Author Archives: smcalhoon

Lent Devotion: March 16th

March 16, 2019
By Kate Meyer

Psalm 28:
To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, do not refuse to hear me,
for if you are silent to me,
I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Hear the voice of my supplication,
as I cry to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary. …

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

Read the full psalm

When people learn I am a hospice chaplain, what I receive in response is the human version of the Labrador head tilt. In case you don’t know, when Labs are engaged in conversation with their humans, they maintain eye contact and tilt their head back and forth, signaling their engagement. Their eyes are very expressive and change depending on key words. For instance, the word walk leads to bright, excited eyes, while the word noresults in something bordering on betrayal. When they are told their human is sad or hurt, however, their head tilts even more, their eyes fill with sympathy, and a paw of comfort is extended. It is this last tilt I receive from people, usually accompanied by this verbal response: “I can’t imagine. That must be really hard.” I normally respond with a word or two about how it is also an honor and that I’ve been blessed to witness many holy moments.

In many senses, my patients are in the pit; what makes them unique is their willingness to be open to all things that make up their pit. A quiet energy fills the room as we talk and open the Word. We feel the Holy Spirit descend as everything is laid out on the table.

God enters into the pit with them and hears their cry to the One, the only One, able to remain firm in their final season of transition. They lift their hands to that same One, and God helps. Their hearts are exulted and they give God thanks.

In this season of examination, no matter the pit you are in, name it and lay it bare before God. Do so and that same One will lift you with strong, protective arms from darkness to light.

Prayer: God, who accompanies me, even into the pit, help me trust that you never refuse my cry. Give me ears to hear you and a willingness to be moved by you. May my song of thanks flow freely from my lips. Amen.
Kate Meyer is the counseling services manager for Hospice of Holland in Holland, Michigan, where she lives with her husband and their two chocolate Labs.

Lent Devotion: March 15th

March 15, 2019
By Ken Sampson

Psalm 27 (The Message):
1 Light, space, zest—
that’s God!
So, with him on my side I’m fearless,
afraid of no one and nothing. …
13-14 I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God! Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again: Stay with God.

Read the full psalm.

On a recent trip to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, I visited Gallery 901 of the Modern and Contemporary Art section. On the near left wall, seven 11-by-23-inch panels, entitled “The Seven Deadly Sins,” caught my attention.

To me, these paintings by American artist Paul Cadmus seemed surreal, garish, showy. Rather than works to be pondered and admired, they gave rise to a feeling of distaste, even revulsion.

The description adjacent to the paintings told of the artist’s 1945-1949 egg tempera on Masonite renderings of a subject common since the Middle Ages—deadly sins. The account detailed Paul Cadmus’s interpretation, his being prone to excess, vulgarity, and gore. Then the narrative ended: “Of the series, Cadmus explained, ‘I don’t appear as myself, but I am all of the Deadly Sins in a way, as you all are, too.’”

Wow! The frank words confronted and challenged me. Immediately, I seemed faced with my own sinfulness. I thought, gluttony? Don’t tempt me with freshly popped mushroom popcorn, coated with melted butter and salt—I’ll consume it uncontrollably. Greed? It takes all the willpower I can muster to bypass a Costco-sized pack of Cheez-It Grooves (sharp white cheddar), the crunchy snack crackers.

Lent encourages us to deepen our devotion to our triune God. Yes, our hearts can be a “teeming horde of infamies” (John Calvin). A chaos-inducing carnival of sinful, intrusive thoughts and desires can be present within each of us.

As we discipline our minds, bringing “every thought into captivity to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), explore and celebrate our baptismal vow identity that centers upon union with Jesus and empowerment by his Holy Spirit, and anticipate the Good Friday assurance that God’s grace enables our repentance and renewed status before him, we find that confidence, assurance, and acceptance replaces disappointment, failure, and frustration. We enjoy “Light, space, zest—that’s God!” (v. 1) and go forward enriched and refreshed.

Prayer: Generous God, when “vandal hordes [of sin] roll down, ready to eat me alive” (Psalm 27:2), may we take heart and refuge in you. Your Son’s victory-defining resurrection and our empowerment by your Holy Spirit give us supernatural life, strength, courage, and direction. Enable us to stay the course with you this Lenten season and always. In Jesus’s sacrifice-offering name we pray. Amen.
Kenneth SampsonChaplain Ken Sampson is a retired U.S. Army chaplain. He lives with his wife, Kate, in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. Kate is a spiritual director, and Ken serves as military liaison with Guideposts.

Lent Devotion: March 14th

March 14, 2019
By John Boyer

Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

Read the full psalm

Let’s be honest: life can be full of so much noise—so many distractions, so much busyness—and the temptation for many can be to just get swept away by all of it. There are meetings to be at, functions to attend, demands to be met, and if we’re not careful, we can be in danger of drifting away from our Lord. Though we live in a society that seems to continually clamor in both speed and noise, our passage today reminds us of a bygone era when the pace was a bit slower and the noise was a bit less. The psalmist’s words invoke an image of peace, rest, and tranquility taken next to a stream of quiet beauty—an image that has resonated with souls over millennia.

I count myself blessed, having experienced in nature my soul being rejuvenated next to peaceful pastures and streams of quiet waters. And though I don’t always have the means of picking up and physically traveling to a location where this image can be experienced, I do have the ability of reading the passage, closing my eyes (wherever I am), and imagining myself in this place Scripture reveals. On many occasions, even in the midst of the busyness and distractions of life, I have recalled the words of the psalmist, imagining myself in this place of tremendous beauty and peace, and there I center my spirit and quiet my soul.

I encourage you, in this season of Lent, to take a moment today and ask our Good Shepherd to lead your spirit next to a place of green pastures and quiet waters—so that he may restore your soul.

Prayer: Good Shepherd, today would you help to quiet the noise and limit the distractions so I can hear your still, small voice? Lead me in the way of green pastures and quiet waters, and guide me in your paths of righteousness—for your kingdom and your glory. Amen.
Chaplain BoyerR. John Boyer is an active duty wing chaplain (Lt. Col.) for the largest fighter wing in the Air Force, located at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. John has been an RCA chaplain since 2003, serving both in the Army and in the Air Force. He and Crystal have been married for 18 years and have four children (Kyndra, Caleb, Brennan, and Aubree).

Lent Devotion: March 13th

March 13, 2019
By Joe Brummel

Psalm 22:
 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

Read the full psalm.

A light-hearted sign hanging in our house reads, “Our children are welcome if invited. Our grandchildren are welcome anytime!!” Don’t misunderstand, we get along great with our daughters—they laughed when they first read it. It simply means we adore our grandkids, and we miss them when we are separated from them. I can go about a week away from them, and there seems to be an internal alarm that screams, “You need to find a grandchild and hug them quick!” Separation sucks: for the soldier who leaves family, for the college student who departs for the semester, and for the child left in the church nursery!

Psalm 22 is about a heart that feels separated from God. It reflects a time when God doesn’t feel close. He doesn’t seem to care. How we feel often conflicts with the truth we know about God. The lyrics of a Lauren Daigle song (“You Say”) share this struggle:

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh, you say that I am yours
And I believe.

Feelings tell us God doesn’t care; faith reminds us of his love. Feelings fool us into thinking God has hidden his face from us; faith convicts our hearts that he will never leave or forsake us. Feelings are fickle and often crush the spirit; faith gives hope.

Jesus deliberately quotes Psalm 22 from the cross, beginning with feelings of separation, but as he suffers, the entire psalm runs through his mind until his heart hears, “He has not hidden his face from him, but answered him when he called” (v. 24). Jesus clings to faith, not feelings, in his trials.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, we know that in your humanity you felt suffering and pain, thirst and hunger. But the feelings did not sway you away from your mission and call to give your life away! Help us in our weaknesses to not just focus on how we feel. May our commitment to live for you be unwavering. May all lies be silenced. May we live knowing you are a strong tower, a deliverer, a refuge, our strength! Amen.
Joe Brummel has been chaplain at Central College in Pella, Iowa, for 19 years. Joe and his wife, Diana, live in Pella and enjoy life with three daughters and their families. They enjoy mission trips with college students, an active summer of Christian camping ministry, and traveling.

Lent Devotion: March 12th

March 12, 2019
By Phyllis Palsma

Psalm 25:
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. …
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths. …
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Read the full psalm.

Lent is a time for a soul lift. Psalm 25 begins with a declaration of trust in God before going on to name several issues with which we can identify.

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. … in you I trust” (vv. 1-2). The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, which represents the whole self, not just the soul. As we journey through Lent, it is good to affirm the foundation of our faith, to praise our God who guides us along life’s paths that are not always straight and well groomed.

Psalm 25 is an acrostic poem with the first letter in most lines beginning with succeeding letters of the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and 22 verses to this psalm. The use of the acrostic helps the psalmist paint a broad landscape with pathways that are detoured and overgrown with shame, malicious acts, a troubled heart, entrapment, loneliness, and affliction. Within these paths is written an instructional “ABC’s” of God’s teachings, forgiveness, and salvation. For every trouble or obstacle, there is an affirmation of God’s grace.

The psalmist implores God: “Do not remember the sins of my youth … according to your steadfast love, remember me, O Lord” (v. 7). This soul-lift moment is filled with confidence and hope. God is reminded, as are we, of God’s promise to be merciful and steadfast in love while leading and teaching us along the path.

So, lift up your soul! Give thanks and praise for God’s steadfast love and trustworthiness.

Prayer: O God, I lift up my whole self in praise to you because I trust in you. As I look to you for help, be gracious to me. Relieve the troubles of my heart that I may receive your mercy. All glory and praise be to Christ, our redeemer. Amen.
Phyllis PalsmaRev. Phyllis Palsma is chaplain and pastoral resource coordinator at the Christian Health Care Center in Wyckoff, New Jersey. Her path in ordained ministry began with hospital chaplaincy, journeyed through parish ministries (central New York and northern New Jersey) and regional synod staff ministry before returning to chaplaincy.

Lent Devotion: March 11th

March 11, 2019
By Brent Mulder

Psalm 18 (NIV):
I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and I have been saved from my enemies.

Read the full psalm

This psalm is set in the context of war. “War is hell,” my late grandfather and World War II veteran once told me. He never said much more than this. War profoundly changes people. How can it not? The ones who survive certainly have reason to sing praises as David did. Many of their stories are remarkable and a bit unbelievable. I have been in war and heard these testimonies myself, first-hand. The most memorable one was from a soldier who had been shot in the head. It was not as bad as it sounds, though. The bullet hit his helmet and ricocheted off. He was obviously in shock, but he did not have any injuries, not even a concussion or traumatic brain injury. This soldier was so stunned and thankful that he could hardly speak. He just sat there, on the hospital bed, looking down at his helmet. I eagerly watched as he stared and felt the little indent and scratch mark. As a chaplain, it was good to know that another warfighter was safe that day.

As I wrapped up my shift, I rejoiced and said a prayer of thanksgiving for a God who saves people from their enemies. God still saves people from fatal bullets and charging insurgents. God still saves soldiers surrounded in battle with no way out. But God also saves people from less dramatic enemies outside the context of battlefield warfare, from enemies that are a bit more relatable, like divorce, financial ruin, a co-worker who seems to be “out to get them,” depression, addiction, and failure. Our God is a God of salvation.

Maybe we cannot relate to the war stories of victory, but this Lenten season, we can all draw near to the God who saved us—and is still saving us—from our enemies.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for miraculously saving people from their enemies. Thank you for miraculously saving me from my enemies. Teach me to always put my trust and hope in you. Continue to be my strength for the rest of my days. Amen.
Chap. MulderBrent Mulder is a chaplain in the United States Air Force, currently assigned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska

Lent Devotions: March 9th

March 9, 2019
By John Arthur

Psalm 13 (NIV):
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

The book of Psalms was a collection of songs for ancient Israel. Of the 150 lyric poems present in the hymnal, 67 are psalms of lament—songs that cry out to God in complaint. This is the single largest category of psalms. All psalms of lament have one thing in common: the focal point of the song is complaint. For some readers, this may be hard to hear. Complaint! How can this be? There are certainly words of address, confession, trustworthiness, petition, and hints foreshadowing salvation within these songs, but these elements are not the primary focus. It was suffering, not praise, that inspired these songs of the heart.

Working in an acute regional healthcare system, I have seen much suffering. Surely, the human condition is fraught with illness, decline, anxiety, isolation, fear, confusion, and ultimately, death. It is in these moments that we, like the psalmist, seek God’s face. The hiding of God’s face mentioned in Psalm 13 may remind of the priestly benediction in Numbers 6:24-26, as could the thrice-mentioned Lord and the seeking of light for renewal contained in its verses. In these dark times, though the soul still retains its capacity for faith, hope, and meaningful encounter, there is still an urgent need within us to cry out to God in complaint. The hefty inclusion of psalms of lament in the biblical canon assures us that God not only welcomes our complaints, but also that these are music to his ears. Imagine that: a God who does not feel defensive when we shout at him in honest agony! Rather, ours is a God who wrestles with us through pressing anxiety to urgent prayer and, ultimately, to expectant rejoicing as we crave light for our eyes and a turning of God’s face toward us.

Lent is a time for wrestling within as we wander through our wildernesses. It is a time of lamenting the felt separation from our Creator. It is also a time of coming to a deeper experience of the One who has called us to himself. My hope for all of us during this season is that we are able to live honestly before God and find within us the boldness to struggle with God so deeply that at times, only a well-crafted poem of complaint will suffice.

Prayer: May the Lord bless us and keep us. May we see him this day in new and surprising ways. May we feel his fixed gaze upon us and know his peace. Amen.
John ArthurJohn Arthur is a chaplain, psychotherapist, and manager of spiritually integrated health for the Brant Community Healthcare System, in Brantford, On

Lent Devotions: March 8th

March 8, 2019
By Kathy Jo Blaske

Psalm 8:
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens. …
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Read the full psalm

While a seminarian, I joined a canoe trip led by Dr. Gene Osterhaven into the Canadian wilderness. As stories of French voyageurs were read nightly around the campfire, I remember gazing into the heavens. The skies were so luminous! There were glowing bands of color I hadn’t seen before. Away from the light pollution of populated areas, the celestial views gave new meaning to the word magnificent. I was left in awe of our Creator. I was humbled to be one of the family of God.

Truly, we can be left with a feeling of insignificance in comparison to the wonder of our Creator’s celestial canvas. “Yet,” the psalmist counters, “you have made them a little lower than [elohim] (angels/divine beings) and crowned them with glory and honor” (v. 5). God esteems each and all with royal regard.

As the psalmist continues, God gave humanity dominion over the works of his hands. God calls us to be stewards of life: to use our God-given minds and hearts to further blessings for all.

We’re surrounded by people who do follow God’s call with their hearts. Today, I’m in particular awe of cancer researchers. As a survivor of stage 4 melanoma, my gratitude for the “fruit” of immunotherapy is foremost. Dr. Jimmy Lin, during Calvin College’s January Series, recognized immunotherapy as redemptive oncology, a way of leveraging the natural immune system that God has given us to treat the disease. In my case, it was a lifesaver.

I am humbled by the cooperative efforts of generations of observant, systematic scientists who have reached today’s height of cancer treatment. My own vocation seems to pale by comparison, yet the psalmist confirms that God honors the service given by all of us. By our combined contributions, may God’s majestic name continue to be known in all the earth.

Prayer: Majestic God, give us eyes to see the wonders of the works of your hands, from the heavens above to those stewards of your graces all around us. Inspire us, too, to contribute ourselves to magnifying you as our Creator. Amen

Lent Devotions: March 7th

March 7, 2019
By Tim Ehrhardt

Psalm 1:
1 Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

Read the full psalm.

Near my home is a small grove of oak trees. Every chance I get, I stroll through the little forest of majestic trees with their strong trunks, thick bark, and gnarled branches. I must confess that there are four particular trees that I talk to on a regular basis. I call them “Mama Oak,” “Papa Oak,” “Grandfather Oak,” and “Elmer” (“Young Oak”) because they stand together looking like a family. I speak to them for the primary reason that they are good listeners. I also speak to them because, as God’s creation, I have this intuition that they can actually hear me.

In his book The Hidden Life of Trees, veteran forester Peter Wohlleben has written a winsome and fascinating account of what he has learned about trees. His primary thesis is that trees are social—they communicate with and care for each other. Trees planted by streams of water are not a group of individual trees. Rather, through their extensive root system in the ground, they share vital nutrients with each other when one of them is sick; send something akin to electrical impulses with one another to warn of danger; and take ownership of helping the entire forest grow together in health and strength. And they are not in a hurry. Their slow growth is deliberate and careful, a testament to their resilience and longevity. Wohlleben describes this intricate care and communication system as “the wood-wide web.”

As we move through the season of Lent, we are not alone. We do not attempt to shed the old sinful nature by ourselves through sheer willpower. We assist one another. We depend upon the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. We embrace the slow, patient, and deliberate work of soul-craft as we anticipate meeting Jesus.

Prayer: God Almighty, your strength and wisdom are seen in all of creation. May you enable me, together with all your people, to embrace the path of patient righteousness and forsake the way of hurried wickedness. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the power of your Holy Spirit, amen.
Rev. Tim Ehrhardt is an ordained minister of Word and sacrament, currently serving as a Clinical Pastoral Education chaplain resident at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Tim has been married to Mary for 33 years. They have three daughters and three grandsons. 

Join us for Ash Wednesday Service 5:30 pm tonight