Author Archives: gstefanelli

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

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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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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