Author Archives: gstefanelli

Ex. 32; John 11; Prov. 8; Eph. 1

I am the Savior and there are no other besides me…

And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Exodus 32:4

At the risk of revealing my age, does anyone remember the Easter tradition of watching The Ten Commandments when they were younger? I’ve never forgotten the scene when Moses, after spending 40 days and nights at the top of Mount Sinai with God, came down with two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. Excited about the prospect of bringing ‘the law’ to the very people God released from Egyptian bondage, Moses found that his people had created and began to worship a calf forged out of gold. The people traded their faith in the God, who had saved them and their descendants from a lifetime of slavery, for an idol by donating their jewelry. To add insult to injury, it was Moses’ own brother, Aaron, who had used his God-given gifts to forge this idol, which disappointed Moses, and God, tremendously. Imagine… not having the faith to believe, especially after being freed from bondage… it’s a good thing people aren’t like that today!! Or are they???

Look carefully at the chronology of the story… people receive tremendous blessings… people are asked to be obedient, and wait upon God for knowledge based on His timing… people get restless and turn to idols as a means of ‘fixing’ their problems and answer their questions. Put this way, I’m not sure if this describes what happened at the foot of Mount Sinai, or what’s happening in the world in 2017… that we quickly forget the provider of all things… the God that supplies all of our needs!

I wonder if our loyalty is much different from the Israelites who Moses led out of bondage. We seem to be just as easily distracted by man-made comforts and quick-fixes when we’re bored. And we seem to be quick to assume credit or misdirect credit for the blessings that God alone has provided.

I remember watching the scene described in The Ten Commandments and thinking, “I can’t believe the Israelite’s would have done what they did after all God had done for them! If only they had applied a more focused and disciplined attitude to their faith, perhaps they could have persevered.” But then, I remembered what Jesus spoke in Matthew 7:1-5…

1“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

The Israelites are so easy to criticize, but, in the same way, so easy to related to! It was God alone who had rescued them from the Egyptians; not some gold calf or human leader. Even before God sent Jesus, as Savior from our sins, it was God who assumed the role as Savior in a multitude of ways. If we could get to a point of focusing every doubt we have towards the Father and the Son, imagine the depth of faith we could have?

Is our belief in God that of a Savior? Is He our first go-to place when we struggle, or is He merely an afterthought? Do we use Him to set the direction of our day and our life, affecting every thought and action? If we’re honest, we’ve all got some work to do… He, and He alone deserves all our focus, love, and devotion so we just don’t know Him, but we really KNOW Him!!

Lord, I want to focus my loyalty on You, and You alone… please reveal where I may I may be falling short of who I should be seeking as You deserve all credit for who and what I am. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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

Ex. 18; Luke 21; Job 36; 2 Cor. 6

“What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?” Exodus 18:14

When I was growing up, in the name of preparing me to be a man, I remember my father instilling in me that a man does whatever he needs to do to get the job done and rarely asks for help. That asking for help, along with crying, was a sign of weakness. From a practical perspective, I understand why my father wanted me to learn to be independent… to be able to survive regardless of the circumstances and those around me. However, with all respect, I believe my father missed one very important opportunity to teach his children… to include God in all decisions.

Exodus 18 recounts the story of Moses’ father-in-law, Joshua, engaging with Moses over all of what God had done to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. However, at one point, Joshua questions Moses as to why he continued to take on more than he should have while those around him remained stagnant, never using their God-given gifts.

God never designed us to be solitary beings, left to handle everything we encounter on our own. So, what is it that causes is to think that we’re the only ones who can get a task accomplished? Is it fear that causes us to maintain a solitary attitude? Or perhaps it’s pride? After all, pride looks for security in that which cannot offer security since it cannot endure. The mindset that it’s easier to just do everything ourselves, rather than involving others, and God, in the process, is a powerful aphrodisiac… but we can become so accustomed to doing problem-solving on our own, that we risk burn-out and becoming ineffective to anyone, including ourselves!

We would do well to take a lesson from Daniel, who God described in Acts 13:22 as “…a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” In 2 Samuel 5:19, we find Daniel inquiring of God if he should “go and attack the Philistines?” and receives acknowledgement. However, later, in 2 Samuel 5:23, we find Daniel going back to God again to ask permission to attack the Philistines a second time. Only this time, Daniel is given a different answer from God… an answer that was designed to protect Daniel from harm. Seeking God in all things first is definitely not as a sign of weakness, but an act of obedience and faith that God was who He is. It also helps to keep our relationship with God fresh and not stuck in the past.

God created us to be relational… to care for each other and honor each other’s unique abilities and gifts. Romans 12:4-5 tells us “(f)or as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” Recognizing and honoring God’s gifts in others pleases God and helps to lighten our burden.

What wonderful opportunities will be missed if we don’t allow each person to use the gifts God has provided?

Jesus, let me seek You first, in all things, and to recognize the gifts You have given to others. Help me to remember that You never made me to carry the load by myself… that in Your wisdom, You’ve given each of us gifts to serve You by serving each other. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 2 Samuel, 66 Books, Acts, Bible in a year reading plan, Exodus, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, New Testament, Old Testament

Ex. 4; Luke 7; Job 21; 1 Cor. 8

“Your knowledge is admirable, but it’s what you’re doing with it that I’m more interested in…”

“While knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.” 1 Corinthians 8:1

Recently, I came upon a broadcast I wasn’t prepared for… an older woman was literally climbing over piles of stuff to make her way to a bed, which only had a very small area revealing a mattress. Shortly thereafter, I learned I was watching an episode of the series called “Hoarders”; a show that attempts to assist those dealing with a destructive disorder related to uncontrolled accumulation of things.

I cannot get the vision of what I saw out of my head… and it got me wondering… am I a hoarder? I mean, not in the traditional sense, but do I hoard knowledge? What do I do with all that knowledge? What is the fruit? Ever since leaving the armed services, I’ve been consumed with learning… always trying to pick up or master something new… it’s been a passion of mine for a host of reasons. If I am true to myself, I’d say that learning for me is more about security than anything else… to increase the probability of job security; to know I won’t be taken advantage of if I need the services of a mechanic or a plumber. And what about my faith… I’ve become obsessed with growing my faith by reading and listening to whatever and whenever I can about God and the lessons of Scripture. Great undertaking, but is the fruit of all this effort of accumulating knowledge, love?

So how does God see knowledge? I can imagine that while He sees knowledge as a good thing as He’s put so many things on this earth for us to discovery, I believe He’d be more concerned with what we do with the knowledge. Pastor Tony Evans, in one of his sermons on truth stated “truth without love is cold orthodoxy; love without truth is frivolous sentimentalism.” In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul expressed “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I believe there’s something very deep to be gleaned from these passages… that God is more interested in love, the fruit of our quest for truth through knowledge; that while knowledge is helpful in pursuing the Christian faith, knowledge needs to be seen as a means to an end and not the goal itself. Does our knowledge cause us to love more genuinely? Or, are we just hoarding knowledge for the sake of having it, just in case? (Ouch!)

To keep things in perspective, I am not advocating a boycott on learning! I believe God expects us to expand and grow our minds, as He will one day ask us what we’ve done with the gifts He’s provided to us! (Need a refresher? Check out Matthew 25:14-30; The Parable of the Talents.) But what are we doing with our knowledge? Consider the possibility that knowledge allows us to be more like Jesus… more self-less rather than self-ish. Knowledge serves us, the learner… love, on the other hand, the potential fruit of knowledge, serves others! And since the concept of love appears in the Bible between 300 and 500 times, depending on the translation, love must be precious to Him.

The rewards for greater knowledge are usually recognized here on earth alone, or, the real celebration can happen once we see Jesus face-to-face… it all depends on what we do with what we’re learning. So, what is the smarter goal? Knowing? or Loving??

Greg (gstefanelli)

Lord, help align my mind so the goal of what I learn is all about You… all about loving others! Amen!

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Filed under 1 Corinthians, 66 Books, Bible in a year reading plan, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, New Testament

Gen. 40; Mark 10; Job 6; Rom. 10

“Don’t speak on my behalf unless you’re willing to show my love.”

Do you think your words are convincing when you disregard my cry of desperation? Job 6:26

This isn’t just the heart cry of the Christian faith… the Buddhist’s have a proverb “To know, and not to do, is not yet to know.” The Chinese philosopher Confucius spoke the words “I hear and I forget… I see and I remember… I do and I understand.” In the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, the author mentioned “the importance of practicing and getting your hands dirty.” So, what does the passage in Job have in common with these other references? That simply reading and knowing God’s Word isn’t enough… that the path towards mastery and getting it requires more… it requires doing something; moving that short distance from the head to the heart; the application of what we’ve learned!

The Bible is filled with messages reminding us that knowing the Word is important, but it is when we put God’s Word into action that God’s love is made manifest. Two such passages are James 2:15-16 and 1 John 3:18…

If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? James 2:15-16

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18

Over the past several months, I’ve witnessed on two separate occasions individuals who shared that they knew that God existed, but if God was really all about how “those Christians” acted, they wanted nothing to do with Him. Where would they get an idea so strongly set against God’s followers? They would probably point towards people who claim the religion of Christianity, but failed to claim the critical part… the love part of the Christian faith.

Christianity at its heart is all about love because God is love. Anyone who comes up with a religious system that fails to show Christ’s love fails to really know God and what He is about. God’s truth cannot be filed under a separate category from His love. We would be better off not speaking of God at all unless the truths that come out of our mouths were cushioned in love through our actions.

Job’s friends knew all kinds of facts and accusations based on how they saw right from wrong. The problem with their approach, though, was that they neglected to see that Job needed compassion, not a slap on the wrist.

Our words, even our promises to pray for others, are worthless unless we are willing to back the words up with actions based on love. True caring expresses itself in ways that matter to others, not necessarily in ways that come easily to us—until the people we are caring for benefit from our genuine concern.

The easy way to live a form of the Christian life is to abide by the rules in the Bible. Yet if our story was only about rules, and it neglects God’s love, we’ve missed His whole point, as Job’s friends did. They ended up causing him more harm than good.

If we’re going to speak of God, about God, we need to make sure the message we’re passing on is complete… in Word and in deed! The kind of love He undeniably would show.

Heavenly Father… Your love for us is better than life itself! Help to remind me that my primary goal is to show, not just speak, about Your love. Thank you, that Your truth, and love, are inseparable!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 1 John, 66 Books, James, Job, Old Testament

Gen. 25; Matt. 24; Esther 1; Acts 24

“Live today as if it’s your final one before I return; one of these days it will be.”

“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” Matthew 24:44

C. S. Lewis, in his work The World’s Last Night stated “Precisely because we cannot predict the moment, we must be ready at all moments.” Insightful words from a man who could articulate simply the heart of God and, in this case, how we, as followers of Christ, should be living our lives.

During the rare moments when I’ve had the chance to be with those in hospice care during their final hours of life, family members have shared with me those statements they remember hearing from their loved ones… statements of regret… the “if I could do it over again…” statements. Interestingly, none have ever been based on working more hours or acquiring more ‘things’. In fact, the common theme has always been based on devoting more time to relationship with family and with God, and creating a legacy for future generations. So, it begs the question… do we need to be on our deathbed before realizing what God has been speaking to our hearts for so long… to follow Him? To trust Him?? To do all we can with the gifts He’s planted within us??? How can I live my life more intentionally so that when I stand before Him, I hear the words I long to hear coming from Jesus spoken in Matthew 25:23, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

One of the most curious questions raised in Christian circles, from scholars and those new to the faith, revolves around Jesus’ return… “When is He coming back?” We would love to know the answer to such a deep and critical question. It’s frustrating to wonder why God left it a mystery, even from Jesus. He didn’t even tell us why He didn’t tell us. Doesn’t He know how our lives depend on the answer? We are just sitting around here, biding our time until true life can begin. How about now, God? Now is good for us!

Okay, so let’s go there… say God did reveal His time frame for sending His son back to us, His followers. Let’s imagine for the moment that we have seven years left on earth.  Or seventy, or even seven hundred. What would we do differently if we knew for sure?

You might say you would live each moment with a greater sense of urgency. You might resist a familiar temptation one more time because you can see the finish line in sight and want to end strong. Or, maybe you would show more patience towards loved ones, love more intentionally, work harder at relationship, or be more self-less than self-ish, since you would soon be face-to-face with Jesus, the lover of your soul. And, of course, you would look for opportunities to share the news of Jesus’ imminent return so others could prepare, as well. You wouldn’t want anyone to miss eternity with the Lord.

But… too bad we don’t know when He is coming back… For if we did, we would certainly life so differently!

Heavenly Father, I am beginning to think You didn’t reveal Your time frame so that we would preoccupy ourselves with living each day to the fullest instead of wasting precious hours wondering when to start getting ready. Please help me live today as if You’re coming today, since You just might!”

Greg (gstefanelli)

 

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Filed under 66 Books, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Matthew

Gen. 11; Matt.10; Ezra 10; Acts 10

“Prejudice does not exist in my love.”

God shows no favoritism. In every nation, He accepts those who fear Him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34-35

Do parents have favorites? I know with my girls, based on their actions and decisions, there have been times when I might not like them, but my love for them is never affected… I love my girls unconditionally! Several years ago, one of them asked “Daddy, you always sign your cards ‘All my love’… how can you give each of us all your love… that doesn’t make sense.” And, they’re right… the relational love of a father, modeled after the love of our Father, doesn’t work the same as traditional math. As parents, we can offer ‘all our love’ to each of our children… so, too, is the love of our Father towards us, without the fear of any bias or favoritism.

Surely, you’ve asked and been asked, “What’s/who’s your favorite…?” Book, song, verse, color, music group, etc. It’s actually a draining question when it puts you on the spot, or when you can’t honestly answer one thing over another.

It can also be convicting when it reveals an unfair or hurtful preference. Imagine the pain a child feels from a parent who favors a sibling. Or think about the atrocities people have suffered worldwide because of favoritism, otherwise known as prejudice. Playing favorites can be innocent enough when it comes to a preferred ice cream flavor, but there is no way to undo the damage to the human heart as a result of prejudice. That is why I’ve never spoken words of favoritism to my girls… even in jest, because on a deep level, it is my belief that those type of messages causes pain that is carried into adulthood.

Thankfully for all of us, the only favoritism in God’s heart is the kind that says we’re all His favorite! Originally, He picked the Israelite’s as His chosen people, however, when Jesus came and died, He died for all of us, regardless of race, gender, age, sin history, education level, or any other reason. No favoritism means just that… no favoritism. God equally loves every person who has ever lived, and His love will continue to be available in measures just as great to everyone yet to be born. The math doesn’t work, nor is it supposed to… God’s math is unique (and thank God for that!)

We might disappoint our Father from time to time, but we can’t do anything to separate us from His abundant love, nor can we do anything to earn more of it. Consider the refreshment of that truth. God’s unprejudiced love not only frees us from eternal death, but it also frees us from striving to earn His acceptance in this life and in the life that is yet to come.

We’ve got His heart… the question is “does He have yours?”

Father, thank you for making me, and all of us, Your favorite… that there isn’t anything that can separate us from You or from Your love! Please help me to be grateful for that status with You, while treating others as Your favorite, as well!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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

Job 15-15, Revelation 14

“Truth always wins in your life… but you have to believe!”

Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion. Revelation 14:1

Reading this verse in Revelation brought me back to the feeling I got when I was a young boy and my father showed up to demonstrate strength and love for me by dealing with the ones who had wronged me. I remember feeling that everything was going to be alright and that I no longer was going to be bullied because the bullies wouldn’t think of standing up to my Dad… they knew who he was and what he represented… strength and truth!

In a similar way, reading Revelation 14 had all the makings of the ultimate super-hero movie; where the ‘bad guys’ were going to pay now that the super-hero was on the scene! But WHAT a story line! It’s so packed with detail and information, it’s easy to see how it would take multiple reads to get all of what the story line was trying to convey. Only in this story, the characters, especially the super-hero, are real, and there is NO super-hero, or any other, greater than our Savior, whose birth we are about to celebrate!

Do you feel as overwhelmed in your attempts to sort out Revelation? As a detail-oriented individual, I was overloaded with all of what was being spoken in the passage. It’s certainly one of those books to be studied repeatedly, because each time, it reveals fresh truth about God and where we stand with Him. God could have inspired John with a crystal-clear picture of what was to come, but in His wisdom, He laced the events with mystery. Why? Perhaps He wants us to dig deeper, and in the process, experience His truth, securing its roots in our hearts.

As wide as Revelation’s story reaches… across humanity and the entire spiritual world… its message is personal for each of us. For all its confusing symbolism and prophecies, Revelation can be summed up in one word… TRUTH! The amazing thing about truth is that we can discuss it from a multitude of perspectives. But in the end, truth never changes, regardless of tests, attack from critics, or the changing circumstances around us. However… READER BEWARE!! While truth never changes, both errors in truth and truth itself, specifically surrounding who God is, all have the same foundation… truth. The difference is that errors, or a skewing of the truth, begins in truth, but ends in error. But spiritual truth, based on the sovereignty of God, begins in truth and ends in truth.

Its story builds toward the middle of the book with descriptions of Satan’s reign of terror to annihilate everything God created to love. It’s a terrifying read, actually, because we know the events spoken about will take place someday. The millions who face persecution and death are real souls with real bodies that feel real pain.

Yet, then in the midst of the challenging fight for truth, Jesus appears, and instantly the decision is made clear and sure… Truth stands… God wins… and along with Him, so does each person by His side!

Each of us has felt the battle of truth in our lives in one form or another. If lies and hurts have battered your spirit and attacked your belief of God’s love for you, you need Revelation’s reassurances that Jesus died to guard your soul… and He will never lose or forsake you. His holy and unbounded love, and His amazing grace are securely ours, no matter how stained our life has been… without exception!

If you wonder whether Jesus’ victory truly includes you, Revelation is a testament to remind us that He appears before us to defend us; He will return to hold on to you. Everything and everyone who threatens His truth in our lives will face His vengeance.

Truth wins every time!

Heavenly Father… thank you for the finality of Your truth. Thank you for including me, for including us in truth’s victory. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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