Tag Archives: Sins

God’s People, part 73: The Widow

Read 1 Kings 17:8-24

“Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon.” (Luke 4:25-26)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

ElijahByLouisHersentPart 73: The Widow. As has been mentioned before, leadership does not necessarily speak for all of the people. Just because the kings, queens, and/or leaders of nations are wicked does not mean that all the people of those nations are wicked. It is easy for us to look at the people living in “wicked” kingdoms and to assume that the people are wicked; however, that kind of rash judgment is neither prudent nor accurate. God’s people are in every land and under every type of leader.

This can be seen in the account of Elijah. As was discussed in the devotion prior to the last one, Elijah was himself one of God’s people. He lived in the “wicked” Northern Kingdom of Israel; however, he was not wicked. He loved the LORD God with his whole heart and dedicated his life to serving and representing him as a prophet. Placing his identity in God, he found himself confronting the most wicked rulers in the history of Israel, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.

With that said, Elijah wasn’t the only one who was following God in Israel at his time. We previously discussed Obadiah, who hid 100 prophets of God during a time King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were persecuting and killing the prophets. I also briefly mentioned the name of another one of God’s people when describing the great signs and wonders that God displayed through Elijah. This person, a woman, is known as the Widow of Zarephath.

This widow was one of the countless people who were starving to death because of the tyrannical rule of Ahab and Jezebel. While they lived in excess and led people astray from all that was right and pure, many people suffered, starved, and could barely make ends meet. When Elijah came to the woman and asked for a portion of her food and water, she couldn’t help but pour her plight out to him.

How could this man, this prophet, be asking her for something she didn’t have? If she were to have given it to him, she and her son would have no food left to feed themselves. She expressed that to Elijah who, quite compassionately, acknowledged that reality and assured her that God would not let her or her son starve.

She, though fearful, acted in faith and gave Elijah the food and water he needed. Yet, later on that evening, her son died! In grief, she cried out to Elijah, demanding an answer from him. “Then she said to Elijah, ‘O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?’” (1 Kings 17:18 NLT). To understand her grief is to know that she did not only lose a son, but she lost the only one left to take care of her. As a widow, her husband was dead, which meant her son had to be the head of the household. Without her son, she was left destitute.

Of course, Elijah cried out to God on her behalf and, indeed, God resurrected her son back to life; however, let us linger a little on the pain and grief this woman went through. Have you, the reader, ever experienced grief at the loss of someone you loved, someone you depended on? Have you ever felt like you are just squeaking by and barely making ends meet? Do you ever wonder why God is “cursing you.”

If so, know that these questions are natural. Also know that, as was clearly the case in this story, God IS NOT cursing you. Life is filled with all sorts of trials and hardships. We live in a broken world and, beyond its brokenness, death is very much a part of life. That is just nature. Yet, as this widow found out, God is with us! God will not let us suffer alone, but God places people in our lives to support us and encourage us and bring life back to us. Open your heart to God, step out in faith like the widow did, and know that God is with you now and always.

God is with you.

Lord, still my soul so that I may know that you are God. Give me the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.

Amazing Grace

Read Luke 20:9-18

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.’” (Isaiah 28:16 NLT)

AmazingGraceAgain, I want to reevaluate the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants. In particular, I would like to have us focus on the wrathful ending to it. In the last devotion, we spent time discussing what the parable reveals to us about God’s plan of redemption. Being that this is the parable Jesus chose to teach just days before he was going to be betrayed and handed over to the Romans for capital punishment, it reveals to us exactly what Jesus thought his mission to be. Yet, as was also discussed, the redemption seems to get lost in translation and overshadowed by God’s wrath.

So, let us look at the rhetoric Jesus is using and try to understand this not as God’s wrath, but of God’s ultimate measure of grace. The reality is that when Jesus asks the question, “what do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to [those wicked tennants]?”, he is attemption to elicit a certain response. Yet, the religious leaders had come to be trap this pesky Galilean teacher, not to be trapped by him. So, these leaders remain silent rather than answering the question.

Of course, they surely knew what the answer was. They knew that any owner of such a vineyard, who had the right to claim his/her share of the crops, would definitely not sit by after having his servants killed by such wicked tenants. What’s more, the murder of his son would have driven this father (and any parent) over the proverbial edge. Yet, there the religious leaders stood, resolute in their silence.

Thus, Jesus answered for them, “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:16a NLT). This response elicited the exact response Jesus knew they would come up with. Instantly, the religious leaders scoffed, “how terrible that such a thing should ever happen.” In other words, these religious leaders were both saying that such a scenario is horrible and, on the same note, a rather far-fetched story that bore no relevance to them.

Yet, it absolutely bore relevance to them. Jesus, knowing their hearts were hardened, quoted scripture, “Then what does this Scripture mean? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Luke 20:17-18 NLT).

First, I want to point out that Jesus’ answer on how the vineyard owner would respond does not exactly match the Scripture that Jesus quotes. The answer itself is the answer that Jesus knew lay in the hearts of the ones he was telling the story to. It is the answer that we as humans would wish that the owner, who’s own son was murdered, would do. Of course, the father is going to seek vengeance and retribution for the death of his son, right? What father wouldn’t?

Jesus then follows that up with something quite different from that answer. Jesus points out to the religious leaders that God had given them the stone upon which to build God’s kingdom. This was the very stone that stood before them: Jesus Christ. Yet these religious leaders, who were builders in the sense that they were supposed to be leading the people in building God’s kingdom, had rejected that stone and, in doing so, had turned away from God. Thus, they would end up stumbling over the stone and falling because of it.

Yet, that was not God’s wrathful vengeance, but their own hardened hearts that led them to trip up instead of build. That was the result of their own unwillingness to see what God was doing through Jesus. Sadly, the religious leaders realized that they were the “wicked tenants” in Jesus’ story and, instead of repenting and turning back to God, they fulfilled their part in the prophetic parable. Instead of reacting as humans would in that situation, God instead showed AMAZING GRACE. This grace is extended toward all humanity, even those who have rejected God. In fact, some of Jesus’ opponents did eventually come to follow Jesus (e.g. Nicodemus, Saul of Tarsus, etc.). Everyone can turn from their sins through faith in Jesus Christ, and become the Kingdom builders they were created to be. This is God’s challenge to us this Lent.

“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” – John Newton

Lord, you are the corner stone upon which I have been built. Thank you for your amazing grace. Amen.

Grim Grinning Ghosts

Read 1 Samuel 28:7-20

“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.” (Galatians 6:7 NLT)

clare-kramer-grave-dancers-movie-stills-mq-07 “When the crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake, spooks come out for a singing wake. Happy haunts materialize and begin to vocalize. Grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize.” Thus the song, “Grim Grinning Ghosts”, kicks off as one is winding down from the roof of Walt Disney World’s “The Haunted Mansion”, to the graveyard below, filled with ghostly ghouls and whisping spirits flying through the night sky. As a huge Disney fan, who will be at the parks this summer as well, “The Haunted Mansion” is without doubt my all-time favorite ride.

As most people know, I love horror movies and, in particular, I love a good ghost tale. One of my more favorite ghost movies is an independent film called, “Gravedancers”. I am not sure how many people realize this or not, but it is a fact that this film was inspired by Disney’s “The Haunted Mansion”, which is the favorite ride of the director/writer of the film. He has loved that ride since he was a child and the frightful fancies it induced.

In fact, it is the song from the famous ride, “Grim Grinning Ghosts” that the director drew the most inspiration from when coming up with the ghosts that were going to be haunting his film. Perhaps, the word “haunt” is an understatement when it comes to these ghosts. Take a long, uncomfortable look at the ghost pictured above. They go beyond creepy, to downright making your skin crawl at first sight.

Like all horror films, there is a certainly immorality present in all of the characters that causes the horror they go through to manifest in their lives. The ghosts that haunt them, no doubt, do so because they disregard their own moral compasses and act selfishly, with little regard to others (including the dead) in the process. Their sins literally come back to haunt them in ways that are both horrifying and unforgettable. Like, the images literally are etched into one’s mind after seeing this film.

One of the main moral failures that he characters display in this film, is the utter and total disregard of others. The story starts off with a group of college friends reuniting years after they had graduated in order to attend the funeral of one of their former friends. Following the funeral, they all go out drinking and end up taking their party to a cemetery because, well, excessive alcohol intake leads to some pretty nonsensical and irrational decisions and deeds.

At the cemetery, they open up a letter in a black envelope that has a poem in it, which beckons them to dance on the graves of the dead. To most sober people, this would sound like a bad idea just out of respect for the dead and their living, grieving, loved ones. But these characters (to avoid using a more pejorative word) think this would be a great way to celebrate their lives. So they dance and, in doing so, desecrate the graves of the dead, awakening the rage of some pretty vengeful and malicious spirits.

There’s something in this story for us to pull from. How often do we go about our lives, merely thinking of ourselves and our own. We call ourselves Godly people because we, typically, care for those we love and those who love us back. We call ourselves “good” people because there are “far worse” people than us out there; however, we are, admittedly, “not as good” as we could be. We measure the merit of our lifestyles by how much gratification it gives us, with often little to no regard for whether our lifestyles are impedeing and/or harming others, and we fight to keep the status quo so that the powers that be, so-to-speak, favor us over and above others.

While we may not be dancing on the graves of the dead, we are often living our lives in a way that dances on the lives of others, thus sealing their fate in terms of their suffering. We often are dancing on the living graves of the oppressed in order to enjoy the benefits that are afforded to us but not to others. In doing so, we are also simultaneously conjuring up grim grinning ghosts that come to haunt us in ways we could have never imagined.

Just take a look at all of the chaos and woes of society, and you will see the grim grinning ghosts that have been unearthed by the sins of a people who have forgotten to live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. What can we do about it? We can choose to begin to fight for justice, for equality, and for the peaceable Kingdom of God in our households, our communities, and our world. Through standing up for such ideals, and through self-reflection and contemplation, we can be holy agents of change.

“The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts.” – Italo Calvino

Lord, empower me to recognize the ghosts I have unleashed in my life, and in the lives of others. Help me to stand true in your light in order to remove them once and for all. Amen.

Closet Cleaning

Read Daniel 2:20-23

“Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 CEB)

191-skeleton-in-the-closetThis past August, I went to the theater to see the film entitled, “The Gift.” It was a psychological thriller written and directed by Joel Edgerton who had played Rameses, the Pharaoh who opposed Moses in last year’s Biblical Epic, “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” The film is centered on a young married couple who recently moved from Chicago to California while recovering from a recent miscarriage. The husband had grown up there and the couple decided to move back there after losing the baby. While shopping for furniture for their new house, the husband (played by Jason Bateman) bumps into someone he knew back in high school named Gordon Mosely, who went by the nickname Gordo. The meeting was, of course, awkward to say the least and when it was time for the young couple to leave, you could see the relief on the husband’s face.

The story doesn’t end there. Gordo is a pretty resourceful guy and ends up showing up on their door step with a house-warming gift. They eat dinner with him and when he leaves the husband starts questioning his wife about the oddness of Gordo’s sudden appearance in their lives. Gordo continues to have interactions with the husband, and the wife, and starts to weird the couple out. It is at this point the husband starts to feel threatened by Gordo, and confronts him directly in order to send a clear message that he wants him out of their lives. Without giving anything else away, it is obvious the story doesn’t end there and that Gordo isn’t done harassing this young couple. But what becomes clear, is that as weird and offsetting as Gordo is, we begin to see that the husband has a good many skeletons in his closet and, should they be revealed, they could not only threaten him personally, but also the very fabric of his marital relationship.

If that teaser doesn’t get you to want to see the film, nothing will. As I was watching it I found myself being judgmental of the characters. Each of them had skeletons in their closet, things that they had hidden and buried for years. How could they do that? How could they possibly think that they would get away with trying to hide those things? It was in the moment of such judgment passing that I realized the hypocrisy in my own line of questioning. After all, which one of us doesn’t have skeletons in our closet? Which one of us doesn’t have dark aspects to our thoughts, our personalities and even, sometimes, our deeds? Each of us have thought or done something we are not proud of and each of us have buried those things and tried to move on from them.

There is nothing inherently wrong with trying to move on from previous sins; however, when we do it in a way that is dishonest, when we do it in away that allows us to not come to terms with and repent for what we’ve done, then those sins become skeletons. While the closet door is closed, those skeletons hang silently on their noose-like hangers and we forget they’re there. We may even deceive ourselves into thinking they were never there to begin with, that we hadn’t sinned at all; however, when someone or something opens those doors, those skeletons bare themselves and clink together like wooden reeds in the wind.

Today’s challenge is two-fold. First, don’t judge others for the skeletons that are in their closets. For you know it is true that you have skeletons of your own that could just as easily be exposed and judged. Second, deal with your own skeletons. Acknowledge the sins and/or mistakes of your past and be repentant of them. I don’t mean that you have to shout them out to the world but, where reconciliation with others is needed, work hard to reconcile with them. If you work hard to clear out the skeletons in your own closet, and we all know there is a lifetime full, then you won’t have time to notice the skeletons in another’s closet. Even if you do, you won’t judge because you know you’ve been there; rather, you will reach out in love and offer them a helping hand in their closet cleaning.

“The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.” – St. Jerome
Lord, help to acknowledge the skeletons in my closet so that I may truly move forward from them in grace. Amen.


Read Genesis 3; John 11:47-53


“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

GoatHave you ever read or seen the play, “The Crucible”, by Arthur Miller? It tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials, which happened from February 1692 – April 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts.  In the story, while dancing and casting spells in the woods, a group of girls were caught by the village’s minister, Reverend Parris.  Parris’ daughter was one of the girls and, upon seeing her father, fainted and did not regain consciousness.  Knowing that much of the town was divided over the effectiveness his leadership and ministry, Parris was fearful of what might become of the girls behavior and proceeded to interrogate the girls.

The girls, in turn, blamed Tituba the slave out of fear for being scolded and beaten.  Parris then brought in the Reverend John Hale of Beverly to interrogate Tituba and to investigate whether or not the devil had indeed been raised in Salem. Tituba was harshly interrogated, and after she had been threatened with severe beatings and death, she confessed to being in league with Satan. But that confession wasn’t enough. Her accusers wanted her to give up any names who might have also joined her in signing Satan’s black book.  Afraid for her life, and just wanting the nightmare that had befallen her to come to an end, Tituba calls out the names of four people who lived within the community.

The stage had been set, the spark ignited, the fire kindled, and the blazing flames were about to engulf the entire village of Salem. Historically speaking, by April of 1693 over 160 people were accused of Witchcraft, most of whom were jailed and deprived of their property and legal rights.  Fifty of those people confessed to witchcraft in order to save themselves from immediate trial and certain death. In the end, twenty-five of the accused died: nineteen were executed by hanging, one was pressed to death by stones, and five died due to the horribly unsanitary conditions of their imprisonment.

It seems to be human nature to scapegoat people in order to save our own hides.  We see this reflected in the Adam and Eve story, where Adam points the finger at Eve, followed by Eve pointing the finger at the serpent who, unfortunately didn’t have any fingers left to point. And this pattern of playing the blame game can be seen throughout history. Early Christians in the mid-first century were scapegoated by Nero for the fire that burned down a large portion of Rome. And let’s not stop with Rome, for we need look no further than the Inquisition, the holocaust and some of the reactions to the attacks on 9/11 to see that Christians have certainly done their share in scapegoating too.

Let us, in the spirit of Lent, remember that Jesus was a scapegoat and was executed for crimes that he didn’t commit. In the spirit of Christ, let us repent of the times we have participated in scapegoating others, whether it be as small as scapegoating our siblings to avoid a spanking or as large as scapegoating minority groups in order to maintain the socio-economic and political status quo.

God is calling each of us to swallow our pride, repent of our sins, and accept responsibility for what we have done.  It is only then that we can rise out of the water of our baptism with Jesus and follow him into the wilderness of preparation. It is only then that we can truly be his disciples. It is only then that we will can bear the Good News of God’s hope, healing and wholeness to the people in our midst.  During this Lent God is calling us, not to be perpetually guilty, but to repent and move forward in the direction God is calling us…the direction of witnessing to God’s unconditional love of us all!


“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus of Nazareth, in Luke 5:31-32


Lord, bring me to the point of true, and liberating, repentance so that I may truly serve you and represent your unconditional love. Amen.