Author Archives: gstefanelli

2 Chron. 31; Rev. 17; Zech. 13:2-9; John 16

“You will shine like silver and gold through my purifying fire.”

“I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure… I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” Zechariah 13:9 NLT

In this season of celebration for the birth of our Lord and Savior, this passage in Zechariah reminds us that God’s greatest act of love was sending His Son to die for us… In essence, our Father handed us holiness!

However, our Father shows His love in another way… one that seems harsh apart from His perspective. He loves us by putting us through His refining process, which, on the surface, goes against our understanding of a loving Father towards His children.

Many are thrown off by His willingness, even His proactive efforts, to let us suffer for our good. Indeed, it makes little sense to us why He would offer a gracious salvation, but then submit us to troubles with the intention of growing us to be more like Him. Is He making us pay for our sin after all?

This is a question we each need to settle completely, because our interpretation of it impacts our view of God, and where we stand with Him. Simply put, the answer to the question of “Is God making us pay for our sin?” is no… if we believe that, we’ve missed the whole point of adversity in the context of God’s model for us. God’s refining fire is not a way designed to be viewed as a payment plan for our wrongs. We aren’t earning His love through His refining. God doesn’t love us because He refines us… He refines us because He loves us.

If He didn’t give us the attention to beautifying us with His own character, He would be a negligent parent who allows His children to continue in destructive and dangerous habits. What caring parent lets his precious offspring endanger themselves and others with immature behavior? He wouldn’t be true to His identity as our heavenly Father if He didn’t act in our best interests.

This area of spiritual growth requires unlearning old ways and perspectives, and relearning new ways of understanding our heavenly Father… including rejecting the idea that pain is bad when it is from God’s hand for our benefit. It is through this pain that we learn to return to Him, to cling to Him, and to be like Him. In essence, we learn to wear the holiness of the salvation that He gave us at such great pain to Himself.

Heavenly Father… if it were up to me, I would not choose the pain of your refining fire. But just as Your Son spoke to You in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before He was to be crucified, He asked that You take what He was dealing with away, but that if it were Your will, that it be done, since He had the faith that You knew best. Father, it is that same faith we seek now… to know that whatever You put us through, is done so because You love us and know what is best for us. Thank you for loving us into becoming like You… Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 66 Books, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Old Testament, Zechariah

2 Chron. 13; Rev. 3; Haggai 1; John 2

Remember that My miracles show My personal care for you…

This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed His glory. And His disciples believed in Him. John 2:11

Jesus always had personal purpose for His miracles… personal for Him, to reveal His power; personal for us, to address a need.

John 2 revealed that Jesus’ power was first revealed publically during the wedding event at Cana in Galilee. The events resulted in Jesus’ disciples believing that He was who He said He was. By turning water into the finest wine, He addressed a physical need amongst a group of guests, as well as the hearts of several people, and it is in the heart where the most impactful, long-term effects can be realized. In this one event, Jesus was able to avert humiliation to the bridegroom from running out of wine at such a ceremony. Additionally, His actions affirmed, within the heart of His disciples, that He was who He said He was… that they were in the presence of the Messiah. And then there was Jesus’ mother, who, after witnessing so many miracles as Jesus grew from a child, witnessed her Son’s first public display of His power that would eventually be used to change the world!

In another powerful example of this duplicity of Jesus’ blessing was revealed later in John with the story of Lazarus. It was revealed that Lazarus, a follower of Jesus, the brother of Mary and Martha, the one who Jesus loved, was sick. As a father, if someone had come to me and told me these same words, I, as I’m sure most, would immediately move to do something… to be with that person described as “the one you love is sick.” Instead, Jesus decides to remain where He was for two more days with His disciples before going back to Judea. To the human mind, this decision surely meant death to Lazarus… however, to our Savior, who has a definite purpose in all He does, uses Lazarus’ situation to glorify His Father through the miracle of the raising of Lazarus after he passes.

Each time our Lord acts on His people’s behalf, He performs miracles. From what appears to us as mundane and insignificant events of everyday life, from the rising of the sun and the ebb and flow of the tides, God demonstrates His power over creation… He shows His glory to all of us, yet He also reveals His glory to each of us.

God fills every moment of our day with signs of Himself… He works on our behalf to get our attention and to reveal His faithfulness. Will His miracles move our belief in Him just as it did with His disciples, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary? He offers SO much, but asks just one thing… BELIEVE! “The work of God is this… that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” John 6:29. There are no mistakes according to His plan… “we are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)… how grateful are we to know our Heavenly Father—through His Son, Jesus Christ—are recipients of amazing plans He has for our lives! The question is… are we ready to go to wherever He wants us to go?

Heavenly Father… You provide so much and ask but one thing… that we believe! As we prepare to celebrate Your son’s birth, let us remain mindful of the abundance of miracles You provide for us each day. Help us to change our old selves as a testament of our commitment to cleanse our hearts and open our eyes to this abundance of love You offer to us. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 66 Books, ESV Through the Bible in a Year, John, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, New Testament

1 Chron. 24, 25; 1 Pet. 5; Micah 3; Luke 12

Do you really want to know me? Listen to my heart… not my words!

Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.” Luke 12:1-3.

Probably the hardest times I can remember while growing up were my teenage years… it’s was during those times when I learned that just because I thought I was an expert didn’t mean I was… it also didn’t mean that I could say anything I wanted to, or the way I wanted to. I learned that the hard way as I had a very strict father, dedicated to making sure we walked a rather straight and narrow path! It was during those hard years that I began to learn the meaning of consequences to decisions.

Over time, and through experience, hopefully, we begin to realize that in the real world, we need to monitor ourselves, lest we are destined to repeat the negative consequences of our words and actions. And part of that learning-through-experience process are the things we should and shouldn’t say in relationships, at our job, in school… part of the process of navigating through life. More practically, we develop a filter to prevent the ‘ugly’ from coming out and causing problems in our lives. But then, every once in a while, something goes wrong… we say or do something we didn’t mean to say or do, and wonder, “Where did that come from?” At one extreme, such behaviors may result in fractured relationships or the loss of a job, but at its root, we’re left wondering… what just happened?

Many will disregard the event as a random occurrence, but I believe that this confusing outburst is an indication of something much deeper than happenstance. That perhaps, what comes out through our words and our actions is an indicator of the real condition of our hearts… that the filter that we’ve spent our lives building and honing to monitor and screen the words and actions that pass through us is cloaking the dirtiness within our hearts, hiding those areas of our hearts that are corrupt. And why? Because we’ve failed in our efforts to follow the wisdom expressed by Solomon in Proverbs 4:23… “Above all else… guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Investing more energy and time in strengthening our filter is not the answer. Sure, patching the ‘hole’ in our complex filtering mechanism might buy us some additional “survival time” in life, but at some point, the ugly that is embedded in our hearts will find its way out… again, and again, and again. Luke 12:1-3 speaks directly to this… that “(n)othing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore, whatever we have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what we have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” The Message version of this passage, characterizing such behavior as hypocrisy, states “(y)ou can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day is coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town.”

So what is the answer? I believe that in addition to Luke 12, Matthew 15:18-20 speaks to what we need to focus on… our hearts… “But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart… it is from the heart that evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immortality, theft, lying, and slander come.” If we do not focus on guarding our hearts and fight to keep corruption from invading this critical connector to a God-focused life, it is only a matter of time before our complex filtering system is pierced, and our real selves revealed. So, since what comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is going on inside of our hearts, we need to be working less on our man-made filters, which are capable of masking what is real, and more on guarding what God is more focused on… our hearts, where all of life springs from.

Heavenly Father… Your son Paul spoke those powerful, yet relatable words “for what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” Father, this filtering system that we seem to be so good at cultivating is anything but a gift. And, while our filter has its place, focusing on it, rather than You, and making sure our hearts are clean and guarded, reveals our skewed view of our priorities. So, we ask You, Father… how’s our heart? Help us to learn to monitor and to guard our hearts better, so we can grow in You, so we can have Your life flow through us. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 66 Books, Luke, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, New Testament

1 Chron. 3, 4; Heb. 9; Amos 3; Ps. 146, 147

I don’t want you to prove you are powerful… I want you to show, through your actions, that you are mine…

His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. Psalm 147:10-11

Recently, I received an e-mail from a former student asking if I would take a survey she had created for a theology class. When I inquired as to “why me?”, she replied, “because you’re a very religious man.” I believe I understood what she meant, but it caused me to reflect more deeply on her choice of words. Through my student’s eyes, am I religious because she doesn’t see an alignment between my words and my actions? Or was it simple case of using a word to mean something deeper. For those who know me, I don’t want to be remembered as a “religious man”, but rather a man who lived his life devoted to his Savior, living, through action, the model of a man that Jesus demonstrated.  I want to be known as a child of God… that my life now should be a demonstration of words, aligned with action, through understanding of scripture and an intimate relationship with Jesus.

So… this reflection offers the question… if you could make sure the world remembered one thing about you, what would that one thing be? Would it be for the kindness you expressed to others? How about having worked hard to get that great job? Or perhaps for becoming financially secure?

While these are noteworthy achievements, it is important that we remain mindful that we were created for higher purpose… that when it comes down to it, it feels wonderful knowing that the energy we used was spent on worthwhile endeavors. No one enjoys feeling useless. Yet, if we get too caught up in our own agendas, or maintaining a “me” mentality, we have the potential of losing focus on God’s plan and His desires for our lives. More than anything else, He wants us to be His… particularly, our hearts.

He cares more about the condition of our soul, and us belonging to Him, than any credential we could earn on Earth. He desires that our lives plant spiritual seeds, and that our successes to point others, not to ourselves, but to Him!

Now… back to the original question… more than anything else… will we be seen and remembered as being a child of God first, above all things?

Father… I am overwhelmed knowing that I belong to You… It is an amazing gift, but one that can easily be neglected. I never want to be known as religious, but as Your child who seeks relationship with His Savior through actions. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 66 Books, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Old Testament, Psalms

2 Kings 13; 2 Tim.3; Hos. 5, 6; Ps. 119:145-176

 We can always ask…

You are near, O Lord, And all Your commandments are truth. Psalm 119: 151-152

When I was growing up, I remember the kinds of prayers we used to say… very traditional and the same at dinner. This isn’t said with judgement or disrespect… it was just how it was. As a child, I learned that was just the way you prayed… thanking God for the food before us and asking for Him to provide it always. Over the years, I’ve come to know God for so much more than the food we eat. I’ve learned that even if we gave up everything else, including sleep, there wouldn’t be enough time to extol the greatness of our God!

As I read through verses 145-176 of Psalm 119, I was blown away at the intimacy of this prayer… the reader is lulled into the place where David is speaking out to God using words from his heart, not out of some rote, check-list mindset. WHAT am amazing model of how we should come to God! This was a man who truly knew who he was speaking to and about!

Consider my affliction and deliver me, for I do not forget Your law. Plead my cause and redeem me; Revive me according to Your Word. Psalm 119: 153-154

The wonderful news these verses in Psalm 119 affirmed what this season in the Word is being made clear. That we have the ability to ask our Heavenly Father for anything. Sometimes the answer is No. But not just “No”… sometimes the answer is No, with a promise… that in those moments when the answer is No, God’s grace is sufficient! We may not understand the reasons for His denial, but His grace is sufficient.

I want to know God and His Word so well, that when I approach Him, my request is less about me and more about Him… recognizing Him first, and my desire last… knowing, and trusting, that my God shall supply all my needs (not my wants) according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

This book that I’ve had access to for so long really does have the answers to life, with practical approaches to life in good times and bad. God is pure spirit, and as such, should be approached with intentional spirituality. God’s will for our life is so much more than forcing us to be molded into some spiritual box. Rather, our prayers should be a reflection of the love and grace that He offers us each day.

Father… Your Word is amazing example of hope for the broken. And while trusting in You and Your word should be easy, it’s proving to be a lifelong process. Thank you for Your love, patience, and Your abundant undeserved grace, without which we would remain broken things. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

 

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Filed under 66 Books, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Old Testament, Psalms