Author Archives: gstefanelli

2 Sam. 15; 2 Cor. 8; Ezek. 22; Ps. 69

Are you a robber? I’m recovering…

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 2 Corinthians 8:2

Recently, one of my former students contacted me to seek my thoughts on a leadership opportunity at the university. I suggested coffee during the meeting, and her response was “I’ll bring the coffee… What’s your coffee order? And, before you say no, I would really appreciate being able to do something for someone else, even something small like a cup of coffee.” My typical response would be to fight the offer, insisting that it was the responsibility of the more senior person to handle such details. But it occurred to me… I’ve experienced the indescribable joy when I can pay for someone’s meal or offer someone something they need that I have. By not allowing others to do the same for me, was I unconsciously robbing them of a blessing? Even if it was “something small like a cup of coffee”?

Reading this passage of scripture and reflecting on past experiences had me consider that every act of generosity offers the opportunity for a triple blessing… first, a blessing for a need met. Second, giving someone an opportunity to feel grateful. And third, building unity. The first blessing of meeting needs is obvious, so let’s look more closely at the other two, less apparent gifts.

Feeling gratitude is a gift in itself because it soothes our heart and addresses deep emotions. Remember the last time you felt it? Like curling up in a blanket in front of a fire while a snowstorm raged outside… gratitude is sweet.

As for building unity, generosity and gratitude work together. As we receive someone’s generosity, our gratitude pulls us beyond our needs and inspires us to pass along the treasure of generosity however we’re able. In this way, generosity and gratitude pair beautifully to overcome many wants and increases the joy of both the giver and receiver.

Second Corinthians 8:2 says, “They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.” When we’re in a position of want, or when we’re the one giving, we learn the give-and-take relationship that God intended as a means of meeting needs and serving each other.

We will all have opportunities to give and receive, and we’d do well to learn to do both with respect. As Paul wrote in 8:14, “Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.” As we experience the roles of giver and receiver, we come to understand each other’s struggles better. In this way, unity is nurtured. And where there’s unity, there’s more generosity, and the gift keeps giving!

Jesus… what better words to say to You than ‘thank you’, for without Your example and sacrifice, our lives would surely look and be very different. You are the original gift that keeps giving, and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from the best.”

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 2 Corinthians, 66 Books, ESV Through the Bible in a Year, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, New Testament

1 Sam.29,30; 1 Cor.10; Ezek. 8; Ps.46,47

Where can I go for shelter from this crazy world?

As I was reading Psalm 46, I couldn’t help but find definite parallelism between what the psalmist was describing and current day events, and not just from an environmental perspective, although reading Psalm 46 post-Hurricane Harvey and pre-Hurricane Irma did come close!

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

The sons of Korah did a great job of creating a vision of Earthly destruction and devastation.

But then, in the midst of the descriptive turmoil, peace and quietness, as though the hand of God calmed a raging sea…

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The words of the Psalm offer the hope of knowing that in the midst of tragedy, God is with the Earth, assuring the He will not leave her. And how could the psalmist know so many years ago that nations would be in such turmoil? How could the psalmist have known that we are at the brink of war as a result of nuclear weapons being used for evil?

And closer to home, our families are under attack… 1 in 2 marriages are ending in divorce, and the statistics show that the divorce rate is higher among Christians, and lowest among atheists. Slowly, but assuredly, the mention of the name Jesus is seen as a violation, rather than the name above all others. And yet, in the midst of all this ‘cancer’, God is still God, and the psalmist affirms that God continues to love His children, vowing to destroy whoever or whatever opposes Him and His people, offering stern warnings to His enemies.

In the midst of the turmoil, God’s words comfort us…

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

Our Father takes His role as defender of our hearts seriously, especially to those who acknowledge Him, and His Son as Lord and Savior, preparing to move Heaven and Earth to protect those He has invested so much in.

Just as we, as Christians, would make any sacrifice to keep our families safe, so, too, has God offered everything to ensure that His home within our hearts is secure. Once we accept Jesus as our Savior, we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit living within us. And in so doing, the enemy cannot successfully invade what God has already claimed. But, this requires a personal decision to do life according to God’s plan completely… not on just the aspects of life that we chose to follow.

My brothers and sisters… we are living in dangerous times… time is short. Matthew 10:33 warns us that whoever denies Jesus before men, Jesus will deny before His Father in Heaven. None of us know the day of His coming. We must heed the advice of the psalmist and know, in our hearts, that God is God, always. Make the time to spend time with Him… He will offer shelter in this crazy world.

Lord, we’re called to life in this world, but not be of the world… doing life according to Your plan is not easy, but we know that the rewards are great and You are worth the sacrifice. Thank you for the respite of peace that You offer those who call you Lord and believe that You are who You are… always. Help us to keep our hearts focused on You until we can see You face to face. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under Bible in a year reading plan, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Old Testament, Psalms

1 Sam. 14; Rom. 12; Jer. 51; Ps. 30

“It pleases me when I see you happy to put others first naturally…”

Take delight in honoring each other. Romans 12:10

While this passage of Romans is described as Love in Action, which is intended for all people, I couldn’t help but see this passage through the lens of the covenant relationship between a man and a woman; the call of a husband and wife to honor each other, but accentuating the call of a man to lead his wife by laying his life down for her.

Honor isn’t something we think about every day, but when a person’s integrity is characterized by honor, it’s unmistakable in his or her lifestyle. Honor is about aspiring to a higher standard… taking the “road less traveled”, as explained by Robert Frost… choosing the best actions because good behavior reveals good character. The beauty of genuine honor lies in its freedom from an unnecessary need to prove itself; it just exists quietly, graciously, contentedly.

When we honor others, we reveal a “you first” approach to life, respecting their uniqueness, pointing out their successes, and acting in their best interest. God is pleased when we treat others well, but even more so when we do it enthusiastically, without being standoffish and grudging with our acknowledgements.

There is no room for jealousy in honoring others or for harboring hopes that we will shine brighter than them. In fact, genuine honor says we’re more pleased for someone else’s success than for our own. Unfortunately, while honoring others sounds wonderful in theory, in reality, it doesn’t come easily as we, as humans, are more prone to being self-ish than self-less.

In order to honor others, we must be secure in our own place in life, which only happens when we rest in God’s acceptance of us. Honor begins at the foot of Jesus’ cross, where He humbled Himself and died in our place. Enduring such a death certainly did not come easily for Him, but He cared for our well-being above His own. So, without fanfare or a need to boost His ego through heroism, He quietly laid down His life for our good.

The security of knowing we are loved that much by our Savior frees us from self-centeredness and sets the example for honoring others.

We are called to delight in putting the well-being of others above our own, and in so doing, we will honor God, as well as them.

Thank you, Jesus, for showing us, by example, about honor. Please continue to remind us of Your love so we can trade our desire to prove ourselves for the desire to live for the good of others. Amen!

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

Ruth 1; Acts 26; Jer. 36, 45; Ps. 9

Aspiring to a higher standard isn’t always easy…

Things are far more bitter for me than for you.” Ruth 1:13

As I continue to read through the Bible, the common theme in many of the stories is the amazingly strong faith that is portrayed. When I read this chapter in Ruth, it reminded me of the story of Horatio Spafford, who, in the midst of dealing with unimaginable tragedy at the loss of all his children, one to pneumonia, and four to an accident at sea, he penned the words to the song ‘It is Well with My Soul.’ Spafford demonstrated in action his amazing faith in God, that we are to trust that He is in control.

In this first chapter of Ruth, it is intriguing to note that the book begins as Naomi’s story, with Ruth’s mother-in-law as the main character. Naomi was faced with losing her husband and two sons, leaving her a widow with no support, typically resulting in financial ruin. As readers, we’re left with trying to imagine the pain she must have been experiencing and the bleak future before her.

As humans, we don’t like pain… directly, as in when we, ourselves, are going through something difficult, or indirectly, when we witness others experiencing pain. The pain we experience directly, however, isn’t typically a personal choice, but indirect pain typically has choice attached to it. Is our decision not to engage in someone else’s hurt because it will ruin our otherwise pain-free life at the time? Or is it based on fear, that if we engage with those who are dealing directly with pain, we’ll get pulled into something we don’t have the ability to tactfully back away from if the circumstances get to be too much?

Ruth, however, modeled for us a different approach to struggle… a path based on a higher standard.  Instead of shying away from Naomi’s sorrow, she aligned herself with it, all while dealing with her own grief of widowhood. She chose the way of pain out of loyalty for her husband’s mother, picking a difficult future for herself because her life was about more than herself. She understood and practiced what it means to live for others.

I would suspect that for most of us, it is difficult to comprehend the sacrifices Ruth made. Imagine a similar situation happening today… knowing that someone experienced a significant loss, air travel has made it possible to get on a plane and travel to just about any location worldwide. Our finances aren’t limited by gender or marital status as they once were during the time of the Old Testament. Ruth really did give up everything to help Naomi, and God blessed her with a second family and the honor of being an ancestor of Jesus.

Today will bring choices of whether to care deeply for others going through hard times. Are we willing to invest ourselves in someone else’s pain? Consider the rewards God has in store for those who make the sacrifices of loyalty and love.

Heavenly Father… sometimes showing loyalty seems costly, especially when it requires taking on someone else’s pain and feeling that pain as if it were mine. But, Father, Your way isn’t always easy… help me to choose right over easy, even though the reasons may not be clear at the time. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 66 Books, Bible in a year reading plan, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Old Testament, Ruth

Judg. 8; Acts 12; Jer. 21; Mark 7

Are we guilty of taking freedom for granted?

“Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said… “The Lord has sent His angel and saved me!” Acts 12:11

Recently, while working in my office at the University, one of my students stopped by with a group of international students as part of a refugee outreach program. One of the students asked a question about a recent trip to Rwanda, and during my response, I said “Thank you, Jesus!” My words immediately triggered her to cowl, then look around to see if anyone had heard what I said, and finally start to back away from the group to separate herself from the rest of us. When I asked what was happening, she reluctantly said “How can you speak like that so openly… aren’t you afraid of what will happen to you?”

The look on my face said it all… how could 3 words cause such a reaction? And it really was just one word, wasn’t it? As Christians, we know that the word Jesus is the most powerful name there is, but to those who are persecuted for their belief in Jesus, that one word is also associated with harsh reality… persecution, and sometimes even DEATH! We are blessed with so many freedoms in this country… it often takes someone who has had those freedoms taken away, or never had them in the first place, for us to realize just how blessed we are as Americans.

Peter in Acts 12 clearly understood the loss of freedom in Herod’s prison, as all of us would under similar circumstances. But spiritual freedom, particularly in this country is one that is rarely discussed because it is assumed, but it represents one of the most powerful of all freedoms as it affects us now while on Earth, but more importantly, it determines our eternity! So many don’t understand the impact of this statement, muddling through life, worshiping whomever and however they please.

As was experienced by Peter in a physical sense, true spiritual freedom comes only from our Lord and Savior, and affects all other freedoms. Verse 11 revealed that even though Peter was in temporary physical bondage, he was spiritually free because he knew that Jesus had already saved him from sin. As a result, Peter’s soul was forever in a much better place than Herod and Peter’s captors, whose physical freedom did nothing to save their souls’ enslavement.

Peter’s physical freedom by God was amazing… but his spiritual freedom was the focus of even more wonder… for it is when, not if, our other freedoms in life are attacked, that our spiritual freedom, centered on our believe in Jesus, will sustain us here, on Earth, and in our eternal life.

Heavenly Father, thank You for the freedoms we enjoy as You are the authority on freedom. In the busyness of day, help us to remember that freedom is not free… in so many ways, the freedoms we experience have come with a heavy price, started with the death of Your Son. And finally, help us to focus on connection with You… only then can we make it through “one more day!” Amen

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 66 Books, Acts, Bible in a year reading plan, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, New Testament

Josh. 14, 15; Psalm 146, 147; Jer. 7; Matt. 21

What’s in your jar? Are we putting our greatest energy into relationship with Him?

Let all that I am praise the Lord. Psalm 146:1

In his message on putting first things first, author, educator, and speaker Dr. Stephen Covey spoke of a story shared with students on the importance of prioritizing the things of life, using a demonstration of placing items of varying size into a jar as part of the lesson. The instructor started by placing as many fist-sized rocks in the large jar, then asking the class if the jar was full. Answering yes, the instructor proceeded to fill the jar with smaller-sized gravel until the jar could accept no more, and asked the class again if the jar was full. Again answering yes, the instructor repeated the same process with sand, and then water, and concluded with asking the class what the point of the exercise was. One student boldly answered that “no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit more things into it!” The instructor replied “Not really… the point of the illustration was that if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all!” So, too, should our attitude be towards placing God first in our lives, and always, regardless of circumstances!

Yes… we all have areas of life that need tending; home, school, work, friends, church, our spiritual life… All of us have to wrestle with prioritizing an increasing number of tasks and responsibilities, often tending to one responsibility at the expense of others, then play the ‘catch-up’ game. Each of us deals with having only so much energy through a limited number of hours to accomplish whatever tasks that need tending. Unfortunately, there’s never an equal sign between what we need to get done and the energy we have… there’s never enough time or energy.

Did you pick up on it? Take a look at the last paragraph… did you get the sense that each area had the same level of importance? That each demanded the same level of attention? And if we’re not careful, this is what ‘busy’ does… it prevents the “fist-sized rocks”, in the case of Psalm 146, God, from getting placed first, if at all, because there are too many other things to tend to! Due, in part, to our own doing of trying to be all things to all people, and partly a work of the enemy, who does all he can to distract us from the proper order of things… God first!

But, we have it backwards when we let our relationship with God fall to any position other than first. In addition to the simple fact that He deserves the best and first fruits from each of us, He has a way of extending our resources for all the other areas of our lives when we put Him into the #1 position. When we spend time praising Him, we end up with extended patience and joy that transcends high levels of stress. Additionally, honoring Him first offers a dimension of peace that sustains us during the challenging times brought about in the other areas of life.

So, what are the big rocks in your life? Whatever they might be for you, is the first rock you’re putting into your “jar” our Lord and Savior? Making Him our first priority is what we, as Christians, ought to be doing naturally. And when we do, we benefit greatly by being able to handle all of what life throws at us with renewed energy and ability.

Jesus… thank You for the reminder that You deserve to be not only our Rock, but that You deserve to be first. Please help us to offer You our best and to remember that You have earned being first. Help us to trust that when we honor You in that way, You help the rest of life to be more tolerable. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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

Deut. 32; Ps.119:121-144; Isa. 59; Matt. 7

Is ignorance really bliss?

It’s amazing to me that in this play we call “life”, how quickly many assume the part of judge, often rendering judgement on others and formulating conclusions without a word being spoken! Yet, we despise the thought of being judged by others as they don’t know our story…

Several years ago, while in engineering school, I remembered seeing a girl in the Student Center, dressed as though she belonged in the year 2017, but in 1983. Without exchanging a single word with this young woman, I had labeled her a freak, convinced that she was a loser, someone who was into drugs. My friends and I speculated what she could possibly do once she graduated, that’s even if she would graduate! On graduation day, after receiving our diplomas and returning to our seats, one of my friends nudged me to tell me to look on stage at who was to received their diploma. It was the same young woman who we had labeled as a loser… only to find out that she was graduating summa cum laude, with a double major AND double minor, all focused on mathematics and physics, with a 4.0 GPA in each of her programs of study… and all completed in four years! Can I chalk this up to being young and foolish? Perhaps… but what was really going on here? Is judgement inate? Or is it just easier to judge others based on pre-conceived ideas of what we believe is ‘right’, as not judging requires work and offering grace?

Before looking at scripture, consider this… when Jesus returns, what will He look like? What will He be wearing? I’ve wondered lately if He’ll come back dressed as my classmate several years ago just to see how He’ll be treated… particularly by Christians who are called to a higher standard.

If there is one theme to take from Matthew 7:1-5, it is that judgement is best left to God, as judgement left to His children, can, and often does, get messy. In the first two verses of this chapter, we’re warned against passing judgement upon others, because when we do, we will be judged in a similar manner.

“For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged; and the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Matthew 7:1-2

So, Jesus doesn’t forbid the judgement of others, but does warn us that our judgement be fair, and that judgment be imposed based on a standard that we would also desire to be judged by! Hopefully, wisdom has us, as Christians, taking the higher road, as there are times when we aren’t sure of what’s inside our own hearts… battling mixed emotions, half-hearted desires for goodness, and character flaws that fall short of God’s standards. Would we want others to see us and render judgement during these seasons of life?

We’re better off not trying to play God for others, and we certainly weren’t created to be anyone’s holy spirit and conscience. (Thank you Jesus!!) What a burden THAT would be to have to identify everything we thought was wrong about others. Not only would we face the pressure of having to be right in our judgement, but we would also need to make sure our own lives were faultless before we cast judgment on others!

In a very deeper sense, God gave us a gift by not granting us the ability to read other people’s hearts, and asks us not to judge others according to our own standards. And as a people, we should be grateful, that in this case, ignorance really is bliss! Instead, were called to offer those we encounter with, grace, and leave judgement to the One we can trust to be the one true, fair, and just judge.

Heavenly Father, thank you for keeping me ignorant of the deep places of other people’s hearts. Please help me to value Your Holy Spirit working in them, as well as in me, to mold each of us as You see fit, and please help me not to intrude where I don’t belong… Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 66 Books, Bible in a year reading plan, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Matthew, New Testament