and see the gods we have created and put before the living God. That is what we are going to think about this week. Some passages to read and reflect on: Exodus 20:1-3; Matthew 4:1-11; Matthew 10:32-39; Mark 12:28-34.
Grace upon Grace,
Pastor Verlyn

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