Author Archives: gstefanelli

Lev. 22; Ps. 28,29; Eccles. 5; 2 Tim. 1

“Dear younger me… please hear me… you don’t have to carry these burdens alone!”

I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until the day of His return. 2 Timothy 1:12

How many of you out there reading this have had a perfect life? You know… the kind of life where there aren’t any problems and nothing ever went wrong. Surely, there has got to be someone who’s got that kind of life?!? So, if there isn’t anyone out there with the “perfect life”, why are we always comparing ourselves with others like there is? Could it we’re hoping we’re not alone? Are we grieving what could have been?

When we began life on earth, we became a part of a family legacy. We didn’t get to choose the family legacy we were associated with… that was decided for us. Unfortunately, many of us characterize our own family legacy with more pain than joy, even dreading holidays as they remind us of what we’ve endured and still grieve. If we could just go back in time and tell our younger self what to do and what not to do, what would we say? Imagine it… what would you tell your younger self? What foods to eat and avoid? How to get ahead in life? What about your faith… what would we tell our younger selves about our faith? Would this part of our discussion take the most or the least time?

Would we try to convince God to spare our family from the hurts that break the human heart? Unfortunately, God does not work in the past… He does, however, offer a future to those who seek Him! And if I could speak to the younger me, I would tell me that there is a future that can be so much better than the past. That our Lord and Savior invites each of us to a spiritual family legacy based on a foundation of healing, hope, and love, far surpassing any loss we’ve ever experienced or are grieving… That if we know Jesus, as Savior, we became part of a spiritual legacy that extends back to heal the past, while offering hope for the future… That God’s holy family covers all hurts including brokenness and pain, misery and fear… forever!

No matter the broken earthly family we have, as believers, we all have a loving family available to us always… from our Lord and Savior, to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to our heavenly Father, who knows our pain and disappointments, and offers His children unlimited grace!

Dear younger me… get to know your Lord and Savior… with all your heart and soul… the One you can trust, completely, as He is able to guard what you have entrusted to Him, until He returns again.

Lord, You know our hearts desire for a happy and loving family legacy based on love… Please help us to use the model of family legacy You graciously offer us until You come again! Amen…

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 2 Timothy, 66 Books, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan

Lev. 7; Ps. 7,8; Prov. 22; 1 Thess.1

“Has the art of intentional relationship gone the way of VHS and 8-track tapes?”

As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 1:3

Has this ever happened to you… you’re talking with an old friend one day when suddenly you find yourself listening to an update about something your friend obviously thinks you remember. The blank expression on your face says it all… you don’t have a clue of what they’re speaking about! Then, your friend catches on and responds with “You have no idea of what I’m speaking about, do you?”

Your first reaction is likely “You never told me that!”, but deep down, I would suspect you’re asking yourself “How come I don’t remember any of what was just said?” Now, it is possible that your friend has told someone else and confused you with that person. However, with so many other things vying for our time, it is likely that they did tell us and our attention was elsewhere… going through the illusion of relationship without being engaged in relationship… being present… in that moment! It’s the important difference between hearing and listening! Time spent with others is important, but relationship happens when we integrate quality with quantity! We need to be present with those and for those we do life with or we risk reducing life to meaningless chatter.

People want to feel heard… deep down, they want to feel that what they’re doing and going through matters… they want to know that someone cares! Jesus was deliberate in His desire to embrace relationship with His disciples. As a result, they felt heard and connected with Him in a way that can only come when intention is the significant component in the relationship equation.

Among the qualities that made Paul such an effective influence was his attention to the details of other people’s lives. He engaged… he tuned in. He remembered what was going on with them from one visit to the next, and his careful attention increased his relationship integrity as they learned to trust his concern.

In addition to being a basic practice of good friendship, tuning in to people also helps us know how to pray for them more effectively. Paul prayed constantly for the Thessalonians, and because he made a point to remember their concerns, his conversations with God on their behalf were specific and intentional, just as ours should be when we speak to God on behalf of those we love.

What’s going on with the precious people God entrusts you to pray for?

Greg (gstefanelli)

Father… thank you for getting my attention about paying attention. Please help me tune in to others so I can bring their specific needs to You. And in so doing, I want to renew my relationship with You by developing a deeper, more intentional relationship with You!

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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