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

1Kings 20; 1 Thess.3; Dan. 2; Ps.106

Cheer on other followers… build on each other’s strengths…

We have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. 1 Thessalonians 3:7

I remember attending those Friday night football games several years ago at which my daughters used to cheer at… no matter how the team was performing on the field, the guys knew that at least the cheerleaders would support them. And the cheering seemed louder and more intense the worse the players performed… it was as though the cheerleaders knew each players potential, and in the midst of adversity, rallied to build their spirits so that they could finish the game strong, as victors. In much the same way, 1 Thessalonians 3 stirs us as if we’ve just attended a spiritual pep rally.

While it’s doubtful that the Apostle Paul’s spiritual education included rallies as we know them, he certainly understood the value of cheering on his fellow believers. God’s team goes by other names, such as Kingdom of God, and the family of God. And like any other team, we’re all working toward the same goal… the promise of eternity with Jesus as our focus.

As we journey toward our goal, we’re constantly in a battle, with Satan and all his dark forces. But we also battle fatigue, discouragement, personal weakness, shaky unity, and busyness. And because of all we’re up against, we need each other to ensure that we don’t get sidelined on our way to the big win… fighting strong as joyful victors instead of merely limping into eternity.

Our encouragement, prayers, examples of faith, and tenacious trust in Jesus impact one another more than we might realize. By following the direction of spiritual coaches like Paul, and caring for our brothers and sisters of the Kingdom to build them up, we also strengthen the Kingdom as a whole. And the support we give inevitably comes back as encouragements to ourselves, as well, because we see our efforts build the team we love and on which we stake our die-hard beliefs.

Be encouraged by Paul’s chapter 3 pep rally, and pass along the legacy of Kingdom spirit to the team members you know and love.

“Father, thank you for creating such a magnificent Kingdom and for recruiting me for Your team. Please help me stay true to Your Spirit and boost others with team cheer.”

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 1 Thessalonians, 66 Books, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, New Testament

1 Kings 6; Eph.3; Ezek.36; Ps.86

What if God says ‘No’?

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” Ephesians 3:20

So, what do we do if God says ‘No’? In our humanness, do we try to convince God that we know better? The quick answer to the question asked is “we continue to believe that God is who He says He is and knows what is best for us.” That was easy, right? Not really… but why? Is it a pride thing? Do we really believe in God’s power to know best? For me, my tendency is to lay my desires at the cross, but pick them up again when I don’t see results quick enough!

The good news is that we can go to God for anything. Philippians 4:6 states “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” However, when the answer is ‘No’, do our actions align with our words so we still believe and trust in our Savior? Or, is our belief conditional, based on if we get what we’ve asked for? Tough question, but one we need to consider, as it offers an opportunity to strengthen our faith.

In Luke 22:42, we find Jesus, in His most anxious moment ever recorded, knowing full well what events will be taking place in the coming hours, in solitude, asking His Father, “if you are willing”, (meaning Jesus knew His Heavenly Father could if He wanted to) “take this cup from me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” In this one request, Jesus was modeling how we should be approaching God… that whatever request we have, that we trust that God knows what is best and will respond accordingly.

I’ve been working hard to be more deliberate at making sure that my words and my actions are in alignment. At the root of this desire is the trust of knowing that God loves me and wants what is best for me. Do I have that faith to trust Him in and with all things? I will admit, it’s certainly easier to believe that I just experienced a “God moment” when He says ‘Yes’… after all, ‘yes’ responses typically equate to opportunity and progress. However, can ‘No’ answers be another form of blessings from God? Or do we interpret such responses as God turning His back on us and loving us less? After much reflection, I’m learning that God, like any good parent, sometimes needs to say ‘No’, because He knows better than us… that during those times when His answer is ‘No’, He is offering an opportunity, through faith in Him, to experience a better outcome than we could possibly have imagined from our limited perspective. The reasons may be revealed, or they may not, but faith has us trust that whether He reveals His reasons or not, we must trust our Heavenly Father knows best.

Beyond trust, ‘No’ responses allow us the opportunity to reflect more and to become more prayerful. This typically doesn’t happen when the response to our request is a ‘Yes’ from God. We may be thankful for the event, but we usually don’t consciously give thanks to God for that open door as we usually take open doors for granted as coming from God. Closed doors, on the other hand, grab at our hearts more intensely, and substantive prayer should follow.

Paul does an amazing job in Ephesians 3 at explaining God’s plan for the Gentiles, not by boasting of his association with Jesus, but through humility, expressing the glory to be experienced when we put our faith in God. Paul also explains that the many blessings he speaks of are in God’s time and not our own; that waiting on God’s plan will ultimately reap the greatest reward for generations to come.

Father… help us to communicate more effectively with You through a changed heart… that by learning more of You through Your word, we grow to trust you more so that during those times when Your answer is ‘No’, we trust You because of the relationship we’ve established with You, and that the plans You have for us are good… always! Amen…

Greg (gstefanelli)

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