Author Archives: suegraff

Ezra 8,9,10; Revelation 15

After contributing to and reading this blog for three years, I settle in on my comfy couch for my final post. I reflect on a beautiful Christmas service and pause to soak it in. I am loved and pursued by the God of the Universe. He makes all things new. No matter what happens, my hope is secure and I will live one day with the angels in Heaven.

I am blessed.

After church we went to Hampden (in Baltimore) to see the Christmas lights. While the crowd added a bit of stress to the situation I still enjoyed the sights and sounds. Then I had a wonderful dinner with my family, the four of us, laughing and enjoying what will be one of the few dinners together before my daughter heads off to college.

Again, I soak it in. I am so very blessed.

In Ezra we read of the Israelites turning back to God after a period of exile and disobedience. They have hard work ahead of them, righting wrongs, changing their lives, even breaking apart from unbelieving women they married during their exile. Obedience is demanding, but they know what must be done. I ponder the trust they have in their God, and what they give up because they know it is the right thing to do. Life on earth can be hard.

Then we turn to the New Testament. In Revelation we get a peek at heaven, with the angels dressed in white linen and gold sashes. The redeemed sing with the angels, as we will one day:

 “Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.[a]
4 Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3-4)

Amen.

suegraff

PS – Merry Christmas everyone!

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Zechariah 9,10; Revelation 1

I have always been fascinated with how prophecy has been fulfilled. While you can chalk some of the prophecy proclaimed in the Bible to coincidence, I don’t see how anyone can explain away all of it. I remember hearing the long list of the prophesies of Jesus. How many of them there were, and how they were all fulfilled. Amazing.

Today we read of the prophecy of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem just five days before his crucifixion:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

In the next verse we read about Jesus’ message of peace:

10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River[b] to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:10)

Not only do prophesies help build our faith in the truth of the Bible, but they give us vital information to read and heed:

3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

Can you imagine being John, receiving the vision of what he writes in Revelation? But God speaks those ever reassuring words: “Do not be afraid.”

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18)

As I enter this week full of anxiety over many things, I will keep these simple words close at heart: “Do not be afraid”. I will remember that I already know the end of the story, and there is victory.

suegraff

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Ezekiel 27,28,29; 1 Peter 3

8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9, NIV)

Is it my imagination, or am I getting an awful lot of those tough commands on my assigned writing days? I approached today’s reading with a hope of meditating on some feel-good verses, to quiet my soul at this hectic time of year. While God provided that as I read verse 8, dreaming of a world where everyone was like-minded, sympathetic, loving, compassionate and humble, I read on in verse 9 and I am hit with one of those hard sayings: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing…” Replay evil with blessing.  Really??  Come on!!

I remember several times when this was certainly a challenge. I remember one time in particular; my husband gently reminded me of this when I was fuming at an injustice done to me at work and what I was planning to do about it. I was five timezones away, and I wanted to pretend I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I mean, come on, this person declared war!! I was fed up, hurt, angry, and exhausted. It took everything I had not to seek revenge. But to repay with blessing?  I don’t think I managed to go that far.

I will say, though, that my husband is one of the best people I know at living this principle (along with several others of these “hard sayings”). It used to make me crazy, but as I mature in my walk I am coming around. Maybe as I get older I can see the wisdom in this firsthand. I have seen situations escalate, and I can see where if this principle had been applied it would have avoided a world of hurt. I also see how the “evil” done to us is often a perception problem or a miscommunication. Other times it is done as a reaction of pain by the other person. Inflicting pain back does not accomplish any good. I can start to see how our lives would be so much more peaceful if we not only avoided revenge but paid it back with a blessing. It also makes me wonder how many blessings that others have bestowed upon me were actually a response to a perceived evil on my part?

Lord, strengthen my resolve to seek peace and pursue it by repaying evil with blessing. You are close to the brokenhearted and save those who are crushed in spirit. You promise that I will inherit a blessing by trusting you in this. Let me find my peace in that.

suegraff

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Daniel 5,6,7; Titus 3

Daniel is truly to be admired. He is a strong example of how to live in a society that is not in sync with our beliefs. He reminds me of Joseph in that he is able to not just survive but succeed in such a society. I love how he quietly goes about doing what is right, without hoopla or fanfare. Without trying to fight a losing battle explaining to everyone else why what they are doing is wrong. He simply does what is right and good, and strives for excellence in everything he does. He doesn’t compromise his values to fit in, and he gains the respect of many. King Nebuchadnezzar even appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Imagine having that job!!  Darius appointed him as one of the top three administrators, and was about to make him the chief ruler. Those that were envious of him did try to get him killed, but he stood firm and God saved him in the lion’s den. Daniel’s time had not yet come; there was more for him to do.  By surviving he was able to be an even more powerful witness for God, influencing an entire nation.

Daniel didn’t have the opportunity to read the Apostle Paul’s instruction to Titus, but as a true man of God he exhibited the same characteristics that Paul described

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.  […] And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.  (Titus 3:1-2, 8-9 (NIV))

Daniel is an inspiration to us all. May we all learn to stand firm in our faith, and yet be peaceable, considerate, and always gentle toward everyone, slandering no one. May we avoid foolish controversies and arguments and instead strive to do what is excellent and profitable for everyone. Just think of the impact that each one of us has the power to make!

suegraff

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Jeremiah 23,24; Hebrews 4

24 Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:24)

29 “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 24:29)

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:12-16)

In both Jeremiah and Hebrews we are reminded that nothing is hidden from God. I don’t know about you, but that makes me squirm sometimes.  The word of God is alive and it goes deep. It exposes my sin. Nothing is hidden. If it wasn’t enough to know the outright sin in my life, I am reminded of Isaiah (64:6) who says that our righteous acts are filthy rags, or Paul, who counts all his works as loss (Phillipians 3:8). Even the good I do is often motivated by pride. And while sometimes I enjoy celebrating the accomplishments of my good works, I usually feel uncomfortable with this. It just doesn’t feel right.  I am reminded that I am to do these things in secret, and my reward is in heaven, not here on earth.

In Hebrews I am so glad to get to verse 14, after feeling convicted in verses 12-13. I have a great High Priest, Jesus, so I can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, and receive mercy. How comforting. The squirming subsides. God watched over the Jews that were exiled to Babylonia, and He  watches over me and cares for me, even in my periods of exile. He gives me a heart to know Him. And he saves me. He brings me back. My great High Priest.

suegraff

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2 Chronicles 33,34; Acts 23:16-35

This year I seem to be seeing a basic recurring theme of the mysterious balance of God’s sovereignty (or control of the happenings in the world in general and my life in particular) and the individual’s role in carrying out the purposes of God; how our actions affect not just our lives but the lives of those around us; how God often uses ordinary people to accomplish things, yet sometimes he just shows up with some supernatural force.

In our Old Testament reading the up/down cycle continues. “He/they did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord” is followed by hard times and captivity, then “he/they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” followed by peace and prosperity.  We have it in multiple combinations (Manneseh starts out on the evil path then repents, Amon is evil from birth to death, Josiah is on the good path from start to finish). While the people seem to reap consequences of their actions, both good and bad, when we step back we see that God had a plan all along. Each part of the cycle had a part to play in the grand scheme of things.

In our New Testament reading yesterday we learned that God intended for Paul to go to Rome. Today we see that plan starting to unfold. But people still had a part to play. Paul’s nephew happened to be in the right place at the right time to learn of the plot to kill Paul, but he also had to be brave enough to get to Paul, pass on the message, tell the commander, etc. The centurion had to obey Paul’s request, the commander had to listen to this boy/young man, the commander had to take quick action. Everything had to be done in quick succession. People had their part to play, but we can see the orchestration if we take a step back and observe the big picture.

I know that when I am facing a trial I need to make sure I take a step back and realize that God is in control. My job is to do my part. I may not know until many days, months, years, decades later how the various events of my life played a part in a grand plan, but I can be confident that ultimately God is in control. Any my God is the God who saves.

10 The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 11 So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. 12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God. (2 Chronicles 33:10-13)

27 This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. (Acts 23:27)

suegraff

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Isaiah 50,51,52; Romans 9:16-33

In Isaiah we read about God’s sovereignty. Quite a mighty concept. We read of His wrath, His power. We read of our sin, and how what we deserve is his wrath. But we get a foretelling of Jesus to come. The Good News. Our salvation!

I grew up in a Christian home, learning from a child of God’s sovereignty, but I don’t think any of us can truly grasp it this side of heaven. Like many things, I think of this as something we see through a glass darkly. I read of a God who created the heavens and the earth, and yet knows the number of hairs on my head. How can this be?

This morning I was up before dawn, getting ready to write this post. I let the dog out, and right there in front of me I am reminded of God’s power, His glory. It was dark, the stars were out, and there were faint waves of lighter sky emanating from where the sun would soon rise. If you really weren’t looking, you wouldn’t see them at all. Then, over to my right, I see the Morning Star (technically Venus). I am reminded of a very dark time in my life when I was in this very same spot and saw the very same thing (Venus in the same location). At that time I thought back to a CD of a Christmas cantata that I would listen to constantly. It was a recording of a live event that my former church had every year. The music was beautiful. There was occasional narration, and I remember the narrator (a voice of a person I knew, making it more special) speaking of the coming of Christ and He was referred to as the “bright and Morning Star”. As I looked out on the night sky I remember seeing this star that morning, remembering the cantata, and feeling true hope deep down in my heart. Actually feeling the presence of God. Hearing a whisper that He is there with me. The Bright and Morning Star.

I struggle, because on the one hand I know that God is Good, and He is merciful.

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”[f]

16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”[g] 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[h] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:14-21)

God is in control and not me. Why does that scare me so? Why can I rest in that sometimes, and other times it scares me to death? But I am warned not to give up and light my own torch, find my own way.

10 Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.
11 But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment. (Isaiah 50: 10-11)

My instruction is to fear the LORD, and obey the word of his servant.

I am to know that God created me for a purpose, and I am accountable to that. I am to fear God. Trust in Him. Let His Morning Star be my light and my salvation. I do not need to create my own light to see and lean on my own understanding. Thank you for this reminder today, Lord, as I get ready for a new week.

suegraff

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