Author Archives: gstefanelli

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

Deut. 26, Ps. 117, 118, Isa. 53, Matt. 1

What’s in a name?

I remember just before my two daughters were born, the arduous process of selecting just the right name for our unseen treasures. First, a list of names was created and thought was given to which sounded right. But, I recall one night having a dream… perhaps I was overthinking the name selection process. In the dream, I was asked what the baby’s name was, I couldn’t speak… and I remember having a handful of index cards intended to hold the names being considered, and when I offered the cards as possible options, each card was blank. It was then that I realized that this name selection process had a much deeper meaning… that perhaps we needed to consider something more than how the name sounded. After researching a number of names for their meaning, it became clear that there was a definite connection between the name given to a child and the destiny of that child. God’s Word speaks of the tremendous power of the tongue. As such, the choice of names for our children has the power to impact their journey in life more than we can imagine!

Names were especially important to the Israelites. Often times throughout the Bible, babies were named to symbolize events surrounding their birth or for prophetic reasons affecting a circle of influence wider than one family, even as great as an entire nation. While reviewing the passages for today’s posting, I found it interesting that Matthew began his Gospel with a long list of names leading up to Jesus’ birth. Going through the genealogy had me wanting to get past the long, unpronounceable names in order to get to what I thought was the real reason of Matthew 1. I learned that genealogy should not be scanned too casually as, in this case, it led to the crescendo in the announcement of our Savior’s birth and naming.

The genealogy in Matthew 1 reveals a very unique and important slice of history… many generations who waited for their Messiah to come. Finally, in one unassuming night in Bethlehem, our Savior was born. Of all the names God could have chosen, He selected one with exceptional meaning for His precious Son… Immanuel… God is with us! (Matthew 1:23) With the simple act of naming His Son, God sent a message to His people that he would be with them forever. Immanuel wasn’t just a name, but a promise, a hope, a fulfillment of prophecy, and the beginning of a legacy… the turning point of eternity.

Even in the midst of terrible tragedy revealed in Isaiah 53, the name of Jesus evoked great hope over death. The spikes that pierced His wrist left holes that He filled with the souls of those who accept His salvation. And in a beautiful twist of irony, those holes made it possible for Him to fill up our emptiness with His wholeness. We are all living in Immanuel’s legacy… today, many generations after Jesus received His name, God is still with us. Even the psalmist attests to this and praises God, calling upon us to give thanks to God for the grace and blessings bestowed on all of us… that there is a Redeemer that is with us always (Ps. 117, 118)!

So… what’s in a name? When it comes to Jesus’ name… everything!

Sweet Jesus… with the simple speaking of your name… thank you for being the hope of the world. May my life point others to its meaning for them… Amen!

P.S. What’s in a name in my world? My daughter Brianna’s name means strong… a name characterized with a deep inner desire to inspire others in a higher cause. If any of you know my daughter, you know how true this is of her… incredibly strong willed; recently graduated and certified as a teacher, wanting to devote her life to teaching and inspiring elementary age children… what better calling than to positively influence the mind of a child. Julia, has a name characterized as youthful with a desire for order and physical creativity. Not sure I agree with the order characteristic, but her creative outlook on life helps to balance an otherwise overly analytical family!

Greg (gstefanelli)

From the archives. Originally posted June 21, 2013

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Deut. 18; Ps.105; Isa. 45; Rev. 15

“Is that true? Or are you telling me a lie?”

“You may wonder, “How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?” Deuteronomy 18:21

Several years ago, the library hosted a lecture by a retired FBI agent entitled “The Art of Lying.” I attended as I was curious about what was common among humans that led investigators to spot a liar. The lecturer spoke primarily of patterns in facial expressions that were used to give liars away almost immediately. However, the lecturer admitted that the use of Botox has made lie detection more of a challenge as the paralyzing effects of the drug interferes with normal facial muscle responses when lying occurs… fascinating.

So, after reading Deuteronomy 18:21, I had flashbacks of attending the lecture on lying… I wondered, how can we, as Christians, know if what we’re hearing is truth, or just a lie, being perpetrated by someone claiming to know the truth? Is it possible, that words spoken, can be carried with a type of ‘spiritual Botox’ to hide the real truth?

One of the best ways to prevent deception is to know the Word of God beforehand… being proactive in doing the preparation work, so that when, not if, lies come, we’re better prepared, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to identify them as works of the enemy. But we’re not the only alone in this “testing process.” Our Savior Himself was no stranger to lies and deceit, as seen in Matthew 4:1-11:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

In much the same way, God warns us to be on guard for people who preach lies. He is the only God, and that He has the authority to determine all truth. He provides the wisdom to discern right from wrong. And, in order to determine whether a “truth” lines up with God’s teachings, we must reference His Word.

The world is full of deceptions and twisted truths from people who either don’t like how God does things, or haven’t searched His Word for the real truth. Society says people should be free to create their own right and wrong. However, God did not create different truths for different people. For those who think His standards are stifling, it might come as a surprise that God’s truths are always freeing because they point the way to Him, the One with all authority.

Sticking with His truths enriches our lives instead of crippling us. His truths are sources of strength, endurance, purity, and holiness for those who embrace them.

Get into His Word, and discover the freedom He, and He alone, offers.

Heavenly Father… thank You for offering us truth in the midst of such uncertainly in the world, and thank You for offering us Your Holy Spirit to help us with discernment to know truth from lies. Help us to set aside time to know Your Word better, so we are prepared when we face lies and deceit, and we hear the voice of truth that only You can offer! Amen.

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Deut. 3; Ps. 85; Isa. 31; Rev. 1

Visions of things to come…

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold keys of death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18

As a Christian, death is one of the more challenging experiences to reconcile… from a spiritual perspective, we rejoice in knowing where our loved ones will be for all eternity and Who they’ll be spending eternity with! But on a human level, we miss our loved ones very much…  we’re left hoping that all we know about our faith is true; that like Jesus, Who endured pain, but conquered death, is alive forever!

We are reassured by our Savior not to be afraid… that He was able to conquer death and is now in control. Delving deeper into these two verses in Revelation revealed significant meaning that offered me comfort after losing my Dad several years ago. That we are never alone, as He is “the first and the last”, paralleling “the Alpha and the Omega” described in Revelation 1:8…

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

… and referencing “I am” reflecting Jesus’ claims in the Gospels of Matthew 14:27, Mark 6:50, John 6:20, and 8:58, connecting Him with His Heavenly Father. Jesus also tells us that He is “the living One” as He was described in Daniel 6:26, Revelation 4:9, 10:6, and 15:7… the foundation of our salvation! By rising after death, Jesus offered the assurance to those who believe that we will be forever with Him. And, if that wasn’t enough, Jesus reveals that as a result of His resurrection, He now holds the “keys of death and Hades.” Death, as a condition of the body, and Hades, as a place associated with death, Jesus is in control!

Researching the meaning of keys in the Bible found that keys are a sign of power and authority. Jesus’ obedience to His Heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane resulted in Jesus having the authority to decide who dies and who lives; He has authority over life and death.

So in the midst of the incredible tragedies and darkness that have consumed our lives lately, perhaps our hope lies in the message Revelation holds in what Jesus offers for our future to all who believe. I know I will see my father again… in the meantime, I will continue to hold onto the promises my Savior offers, ready for when He decides to call me Home… I can only imagine!

Heavenly Father, by saying “No” to Your son in the Garden of Gethsemane when He asked that You take His “cup” from Him, Your Son demonstrated complete obedience to You, to fulfill Your will. Help us to remain faithful so that we can join You for all eternity! Amen.

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Num. 25; Ps. 68; Isa. 15; 1 Pet. 3

Would there be enough evidence to find you guilty as charged?

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives… Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. 1 Peter 3

In lieu of the current-day statistics on marriage, the good news is there’s a 100% chance of success in marriage! A rather bold statement in light of how marriage is portrayed today in the world. I know that 100% sounds extreme, but it is possible! How? Because our God made marriage and He never makes or designs anything to fail! Nor does He make anyone to fail. God speaks to us throughout His word in various forms, but nowhere more clearly and direct, than in 1 Peter 3, which speaks to both men and women about His perfect plan for covenant relationship. And, just like in Ephesians 5, men and women are given specific instructions to submit to one another in the fear of God, then continues with specific instructions to each on their responsibility.

So, if the “manual” tells us what to do, why do so many Christian men and a women fail to fulfill their God-given calling as husband and wife? Why is the divorce rate of Christians and non-Christians virtually the same? The answer is simple… 18”! The distance between the head and the heart… it’s the distance between the knowing and the doing, as many Christians have chosen to ignore or reject God’s perfect plan for marriage into their hearts. Head knowledge offers a mental perspective of God’s plan, however it is in the heart where true relationship with God resides and actions have the best chance of survival.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Other factors are at work, as well, which threaten God’s plan for marriage… contemporary attitudes towards marriage have distorted God’s architecture of mutual submission to mean something negative, using descriptors such as dominated, oppressed, and dictatorial instead of the divine expression of God’s love and understanding for His children and how they innately function in the context of relationship.

Jimmy Evans, in his book “Marriage on the Rock,” stated that of the scriptures related to relationship, couples love Ephesians 5 because of what it says about their partners responsibility to relationship, not their own! Perhaps the answer to living according to God’s plan lies in considering what scripture says about ourselves first, and inviting God into the process of holding us accountable to our roles, and let Him handle the rest. Man… Woman… God… three strands… not easily broken!

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12

God, who made us, understands completely that the innate need of a woman is security and to be loved, and for a man, to be respected and honored… both 1 Peter 3 and Ephesians 5 speak to this directly. Interestingly, women are not commanded to love their husbands, rather to submit to their husbands… to understand and support them, as that is the language that speaks to men! Men? 1 Peter and Ephesians 5 use different language on what you’re to do… the command for men is to love their wives, as Christ loved the church, who gave Himself up for her… to live with her in an understanding way. Different approach… different language… same origin… SACRIFICE for each other, using the language of your partner! Isn’t He amazing? God knew what He was doing and His design is perfect! God’s plan isn’t meant to harm us… QUITE the contrary. God’s plan, at its foundation, is to protect us… it’s the instructions on how to penetrate brokenness and speak deep within our partner’s heart.

Perhaps, if things aren’t going so well relationally, prayers aren’t being answered, it might be worth considering a different approach… How about God’s plan for marriage… so that our prayers may not be hindered.

So… a quick question… (answer honestly!)…

If you were accused of “acting like a Christian _____ (husband/wife)”, would there be enough evidence to find you guilty as charged?

Father, in our humanness, we often forget that You designed us… and who better than You to guide us how best to live as husband and wife. Lord, soften our hearts to adopt Your way as the only way to live this life in relationship as husbands and wives, so that our actions towards one another are a tangible expression of You living within us. Amen!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 1 Peter, 1 Samuel, 66 Books, Bible in a year reading plan, Ecclesiastes, Ephesians, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan