Author Archives: smcalhoon

Lent Devotion: March 22nd


Psalm 31:9-16

9Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
10For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.

11I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.

14But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.

There have many times when I have been told, “Oh, how lucky you are that as a missionary you could go back home to Japan.” Although I do feel a strong sense of calling to be doing evangelism in Japan and feel blessed in my work, I’m not sure I feel particularly “lucky.” Growing up in rural Japan with a Christian mother in a town of 12,000 people without a single church and being the only child in the entire elementary school that believed in Jesus was not an easy thing for me. I watched my mother being shunned by her neighbors much like David describes in the psalm we read today. When I came to Holland, Michigan, in 1987 to study at Western Theological Seminary, for the first time in my life I no longer had to worry about what my neighbors were saying about my Christian faith. Even later when I lived in Chicago and then in New York City, where there are large numbers of people of other faiths and of no faith, I never had to feel I was being shunned by the entire neighborhood because of my faith.

When the RCA advertised in the Church Herald in the fall of 1993 that they were looking for a new couple to send as missionaries to Japan, my initial response was that I had no desire to return to Japan and go back to the difficulties that confronted me growing up. It was only after much prayer that I reached a point at which I could join David in declaring, “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand” (vv. 14-15).

Although there certainly have been many hardships in the past two decades, God has continued to show steadfast love in watching over us.

Prayer: Dear God in heaven, whenever we travel through seasons of hardship and difficulty, we pray that David’s words might come alive in our hearts so that we too can trust in the Lord and declare, “My times are in your hand.” We pray this in Christ’s precious name. Amen.

Sayuri Kist-Okazaki and her husband, Abraham, work in evangelistic training for congregations of the United Church of Christ in Japan, where less than 1 percent of the population is Christian. They also serve as associate pastors at Kugahara Church in Tokyo, in the area of local mission.

Lent Devotion: March 20th


Mark 11:1-11

1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Over half of this passage describes Jesus’s instructions to two of his disciples regarding the details of fetching a colt, including where to find it, what kind of colt to get, and what to say. We aren’t told what the disciples were thinking, but it seems to me that part of them hoped for a more magnificent and nobler role than what preaching professor Thomas Long describes as “donkey detail,” or what another writer refers to as “donkey rustling.”

Given the past discussions where the disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest, I doubt the disciples were thinking that they would have donkey duty that day. So, as Long notes, “on this very public and wonderfully glorious day of Jesus’ ministry, a day when Jesus will be welcomed into Jerusalem with joyous hosannas,” these two disciples find themselves behind the scenes, “mucking around a stable, looking suspiciously like horse thieves, and trying to wrestle an untamed and no doubt balky animal toward the olive groves.” Yet the donkey is a necessary part of the story. For if the disciples had done something different, this wonderful story would have been changed considerably.

This idea of being on donkey detail reminds me of the many ways we serve people. Maybe it’s by folding bulletins, singing to people at the local care center, cooking and delivering a meal to someone in need, or getting the oil changed in the church van.

What sort of donkey detail is the Lord calling you to? Is it your involvement with someone who is in need, helping with Sunday school, or volunteering in some way?

May we continue this Lenten season with a sense of service and obedience, listening for God’s call on our lives.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for this wonderful example of obedience given to us by these two disciples. Help me to be joyful while on whatever donkey detail you put me this week. Amen.

Mark Vellinga serves as the pastor of Mescalero Reformed Church in Mescalero, New Mexico. Along with his wife, Miriam, he strives to serve the Native American community in a way that honors their Native American heritage and demonstrates how that heritage shapes their faith.

Lent Devotion: March 19th


Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!
2Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”

19Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
20This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

21I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
23This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

26Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.

28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.
29O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Parents everywhere have heard the refrain “Are we there yet?” Whether on a road trip in the family car or, in our context, on the 30- hour journey from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to the U.S., many of us tire of a journey that once might have excited us, especially if the journey entails some unpleasantness.

Today, we are well past the halfway mark, the twenty-ninth day of Lent. Some of us may be asking, “Are we there yet?” Can’t we just skip ahead to the praises of Palm Sunday for the one who comes in the name of the Lord to save his people or just go on with life as usual until the joy of Easter morning? Our Scripture passage for today is a helpful reminder that the deepest joy of Easter is inextricably linked to the passion of the crucified Christ.

These brief words in verses 22 and 29 remind us of the depth, complexity, and richness of God’s story. How did the builders make such a mistake? How could rejection be considered marvelous? How does it lead to joy and gladness? No, we’re not there yet; there are more opportunities for growth and discovery. We must press on in our Lenten journey with our sisters and brothers around the world, slowly and intentionally, resisting the temptation to skip ahead to the parts that make us feel good, to skip over the parts that leave us with questions, or to leave out the parts that make us uncomfortable. Doing so would put us at risk of missing out or even rejecting the marvelous doings of the Lord.

Resisting these temptations will help us to respond with deeper joy and understanding when at last we discover the empty tomb on Easter. Then, together we can respond with great gladness of heart: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Prayer: We give thanks to you, Lord, for you are good and your steadfast love endures forever. Help us to wait on you in this journey that we might more fully comprehend your goodness, your love, and your marvelous ways. By the power of your Spirit, may we share these good gifts with those around us to the glory of your name. We pray in the name of our rejected, crucified, and risen Lord Jesus. Amen.

Mark Wilson is a faculty member of the Phnom Penh Bible School and board member of the TEE Association of Cambodia. He and his wife, Deb, have served in Cambodia for over 17 years.

Lent Devotion: March 17th


John 12:27-33

27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Contemporary theologian Will Willimon tells of a pastor friend who, during a Lenten season, put up three crosses draped in black in the front lawn of the church he pastored and then received numerous complaints that the crosses made the neighborhood look bad. Willimon writes, “Christ’s, or humanity’s, suffering, it seems, is something unpleasant that happens to other people, more annoying than ennobling, something to be eradicated by the latest wonder drug or meditative technique.”

For many people today, Jesus hanging on the cross of Calvary, beaten, bloodied, suffering, and dying doesn’t exactly convey a picture of Jesus in all his glory. Instead it seems an image of weakness, despair, and defeat. Surely not one of magnificent victory!

But isn’t that the difficulty? Truly understanding “the relationship of the cross to our salvation, the connection between the suffering of Christ and human suffering, the need for God to become physically entangled in the world’s evil and pain … is too great a mystery that is beyond our intellectual comprehension,” in the words of Willimon.

But here in John 12, the cross was exactly where Jesus was headed. He was headed there because the cross was not a place of despair and defeat for Jesus. Instead, the cross was the place where his glory was on display most beautifully and magnificently.

For it was there on the cross that Jesus was “lifted up from the earth” so he could “draw all people to [himself]” (v. 32) by paying for the sins of everyone. For a few days later, it was on that cross that Jesus’s glory was on beautiful and magnificent display, saving us from our sins so that by faith in him we will live with him in glory forever.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for glorifying your Son through his sacrifice on the cross—for us! Draw us to him today that we might live with you forever in glory. Amen.

Mark Vellinga serves as the pastor of Mescalero Reformed Church in Mescalero, New Mexico. Along with his wife, Miriam, he strives to serve the Native American community in a way that honors their Native American heritage and demonstrates how that heritage shapes their faith.

Lent Devotion: March 16th

John 12:20-26

20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” What a simple request. Some people have heard about Jesus and want to see him. But to the disciples it wasn’t so simple. After all, these were Greeks, foreigners. Philip didn’t take them to Jesus. Instead, he told Andrew, and then they told Jesus about the men.

Jesus responds by talking about a seed dying. Was he talking about his upcoming death? Or was he also trying to help his disciples recognize that they were trying to hold tightly to the restrictions the Pharisees had placed on living their faith—keeping it to themselves, being exclusive rather than inclusive, refusing to be the blessing and light to the nations that God had called them to be?

What about us? Do we cling tightly to the way we’ve understood church to be, not allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us to welcome others not like us, perhaps even drawing support from others to justify our attitudes?

Or are we willing to let go of our traditions and wrestle with what it means to die to self, to allow the Holy Spirit to work within us? What would it look like if I unclenched my hands and let go of those things that I cling so tightly to? What if I allowed Jesus to truly have all of me—my time, my talents, my money, my biases, my traditions? What if during this Lenten season, I asked Jesus to burst through that hard shell I have created around myself and engender new growth in myself that would allow me to give recklessly and joyfully in his kingdom work?

Prayer: Lord, help me to unclench my hands and release all, absolutely all, that I cling to, save you alone, so that you can produce amazing, abundant new growth in me that welcomes everyone and leads them to you. Amen.

Patty Ford has been an RCA missionary for 35 years, focusing on Christian education and spiritual formation. She is currently serving in Beirut, Lebanon, with her husband, Peter.

Palm fronds needed! Please bring palm fronds to Church this Sunday. We will be making palm crosses for Palm Sunday.

Please feel free to view the video below to help you remember how to make the crosses!


Lent Devotion: March 15th

Hebrews 5:5-10 

5So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” 7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

For the past two years, I have been teaching Introduction to Christianity to freshmen at Meiji Gakuin University who, like the rest of Japan, are overwhelmingly non-Christian. This experience of teaching has been a wonderful learning experience because, in the essays and reflection papers that the students write, I get new insights into what they find to be the parts of Christianity that are difficult to understand.

One of the difficult concepts for most of my students to grasp is the hypostatic—the belief that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine. Other religions have hybrid entities like demigods, which are a result of deities intermingling with humans, a mixture that is somewhat less than divine. In this respect, Christianity is very different from other religions.

Hebrews gives a clear explanation of why this belief in the two natures of Christ is so important. Hebrews 4 says that because Jesus is truly the Son of God without sin, and because he is at the same time fully human and thus truly able to sympathize with us, we are able to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:15).

Often, Jesus is misunderstood to be some sort of superhero that came into this world walking on water and knowing everything there is to know. But that’s not the case. Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered” (v. 8). This demonstrates that Jesus had to learn things through life’s hardships, just like us. More importantly, it expresses the depth of Jesus’s love for us as he suffered for our sake.

Prayer: Father God, we give you thanks and praise for sending your Son into the world to dwell among us and to save us from our sin. We pray that in this season of Lent, we come to learn the depth of the love you have for us and to share that story of your love with those around us. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Abraham Kist-Okazaki and his wife, Sayuri, work in evangelistic training for congregations of the United Church of Christ in Japan, where less than 1 percent of the population is Christian. They also serve as associate pastors at Kugahara Church in Tokyo, in the area of local mission.

Lent Devotion: March 14th

Psalm 119:9-16

9How can young people keep their way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
11I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.
12Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes.
13With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
14I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches.
15I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

My husband and I have a daughter, Lorelei, who is four years old and at the stage where she asks many great questions and has the ability to have some deeper conversations (deeper than just “please eat three more bites of your beans”). She is asking questions about God, creation, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. She is a singer, and in the car she makes up songs about “loving the Lord with my WHHHOLE heart” and “Jesus dying on the cross.”

There are times that are challenging, as we help her to sort through truth that makes sense in her growing brain and heart. She recently learned the Lord’s Prayer and really enjoys saying it together as a family. We discuss what sins are, what it means that we want God’s kingdom to come and his will be done, why we pray for bread, and what temptation is. We encourage her to treasure God’s Word in her heart. We pray together, sing together, and talk about who God is together. We love these conversations with our daughter, and we pray God uses them to plant his Word deep in her heart, so that she may always find delight in his Word.

Conversations with a child remind us how God walks alongside each one of us, patiently providing his love and assurance when we dwell on his riches and meditate on his precepts. Lent is a time when we slow down, sometimes giving things up or taking on a spiritual practice in order to provide intentional space to notice the moving of the Holy Spirit. What questions are you asking? What practices are you putting in place to allow for God’s purity to flow into your life? Spend time today finding delight in God’s Word.

Prayer: Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Chelsea Lampen, along with her husband, Jeff, and their two children, Lorelei and Caspian, serve as RCA missionaries in Lupeni, Romania. Chelsea walks alongside international students as they grow in depth and knowledge of how Christ is working in Eastern Europe.

Palm fronds needed! Please bring palm fronds to Church this Sunday. We will be making palm crosses for Palm Sunday.

Please feel free to view the video below to help you remember how to make the crosses!


Lent Devotion: March 13th

Psalm 51:1-12

1Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

3For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

10Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

As a child, spring cleaning was the necessary activity that I disliked the most. It was a time to evaluate, take inventory, and set the entire house in order for a new season. The task I disliked the most was the process of cleaning windows to make them spotless and shiny.

During this season of Lent, as we reflect and examine ourselves, remember the words of Jesus, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Because of God’s grace and Jesus’s steadfast commitment to fulfill the will of God—his determination, sacrifice, suffering, and death on the cross and glorious resurrection—believers who put their faith and total trust in Christ enjoy forgiveness, salvation, and fellowship with God. We are called to worship God and live in humble and faithful submission to the will of God and utilize our gifts and talents in service to God and others.

What areas of our lives do we need to examine, surrender, and submit to God? How have we missed the mark, distorted God’s truth, and deliberately disobeyed the will of God? What sins do we need to confess to God and others?

The psalmist models for us how we are to deal with sins in our lives. When we confess our sins to God and others, God is able to forgive our sins and create in us clean hearts, steady spirits, and minds and wills open to and fixed on God. As we seek Christ and strive to live in God’s presence, we can overcome the power of sin and live to the glory of God.

Prayer: Gracious God, I thank you for the gift of Jesus and the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. Forgive me of my sins and help me to be steadfast in my walk with you. Amen.

Derrick Jones is the supervisor of RCA mission in Africa and the interim co-director of RCA Global Mission.